It was autumn, and the leaves would have been brown
if there were any. There weren't, and cold sunlight slanted
down, illuminating a Saturday more dismal than most. I had
always detested the Mission District, even in life, and the
soot and grime and uninspired graffiti did little to improve
However, I had an appointment. The wheels of time
turn slowly, but it is possible, when one is dead, to catch
glimpses of their future positions. I had paid those whose
foresight was better than mine to tell me when and where I
might find a certain man; a living man of whom I had made
the acquaintance some years earlier, and of whom I currently
had need of service. A man, who, in my humble opinion, had
met with Destiny and other weird and otherworldly
Not the least of which, of course, being myself. It
was an acquaintance I intended to renew.
Peter came down the sidewalk towards me, boots
clomping in not-quite-military precision. He'd changed a
great deal in the three years since I'd seen him last.
Gaunter, with dark circles under his eyes, hair long on top
and shaved round the sides, and he'd affected a little ring
in his nose and weighted clamps for earrings. A Goth now,
though I might have expected as much. The mark of Death was
gone from his face, but the scars were still there, showing
in the shadows under his eyes.
Not that they mattered. Death may be a fearful and
jealous mistress, but even La Morte has been
known to relinquish Her claim when confronted with the proud
and haughty visage of Destiny, who takes precedence before
even that most dread of ladies. Those whom Destiny claims
are Hers alone, and though the rewards of such a liaison are
often great, it is seldom an easy relationship.
I make no claims to being a great man, or even to
having been a great man in the years before my death. But I
will admit a certain talent in recognizing greatness in
others--or at least its potential. There are some who hear
the call to Destiny and answer readily; others who run from
it, screaming in denial.
Then there are those who merely recognize it as it
rushes by and, if they are quick enough, can reach out and
grab it by the coattails.
Peter walked right past me, paying me no more mind
than did any of the living. It's a rare man who can see
ghosts, for, as you've no doubt discovered, the Quick have
an instinctive fear of the Dead, and shutter their minds
away from even the slightest glimpse of that-which-lies-
beyond. However, this man, as I knew from experience, could
see me as plainly as he could the rest of the world. He
just wasn't paying attention.
"Peter, hold a moment."
He paused, listening, then continued down 10th,
hunching into the collar of his pea coat.
I caught up a second later and tapped him on the
shoulder with my cane. "Hello, Peter. Remember me?"
His eyes narrowed, grey mirrors that reflected the
Shadowlands, and I saw the spark of recognition. "Fuck you.
You're dead. Leave me alone." The words came out in a
fierce whisper and he turned away, loping off at a swift
"Peter--wait." I had to jog to keep up.
"Get the fuck away from me. I've had enough of
everyone thinking I'm crazy. I don't need this shit."
"Wait, Peter. Wait. Peter--Do you want me to tell
He stopped and glared, and the whisper came out in a
sharp hiss. "You're a fucking bastard. I ought to beat
your face in."
I tried to smile as ingratiatingly as I could. It
is always paramount to give one's best appearance,
especially when dealing with those who view one with
Peter broke eye contact and continued on down the
sidewalk, rounding onto Folsom. He spoke again, louder this
time, as if he were only talking to himself. "I'm going to
Mary's, and I'm gonna get myself a fucking burger, and a
fucking table by myself, and I don't wanna talk to
I followed him down the street and into the
restaurant. He didn't speak a word the entire time, and I
chose to respect that.
Hamburger Mary's is the type of San Francisco eatery
that they've had since the Summer of Love--exposed wood and
posters and little bits of stained glass and bric-a-brac.
It's one of the jewels of SoMa, the South of Market area,
staffed by gays who call each other "Mary," though not
nearly as much as they do in City legend. It's a nice,
casual place, where the staff is neither on display nor in
hiding, and aside from the shadows on the faces of the
doomed and the dying (and there's a fair number at Mary's),
the feeling is good. As much as anything in the Shadowlands
Peter got a little table in the back and pretended I
wasn't there until finally he kicked the chair opposite him
out just enough so I could sit down. I waited till he'd
finished looking over the menu and ordering before I said
anything. "Peter, I need your help."
"Fuck you." His lips formed the words, but he
didn't voice them.
I've heard tell that there are some wraiths, mostly
Norwegian, who are so scandalized by vulgar language that it
sends them screaming into the Tempest. Perhaps, but I'm not
Norwegian, and it certainly didn't apply to me. "Peter,
listen--I wouldn't really tell everyone that you're a
Topper, but I need your help. I have a friend, another
wraith, who's lost every connection to this earth except his
grave. He was one of the plague victims, the miners they
buried out in the potter's field by the Port Authority
Building. They've rediscovered it, and the City plans to
dig everyone up and cremate them and cast the ashes in the
"There'll be a monument," Peter said softly, looking
at the grain of the wall. "The City likes that sort of
"Probably. It doesn't matter, it wouldn't be the
same. Once the fetter is broken, Frank will be lost."
"Fetter? What is he, a fucking horse?" Peter
glared back at me. "You talk weird even for a ghost."
I took off my spectacles and began to polish them.
"I beg your pardon, Peter. A fondness for legal terminology
has followed me even into death, and while it has served me
in good stead when dealing with the various Guilds and
Hierarchies the Dead have seen fit to amuse themselves with,
I do have an unfortunate tendency to slip into the
vernacular. My apologies." I placed my spectacles back
atop my nose and adjusted the ribbon. "By fetters, I refer
to the ties that bind, the reasons a person has for living
that are so strong that they continue to hold true even when
that person has ceased to live. And when a fetter is gone,
your reason for living--"
"`'s your reason for leaving/Don't ask me what it
means,'" Peter finished for me, singing. "ABC, 'The Look of
Love.' Know it."
"Exactly," I said, continuing blithely onward even
though I hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about.
"Yes, well, when a fetter is broken, your reason for living
is your reason for leaving, and the ties that
bind can hold you no longer. And the body is one of those,
for what could be a more obvious reason for living than that
which holds one's life itself, even when that vessel is
broken and the spirit no longer infuses the divine
I think I was beginning to lose Peter, for he was
playing with his napkin and humming the song he'd just
recalled, interspersed with snatches of verse: "'I don't
know the answer to that question . . . if I knew, mmm-mmm-
When you're dead, you grow used to the living paying
you no mind, but I knew Peter was deliberately ignoring me,
and I'd never had patience for that sort of thing. I
snapped my fingers quickly in front of his face. "Peter,
pay attention." He glared at me and I continued: "If
Frank's fetter is destroyed, he'll fall into the Tempest.
And by that I mean neither a mundane rainstorm nor the
Bard's play, but a maelstrom of spiritual energy that will
suck him down to Oblivion, if he isn't caught along the way
by various fiends, who will enslave him or worse.
"And that's why I'm here. Frank would be scattered
with his ashes, and if not destroyed outright, he'd be made
into a slave. The miners left so little that's tangible,
but their legend is strong. There are spirits who want that
power, and are willing to sacrifice Frank and others like
him in order to seize it."
Peter's mirrored eyes looked at me, and I'm still
not sure whether he was looking to the core of my soul or
just looking right through me like the rest of Quick. It
was that sort of look.
He broke it off as his burger came. It was a big
sloppy one, with fried bread on each side and lots of juice
and trimmings, so thick he had to go at it with a fork. I
could feel his hunger and the savor as he took a bite, and I
reached out to share a bit of the real experience.
The knife flashed in Peter's hand and he whacked me
with the flat of the blade. "Get your fucking fingers off
my food, you rotten ghost bastard. You're gonna give me a
case of grave rot." He took the knife and polished it clean
with the napkin, then on second thought set it aside and
took the clean one from the setting on my side of the table.
"And now you've got everyone thinking I'm a fucking loony.
Hey," he said, sitting up straighter and looking right
through me this time, "I'm practicing for a play. Gotta
problem with that? 'Alas poor Yorick. I knew him well.'"
He slumped back down and locked eyes with me. "'He was a
"Sorry." I glanced back at the two woman who were
looking at Peter with over-mascaraed eyes. They shrugged
after a moment and went back to their lunch.
Peter went back to attacking his hamburger and
swallowed it down in big bites, juice running down his chin.
"So," he said around a mouthful, "this friend of yours loses
his place. So what? Why doesn't he just go into the light
along with Carol Ann and the rest of you assholes?"
I'd never heard Ascension discussed so quickly and
crassly, and I wasn't expecting his next remark: "Okay,
fine, you can't, you're stuck, you're here in Purgatory and
I'm stuck here with you and I have to listen to you whiny
bastards 'cause I'm the closest thing you've got to some
Poltergeist midget psychic. Fuck that. If I
knew how the hell to get into the light, I would have done
it a long time ago, and the only reason I haven't bumped
myself off yet is that from everything I've seen being dead
sucks even more than being alive. What do you want me to
do? I can't stop City Hall, and once they get it into their
heads to build a monument, there isn't anything in this
world or the next that's gonna stop them. So what do you
want me to do?"
Peter wanted the cards on the table, and I had to
give them to him. "We were hoping you could dig up Frank's
body and move it somewhere else."
"You want me to go graverobbing."
I tried to put the best face on it. "Well, yes, if
you could, please."
Peter attacked the french fries, not saying anything
for another minute or two. "Why don't you go find some girl
who just died and get her to ask her boyfriend to do
Believe me, I'd tried, but young wraiths are jealous
of their fetters, and even if you get them to ask, most
mortals balk at the idea of graverobbing, especially at the
request of the dead. "I think you know the answer to that,
Peter. It's a terrible thing to be chained as a thrall.
The chains are forged from the broken souls of the Dead and
shattered promises and dreams. Frank doesn't deserve that
sort of a hell. No one does. You can save him."
"What do I look like? Fucking Amnesty
International?" Peter contemplated a french fry and licked
a drop of ketchup off his nose ring. "How much is he paying
"Don't give me that shit--How much is he paying you?
You're not Casper the Friendly Ghost, you're Thaddeus
Winters, the Greedy Bastard. I know your rep and who you
are, and you're not doing this out of the goodness of your
heart. What's this fucking Frank the Dead Miner paying you
that you're threatening to write my phone number on every
bathroom wall in the Otherworld?"
I fussed a bit with my gloves, making sure the
buttons were secure at the wrist. "Frank is older than me.
Not in life, but in death. He's the shade who removed my
caul after I died." I glanced back up. "He's my Reaper,
and I owe him a great debt."
Peter looked at me, his mirror eyes looking to the
darkest corners of my soul. "Don't give me that shit. I
bet you paid him off a dozen times, or at least got him to
agree that you paid the debt and that he even owed you."
There are many frightening and terrible things about
death, and people like Peter are among them. "You're right.
I've treated him abysmally, and not as one should treat a
friend or Reaper. But if his fetter is destroyed, then
he'll be taken by the Regents of the Skeletal Lord. I know
this. And Franklin knows where my fetters lie from the
early time we spent together. And if I'm taken as a thrall,
I'll be forced to tell my new master everything. And that
includes everything about you, Peter." I paused, letting it
sink in. "A Topper is a precious and wonderful thing to the
Dead. A mortal who can see and touch us without charms or
effort, and who doesn't risk being consumed by the
Shadow. . . ."
"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
He stabbed the ice in his Coke with the straw and it rattled
like the chains of Stygia. "The Shining sucks worse than
Stephen King ever imagined, and you bastards nearly got me
killed a dozen times over. I've seen my Shadow, and that's
something no living person should ever have to do."
"The mark of Death isn't upon you anymore,
"No thanks to you, asshole." He stabbed the ice
again. "I bet Shirley Maclaine never had to deal with this
shit. Housewives in Oregon get two-thousand-year-old
medicine men as their spirit guides. I nearly die, what do
I get? Some fucking Robber Baron lawyer. Who the hell
wants to talk to you?"
I shrugged. "Do you want ancient wisdom or
competent legal advice?"
He was evading the issue. "If you really want to go
on the talk-show circuit, Peter, you can tell them I'm a
law-speaker from ancient Lemuria. That should appeal to the
credulous masses, and it's not as if anyone could prove it
regardless. But who knows? If I'm taken along with Frank,
then your name will be sold to the highest bidder, and
there's no telling what number of dyspeptic old medicine
men's shades may show up at your door--if that's really what
Peter stirred his Coke, avoiding my eyes. "Listen,
I'll think about it. But it won't be easy digging up a
"The asphalt is already broken, and the bones are
"Says you," Peter said. "You wraiths see the
future. I only see the present, and I don't need you to
tell me things have gone to hell 'cause I already know
they're going there. Anyway, tomorrow's Halloween. I've
got things to do, and there's no way I'm messing around in a
graveyard on Halloween night. Too much weird shit going
down without digging up dead men's bones on top of it."
"We don't mind."
"Says you. Frank ain't the only one buried there,
you know, and there's nastier things than you ghosts out on
Halloween night. Anyway, even if you and Frank are the only
things that go bump in the night tomorrow, you aren't the
cops, and if the cops don't have everything guarded, I'll
have to stand in line behind the weirdloops who want to
sacrifice cats and read Crowley at each other. Everybody
knows where those graves are, so fuck that shit." Peter
threw a handful of bills on the table and stood up. "I'll
be at the House of Usher on Tuesday and the Temple on
Thursday. You know where to find me." The hem of his coat
whipped through me as I sat there and Peter stormed out of
I was quite proud of Peter. He'd done a lot of
growing up since last we met.
Frank was where I'd left him, his customary perch in
the Washbag, the Washington Square Bar & Grill. "How did it
I shrugged. "Better than expected. He didn't say
Frank smiled. He still looked like the boy he'd
been when he died, seventeen, with golden hair and green
eyes. His miner's shirt was gone, replaced with a 49'rs T-
shirt, though he still had the same rough-worn denim jeans.
It was a good semblance for him to wear, nothing the drunks
would find remarkable when they caught a glimpse of him in
the bar's mirror. My own suit and cravat were of course a
trifle old-fashioned, but this was San Francisco, and in a
city where men wore tea dresses and women wore lumberjack
shirts, it would take far more than that to beg askance.
As they also said of the City, the miners came in
'49, the whores in '51, and there, beside Frank, was Grace.
She'd died in 1951, not 1851, but for all the century of
difference between them, they made a couple. Grace had
traded her semblance of a bloody murdered harlot for the
dress of one of the movie queens of the late '40s of this
century, and her auburn locks were immaculately curled and
She twined her fingers with Frank's and hugged
closer to him. "You've got to help Frank, Teddy."
I moved up to the bar, sharing a draught of one
patron's Anchor Steam. "I fully intend to, Grace. And drop
the little-girl-lost tone; I've a feeling that's part of
what got you killed in the first place."
Grace gasped, playing her part immaculately, and I
saw the Shadow look out of Frank's eyes for a moment. A
danger. "I beg your pardon, Grace. That was a very uncivil
remark, and unbecoming of a gentleman. I'm just a bit
overwrought. Peter is a very difficult man to deal
Frank's eyes returned to their customary green, and
Grace dimpled. "Okay," she said in her best baby-doll
voice. "I know it's tough getting living guys to believe in
you." She made a little moue. "And not much fun even if
Frank hugged closer to Grace, comforting her.
"Don't worry, Grace. Thaddeus says the guy's a Topper.
He'll be easier to talk to." He looked up, plaintive. "He
is a psychic, ain't he? We're not just wasting time?"
I glanced about, making sure that the rest of the
Washbag's patrons were both living and interested in other
matters, then leaned over and shared another draught of
Anchor Steam. "Peter," I said, softly and distinctly, "in
my personal and professional opinion, is no mere sensitive,
even one strong enough to warrant being called a Topper.
Oh, I have no doubts he may have started life as such--
there's a certain fey and otherworldly quality about the
boy, and that sort of air only comes about through long
experience--but after what he has been through and the
talents he has evinced . . . no. He is a magician, a potent
spiritualist--though frankly, I don't believe he's realized
it as yet."
"A magician?" Grace asked. "You mean like
"No, Grace," I said, biting back several choice
remarks, "not like Copperfield, nor like Houdini. A true
magician, a Magus, one of the wise men whom we have come to
know as the Magi--though I believe they now call themselves
mages to keep from offending the fairer sex such as
yourself." I touched the brim of my hat in deference. "But
magician, witch, sorcerer--it all comes to the same thing.
They know we're here, and I know you've heard the stories
and the warnings: necromancers and spiritists, living men
who can drag the Dead before them and force them to do their
bidding. Conjurers who trap souls in bottles, and dark
priests who can send them to Hell. Soothsayers and oracles
who see more of the worlds beyond Death than the Dead
"Euthanatos, I've heard they call themselves, the
`Good Deaths.' Hollow Men. Strange and arcane Orders and
Brotherhoods." I held out my cane, gesturing and pointing
to one after another, as if representatives of all of these
were before me.
I let my arm fall and shrugged. "It really doesn't
matter. We gain our power when we realize that we are Dead.
They gain their power when they realize the world is a
stranger place than they imagined. We take our own in hand
for our own reasons, and they do the same.
"Sometimes, however, one falls between the cracks.
A duckling goes astray to be raised by wolves, or a fox by
magpies. Pick a metaphor; I'm sure there's a better one.
But Peter nearly died once, and from that, he met with the
Dead--including myself. He's been doing his best to avoid
us ever since, though unlike most who tread upon the hem of
the Moon-Angel's robe, he cannot forget what he saw, or stop
seeing it. And as dour and taciturn as he is, I see little
reason for him to have ever made the acquaintance of other
mages--or for him to have taken up their tricks or their
politics. And as he's living, and wishes only to be left
alone, he won't give a fig if he knows the location of your
bones, Frank, even if he is the one who helped move them.
Which leaves him our best and brightest option."
Grace gave an innocent look and batted her eyelashes
with the ease of long practice. "Could we maybe meet him?
If we ask him nice-like, well, maybe . . ."
I considered Peter to be one of my own secrets, but
I'd already let most of my hand show. And desperate
times . . . "It might be a possibility. He won't do it
tomorrow, but he's mentioned two likely rendezvous points:
the House of Usher on Tuesday and the Temple on Thursday. I
can only assume they're nightclubs. I'll need to do more
Grace brightened. "They are. The H of U is at
Thunder Bay in Berkeley, and the Temple is at the Oasis.
They're Goth clubs. And if he's going to them, I'd bet
anything he'll be at the Waydown tomorrow."
I had not considered Grace as a source of
information. "The Waydown?"
Grace nodded. "It's what they call the Old St.
Francis Church in the Haight. Some of the underground clubs
go there, and it's where they're holding the Necrotic
Neurotic Halloween Ball tomorrow night."
"Necrotic Neurotic?" I'd heard of the Exotic Erotic
Halloween Ball, but still . . .
Grace dimpled. "It's a Goth thing."
Frank smiled again, looking at Grace. "Well, at
least we've got something to do for Halloween." He looked
back to me, and I saw the fear in his eyes. "It beats
waiting for them to dig up my bones and burn them."
I nodded in assent. "Agreed. Speaking from
personal experience, I must say that having one's bones
incinerated is less than pleasant."
The Old St. Francis proved to be in the Ashbury
Heights near Mount Olympus. Fire had blackened the
exterior, and the marble statues of St. Francis and his
little animal friends had had their heads knocked off long
ago. Someone had thoughtfully replaced them with grinning
jack-o'-lanterns, however, and girls dressed in cobweb lace
were happily running about festooning everything that didn't
move with orange and black crˆpe. Flyers done up, black on
purple with illustrations in the style of Edward Gorey,
proclaimed the coming revel with phrases like "It's a Dead
Man's Party!" and "Every Day is Halloween!"
We felt right at home.
Grace had felt it an engaging idea to appear in the
manner of our deaths, and she now looked like a murdered
whore circa 1951 (though far less grisly than I'm certain
she'd looked originally) while Frank looked like a miner
fresh in from the gold fields (as opposed to the cholera
ward). I told them I died of smoke inhalation, as I did not
particularly wish to retake my aspect as a charred corpse
from the Great Fire. However, my top hat and spectacles
lent me a dignified air, and I noted at least one or two of
the mortals had affected similar apparel.
Dusk fell, the fog rolled in, and the revelers began
to arrive on motorcycles and in cabs and limousines. There
were of course several who arrived in hearses, as might be
expected, though the most stylish by far was the young lady
who rode in (presumably from just down the block) on a
penny-farthing dating to somewhere between Frank's death and
Peter had not shown as yet. To brighten Frank's
spirits somewhat, Grace decided to explore the inside of the
church. The Old St. Francis had caught fire in the '20s as
I remembered, and there had never been enough money to
repair the damage or enough interest in the local Catholic
diocese to do anything other than hold onto the land as an
investment. All attempts at chainlink fence had of course
been cut to bits long ago, and last I'd heard, hippies had
used it as a crash pad.
Their heirs, the Goths, had now made it their own,
and the D.J. had set up atop the altar. The crucifix that
had no doubt hung behind it had been removed, replaced by
speakers and a crucified medical skeleton wearing an iron
crown. Loud morose music pertaining to Lucrezia Borgia
blared out of the apse, while the main portion of the nave
was now arguably the dance floor, though no one was dancing
as yet. At present, it was occupied by various cliques who
milled about, snubbing one another, whispering behind each
other's backs, and generally behaving as if they were
members of some baroque court. Lucrezia would have
The west transept had been set up as a lounge, the
last of the pews mixed with couches and odd furnishings,
while the east transept and choir loft had suffered the
worst damage from the fire and now stood open to the sky.
Moonlight poured in, filling them with rich shadows, and
this seemed to be the smoking area, for the cherries of
cigarillos and clove cigarettes winked on and off in the
darkness, a cloud of smoke hovering in the charred remains
of the choir loft.
At the fore of the church, the baptismal font blazed
with witchfire, flames dancing on the surface as drops of
molten sugar fell in from the brandy-soaked sugar loaf
suspended in the silver tongs above; an old-fashioned German
feuerzangenbowle, tended with painstaking
heresy by a young man with black hair and tiny blue
spectacles who dispensed the flaming punch into paper cups
and goblets and whatever drinking receptacles were
proffered. I stood by, sharing the pleasure of the young
Goths in what for them was a new experience.
"Great party, huh?" a girl asked me, sipping her
"Um, I suppose." I looked at her carefully. She
wasn't dead or damned, which only left the third
"Ooh, what a cool cane. Where'd you get it?"
"I died with it, though originally I believe it came
from the Orient."
"Cool. I like the little ball in the dragon's
mouth. I hope I die with something half as neat." She took
another sip of her punch and wandered off, spilling blue
flames onto the floor.
Goths are very intriguing creatures. To look Death
in the eye and be blas‚ about it is something most wraiths
only aspire to.
But I kept my vigil at the baptismal font and was
rewarded an hour later by the appearance of Peter. He'd
switched nose rings for something smaller and more subdued,
but aside from that was identical to his appearance the day
He paused, then studiously ignored me, getting
flaming punch, tossing a handful of bills into the
collection box, and going off with a quartet of three girls
and a boy.
I followed, having to wait it out as he and his
friends danced to various songs which proclaimed that Bela
Lugosi was dead and that Joan Crawford had risen from the
grave. She hadn't to the best of my knowledge, unless
someone had mistaken Grace for the dead actress, but at last
Peter tired and I was able to hook him off the floor with my
"Peter," I said, "I would like to have the pleasure
of introducing you to my very good friend, and Reaper,
Franklin Deere. Franklin, this is Peter, the young man I
mentioned. Peter is only a few years older than you were
when you died, so you should have a good deal in
Frank, well mannered in spite of a lower class
upbringing, immediately doffed his hat and held it to his
chest, smiling and leaning forward, extending his hand for a
handshake. "Pleased to meet you, Peter."
Peter only looked at Frank's hand, then back at the
two of us. "You assholes want everyone to think I'm crazy?"
he whispered. "I don't shake hands with ghosts."
I saw a hint of the Shadow twist behind Frank's
eyes, and I placed a hand on his shoulder. "Steady, Frank.
We must excuse Peter. Young men of his generation were
never tutored in the finer points of etiquette."
I placed my cane against Franklin's cheek and the
dragon's pearl glowed black for a second, the Shadow ebbing.
Though I have seen many useful and magical artifacts since
my death, I must say that I consider my cane to be the
finest. In life, I paid little mind to the old Chinese
gentleman who sold it to me, and less to his talk of dragons
and pearls and the forces of yin and yang; in death, I wish
I had, for though the real cane is as charred as my body,
the touch of its spiritual remnant has proved anathema to
the Shadow and the forces of Oblivion.
Not that my memento mori was much aid
in dealing with a petulant psychic or fledgling mage. But
then, serendipity provides assistance from the most
unexpected quarters, and I observed Peter smile (or at least
cease frowning) and look to the right of Frank and
"I'm Grace," Grace said, and I noticed that the
trace of blood had disappeared from the corner of her mouth
and the bruise was gone from her cheek. "If you don't shake
hands, maybe you'd like to dance. Teddy doesn't understand
stuff like that--He doesn't know what it is to have fun.
Just power and politics, that's him. But don't worry,
"Peter," a girl said, coming up behind our
"Yeah, let's dance!" Grace said, grabbing Peter by
the hand and pulling him onto the dance floor along with the
girl who'd come retrieve him. The lights strobed and the
black lights gave the few specks of white an eerie pallor,
but Peter did indeed begin to dance, or at least gyrate,
with Grace. Frank's paramour, I must admit, was a lovely
figure of a woman, and she'd picked up on the flow of all
the modern dances--or, should I say, lack of same, as there
seemed to be no recognizable form or choreography to the
Goths' random cavortation.
Frank beamed with pride beside me. "That's my
Grace. She knows what my momma always said: You catch more
flies with honey than you do with vinegar."
My mother had also had a number of sayings, mostly
to do with painted women and the harlot of Babylon, but I
was not about to complain. If Grace, and her various
methods of persuasion, made Peter amicable to what he
wouldn't countenance when confronted with either threats or
reason, then all to the good.
The drunken girl beckoned me at one point, and Frank
noticed and hooted, shoving me onto the dance floor as he
joined Grace and Peter and their partners. The music went
on and on, bleating incessantly about how every day was
Halloween, which while certainly a pleasant thought, was
very far from the truth. I manifested slightly, enough to
give my partner a turn or two I knew from the fox trot, and
the dance went on for some time before I could escape.
Grace and Frank followed a few minutes later with
Peter, slipping out through the gap in the wall of the east
transept. Someone had set up a projector and the wall of
the church was illuminated with a twenty-foot-tall
transvestite in a green dress and rubber gloves.
"Give 'em to Magenta--She knows what to do with
bloody rubbers!" chanted the Goths in the weed-choked
garden, and Peter sidestepped a number of people garbed in
rather more gaudy attire than most of the assembled company.
I walked straight through a blond man clad in nothing more
than a gold-lam‚ jockstrap and he shivered, I knew, with
more than just the night's chill.
We slipped out through the gates and away from the
Old St. Francis, its hilltop an island in the sea of fog
that had overwhelmed the City. Peter led the way down into
the mists and we walked a long while in silence until he
found a suitably private alcove.
He leaned his back against the shop window. "Okay,
you guys found me. Now give it to me straight without
Thaddeus here giving it his lawyer bullshit."
Frank stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked
like the shy boy from the gold fields. "Well, it's like
this, Peter. Thaddeus has a lot of people who don't like
him, and a lot of people who want to get at him and get the
secrets he knows. And I know where Thaddeus's fetters
"And Frank's too nice to tell anyone, even though
Teddy's just a bloodsucking lawyer who deserves what he
gets," Grace put in, glaring at me. The bruise reappeared
on her cheek. "He'd sell Frank out in a second if the
tables were turned."
Peter's mirrored eyes surveyed the three of us, then
he whistled, soft and low. "Now the whole story comes out--
Thaddeus screwed the Hierarchy, and now they're out to get
him, and they don't care who they fuck up along the
I surveyed the head of my cane, perusing the
skillful carving and the intricate whorls of the ivory.
Pity, as I mentioned, that its powers were completely
useless in the current situation. "In a nutshell, yes."
"You're an asshole, Thad. But then, we already knew
I was not expecting the punch, or the force of it.
Pain exploded through my gut and I doubled over, falling to
the tiles of the alcove which stank of urine and human
Through the haze of pain, I heard Peter's voice.
"And you, Frank, are too goddamn nice for your own good.
Fuck. I swore I'd never play midget psychic again, and here
we go." There was another kick in my stomach, then Peter
hoisted me to my feet. When they got to use it, the
strength of the Quick was frightening, and I was not used to
the idea that mortals could touch me, let alone hurt me.
But then, Peter was not your usual mortal, or even your
usual psychic. "Now wake up, you bastard. We're gonna get
Frank's bones and put them somewhere safe, then you're going
to apologize to Frank for fucking up his life."
"Death," Frank said.
"Whatever. How's that sound?" Peter shoved me back
against the glass and pressed the head of my own cane into
"Fine," I whispered.
"Then you're gonna go to whoever you screwed and
give 'em what they want, so they take Frank out of the loop,
so he doesn't have to deal with shit from assholes like
"Good, now swear it on something so you can't weasel
"Charon's Scythe," Grace suggested, damn her.
"Charon's Scythe. Yeah, that sounds good. Swear it
on Charon's Scythe that you'll apologize to Frank and do
everything in your power to keep him out of the shit you've
brought on yourself."
"Let him down, Peter," Frank said. "He can't
"Since when do the Dead need to breathe?" Peter
asked, but did relax his hold and allowed me to take my cane
out of my throat.
I paused and straightened my cravat, gathering what
shreds of dignity I still possessed, then held forth my cane
in the manner of a ceremonial mace, not, I'm sure, that any
of the three would have recognized the symbolism. "All
right. I, Thaddeus Anthony Winters, do swear by Charon's
Scythe that I will do all within my power--by fair means or
foul--to remove the threat to Franklin Deere posed by my
enemies. And I do also hereby apologize to Franklin, my
Reaper, for the heartache and grief I have caused him and
his." I lowered my cane and stamped it three times on the
ground. "So let it be witnessed.
"Is that sufficient?" I asked, looking to the three
In answer, there came a thunderclap, rolling through
the ether. A moment later, there was the sound of
firecrackers and bottlerockets and the tolling of a church
Peter looked at his watch. "Midnight."
Grace smiled with malice. "On the Eve of All
Hallows. I think your oath has been witnessed."
"Full moon too," Frank remarked and a chill passed
down my spine.
Let it not be said that the men of the Winters
family make unimpressive oaths. And, take this as a
warning--One does not meddle with the pawns of Destiny
unless one is willing to come under the influence of that
austere lady oneself. Peter, as I said, bore Her mark, and
to deal with him was to deal with Her.
However, as might be expected, I felt more than a
touch of foreboding, and was generally subdued all the while
as Peter found his car and drove us to the Port Authority
Fog shrouded everything, thick as a blanket and
twice as dense, and it was an hour before we arrived. Frank
lead the way to his gravesite, which, despite what Peter had
said, was broken open and covered against the rain with a
rotting tarp. There were no police out and about, or if
there were, they were well concealed by the fog.
"This it?" Peter asked.
"Yeah." Frank walked around. "Under this tarp
Peter pulled the canvas back, and the smell of
mildew and decay wafted up. Bones lay there, partially
exposed, with bits of string and wooden pegs and the other
props of the archaeologists' trade set into the earth around
The fog swirled as Peter stepped over one of the
cords, and the moonlight coalesced before him, becoming a
twisted parody of a human form, skin pocked with decay and
rot, and eyes empty sockets filled with the Shadow.
The figure laughed and Peter leapt back. "Holy
The spectre leered. "I've been called many names.
That one will do as well as any." It looked to Frank, the
Shadow of its eyes open in a lightless void. "Hello,
Franklin. You've come back. Open yourself to the Dark and
we shall kill this mortal, then feast on the souls of your
three companions as we drag them to Oblivion. You hate the
lawyer for what he has done to you, and you envy the whore
for having sampled every night the pleasures you only
dreamed of before you died. You know it's true. We spoke
of it before your death. Died a virgin. What a shame."
The spectre held up its hands and the fingers lengthened
into claws. "Let's share the pain."
Its voice was hypnotic, like a siren, but it was
Grace's scream that broke the spell. "Frankie! No! Don't
listen to it!"
Franklin's eyes had changed from green to black as
his own Shadow was drawn out, but I had no time for
subtlety. I hooked my cane around his neck in a
throttlehold, and the dragon's pearl spun in a black void,
consuming the darkness.
The spectre turned its attentions to Grace. "Hello,
Grace. Terrible, isn't it, that you could only find a man
to love after one had already killed you? Poor Grace. Not
even a man. Merely a boy, a virgin, and one who'd remain so
forevermore. That's it, isn't it? You could never love a
man who could hurt you, rape you, take his hard stick and
make you bleed like--"
"Peter!" I called out. "Kill it!"
Our Topper had taken up one of the archaeologists'
shovels and held it in a fighting stance. Unfortunately, I
fear that his training consisted mostly of bad action
movies, for his swing only hit it a glancing blow.
The rotting horror paused for a bare moment,
suddenly realizing that here was a mortal who could indeed
harm it, then darted in and out, barely touching him with
its claws, but laughing, playing with him like a cat.
"Hello, live meat. Happy Halloween. Come to play with the
dead, have you?" It cackled and feinted at him again,
watching him jump back.
I hoped Frank could deal with his own inner demons,
for I had a more immediate and external one to deal with
myself. I disengaged my cane from Franklin's neck, then
grasped the handle and twisted, unsheathing the blade.
A gentleman never goes anywhere without his cane,
and there are good reasons for this. I feinted and lunged,
the phantom slashing back and screaming as it lost half a
paw. "Hello, Thaddeus," it said. "Don't you--"
"Frippery and nonsense," I shouted back, "I've had
quite enough of your second-rate badgering. You may terrify
Frank and you may horrify Grace, but you are no longer
dealing with inexperienced boy or a battered woman." The
first rule of debate and of swordsmanship is to never allow
your opponent an opening, and to always take the offensive.
I pressed my advantage as best I could. "You are nothing
more than some tedious creature of the Void, some weak
spirit without enough sense of identity to hold its own when
it met its Shadow. You are pathetic, less than nothing, and
would be beneath my notice except that you have dared to
annoy those under my protection."
I drew blood again, or at least putrescent ichor,
but then the fiend managed to slip a paw past my guard.
"Pompous ass!" Blood welled up on my side. "Everyone hates
you! You have nothing more to defend yourself than words
and hot air!"
"That, and a good sword," I said, slashing the
creature down the side. It screamed, puss oozing from the
wound. "As for the opinions of others, I don't care a whit,
especially for the opinions of creatures such as
I would like to say that my rapier wit, or at least
my rapier, finished the beast, but that is far from the
truth. At the moment when I was about to sally forth with a
new and deadly offensive, there came a sickening crunch, and
the spectre began to discorporate, screaming. Almost as
quickly, a webwork composed of tiny bones appeared about it,
twisting and confining, then abruptly taking it . . .
I have seen wraiths go not-so-gently into that good
night, and even the final end of spectres, but this was like
none of them. It was old magic and arcane magic, and I
recognized the bone motif as the hallmark of the Skeletal
Lord, the lord of disease and pestilence. The lifeweb set
to catch Frank and the others had taken its first
I stood there, panting, trying to staunch my wounds,
my sword still at the ready. But when I looked around, I
saw Peter and Grace standing over a recently excavated and
shattered skull. A hole in the brainpan would have been
sufficient to release the spirit and ruin the fetter, but
Peter had been a bit more thorough. The spectre had not
been destroyed, only severed from its connection with the
Shadowlands, then caught by the magics of the Skeletal
Frank crawled over, his eyes once more green. He
reached his hands out to touch the bits of crumbled bone.
"Miles. It was Miles. I knew him. . . ."
The encounter with the spectre had shaken me very
badly, but not as badly, I knew, as it had touched Frank.
Now was not the time for harsh words. "Even the best of us
can succumb to the darkness, Franklin. I'm sorry you lost
Grace comforted Frank in ways I never could while I
wiped my sword off on one of the tarpaulins, the black ichor
turning to dust. I sheathed the blade.
Peter looked at me, the strangest mixture of
expressions upon his face. "Don't be so dumbfounded," I
said. "Fencing was a common skill for men of my class, and
now that I can safely admit it, I must say that my skill
with the blade does not match my command of the language.
And you were right about additional complications. If you
could see to retrieving Frank's bones, I'll tend to my
I sat down rather heavily. The pain from the wound
the spectre's claws had left was intense, but began to ease
as Grace used her gifts to bandage them. "Thanks for
helping Frank, Teddy."
I wished she wouldn't use that name. "Think nothing
of it, Grace. We all do what we must." I closed my eyes.
"Clever of you to destroy the beast's fetter while I kept it
"Peter was the one who did it," Grace said, but I
knew it was she who had told him where and what to look for.
I had been seriously underestimating the woman's
capabilities, for all that she downplayed them so well.
I opened my eyes. Peter had taken up the shovel
again and was digging about, and I could see from the cast
of his features that he had allowed Frank to slip inside
him, as Frank knew how to handle digging tools, and knew the
precise location of his own bones as well. One by one
Frank's bones were freed from the earth and placed atop the
"Do you have all of them?" Grace asked, coming up
"Yeah, everything, plus a little dirt," Frank/Peter
said, reverently folding the canvas over Frank's remains and
gathering them up in his arms. Frank slipped out of Peter's
body, leaving our Topper holding the precious fetter.
Peter stood there, looking at Frank. He was still
shaken from his encounter with the spectre, and though there
were no physical marks on his body, the psychic wounds were
probably near as great as my own. "Where do you want me to
Frank was at a loss for words, as I saw him no doubt
realize that just setting them in the corner at the Washbag
would not do.
"And no, you can't stay at my apartment," Peter
said. "You seem like a nice enough guy, Frank, but I have
enough trouble with living roommates without having a dead
In the distance, I heard the moan of a foghorn,
sounding its beacon across the Bay. "I'm sure anywhere
relatively safe and secure would be fine, Peter. Preferably
somewhere no one is liable to go digging, and where the
other wraiths are more pleasant company." After the debacle
with the spectre of Miles, I understood why Frank had been
having so much trouble with his Shadow.
"You could be buried with me," Grace said.
"Really?" I inquired. "And where might you be
She looked shyly at her feet and scuffed a toe
through the dirt. "Nowhere near here. Sorry."
Frank hugged her anyway. "It's alright, Grace."
"Well," said Peter, "we can't just stand around here
all night, and I'm not going to wait for that fucking thing
to come back. How'd you like to be the patron saint of the
Goths, Frank? There's a reliquary back at the Waydown just
waiting for some bones."
"Safer than many places," I said, "and there is the
added bonus of having your bones honored. It should prove
more satisfying than taking corpus from local football
games, if less entertaining."
"Settled, then," Peter said and walked off through
The Goths at the Waydown were enraptured with Peter,
for he had won some unspoken contest to be "more morbid than
thou." To not only rob a grave--alone, and on All Hallow's
Eve--but to then treat the stolen bones as saints relics was
an idea that captivated one and all, and the various cliques
became united in purpose to share some of the glory and
pooled their knowledge and resources as they prepared
Frank's bones for the reliquary. One girl knew that relics
were to be washed in wine, while another donated a white
silk scarf for the cerements, and a boy wearing enough
crosses to outfit a sidewalk vendor in Barcelona had on him
a Latin prayer book, including last rites, prayers for the
dead, and requests for the beatification of saints. It now
being All Saints Day by an hour or so, it seemed to be a
perfect time to go about the process, and the Goths queued
up to enter the sacristy while the D.J. felt it appropriate
to put on the rave mix of Orff's O Fortuna.
After what we had just gone through, Frank
especially was sorry he couldn't stay for it, for the power
in such a ritual was great, even if Peter's associates
didn't know exactly what they were doing. However, there
were still things to be done, and places to go and people to
meet if I wanted to fulfill my oath, which was what Frank
and peripherally Grace wanted as well. Also, a plan was
forming, based on suppositions I could make and on the
interesting manner of departure of the spectre, Miles. With
luck, it would cost me very little to see this matter to its
We prevailed on Peter to drive us again, and he was
intrigued, or at least shellshocked, enough to go along with
the idea. I promised I would make it worth his while.
Now, there are some things those not of the City do
not generally know. One is that, with the exception of the
Military Cemetery at the Presidio and the old graves at
Mission Dolores, and the odd potter's field or plague
monument (such as Frank's), no one is buried in San
Francisco. All of the graves were moved to Colma just south
of the City, and the Necropolis there is one of the jewels
of the Hierarchy. The Citadel of the Presidio is the heart
of the old guard's military force, but the heart of pride
and politics is the Citadel at Colma.
How do I describe the splendor of Colma? It is a
grand and glorious nihil, filled with the avenues and
palaces of the dead, and each of the nine cemeteries is
dedicated to one of the Nine Legions. Cypress Lawn is the
province of the Legion of Thorns, and was my home until the
Insurrection. That happened in the '60s of this century,
and consisted of the Renegades (or Loyalists as we prefer to
be called) breaking free from the Hierarchy (or Usurpers as
we Loyalists like to call them). As I said, the Dead have
devised all manner of petty politics to amuse themselves,
and the whole shambling monolith of robes and titles and
masks is a medieval scholar's wet dream--and something of
which I was admirably suited to take advantage, being, as I
am, a classically educated gentleman with legal
Peter parked a ways down from the gates. It is
always disconcerting to realize the discrepancies between
the ways reality is viewed by the Quick and the Dead, for
Peter--despite being a Topper, a budding necromancer, and no
doubt other things besides, and easily sensitive enough to
see Frank, Grace, and myself--said he saw only a low stone
wall between the road and the graves on the other side.
I, on the other hand, saw the high walls and
ramparts of the Citadel of Thorns, the white roses of Death
climbing all across the stonework, here and there holding
some hapless soul prisoner, who had then been set alight as
"Remember, Peter. You are just a harmless and
somewhat stupid drunk, and they dare not touch you without
bringing a flock of priests and psychic investigators down
on their heads. Hop over the wall and ignore what you do
see, and Frank and Grace and I will join you as shortly as
"Gotcha," Peter said, uncorking the bottle of wine
and passing straight through the seemingly impenetrable
ramparts of the Citadel of Thorns. "Hey!" I heard him call
from inside the wall. "I've got some wine! Anybody want a
drink? It's Halloween."
If you by any chance are living, and wish to enter a
cemetery on Halloween night, I'd advise against it, of
course, but notwithstanding, if you are still set upon doing
it, then Peter's course of action is advisable. Wine poured
on the graves will endear you to all but teetotalers, as
there are very few who remember the ancient Greek sacrifice,
and being a gracious guest usually makes for gracious
Frank and Grace and I walked by the walls until the
gates of the Citadel of Thorns towered high before us,
traitors to the Hierarchy impaled on stakes to either side,
burning with unquenchable flames. Wraith guardians stood
there as well, and their spiritual armor was barbed and
fluted and altogether overdone, just as I remembered it.
Each of them held three chains which were attached to the
collars of an equal number of slavering barghests, the near
mindless phantoms staring at us with mad eyes through the
grillwork of their iron masks.
All of this was intended to terrify and awe, and it
accomplished this quite nicely, at least in the case of
Frank and Grace, who clung to each other, dumbstruck. I,
however, had already seen it.
"Halt, shades!" cried the guardian to
the left. "State your name and rank within the Legion
before begging admittance to the Citadel of Thorns!"
I polished my cane, admiring the luster of the
ivory. "Nice to see you again too, Herminia. Former rank
"Currently I hold no rank within this Citadel, as
well you know, though I possess the Mark of the Flames,
which makes me a victim of happenstance of the highest
order. Regardless, I take for myself the name and office of
Herald and Advocate, and have business to discuss with
members of the Legion. These shades accompany me and are
under my protection."
"You are a Renegade!"
"Quite true. Now, Herminia, are you going to set
your barghests upon us and report to your superiors that you
destroyed a Herald and Advocate and dashed any hopes of
reconciliation between the factions, not to mention that you
obstructed business which is of direct interest to your
superiors, or are you going to allow us within the gates of
Pomp, circumstance, bluff and bluster. It often
becomes tedious, but then the same may be said of chess in
the opening moves. We were kept waiting while messages were
sent, and the barghests' chains were rattled so they
slavered a bit more so as to terrify Frank and Grace, but
the whole effect was ruined when several older wraiths
riding in carriages and motorcars wished to exit the
Citadel, drunken from Halloween revelry.
"Thaddeus!" cried one woman I knew of old, and I
waved as they rode out the gates.
"Hello, Penelope! Charles! Walford! Happy
"Give 'em Hell, you old bastard!" Charles called,
waving a bottle of champagne from the back of the Nash
Rambler. He was inebriated as usual.
"Never fear, I will! Give my best!" I waved after
them, tipping my hat to the ladies, watching them disappear
into the moonlight and fog.
Herminia and her fellow guard were left at the
gates, and I smiled at them. "Rotten luck, isn't it, having
guard duty on All Hallow's Eve? What say you escort the
three of us to Lord Montalieu and we'll see what we can do
about getting you relieved for the rest of your shift?"
"Silence, traitor!" Herminia barked, then exchanged
a quick glance with her fellow guardian. "You and your
companions may enter the Citadel of Thorns. Proceed
directly to Lord Montalieu and beg his mercy if you value
Herminia stepped aside, reining in her barghests,
and I shepherded Frank and Grace inside.
"Teddy," Grace said, clutching my arm. "Wha--"
"Don't worry, Grace. Everything is proceeding to
plan." I disengaged her fingers from my arm and led the way
down the grand avenues of the Citadel, in search of
Little had changed in the intervening thirty years,
though there were a few less citizens and a few more
thralls, although I'd expected as much. I took Frank and
Grace down the avenues, and we collected Peter along the
way, much to the annoyance of his new drinking
But drunks wandered where they would, and the shades
could hardly stop him from following us.
At last, we came to the grand portico of the
mausoleum of the Regent of the Emerald Lord, or, more
mundanely, Lord Montalieu's house. I rapped once with my
cane and Peter jumped. "Holy fuck! The grave just opened
As I mentioned, the perceptions of the Quick and the
Dead are quite different, and where Peter said he saw a
grave yawning forth in Shakespearian fashion, I only saw the
door being opened by Brandon, Lord Montalieu's
He was dressed in finery befitting the festive
evening--assuming that it was still the Court of Louis the
XIV--and he goggled as he saw me.
"Hello, Brandon," I said. "My, my. You haven't
changed a bit. Now, if you could escort us to Lord
Montalieu? I believe he's already received some word about
me, probably warning him of the appearance of a rebel spy,
though I told Herminia at the gate that I was a Herald and
Advocate. My companions are nothing quite so grand, though
I will vouch for their character."
Brandon recovered nicely, holding open the door.
"If you will step this way, Mr. Winters. Lord Montalieu
will receive you in his study."
Brandon led us down the halls, past parlors where
the dead danced and musicians played in an exultant
danse macabre. Lord Montalieu was holding his
annual ball to which he invited only his most staunch
supporters and those who held the most dirt on him,
excepting, of course, wraiths such as myself. It was
something the Goths would have given their ankhs to attend,
and Peter was looking at everything in alternating
wonderment and terror.
Brandon also did an excellent job of taking us by
the circuitous route, allowing Lord Montalieu time to be
briefed and ready himself so he wouldn't look surprised at
We were ushered into the study and Brandon made a
sweeping bow before the desk. "Reverent Lord, this Renegade
has begged audience with you, and has also brought with him
these two shades and this mortal. He claims to be Herald
"Which I am," I added, "though honestly we're here
on private business this evening."
Montalieu gestured. "Leave us. I know this
Brandon bowed low and slipped out, and Montalieu
arranged himself behind the desk. I believe he'd been the
dean of a French boys' school several centuries back, or at
least he gave that impression: cultured accent, penchant for
scholastic robes, and, most telling, a tendency to play with
rulers when agitated. The ruler was already out on his desk
and he was beginning to nudge it.
I raised my cane in salute. "Happy Halloween,
Monty. Allow me to introduce my companions: Franklin Deere,
Grace DuBois, and Peter Cameron."
Frank and Peter grinned idiotically, but Grace had
the presence of mind to curtsy. "Pleased ta meet ya."
Lord Montalieu surveyed the three of them, his gaze
lingering on Peter. For a mortal to enter the Realms of the
Dead was a thing almost unheard of. Unless, of course, the
shade whose grave had formed the Gateway were a spirit of
almost boundless power and erudition (and the inclination to
use same), or the mortal were a potent sorcerer or
Even if he had the power (which I seriously
doubted), Lord Montalieu had not invited Peter into his
home. Which left only one possible explanation (though I
think only the two of us realized it) and I was not going to
enlighten him further unless he came out and asked.
One also does not ask mages what they are doing in
one's home so long as they are being civil and reasonably
well mannered. Peter, in fact, was acting like a shy and
nervous schoolboy, and this was something I knew that Lord
Montalieu could deal with: "Be seated. This is not a formal
Frank, Grace, and Peter sat down on a hard wooden
bench--another quirk that made me think that Montalieu had
formerly run a boys' school--while I took the one
comfortable chair facing the desk.
He gave me a withering look, but did no more,
studiously ignoring Peter. "What do you want,
I went for the formal mode of address, for that was
the mood he was in, regardless of what he said. "I crave as
boon, Lord Montalieu, something easily within your
"Yours is not the place to ask, Renegade. You might
at most beg for your existence and my mercy."
"You might also go to the Emerald Lord and speak to
him of your loyalties and a certain matter which transpired,
oh, about fifty-four years ago, but that's not very likely
either." I leaned forward in the chair, resting my hands
and chin atop my cane. "Let's not mince words, Monty. You
would like to get me in your power, to ensure my silence and
the silence of my agents with regards to various matters,
and you've had more than one gambit to that end. Noteworthy
among which is maneuvering for my Reaper to be lifewebbed by
the Skeletal Legions, then arranging for his last fetter to
be destroyed so he would be caught by the magic of the
Skeletal Lord, who considers him his property, justly or
not. A thoroughly amoral and reprehensible act, Monty, and
just the sort of deed I'd expect from you. Also, rather
ineffectual. My own fetters are well protected and
relatively indestructible, and discovering them would prove
useless to you and simply annoy me.
"Troubling Frank is another matter. I'd like him
left out of this game, and am willing to pay for it. Pay
Montalieu looked at me, and I could tell that he had
not considered this option. "Perhaps . . ."
"No, Monty, the moon, the stars and the sun are out
of the question, and so is what I'm certain you're thinking
of. Past business is past business, and there is some
information I would only be willing to part with for the
steepest of prices. However, I have just recently come by a
new bit of information. Scandal. High scandal and near
treason with regards to the Skeletal Lord himself, or at
least his Regent, knowledge dangerous and near useless for
me to possess, but of great value to a wraith such as
yourself, especially a Regent of the Emerald Lord."
He paused, considering. "What, exactly, do you want
done regarding this wraith here?" He pointed the ruler at
"Simple enough. We want him left out of your
maneuverings against me, and we request that you use your
influence with the Skeletal Legions to get them to quit
actively pursuing their claim on Frank. His fetter has
already been removed from their current machinations, so you
needn't worry about getting them to desist in that
I smiled. "Removed. We'd also appreciate if you
would spread the word that you would be very displeased if
anyone else tried to get to me through Franklin. And Peter
Cameron here is merely a silly drunken mortal, but he has
proved useful to us, so we'd also like if his name could be
put on the list of those mortals whom the Legions are not to
bother under any circumstance. It's quite a trivial thing
to ask really--the Dead are forbidden to trouble the Quick
as it is--but you know how things are in these trying times.
Peter would be happier, and we would rest easier. That
should be sufficient."
Silly drunken mortal, eh? the look
spoke, but I retained my same expression, and Peter
continued to look young and nervous, despite the nosering
and the mere fact of his presence.
I know Lord Montalieu was beginning to entertain the
possibility of some third option, that I had learned some
arcane rite that allowed mortals to rend the veil between
Life and Death and crash his party, or perhaps the Ashen
Curtain had worn thin of its own accord, and this was one of
the wonders that heralded the Day of Judgement--for Peter
certainly did not act the part of a mage, let alone a dread
The living are not the only ones who shutter their
minds away from that which disturbs them, and Lord Montalieu
turned back to the simple and easily understandable business
of intrigue and blackmail. "Possible. Certainly possible."
He laid down the ruler and steepled his fingers. "But
first, I would like to hear this 'scandal' you have
regarding the Skeletal Lord."
I twirled my cane once between my fingers,
remembering how useful it had proven against the spectre.
"The Skeletal Lord has seen fit to destroy a number of
fetters belonging to those who died with his mark, namely,
the mark of pestilence. Among those, as you know, is Frank.
The Regent of the Skeletal Lord set up lifewebs to catch the
souls as they fell into the Tempest, one for each of the
miners in the potter's field.
"One of those was a nephwrack, a foul and hideous
spectre consumed by its own inner Shadow. We destroyed its
fetter, but before it could dissolve into the Tempest, it
was caught in a web marked with the sigil of the Skeletal
Lord. It is forbidden by the Covenant to take creatures of
Oblivion as anything but beasts for the blood pits. But if
you know the Regent of the Skeletal Lord, and you do, that
spectre will instead just be chained as a thrall and forced
to work as any other wraith."
Montalieu rested his fingers atop the ruler. "Do
you have proof of this?"
"Certainly. I have the name of the spectre, and any
wraith with skill in the proper arcane arts can ascertain
who, where and what he is. We can give you that information
in exchange for your promise." I laid my cane across my
knees. "As this is All Hallows, will a binding oath
"Indubitably," said Montalieu. "It is agreed
"It is agreed." I stood and we clasped hands,
speaking the particulars of the pact. "So let it be
"So let it be witnessed!" cried Montalieu, and as we
did, there came a thunderclap and a ripple through the
As I expected, Peter's Patron had been keeping an
ear to the proceedings. One does not, as I mentioned
before, meddle with the pawns of Destiny unless one is
willing to play Her game.
"It is witnessed," I said.
Montalieu looked with shock at the way Fate had
taken note of our bargain.
I just smiled. "The spectre's name is Miles.
Miles . . ."
"Kirk," Frank supplied, looking shaken.
"Yes, Miles Kirk. A pleasure doing business with
you. I don't suppose you'll be inviting us to join in your
festivities, will you, Monty?"
He gave me another withering look.
"Ah well, then, we shall just have to find our way
out. But in any case, it's been a pleasure doing business
with you, as always."
I tapped my cane to my hat in salute, and Lord
Montalieu barked for servants to escort us from his home,
and from the Citadel of Thorns.
Ah yes, it was always a pleasure doing