JESSE HAJICEK EPILOGUE In the middle of Hasher Street, just past noon, four large boys were beating a small one. The good citizens of the town of Burn River walked by on either side; this was no more remarkable than a cat worrying a bird's corpse. It was the nature of boys; it was the nature of the world. The leader of the four was big for his twelve years, blond, red-faced with the heat of the Iavaian sun. He huffed and sweated as he kicked. "You think you're better than us? Do you?" The boy on the ground made a small sound. He was thin and brown, dressed only in a pair of ragged trousers. His black hair was matted. He curled protectively around his fingers and face, waiting for it to be over. "Do you?" the leader demanded, and put the boot in again. "Inai." A harder kick. "Speak Eskaran, damn you! You're in the Commonwealth now. This is our country. It's our job to civilize you filthy people. You oughta be grateful. Are you grateful? Are you?" "Inai. aman ka'ashai." "Shit," said another of the boys. "He don't even know what we're saying." "Then I'll teach 'im." The leader kicked a few more times. When his cronies failed to join in, however, he grew embarassed and stopped. He spit on the native boy's bruised and dirty back. "Stupid cow. It's our country now. You better learn that." He scuffed some dirt at his victim. Then he shoved his hands in his pockets and whirled away. "I'm bored. Let's go back of Maley's and see if we can kype some oranges." His cronies concurred, with varying levels of relief. They were new to the South, and not yet accustomed to casual cruelty. They would learn soon enough, though. You couldn't be too easy on these natives. Had to pound 'em down when they got too proud. Even the Church said so. 1 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK They were devil-worshipers and savages, and it was a righteous man's duty to civilize them. He'd been doing that boy a favor, really. His friends would understand that before too long. Meanwhile, the blond boy showed them that there was plenty of fun to be had here, if you were Eskaran. He showed them that you could do just about anything you wanted. Flip up darkie girls' skirts, and their mothers would just catch up the girls and look around with wide eyes, they wouldn't even yell. Steal from farmers' stalls right in front of them -- what were they going to do? The whole province was a free lunch for a white boy with some time to kill. They strutted and crowed, and the day passed in a fevered spin of power. The new boys had to go home at suppertime. Their folks were still trying to keep to Northern customs. The blond boy sneered at them for obeying these rules, and then wandered on alone. He had no fixed idea of what to do -- there was no need. He'd find something. Maybe one of those native girls, those brown girls in white dresses whose mothers had learned better than to object to what a white man wanted from them. Lately he'd been having new ideas about what he could do to those girls, to make their eyes go big, make them whimper like puppies. He strolled through the emptying streets, meandering toward the native quarter. What if he went in one of their houses? What could they do to him? He could take anything, or smash everything. He wandered along the riverfront, roads pounded stone-hard by ore wagons, thick with the smell of the smelteries, empty now after the end of the work day. Not quite empty. A small, dark form darted into the road in front of him, appearing from a loading alley -- the boy he'd beaten before. He chuckled. He'd wanted to scare a girl, but this would work too. "Hey! You! You looking for another beating?" He expected the kid to jump and run, like he had earlier that day. But the kid didn't run. He grinned. He shifted from one foot to the other as if excited. "Yes, please," the kid said clearly. "You slimy little -- you speak Eskaran?" The blond boy lengthened his steps, still thinking the native would break and flee. Any second. But he didn't, and the northerner stopped when he loomed over the smaller child. The native was still grinning. His thin, sharp-chinned face was decorated with old bruises, bruises far deeper than any he'd gotten today. His eyes were huge, and mad, and green, though all natives had black eyes this boy's were green like river mud. There was no fear in them. Apparently more threats were needed. "You uppity little shit. Didn't your mama teach you not to sass your betters?" "My mama's dead. You got any money?" "Bet she was a hoor." 2 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK "Yes," said the native boy, and his grin widened. "I'm a whore now too. You got any money?" With an exclamation of disgust, the blond boy stepped back. "You filthy --" The native's grin, impossibly, widened even further. He was showing every one of his sharp, crooked teeth, all the way to the gums. "I asked you," he ground through those teeth, "do you have any goddamn money!" With the last word he lashed out his small fist, and where he struck, a pain blossomed that was enough to freeze the blond boy in panicked stillness, with half a breath in his lungs, afraid even to scream lest it make the pain worse. He looked down in dawning horror to see blood running off the native boy's knuckles in a thin stream. He whimpered. "No," he whispered as the knife pulled out -- and out -- had all of that been inside him? "You can't. You can't." "I did," said the native. His fist flashed again, and everything stopped. * * * Kieran Trevarde looked down at the body in the road, and felt nothing. Not even satisfaction. Not even relief. He hadn't planned anything like this. He hadn't planned anything else either. He knew he ought to be sorry, but couldn't remember what it felt like. It would be only fair to cry for the dead boy, but he couldn't. Used to be, he cried over stupid things, like a stomachache, or a toy his mama wouldn't buy him. Then his mama's pimp Barton had said Kieran had to earn his keep, and Kieran had cried at the look on Mama's face, and again for fear and pain during the rape, and with shame after, as he'd given Mama the money. He'd been crying the whole time Mama and Barton fought; and after Barton kicked her, while her stomach swelled up and turned shiny and bruised, they'd wept together until she fell into silence, away from him, alone. After Mama had stopped crying, he'd stopped being able to. He threw his head back, swallowed a breath, choking back a swell of nausea. Then he bent to empty his victim's pockets. He had just turned nine years old. --==*==-- "Relax, son," Kinter chuckled. "I think you and I could help each other. I hear you've done a fair bit of the permanent, considering your age. That true?" 3 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK Nearly sixteen now, tall for his age but twig-thin, Kieran Trevarde didn't relax. He didn't know how. He stood straight with his hands at his sides, and looked at the leader of the White Rose gang with eyes like a coyote's. "Yeah," he said. "So how come you're selling ass, boy? Don't you know you can make better money with me?" Kieran shrugged. "Here I am." The gang leader, Kinter, laughed at him. It was a pleased laugh. "Shrike tells me you have some kinda magic." "He thinks so." Another shug. "How'd you get it past Survey?" "Late bloomer, I guess." "How 'bout you show me this magic." "Don't know how." The pleased look went from Kinter's face. "Not sure it's not just luck," Kieran clarified. "I wish for someone to die, and he does. Takes a while, sometimes." "How long?" "Six months, once. Another time it was the next day. I can use a knife, though." Kinter frowned, then waved a hand dismissively. "We'll see, I guess. You're hired. I'll pay you twenty a week, and you can stay at the Tall House. Don't bother the girls." The boy stared for a moment more, then gave a curt nod. His leaving was an insectile sort of operation, maneuvering arms and legs too long and thin for grace in a strangely graceful manner. Shrike had told Kinter that the boy had grown at least six inches during his year in Tiyamo, despite scanty prison food and constant abuse; durable. And he was pretty, would be gorgeous if given a chance to fill out. Watching him go, Shrike echoed Kinter's thought, loud enough for the boy to hear: "If I'm wrong about the magic -- I'd guess a face like that is worth at least ten-five a trick." Early the next morning, Shrike died of a sudden apoplexy while in the bath. Kinter noticed the strange smile on the new hand's face, and ordered the boy's pay raised. He sent old man Beatty to instruct the boy in various types of combat. He also let fall the word that he'd like the boy introduced to the pleasures of the poppy. It looked like the kid was a real thing. Kinter was the 4 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK only opium bootlegger in history to have a ghoul-witch on the payroll. He wasn't about to let Kieran get away. --==*==-- Just when it couldn't hurt any more, the pain got worse. It was amazing, really amazing, and funny in a stupid way. Black things crawled around the edges of the room, everything smelled of shit, the ceiling was getting lower, and still it kept hurting even more. Kieran could see his abdomen rippling with the cramps. Just cramps, he told himself, I am not host to giant parasites. But as soon as he'd thought it, he knew there really were worms in there. Great toothy worms, eating his guts, and only one medicine would drive them out. "Please! Just a little, just to tide me over, be logical -- God! Why are you doing this to me? Do you hate me so much?" "I'm doing it 'cause I like you, actually," said a voice with a laugh in it, while a cool cloth stroked Kieran's cheeks. "And for the zillionth time, you told me you wanted to kick. You said not to give you any no matter what you said. I ain't got none, anyway." A face loomed, an ordinary face, tanned sand-colored, haloed by dirty blond curls, with blue eyes that seemed to dance and spin with the humming of Kieran's nerves. The blue-eyed boy gave him a smile full of sad humor, which transformed his ordinary face into something remarkable. But Kieran was past taking comfort from that. "Why? It hurts --" "You don't care why right now. Let's talk about sumpin else, okay?" Kieran subsided, panting. Wondering if he'd chosen right, this first time in years he'd made a choice. He'd defied Kinter because of that smile. Kicking his tar habit was imperative, because until he did he would be Kinter's slave, and if he remained Kinter's slave he would eventually do as Kinter ordered, and kill this boy. "It's for you," Kieran said hoarsely. "Shan, I'm doing this for you." The cloth paused on his forehead. "No you ain't. You're doing it for you. But I'm glad if it'll keep you from drawing down on me again. For a minute there I thought it was all up." "No. I'll never hurt you. I swear, Shan." "I don't believe you," Shan said lightly, and dropped a kiss on Kieran's sweating forehead, and for a moment doubt vanished. Then the cramps started again. --==*==-- "Whoo-ee! Will you lookit all that money!" Shan sat on the edge of their bed, chin in hand, staring at the pile of bank notes on the floor. They'd just knocked over the payroll shipment to the Dogtooth Mine. "Who'da thought it? Did you? I sure didn't." 5 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK "You didn't?" Kieran, crosslegged beside the pile, looked up from cleaning his gun. "Forty workers times eight weeks times fifteen signets a man. Should be exactly four hundred eighty thrones there. Count it if you want, but the math's not hard." "For you, maybe." Shan was sullen for a moment, but he never could stay mad. He grinned again the next moment. "I knew teaming up with you was a good idea. You're so damn smart, Kai. I done made more money with you --" "That's not why you took me on, though," said Kieran wickedly. He tossed the revolver aside and siezed Shan's wrist. There was a brief tug-of-war to determine whether they'd end up on the bed or the floor. Grinning, Kieran gave in and let himself be pulled up. Smothered Shan's laughter with his mouth, surrendered to the defiant purity of plain desire. For someone who'd spent half his childhood as a whore, he'd been remarkably ignorant about sex when Shan had taken him in. He'd thought all he had to do was show up. He'd certainly never made love, never mulitiplied pleasure by trading it back and forth, until Shan had taught him. Even after months of Shan's tutelage, he was rarely the one to start anything. This time, he thought maybe he was finally starting to trust his lover. He hoped so; Shan deserved that. Later, when they lay sweaty and content together, Shan asked, "What are you gonna do with your half?" "Dunno. What're you?" "Well, the shotgun rider kilt my horse. Gotta get another one. And then. Dunno. Maybe I'll buy you a diamond earring." Kieran laughed. "Don't buy me presents. I've got my own cut." "Well, what're you gonna do?" "Waste it." Then an idea came to him. "I know. Remember how when we were at Dindy's that one time, he had this engraving behind the counter? That new gun, that you could order custom?" "Yeah. You gonna get one of those?" "It takes nine bullets, Shan. Ten if you carry one in the chamber. Self-cocking, and it has separate magazines like a Lockeart. I could do some real wrecking with that." Shan raised himself on one elbow to look down into Kieran's face. "You like wrecking way too much. One of these days, babe, you're gonna wreck the world." "Not the part you're standing on," Kieran said, but for once Shan didn't smile. 6 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK --==*==-- The cops had stopped firing. Into the silence came the sound of wind, and the small clicks of Shan reloading. "I'm just about spent," Shan muttered. He snapped the cylinder into place and looked ruefully at the handful of bullets he had left. Then he raised his eyes to meet Kieran's. "How you doing for reloads?" "Two. More than you. They gotta be running low too, though." Shan risked a glance around the edge of the bit of broken wall they cowered behind. A bullet whined overhead as he pulled quickly back. His look was bleak. "Guess why they shut up." "Aw, shit." "Yep. Reinforcements. And. uh." He lowered his eyes. "I saw a white coat." "Shit," Kieran repeated, with more feeling. "It figures they'd call in the Watch. I'm a rogue Talent, after all." "Think you can take him?" "No." They looked at each other for a time. Kieran saw his own understanding mirrored in the sky-blue of Shan's stare. This was it. Well, they were highway robbers; they'd never expected to live forever. If it wasn't the cops, it would've been Kinter's gang, out to prove that nobody was allowed to quit. So he'd die before he turned twenty; he'd never figured to live even this long. When Shan siezed him by his shirt front and kissed him hard, he knew what it meant. "I love you," he said, and realized it was a lie. "Cover me," Shan replied, and shifted his weight. It all seemed to have been planned in advance -- Kieran knew exactly what would happen in the fraction of a second before it did, and knew as well that his part in it was also ordained. Shan sprang to his feet in a movement meant to propel him in a long, diving leap from their small bit of cover toward the right, where he might be able to see past the wagons that sheltered the police. Kieran jumped up too, reaching for a handful of Shan's jacket to pull him back into cover. And then came the wet smack of a bullet hitting flesh, and the side of Shan's head dissolved in brilliant scarlet. For the rest of his life, Kieran would remember how the blood glittered in the sun. It hypnotized him as he shouted, as he curled around Shan's wretched empty house with its flopping limbs. 7 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK Shan's blood coming down more slowly than his body, pebbling in the dust; blood and brains and bone. Running down the side of Kieran's face, mingling with his own blood where shards of shattered skull had laid open his brow and cheek. It was intolerable. He'd thought that the world was harsh because it was indifferent, but in that moment he realized that the world was deliberately cruel. Let it win; let it have him. Kieran didn't care. He didn't want to play this stupid game anymore. And then there came up inside him someone who did. Kieran felt himself begin to stand; then he was pushed back from his senses so that everything went pale. Gratefully, he let go of himself as the bullets began to sing in earnest. He was going to die now. When, some vague eternity later, the fog cleared and dropped him into a body bound with cold- iron chains and tortured by a Healer's efforts to keep it alive, his groan was one of despair. It was followed in the next bubbling breath by a screech of rage. Someone said, "How 'bout you heal 'im up, and we'll shoot 'im again." Nearer: "You've done your job. Now it's out of your hands." Outraged: "That fucking savage took out five of my men! He deserves --" "We have a use for his kind. That's all you need to know." Kieran willed them all to die, but his will was caught in some sticky nowhere and lost; his insults and threats were ignored. His screams of pain and outrage likewise. At last, when he'd stopped bleeding from the lungs and they'd loaded him on a wagon, he fell silent. He began to smile. He knew his teeth were red. Someone in a sand-colored police uniform clouted him on the ear. "What are you so happy about, you murdering freak?" Kieran spit blood before answering. "Now that Shan's dead," he said, "I've got no reason to be nice anymore." They hit him again, but he could see them trying to figure out how he could be any worse than he'd been before, and he went on smiling. --==*==-- In the bare desert a hundred miles northeast of Trestre rose an immense table mountain of banded golden stone. It stood more than twice as tall as any other land form in the area, nearly circular in shape, too steep to climb. Its distinctive form and size had earned it a place in the 8 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK mythology of the natives. They believed it had once been the castle of a god. It was riddled with tunnels, but they claimed not to have done the digging, nor did they know who had. They called it Iaka'anta, and would not approach it. The Eskarans called it Churchrock, and they had made it into a laboratory and a prison. Staffed and maintained by the elite government mages of the White Watch, the Churchrock facility provided an excellent place to study magical Talents and the people who posessed them. Its natural properties made it easy to set up and maintain a ward to keep the prisoners from using their magic. Though far from water sources, it was situated on a flat plain not far from a major rail line; the ancient tunnels simplified building and provided some inherent shielding. Most important -- at least to Watch Director Thelyan -- was the fact that it had once belonged to the devil-god Ka'an, and no longer did. Thelyan did not, of course, inhabit it. He only rarely visited it; twice yearly for routine inspection, and occasionally to satisfy his curiosity about the progress of some experiment, or to view an interesting subject. He had left standing orders that he was to be notified if the facility recieved a threnodist, stormcaller, or oneiromancer who fit certain criteria, but as these were rare Talents and his criteria rather strict, such a case occurred only once in a long time. Even more rarely -- only once before in this incarnation -- he came to visit a subject who'd been held here far longer than any of the researchers knew. Iaka'anta's best qualification for being made into a prison, when he had ordered the Churchrock facility built, was that it had been one already for centuries. In the bowels of the mountain was a door that looked as if it might lead to a storeroom, uninteresting, distinguishable from all the other doors in the place only by the fact that it could not be opened. Hardly anyone could even see it. Now Thelyan put his hand to the latch and watched with satisfaction as the shape of the locking spell rearranged itself to accomodate him. He opened it and slipped through, letting it lock itself behind him. Beyond, a stair led up. He had carved this stair into the stone with his own magic, alone, long before his chosen people officially occupied this territory. There was no source of light. Thelyan didn't need one. He could see the stone around him with senses far finer than sight. The only other individual in the world who posessed these senses, at least to such a degree, awaited him at the top of the stair. Climbing the long spiral high into the mountain, he reached another door, this one of thick copper. This one had greater protections on it. He could not simply slip through, but had to provide a key, an intricate idea-form that completed the waiting spell. Any magic directed against the door itself would simply ground in the copper. Only this particular password would trigger the lock, which was a masterpiece of spellcrafting. Thelyan believed that not even the one beyond the door could have set a spell in grounded metal. He built his structure of thought and fitted it into the pattern, and the door swung open with a screech of metal. 9 | T h e Go ds E at er .
JESSE HAJICEK He made a light, a tiny whorl of a sigil which lifted free of his fingers to float above him, hissing faintly and emitting a blue-white glow. This revealed an ovoid room, just large enough to contain the null sphere that held the prisoner, while giving Thelyan room to stand and observe it. The null sphere was an invention he hadn't shared with anyone. It was the only structure strong enough to contain one of his own kind. A lacy cradle of brittle iron clasped what looked like a giant drop of mercury, twelve feet in diameter. Seals were fixed at each intersection of the iron straps, each made of a different material: jade, wood, granite, ice. As he inspected it for signs of wear or damage, the mirrored sphere rippled from time to time. It was not mercury; it was a thought-thin but absolute divide between inside and outside, which not even light could cross. Once he'd satisfied himself that the device was in good working order, he touched two of the runes, releasing them, so that light and sound could pass through. Now a shape was visible, hanging motionless in the middle of the sphere. A naked human form, curled fetal and inert. In appearance, it was a boy of fifteen years, chalk-pale, shrouded and tangled in hair the color of cherry wood. The boy's fingernails were ten-inch corkscrews. Thelyan had stopped him from aging, but could not remove him completely from time. Even though he was never fed or given water, he somehow managed to obtain substance from somewhere. Thelyan had never been able to induce him to part with the secret of how it was done. It was in hope of obtaining such secrets that Thelyan kept him embodied and imprisoned, rather than absorbing him. Sometimes, more often as he descended further into madness, the creature could be tricked or bullied into parting with useful information. "Chaiel." Thelyan's voice disappeared into the tiny space, barely sounding in his own ears. "Chaiel. Wake. Chaiel. I wish to speak with you." This went on for some time. After many more repetitions of his name, the boy in the sphere at last responded. Sluggishly, he opened his eyes and turned them on Thelyan, iron gray and perfectly insane, as round and unthinking as a lizard's. "Chaiel. Speak, so I know you can hear me." "Speak so I know you can hear me," the boy echoed. His voice was dull. "Answer, so I know you understand me." After staring at Thelyan for a minute or two, the boy gave a flat imitation of a giggle, without changing the blankness of his face. "No. I don't like you." "Of course you don't. However, I suspect you're bored. I have a puzzle for you to play with." That had the usual effect: the boy straightened with a sudden knifing motion, twisting in the air to face Thelyan, suddenly eager. "Give it!" "My precognitors have recently begun to see a major change affecting me. The lesser Talents put faces on this change, telling me they foresee a war, or bad weather, or a rebellion. Those I rely 10 | T h e G od s E a ter .