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The light                        

the light, bounced from water to glass, reflected, refracted, tinted and coppery softened, dimmed, steeping the shadows about them both. “Five hundred years?” he says, sat on the carpet, back to the wall beside her. “Fifty.” A sigh. “I don’t know.”

She says, “Is she up there? Is that where she went?”

“I was so angry at them both,” he says. “Vincent, for just, quitting, walking away from a fight, but John for forcing the fight in the first place. I wasn’t on his side, or his side, I was – I wanted to go back, to before there were any sides at all.”

“I even,” she says, “made it over to our old place, our first place, in the Kafoury building? Just in case, I mean, maybe, but it, there was nobody there. And I tried to find the VC. Back where it all began, right?” Leaning away from the flower, shoulder brushing his. “It’s gone. Somebody put up a fucking skyscraper.”

“I wish you’d seen it,” he says, her hand in his. “When it all finally came together? It was, it was glorious. It worked. It worked!” A giddy little laugh. “So many of them came, from all over the world,” looking up, “and there were rooms enough for them all.”

She says, “This time, this is the time he’s gonna be dead. I don’t,” a deep breath. “I don’t wanna go back.” Closing her eyes. “But I have to go back to get the watch so I can get the phone so I can get past whatshername.” Looking slyly over at him. “Are you sure you couldn’t just, let me slip past? Right now?”

“Well, I put on the mask,” he says. “I figured, I don’t know,” and a sigh. “I’d sweep it off, at just the right moment. Shame my father for not being there. Stop the King in his tracks.” He closes his eyes. “But it all happened so fast.” Looking down at his hands, folded together in his lap. “I think he knew it was me, in the end. I think, he let me win. And so,” lifting his hands, ta-da, “here I am.”

“It feels like I’ve been here so long,” she says. “This sun.”

“She’s waiting for you. I can tell you that. But there are rules.”

“I don’t like his smile.”

“I called them here,” he says, sitting up. “I opened the door. I saved them all, every last one. Fuck Mars!”

“Lymond?” she says. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, probably a couple more days. It’s nice, isn’t it?” Looking down, at her flower. “Getting a glimpse of what’s to come.”

“Not all of them,” she says.

“What I can do,” and he gets to his feet then, “is hook you up with a canoe. That should let you get around a little faster, anyway.”

“Not every last one,” and she takes his hand, and lets him pull her up.

“You do know where it is.”

“Why did he do it?”

“That I might be King,” he says, leading her toward the empty pane, the makeshift balcony. “Wait a minute,” she’s saying, as they step outside. “Didn’t I come here in a canoe?”

Stowing the rough-hewn paddle she pauses halfway up the rickety ladder, leaning over the gunwale to look down the two or three storeys she’s climbed above the dripping guide-rope lifted off the water’s surface as she strokes and kicks through pale brown water, flower floating in her wake, the slowing canoe bumps a couple of kayaks thump and wobble, a neatly knocked-together raft among those empty little boats that choke the water about the mud-scummed base of the towering wall of pink-bronze glass, mossily tarnished where wavelets lap, the boats knock hollowly. A bloodstained poignard in her teeth she reaches for the makeshift balcony lashed above her head, she hauls on the guide-rope, she takes long careful dripping steps from gunwale to bobbing deck, scrambling up from the rope ladder onto that narrow balcony lashed to the broken window, pulling herself from the milky muddy water kick and splash, leaping the final step to the floating dock butted up against the glass that anchors the guide-ropes stretched out to styrofoam buoys, the focus of that abandoned flotilla. Her dripping jeans, her bare legs dry, the black glass phone tucked in the waistband of her briefs, her wet hair darkly shining under the high white sky, the broad-brimmed hat that shadows her face and shoulders, the stump of the stem rooted in her breast, the flower gleaming with water droplets almost white in the brightness. Red shoes squelch as she heads across the dock, drily quiet across the balcony, squeak and clack as she starts up the ladder, clink of glass as she steps through the missing pane, “Hello?” she says.

“Lymond?” she says.

As and as she walks heads across the filth across the grimy carpet, “I. I was the. Gallowglas,” she says, she says, “the Huntsman. I am here. The Duchess of Southeast! The Hawks’ Widow! Her Champion! I am here!”

There is no response.

“Shit,” she says, she says, “ah, shit,” she says, and. Heading around and past the toward the podium past to the elevators grunt she stumbles sprawling headlong hands and knees the knife skitters bounce and tumble to fetch up against the wall. Black phone held tight. Deep breath sighing, she rolls over and rolling over sits up, lifts her hand sitting up, her hand coming up to push away a flower, there is no flower.

“Ysabel?” she says, getting to her feet. Getting to her feet.

The stairwell’s dark. Water drips echoing somewhere far below, and the shuff of her footsteps, climbing, until somewhere up there she stops, and sits herself on the steps. She takes off her straw hat, blots her forehead with a gloved palm, leans back, looking up at the flights above still left to climb. What little light seeps through doors propped open here and there up the height of it all makes it all that much harder to see. She lofts that hat out into the stairwell, whirling up in the weak light to wobble slip and fall away quickly lost and gone.

The stairs end under a low ceiling, a nondescript door held open by a folding chair. Beyond a catwalk over dormant gears, slack dusty cables, quiet engines half-seen in the pooled brightness at the end, where one more flight of stairs climbs into dazzling sky. She pauses at the foot of them, in the last angled fall of shadow, the colorless light beyond, above, and the climbing curve of thick-twined rope that thins into a thread, lost to sight long before it reaches the silver belly hoving into view, the underside of that far-off castle, fringed by the greenery of its gardens. Up the steps, up and out onto the roof of that tower a dizzying height above the water caramel yellow under the blank haze, cradled by the rumpled folds of hills, their trees long since scorched brown, interrupted by pockets of empty houses, shelves of condominiums broken along this ridge or that, the great leaping arc of the freeway bridge, plastic sheeting ripped and dangled from the deck of it, and clouded crawling with swirls of black specks, and then lines and blocks of rooftops flat and peaked, and upper storeys, and the round tops of a row of grain silos, irrupting the endless stretch of smooth calm water. Turning about, the towers of downtown enormous gnomons against the haze, the curve of that other freeway bridge, and the girdered spires sunk before it, clouded about by smudged arabesques of more specks and sparks, and far off out there past the water a sharp mountain at the edge of the world, harsh grey without a hint of snow. She comes out onto the roof, away from the steps, the rope descending from straight above to end in a mighty anchor bolted to the buckled, rumpled concrete there by the antenna knocked askew, topped by a dead warning light, and the white rock shaped there, a bird, much too large to be a bird, smooth rounded shoulders with not a suggestion of feathers but angled chevrons carved in the broad stained breast. The little man kneeling before those cyclopean talons looks back at her over his shoulder. A great flower’s laid on the cracked concrete, a handspan or more across, delicately pink, the long stem of it thickly limp, sparsely leafed, browning at the broken end of it.

“Eleleu,” he says, through all those teeth.

The head of that eagle turns, a grate of stone on stone, stark beak, blank eyes aimed square at her.

Head low feet pound she comes for him. He ducks under the lifting groaning grinding wing spread up and out to halt she ducks around and under there he’s stepped up on the anchor seized the rope in both his hands she’s running as he opens wide his mouth and

the sound

bites, head whipped to one side spun away as the freed rope drags a yard or two along the roof, sliding away toward the edge, “No!” she cries, slither and slip of the rope off the edge of the roof away and gone she’s running, running leap onto the parapet and kicking launched out into the air the water far below she’s falling hands she’s reaching grasping seizing hands the frayed end of the rope she’s holding, holding, swinging, swaying, kicking out over the city drowned below, arms straight up over her head the pink-bronzed tower so far too far away, below, her eyes squeezed streaming shut her muscles bunching arms and shoulders pulling, pulling, holding, folding as she hauls herself up her face now at the level of her hands at the end of that rough rope, and then, swung and swayed and twisted about she lets one gloved hand, flung up clutch to grab to higher hold, a gasp, her other hand up after seizing holding fast. Inch by inch, hand over hand, up the rope a vast pendulum swung from the castle drifting far above until, until the soft-fuzzed end of it thumps against her foot, her kicking red shoe wound about, her both feet now, clutched together, and the rope between them, clinging glove and forearm elbow thigh and knee and shoe.

The towers and the brown hills falling away, the water passing beneath and now that higher ground, houses and empty streets, trees still dark with leaves, the mountain twisting about, absurdly sharp, too close to be so far away, and then the city again, behind. She lifts her feet, knees bent a kneel to draw them up, clamped higher about the rope, standing herself then, up higher, lifting her hands one the other to clutch up higher up the rope. And again. And again, feet and knees, hands, muscles bunching, shifting, jaw set, knife jammed through the waistband of her briefs, by the black phone snug against the small of her back, and the frayed end of the rope left twitching and jumping in her wake.

The light’s changing as the castle drifts on, dimming, coalescing above the hills behind the dwindling city in a point too bright for the yellowed sky. Something flickers in those shadows, billowing slow coils that churn, dissolving into whirls of specks that surging flurry closer, closer, she closes her eyes as by the dozens, the thousands they swarm, black-lobed bodies spinning glossily beneath the threnodic roar of those shivering wings, a terrible soaring storm of them mounting the length of the rope, rushing away up toward the castle. An eddy peels away, gusting back down to the weight of her dangled to gyre about, fetch up in jerking halts, hovering, dropping and jagging close, startling away. One struggles insistently to hold itself still before her face until she opens her blinking eyes again to see it wings too fast to be but rainbowed blurs, light glinting off the cockpit surmounting the central mass of it, obscuring the helmeted figure within, the flash of the silver needle it raises, sat astride the high-backed saddle strapped between those glossy wasp-bodied lobes. That lance tips over, pointing down, the buzzing rising as it heels over, tinny knock of a fist against the cockpit glass, pointing down, pale underside of its wide-brimmed hat lit up in carnival colors by instruments within. Below, past her feet, far past the tufted end of the rope, far below the streets have unwound themselves from a close-packed grid to sparse threads laid through dry fields, dark lines and clumps of trees and only now and then a house, a barn. The flash of that tiny lance again, pointing once more down, and then the figure leans back in the saddle, sawing the reins, flicking an array of switches, rolling, pitching, yawing away, each of them spinning, lifting in fits and starts, scraps of ash climbing an updraft, leaving only the creak of the rope, but something’s changed, something’s changing, the sound of it, the tension, the air about her, looking up, the castle shining closer now, and growing closer, larger, too quickly, she clings to the rope watching helplessly as it swells, the flowers of its gardens, the golden towers above, pennants snapping in the wind, all occluded by the shining belly of it, white stone, polished steel, woven aluminum, titanium ribs, the whole of it slowly starting to spin as she’s twisting, twirling with the growing speed of the rope drawn up into the zeppelin’s hull through a hawsehole tiny in that vast expanse, but there’s something, she blinks, cheek pressed to the shivering peering up the taut length to that small whiteness against the silver, a circle, a disk, an inverted cone cuffing the rope that thrums with the speed of its passage through a far too narrow notch in its center.

“Oh,” she says, or “oh, God,” or maybe, “no.”

Leaning back from the rope but there’s nothing, nothing but the spinning ocean of light and shining silver, cloud and stone and the white guard at the center of it all hurtling toward her. Trembling leaning further back “oh, shit” her hands slip once a jerk feet cycling trying to turn herself about feet-first but it’s all so fast, too sudden, smack and bellow slam into wrenched about shoes against booming skin of it skidding the notch at the top the groaning rope arms braced and screaming jerking rope slips once through her gloved hands buckling knees and rip and slam against the clean white guard the rope wrenched out of her hands and slipping sliding falling out over all that

One last frantic kick that knocks her out and up enough just enough her flailing slap and grab the edge swung out a grunt heeled up but one hand slipping she’s slipping she lets go the one hand reaching for the knife in her waistband windmilling arm up driving it point home into the crump of plastisteel steamed papyrus the mithriluminum punctured yes but holding, holding, hand on the hilt, the rest of her dangled over nothing at all.

The last of the rope slips bumping frayed end up through the guard and whips away, gone.

The flat wide cone of that guard’s hung at an angle on a slender pylon jutting from the silver stone foundation wall, ten feet below that hawsehole. Ragged holes punched along the surface of it, four or five in an irregular line, the last of them still plugged with the wire-wrapped handle of that knife. She’s laid on her side on the pylon, holding tight to a cross-bar, one leg bent, a foot hooked through the notch in the top of the guard. The haze has faded, light sharpened, crisp blues and greys now etch the slopes of clouds. Here and there among them float other yellow castles, and the bright flowers of their gardens, and brave pennants. It’s breathlessly quiet, but for the chatter of her teeth, and her hair is stiff with ice. In the hand close by her face she holds the glassy black phone.

A face appears at the hawsehole, peering down the ten feet to that pylon, the damaged guard, “Aiw!” jerking back thump of a helmet against the hole’s rim. Some heated discussion ensues. Her teeth have stilled.

Scuffle and thump, feet emerge from the hawsehole, pale bare strapped in leathern sandals orange coveralls a shining foil pressure suit, dangled there a moment thick bit of rope, knotted every foot or so, a coil of air line red woven aluminastic, “Yjb elayna,” and a burst of static, “razgonyat!” Climbing floating leaping lithely down to land step grab the pylon. “Dap. Dedap!” Kneeling folding hands together lifting a finger to an ear, hidden behind a light-glared faceplate, “Penquepel,” the voice, rotely bored, devoutly murmured low and close, “sothe for to seyne, muy dolzhniy. Plaiqwel?” Standing then, adjusting the fit of the breechclout, tool belt, paying out the air line, holding tight that simple rope ladder, floating stepping over her to the top of the guard. Wrenching the knife free with a shocking sound, whipping it away, blood-browned wire-wrapped shining tumbling flying falling kneeling to reach up, take hold of a sun-ruddied arm clamped tight about the brace, gently work it loose. Looking up, lifting a hand to the ear again, bowing the head, a kiss for a wrist, shadow nodding behind light-struck glass, “Five by five, Medheigh.”

Straightening bracing wrapping a loop of rope about an elbow to plant a boot a sandal a callus-horned foot and lean into a shoving kick that sends

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