Would I give three mermaids one coin apiece, or would one mermaid take all three? I shucked my gloves, holding the silver against bare skin. The edge of the first coin bit into the side of my thumb, and I tried to picture the creature that would take it in exchange for the burden of whatever gangrenous rot of which I wished to be relieved. A girl like myself, I decided, but with no heart of her own and a fishtail instead of legs. A girl who could do as she pleased.
The preacher burns too bright to look at, bright as summer sun spearing the tin-framed mirror in Tía’s parlor, and Carmen cowers before his gaze, as she does before all mirrors, feeling the shadows shrink around her, every supplicant incited. And though she came here seduced by the same promises, Carmen panics, resists the tide, fights not to join the spittle-flecked front of the crowd. Too like teetering on a cliff’s edge, too great the specter of wish fulfilled or failed.
My glamour, I know, masks expressions of exasperation. Once I had loved this part of the job, calculating possible returns on risk. But that had been before the interminable waste of the Grass War and the long train of young women and men in front of my desk with the trinkets they thought would give them a chance of not becoming food for crows in a field somewhere.
Mila kept herself still like a statue, like the weapon she was supposed to be, even though inside she was screaming no, I will not, you can’t just ask me to do that, the law is the law. Weapons did not have choices, did not speak aside from the roar of a spark against gunpowder or the click of a trigger, but she had to stop this before it ruined everything.
Experimentally, I played a few notes on the bone flute from High-Flying Jack. Gently, the sky gathered me up into its cool arms. And in no time at all, I was flying south over fields and forest, as true as an assassin's arrow.
The river fought like a snake that could smell the sweetness in his blood. It wrapped thick coils hawser-tight around him and tried to throw him down the current. He twisted, slipped through and beat up into light bright as the sun over his head. He had it. Three fingertips above the silt, the hand still whole and safe below.
“Give me my shit back,” Fury growled. The sight of her guitar awoke righteous rage in her. It was hers, the last remnant of her family and people, the last thing she carried from her home as it was destroyed, burned in humanity’s war against its divine. Besides Fury herself, the guitar was the only thing that remained to prove that her parents’ love had existed.
They found him dangling from what was left of a tough old willow. Grinn’s nose couldn’t have missed him, the clean den-smell of hidden wolf beneath the bitter futility billowing from him like wet-leaf smoke. She eased along the dry creek bed from behind. Her choices displeased the palomino, but she could take this other wolf if it came to claws. He was a long fellow, sure, broad-shouldered with shaggy brown hair, but Grinn’s height and heft near matched him.
Goodwitch Vidya looked up at her, just once, and in that moment Arati felt the great weight of generations press onto her back, the duty of witches long gone. A duty she did not want. A duty she was expected to uphold. She made tea with numb hands, let the woman cry onto her shoulder, and all the while the bees hummed from the cracks in the walls.