The court went silent. The aura around Hun-Came was cold, even on this frigid night. The grass around her grew frosty, crystallizing. She was tall, imperious, and her arms folded around herself. A leathery robe hung around her body, attached to her arms, almost like a pair of wings. She lifted her head, her abnormally long ears almost elfin, her eyes glittering black in the night. She took a slow, deep breath. She was hovering nearly an inch off the ground, and the trees were faintly visible through her body. Lady Ann Willing stood immediately, her eyes narrowed. “Lies. A trick! This is an illusion, not-”
“When we spoke,” Hun-Came said, her voice rich and dulcet, her head swiveling to face the Lady Ann. “The last time. Shortly before I died. We spoke of the desire to continue on. To have children. I recall you expressed great regrets that it had been so long since you had been capable of that. So long since you could surround yourself in the warm embrace of family. It was funny, wasn’t it? The two of us laughed, to think of what we had both lost.” Lady Ann’s mouth snapped shut, eyes wide. Hun-Came’s eyes glittered, turning around the room, and settling on Chaac. “I didn’t ask you why, did I? I didn’t have to ask you why. I think that we both knew. I suppose I had always expected that I would be the winner if your grudge had come to light, but you were patient. Goodness, so patient.” Her eyes turned to Jenny. “Aaah, and you…”
“What is this?” Jenny asked, her eyes wide, horrified. “What are you?”
“Ah,” said Dean Morton, smiling. “I have always been a fan of providing… Well, shall we say, a little closure.” He gave Hun-came a deep bow. “My lady. I hope that you do not mind my imposing so upon your soul.” He turned towards the rest of the court. “A drop of blood from the bloodline, to summon the soul. I must confess, it was much more complicated than that to work out- Vampire bloodlines are a bit different from human- but I wouldn’t give away the secret of how I did it. Wizards must have their secrets.” He held a hand out towards Hun-Came. “The soul of Hun-Came.”
“Thank you, Lich.” She looked out across the court. Rivulets of darkness slowly rose and fell from her like solar prominences composed of ink, washing across her. She looked over the court. “You, all of you, feared the power of the Camazotz. I understand that. We had none to fear outside of ourselves, it seems.” Chaac dropped her eyes. I wondered if she was thinking of the fight with Roy right now. “Jenny.” She turned her head towards the young Japanese woman.
“You killed Tony.”
“Yes. I did not mean to, I wanted to give him the same gift as you. To ensure that he could live forever. I am sorry. I will not claim that what I did was right, or that you did not deserve better. It would be selfish of me to think I could make any demands of you at this point.” She smiled. “I have taken so many choices from you, and so many things. I will never try to tell you what is right and what is wrong. No, at this point, all I have left for you is a gift.”
“A gift?” asked Jenny, suspiciously.
“A gift?” murmured Chaac, her eyes wide.
“A gift…” said Lady Ann Willing, her expression growing horrified. “Wait-”
“You are Jenny Nishi. Child of human parents, and my offspring. You are one of the Camazotz. But there is more. Each of the Camazotz is one of the gods of our dead culture, with the gifts that includes. When I spoke with you, just a few short nights ago, the thing that inspired me to choose you as one of the Camazotz was your kindness, your compassion, your strength of character, your willingness. I have heard what you have said. Nobody in this courtroom would accuse you of being weak. Thrown into the face of terrible strife and trouble for no reason but being in the wrong place and the wrong time.” Hun-Came’s eyes closed. “You are Kinich Ajaw, the rising sun that signals an end to our world. And you are never going to be a victim of others again.”
The light was blinding and terrible. A string of shocked cries filled the air, chairs kicked down, people fleeing, screams of pain and suffering. Jenny glowed like the sun for just a moment, as every undead member of the gathering dove for cover, hiding themselves behind gravestones, behind trees, behind anything that would shield them from the unforgiving rays. It wasn’t just light, it wasn’t just UV light. It was real, actual sunlight. The thing that was a scourge on the Undead. Jenny gasped, horror on her face, and the radiance dimmed, becoming nothing more than a slight glow as she put her hands over her mouth. Only Tadodaho still sat among the jury, the rest having scattered behind their chairs. He had a simple, feral smile on his mouth, a scar of dark mist running across his chest where he’d been struck by the light.
Chaac’s eyes were closed. Her skin had grown crisp, a hint of red to the dark skin, as though faintly sunburned. The Strix were twisting, features pink and glossy, staring up at her with horror. Li Fang Fen winced slightly, her skin paler than it had been before. Jenny stared down at her hands, and then at Hun-Came. “You call this a gift? I hurt them, you made me- I didn’t-”
“You had the choice of whether to hurt them or not. If you wanted to, you could have killed them. That’s the cost of power, child. When you are strong enough that you are no longer a victim, you may wind up making victims of others.”
I stood up straight. “Jenny. I can’t make you forgive anyone. You’re my client. I can try to persuade you, to wheedle you. To show the best course of action. I can try to convince you. But the decision is always going to be yours.” I looked around the courtyard, and took a deep breath. This was going to be the biggest gamble yet. “This is the reason I wanted Chaac to survive. To give you the chance to grasp who you are. She still can be useful. She can still do good things for the world. She’s wanted to do good things for the world, even if she wound up becoming a monster because she didn’t think it through. She chose vengeance, and eventually it wound up killing innocent people.”
Jenny looked at Hun-Came. “Why did she try to kill you?”
“There are three reasons. When she was the last of the Camazotz, it gave her great power. She no longer has that; You have taken it from her. If you wish to kill her, it would be your prerogative, and it would grant you great power. Second, her life became inviolate. To kill her would’ve meant the end of the Camazotz, forever. Our souls frayed, falling to pieces as we were lost with the rest of our society. That… That much is still true. You are not of the Camazotz, not yet. You do not carry our spirit, only our power. And the third reason is revenge. We cost her everything.” Hun-Came closed her eyes. “If you wished to take revenge, on her, on every Undead in this city, for what they have done to you… Who could stop you?”
“Who could stop me,” Jenny said softly, staring down at her hands. Light glowed in her palm, like a miniature sun. Not just LIKE a miniature sun, I realized. I tensed, as she held the sun between her fingers. Then it vanished with a soft little puff. “Atina. Do you have the contract you were going to make them sign?” Her voice was soft, but firm as iron. Confidence suited her. I nodded, and produced the document. It was several pages thick. She hefted it, and read through it. Her eyes flicked up to meet mine after several quiet, tense minutes. “This is a barbaric contract. Draconian. It would bind them in chains for the rest of their existence. Death might genuinely be preferable to living under the strictures of these covenants.” She let a smile spread slowly across her face. “I suppose that I can accept that if they can.” She took her seat again, and slowly, gradually, the court returned to their seats. Jenny sat with Alfred and Polly, and a very notable gap had emerged around her, the other undead shooting her nervous looks.
The contract passed through the jury. Every one of them took the time to read it in full. I’d made several copies, thank god. One by one, they nodded, and agreed to their assent. Finally, Lady Ann Willing stood up. “You have written a thorough contract here, Atina. Many chains. But you know that it is just a document. They will try to wiggle out of the spirit of it. They will try to subvert you.”
I sighed softly. “The Strix definitely will.” Donny gave me a foul look. “Chaac might, or might not. Arthur… I’m hoping that this helps put him on a better path.” The ghoul didn’t make eye contact. “The point of the contract is not that it will make them somehow good. I’m not an idiot. You can’t mandate goodness through a contract or laws or strictures. You can only try to limit the harm that’s done. It’s a gamble to trust them, because they’ve already proven that they will break the law when it’s convenient to them. They may learn nothing from this experience but to be more subtle the next time they break the law. But. We have to have hope. We have to give people second chances, we have to let them betray us sometimes, and not let that change who we are. They may try to kill me for what I’ve done today, and I will still counsel mercy in the future. But a good contract can go a long way towards helping people trust each other.”
Fang Fen smiled. “The prosecution has nothing more to add. If the court will allow it… I believe that we are ready for the sentencing.” She turned to me, and I turned to Jenny. She nodded.
The sentencing lasted perhaps five minutes total. “The court finds unanimously that Jenny Nishi is cleared of all charges. As the proper heir of the Camazotz Hun-Came, all worldly possessions of Hun-Came shall fall to her.” Lady Ann Willing spoke for the jury, after Tadodaho declined the position. “As to the fate of the five undead who have subverted justice, they will be offered a choice. The five of them shall be bound here, in the graveyard, till morning. Should they sign the contracts Miss LeRoux has provided for them, they will be allowed to go free. Else-wise, they can meet their fates with dignity.” There was a soft sigh in the air as Hun-Came disappeared, evanescing in the air like ink diluting in water.
Donny growled, giving me the hairy eyeball. “Well? Give us that fucking thing, and we’ll sign it!”
Within a few minutes, the graveyard was emptying out. The Strix were leaving as quickly as possible. Alfred and Polly watched them go with foul expressions. “Good riddance to that shite,” Polly growled, stretching her back. “So, Jenny. You’re a sun goddess. I tell you, that’s what I love about the supernatural world: The potential for advancement.” She smiled. “So what made you decide to forgive ’em? If I had my way, the lot of ’em would be greasy smears of black ashes on the grass by now.” She looked over her shoulder. “Especially you, ye Tan feckin’ fascist!” she shouted at Arthur. The ghoul had still not made a move towards the paper I had given him.
“Killing them wouldn’t make me happy. Not really. It’d just make them dead. But knowing that every day of their lives, they are bound by that contract LeRoux made, knowing that every day, they are forced to do good, and knowing that they are trapped within their own lives… That is the kind of vengeance I can get behind.” Jenny smiled, but it wasn’t a very happy smile. “I suppose that if I cannot have Tony or the sun back, I can at least have that much, eh?” She looked down at her hands, where the ball of light appeared. “It is not quite the same, is it?”
Dean Morton approached, wincing as he held up a hand against the light. “Ah, my apologies.” He smiled towards Jenny and I. “I hope that you two do not feel a need to renege on the debt I mentioned? One favor from each of you, of my decision, called in at my chosen time?” He eyed Jenny nervously. “It is not generally considered… honorable, to renege on a debt like that, when one is Undead-” She held up a finger, and he flinched.
“Yes. But I don’t care about honor, do I?” She looked down at her hands. “You cannot particularly intimidate me with social pressure. The vast majority of your kind, I rather loathe, right now. If I wanted to, I could probably destroy you.” She looked up, and stepped closer. “But if your request is reasonable, it shall be met, Lich.”
“Ah, of course.” He smiled ingratiatingly. “Of course. I thought you were a good egg all along. That’s why the price was so low.”
“Price-” Jenny’s eyes widened, and she turned towards me. “That was what the money was for,” she whispered, eyes widening. “How much did you offer him?” she asked, slightly weak.
“Oh, a hundred thousand dollars,” said the dean, sighing. “I should have asked for more, she met the request surprisingly easily-” He flinched at my look. “Oh, look at the time, I really should be getting to bed, classes tomorrow and all that.”
“A hundred thousand dollars,” sighed Jenny, frowning. “You-”
“Ah.” Lady Ann Willing stood nearby. She cleared her throat, and smiled politely. “Jenny Nishi. I recognize you are young, and thus may not have a place on the Night Court itself. But I… Well…” She coughed, and started again. “I know that I have been harsh, and unfair with you, but- It was out of fear, and misplaced anger, rather than-” She fumbled for the words, looking utterly miserable. “Please don’t tear my city apart.”
“I didn’t ever want to hurt the city, or you, Lady.” Jenny gave a weak smile. “I know what it is to lose someone I love to vampires.”
Lady Ann stared for a moment, her mouth opening and then closing. Then she smiled. “Ah. Hah. You are, of course, painfully right. The laws of the night court may preclude you, but if you should ever have something to say, I will listen with the attentiveness of one who is aware how easily you could kill me.”
“I don’t want to kill anyone, Lady Ann.”
Lady Ann Willing smiled very kindly. “That is good of you to say. But see how you feel when you discover what contract negotiations or real estate look like among the dead.” She gave a brief bow, and turned her head to me. “Atina LeRoux. One case, and you have reduced me from the most powerful undead in Binghamton to a distant fifth. I hope you understand if I express my deepest desire now, never to serve on another jury for a case you take on.” She turned on her heel, and walked away. My mouth twisted. That hardly seemed very fair.
“Do you think that this means I can see the sun again?” Jenny asked, looking at the small orb of light in her hands. It glittered, casting bright yellow light across her features.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an undead who wasn’t harmed, badly, by the sun. It might just be your sunlight you’re immune to. Testing it…” I frowned, my mouth twisted. “It could be fatal to try to test it. I know that the most powerful undead could be destroyed utterly by just a brief ray of sunlight. ”
“Yes, of course. It would be typical for this gift to be useful only for hurting people.”
“What about those two?” Alfred asked, frowning at Arthur and Chaac. “Looks like they’re mulling their options over a little more carefully.”
“You guys go. Get some sleep. You’ve earned it. I’ll walk home.” I smiled, as my friends walked away, leaving me standing alone with the two. Arthur was still staring down at the contract. “You know, I appreciate what you did for Polly, Arthur. Even if it was a little bit too little, a little bit too late, you took her down without killing her. Even if it was to shatter my brain and turn me into a slave so you could murder Jenny.” I pondered that for a moment. “Well, I’d probably still be angry, but watching you get gut-punched into crippledom by a dragon kind of killed any desire I had to see you get hurt any further. You going to sign that thing or what?”
“Y’know, I’ll recover from this,” he said, his voice a bit rough, softer than it had been before. I wondered if his lungs had been damaged with the attack. “It’ll take a year, or two, or five, or twenty, or something godawful, but I’ll be back up on my feet.” He leaned back in the wheelchair. “But shit. That was terrifying. You know? I fought for so long, did things I knew I’d regret, because I thought it’d make me strong, and bang, I piss the whole thing right down my leg. I mean, I was going to kill you. Kill Jenny, too. I thought that if I could do that and save more people in the future, well, it’d all be worthwhile, you know?” He stared down at his hands. “I’ve done some bad things, but never killed an innocent person. Not like I almost did last night. How do you come back from a thing like that?” He shook his head. “Maybe it’d be better if I did bite it in the sun.”
“It’d be an awful waste.”
He snorted. “I suppose it’d be a bit too much for me to hope that I could be given salvation because of my stunning personality, good looks, and charm.”
“You did try to murder me last night. Settle for ‘useful’ when you can’t be likable.”
“Well, I always do.” He breathed out through his nose. “That thing was fucking terrifying.”
“It was,” I whispered softly. “That’s why I don’t want you to die, Arthur. You faced it down, and brought it to its knees.”
“For a second. When the damn thing wasn’t even trying.”
“That’s more than almost anyone else could manage. And it might be necessary some day.” I took a deep breath. “I want you to survive because someday you might need to kill a dragon. But that’s a lot to ask of you, I know. I wouldn’t put it in the contract. But…”
He looked up at me, and frowned. “Yeah. Yeah, I reckon I can do that.” I thought of Roy, of his warm, gentle eyes, of his kind demeanor, of the way he made me feel better. I thought of his cold fury, his fully justified hubris, his careless violence. I couldn’t trust him. I could never, ever trust him, because despite what he said about loving me, despite what he said about the law, he was powerful. “But why do you need anyone to stop him? You seemed to succeed all on your own.”
“Because the way I stopped him might not work against him next time. It’s good to be able to talk my way out of trouble, but that’ll stop working someday.”
“Hell.” He grunted. “Yeah. I’ll sign.” He lifted the contract, examining it carefully for several seconds, and then signed his name. Then he slowly wheeled himself up the path, wheelchair squeaking in the predawn. I stepped forward, and sat down next to Chaac.
“You know, you agreed to a great deal for this chance. Offering your blood, letting Hun-Came be summoned. You sacrificed a hell of a lot, and it’s all going to seem very pointless if you get charred to a skeleton here,” I suggested, frowning down at her. “What the hell is wrong with you? Does the contract not seem like a fair one?”
“It is entirely fair,” whispered Chaac. She sat, her arms together over her chest.
“So what, then? I go to all of this trouble, probably ensure that Jenny is never going to forgive me, to try to save your life from your own stupid goddamn mistakes, and now you’re going to just die out of spite to piss me off?”
She frowned. “You have something of an inflated opinion of yourself, don’t you, Miss LeRoux?”
“Hey, look, you’re the one who called yourself a goddess.”
She chuckled softly. “Oh, true enough. True enough. Yes, I suppose that I’m going to be paying for that particular piece of hubris for the rest of my life.” She sighed. “Do you think about the sun, Atina?”
“Sometimes,” I admitted. “I don’t get to see it enough. Probably why I’m low on vitamin D.”
“The last time I saw the sun was several hundred years ago. Then I saw it again tonight. It felt good.” She traced a finger over her slightly burned skin. “It hurt, but it felt good. Do you know what that is like?” I coughed loudly into my hand. “No? Well, fair enough. It is a strange urge. But I realized how much I missed it.” She smiled. “It would mean a great deal to me, Miss LeRoux, if you would sit here with me until the sun has risen?”
“You’re asking me to watch you die?”
“You are the closest thing in this world I have to a friend right now. The only person who believed I deserved a second chance. And I have the opportunity to take Hun-Came with me. To take the entire Camazotz civilization with me, into the embrace of the light. All of the evil that they have done, evaporated like mist in the dawn.” She smiled. “Perhaps Jenny can make something better of it than what we did.”
“Fuck.” I slumped down onto the ground next to her. I pulled my legs up against my chest, and hooked my arms around my knees. “I really thought I might get a chance to save everyone, you know.” I frowned, staring up. The sun would rise from the east.
“Well, you saved everyone who mattered. Take some comfort from that, please.”
The two of us sat together in silence. Hours passed. It was freezing. And yet, I couldn’t find it in myself to just walk away. I was watching the destruction of something ancient and magnificent. What the hell else did I have to do? I thought about Alfred, and Polly. I’d gotten Polly paralyzed, and nearly made her fail at the task she’d promised to do, because I’d insisted on trying to be stronger than I really was. I thought of Fang Fen, and what defending Jenny had cost her. I thought of Lady Ann Willing, now no longer the undisputed ruler of her city. I thought of Jenny, who I’d betrayed, who I’d harried into forgiving the people who had cost her everything. And I thought, for the god-knows-how-manyth time, of Roy.
“How did you beat the dragon?” Chaac asked, softly.
“I told him I loved him. I swore I would never ask him to save me, never try to use him to advance my causes. I promised.” I sighed softly. “He was such a sweet guy. But maybe I would have been better if he had been normal, and had died.”
“Really?” She smiled over at me. “I don’t know. I have good senses. When he looked at you… His heart was pounding.”
“What?” I asked, flushing.
“Oh, yes. I don’t know. They say love is a powerful weapon for humans. You can inflict scars in immortal hearts with it. Surely that must be something- Ah.” She looked up. The sky was turning a fiery red. She closed her eyes, and sighed. “You know, it will feel good, I think, to come to an end. Just like going to sleep, except this time, it will last forever. I think it’s almost here-”
The two of us turned. Jenny stood a few dozen feet away. “Please, don’t kill yourself! Please, I know that I said you deserved to suffer, please, I’m sorry!” Tears were running down her cheeks.
“Goddesses do not cry,” Chaac said softly. “Show a little dignity, child. This is for the best. You will be the last Camazotz. They will be yours to rebuild, to do with as you wish. You can spread them across the land, or you can seize the power all for yourself.”
“No, please.” Jenny bit her lip. “I can’t be the last of something. I don’t want to be the last. There’s so much I don’t know. Please, I don’t know anything about the culture, about the powers, about what it means, I don’t know anything, and even if you think that it was mostly bad, I don’t want anyone else to die! Please-” She hiccuped a little bit, and rubbed her tear-stained eyes. “You’re the only other person like me left in the world. You know what it’s like, to lose the things you care about, to be made into one of these things. If you die, I’ll really be all alone. I know you did horrible things to me by accident. Please don’t do this to me on purpose. You gave me a gift of the knowledge of my maker. Please, I know it’s greedy, but I need to ask you for one more gift.”
I like to consider myself persuasive. A skilled orator, even. As such, I know one of the basic theories of human interaction: You are more positively inclined towards someone you have done a favor for, than someone who has done a favor for you. When we do someone a favor, we convince ourselves that it’s because we like them. Whereas when we owe someone a favor, it’s just an obligation. I was never much good at using obligation that way. Jenny, however, clearly was. Chaac looked down at the paperwork, and then up at the dawn, and tears began to fill her eyes “I-”
“Sign it in the shade.” I picked up the pen and paper, agitated as I grabbed Chaac’s shoulder, bringing her to her feet. “Come on, we need to go, dawn’s going to happen any-”
The sun rose. It is difficult to judge exactly when dawn will come. It’s a threatening presence, really, a building red and yellow that glows and builds until it strikes with that greatest of all possible speeds. It rose from the east, along the valley, rather than over the mountains, where we would have had some sort of warning. The light cast with merciless fury over Jenny and Chaac, and Jenny threw herself in the path of the light. Chaac let out a cry as the rays trailed across her skin like the world’s most sadistic kiss, before the shade covered her. Jenny screamed, “Go! I don’t know how long I can hold it!”
She continued to scream, even as I straightened up, and frowned. “Jenny-”
“Hurry! Please! It’s okay! I-” She paused, and frowned, lowering her hands. She stood before Chaac, casting a very long shadow over the other woman. “It… is okay.” She looked down at her hands, and then turned towards me, and Chaac, her eyes wide. “It’s okay. It’s okay!” She laughed, and jumped for joy, and Chaac let out a sharp hiss as a ray of sunshine caught her. “Oh! Chaac, I’m so sorry-”
“Let’s just get somewhere with some shade,” I suggested. “I’ll call Alfred to pick us up.”
The three of us soon stood in the shade of one of the large monuments, watching as Alfred made his way down the hill, carrying a large, thick wool blanket. Jenny sat in the frost-covered grass, making shadow-puppets in the brilliant dawn light. Chaac watched with more than a little envy, but no malice. Alfred stopped short, his jaw dropping. “How in the hell-”
“We’ll discuss it at home.” I stood up, and stretched, cricking my neck from side to side.
Jenny smiled. “She gave me back the sun.” And she danced in the dawn as Alfred and I bundled Chaac into the blanket, and carefully guided her up the hill to the car. Then Jenny ran to catch up with us before we drove off without her.