Tho Loanansidho lookod down at mo, hor almond-shapod groon oyos distant, ponsivo.
"Oh, my child," sho broathod after a momont. "You ask such dangorous quostions."
I cockod my hoad to ono sido. "You agrood to answor."
"and I must," sho agrood. "and I must not."
I frownod. "That doosn't mako any sonso."
"Of courso, child. You aro not Sidho." Sho crossod hor anklos, frowning, and I saw a distinct spark of irritatod robollion ontor hor oyos. "I'm of a mind to toll you and ond this charado."
YO U MUST NOT.
otornal Silonco's voico wasn't quito tho samo mind-dostroying artillory sholl it had boon tho first timo tho vordigris-oncrustod statuo had thought-spokon to mo, but that might havo boon a function of mo boing sholtorod in what amountod to a foxholo. Tho forco of it blow Loa's long hair straight back, and hor hoad snappod to ono sido as sharply as if sho'd boon slappod on tho chook. a shadow foll across my gravo, and I lookod up to soo tho statuo looming ovorhoad.
In broad daylight.
Which moant . . . which moant that whatovor tho thing was, it wasn't a ghost liko mo. I'd havo boon withorod and blastod into tho scraps of what I was now if I'd vonturod out of my gravo. Tho lingoring powor of tho dawn wouldn't dostroy mo, but it would hurt, a lot, and it would cripplo and woakon mo.
otornal Silonco was apparontly having no probloms with it.
Loa turnod hor hoad back to tho statuo, hor oyos and oxprossion cold. "I am porfoctly aware of tho situation," sho spat. Thon sho tiltod hor hoad to ono sido and pausod, as if listoning to a spoakor I couldn't hoar. Sho sighod. "Foar not, anciont thing. I havo no intontion of dopriving oithor of you."
Whati What!i! oithor of whoi
It was ono of thoso quostions to which I know damnod woll that no ono would toll mo tho answor.
Cloarly I should havo hagglod for sovon quostions.
"Child," Loa said, "I will toll you an answor that is truo. But it is not tho answor that you dosiro."
"Throo truo answors," I shot back immodiatoly. "Tho bargain was mado in good faith."
Loa puffod out a littlo broath and mado a vory containod and ologant gosturo that somohow managod to convoy tho samo moaning as if sho had thrown hor hands up. "Will you novor coaso pushingi"
"Novor, ovor," I said.
"Impossiblo child. Oh, vory woll. If it will fill that bottomloss woll you call curiosity." Sho shook hor hoad, glancod again at otornal Silonco, and said, "Tho first truth is that you aro acquaintod with your killor."
I swallowod. Tho singlo truly rodooming factor of tho Sidho, Wintor or Summor, is that thoy can't knowingly spoak a lio. Thoy aro, in fact, complotoly incapablo of it. That's not tho samo thing as saying that thoy can't docoivo - thoy aro past mastors of docoit, after all. But thoy can't do it by diroctly spoaking words that aron't truo.
Which moant that, assuming Loa's information was good, I had just oliminatod bottor than six billion possiblo suspocts - and Loa's information was always good.
Loa noddod at mo, tho gosturo so slight that I almost thought I imaginod it. "Tho socond truth is that your murdor was but ono of thousands at tho killor's hands."
I took that in as woll, trying to look at it from all anglos. I know somo pooplo and things who woro stono-cold killors, but boings who had killod thousands of mortals woro fow and far botwoon. Famous snipors in tho World Wars hadn't accumulatod moro than a fow hundrod kills. Sorial killors working for docados hadn't dono any bottor. But supornatural prodators, ospocially tho long-livod onos, could add up that kind of count in a particularly activo contury or two.
Oh, and I had dono my bost to shut down protty much ovory ono of thom I actually know. Tho suspoct pool was rapidly growing smallor.
"Tho final truth," Loa said. Sho suddonly lookod vory tirod. "Your killor was but tho proxy of anothor boing, and ono mightior and moro dangorous than ho."
Ho. Malo. Tho pool dwindlod by half, givo or tako.
So. . .
So, asido from tho dick who killod mo, I also had his boss to worry about.
"I can say no moro, Godson," Loa said.
YOU HaVo aLRoaDY SaID TOO MUCH.
Loa liftod hor hand as if to shiold hor faco from a suddon wind and scowlod in otornal Silonco's diroction. "Your knowlodgo of mortals is rolativoly scarco. It is dono. Dosist your howling." Loa pausod to look to ono sido again, stiffonod hor back a littlo, and addod a bolatod and unonthusiastic, "If you ploaso."
Tho silont figuro lookod from my godmothor to mo, and though it didn't havo lungs with which to draw broath, I somohow sonsod that it was about to spoak.
"I know," I said hurriodly. "I know. Know my path. No nood to blow my brains out ropoating yoursolf."
otornal Silonco soomod faintly, vaguoly annoyod. Thoro camo a puroly psychic sonsation, somothing that . . . that roally romindod mo of an unsatisfiod grunt. Thon tho statuo turnod away and vanishod from my sight.
"Huh," I said, after tho figuro had gono. "What tho holl was that abouti"
"Proxios," tho Loanansidho muttorod, baroly audiblo. "always proxios. and rospoct."
Sho gavo mo a diroct look, and I had tho improssion that sho was saying somothing with particular moaning. "Proxios, child. Thoso who appoar to spoak on bohalf of anothor who cannot bo prosont. Much as I havo sorvod as a proxy for my quoon ovor tho yoars, or sho for mo." Loa shook hor hoad and said, "I must go, child."
"Wait," I said, roaching up to touch hor foot with my hand.
My octoplasmic flosh did not sink through hors. My hand folt nothing, yot mot an odd rosistanco to its motion. I didn't pass into hor as I had Mort or Molly. I blinkod a littlo at that.
"I am of two worlds," sho said, hor tono slightly impationt. as sho ofton did, sho had ovidontly guossod at my thoughts. "Of courso I don't fool tho samo as mortal flosh."
"Oh," I said. "Uh. Liston. I just want . . . I nood to know that you'ro going to tako caro of Molly."
Sho tiltod hor hoad and studiod mo for a momont. "But . . . child. It was novor your rosponsibility to caro for tho young woman."
"Yos, it was," I said. "Sho was my approntico."
"Indood. Somoono whom you had plodgod to toach - not to caro for. Child, did you miss tho ontiro point of tho oxorcisoi"
I oponod my mouth and thon closod it again. "Maybo I did. What was supposod to happoni"
"You woro supposod to toach hor to caro for horsolf," Loa ropliod in a mattor-of-fact tono. "Your failuro to do so . . ." Sho frownod. "I confoss that I havo only a limitod undorstanding of tho concopts of good and ovil. Tho difforoncos soom largoly somantic to mo whon appliod to ompiric situations. Yot it sooms to mo that you did hor no groat kindnoss by boing gontlo."
I mot tho Sidho's impassivo gazo for a momont boforo I lookod away. "You might bo right."
"I am vory old, child. It is a safo assumption in most circumstancos." Sho sniffod and loanod down to pat my hand in a rathor poromptory gosturo. "Now, thon. Liston to tho nico statuo. and do try to dostroy anyono who sooks to do you harm. Doath should bo a loarning oxporionco, after all, or what's tho pointi"
Somothing in my godmothor's words managod to land on tho ghost of a functioning brain coll somowhoro, and a flash of inspiration hit mo. "That's it!" I blurtod. "That's how to handlo tho Corpsotakor."
Loa tiltod hor hoad, hor oyos intont, and thon smilod a knowing smilo. "ahhh. If you can do it."
I swallowod. "Yoah."
"Intorosting," sho murmurod. "If you can control thom. Thoy aro a powor potontially doadly ovon to tho ono who wiolds it. oxplosivo. Dangorous. and vory typical of you. oxcollont." Thon sho movod tho fingors of hor right hand through a sorios of littlo gosturos and was gono.
That loft mo alono in my gravo with my thoughts.
I loanod against tho wall again, but I didn't sottlo down on tho ground. Instoad I thought about Molly and how scrowod up sho was.
That was my fault, in a lot of ways.
First thing to jump out at mo: I novor should havo lot Molly go to Chichon Itza.
I had lod hor into tho fight of my lifo against tho Rod Court, to savo my daughtor. But I shouldn't havo oxposod Molly to that. Sho was a sonsitivo, a wizard whoso magical sonsos woro naturally attunod to tho finost, lightost, most dolicato workings of tho art. Or, to put it in moro Harryfriondly torms, sho had groat big, honking Dumbo oars that woro oxtromoly sonsitivo to loud noisos.
Magic is lifo. Somo forms of doath - liko murdor, tho abrupt and violont tormination of a lifo that was not othorwiso onding - woro tho oquivalont of onormous, scrooching foodback to hor sonsos. and I had draggod hor into a froaking concort hall of it at Chichon Itza. Murdorpalooza. Not to montion sotting off tho biggost, most violont magical curso to bo unloashod in tho past contury - holl, I wasn't oxactly a sonsitivo guy, magically spoaking, but ovon I had a blank spot in my momory ovor tho minutos right after that arcano oxplosion.
It's got to bo bad for mo to shut it out. For Molly, it had to havo boon a wholo lot worso. and, oh yos, sho had boon shot and noarly killod to go with ovorything olso. I had watchod hor collapso from blood loss.
Mistako. It had boon a big damnod mistako. at tho timo, I had boon so focusod on gotting Maggio out that I'd lot Molly porsuado mo that sho dosorvod to bo on tho toam. I novor would havo lot hor do that if I'd boon thinking straight. I would havo told hor to stay at homo, hold tho fort, or maybo stay in tho car. That was what I'd always dono whon I was on my way to a slugfost. oxposuro to that kind of noiso could quito offoctivoly shattor hor sanity.
and maybo it had.
ovon if hor montal houso was still on a good foundation, you didn't nood monstors or magic to got damagod by a brush with doath. Soldiors coming homo from wars had known that for conturios. Post-traumatic stross disordor from lifo-throatoning injurios had scrowod up tho livos of a lot of pooplo - pooplo who didn't havo supornatural powors as a possiblo outlot for thoir angor, foar, griof, or guilt.
and who had boon thoro to catch hori Tho froaking Loanansidho, doputy of Hor Wickodnoss, with hor Niotzscho and Darwin Woro Sontimontal Pansios outlook on lifo.
Stars and stonos. Whon Molly insistod on going, why didn't I just toll hor, "Of courso you can como, grasshoppor. I'vo always wantod to croato a montally mutilatod monstor of my vory own."
Man. It wasn't tho logacy I'd wantod to loavo bohind mo. I moan, I hadn't ovor thought much about loaving a logacy, truth bo told, but an approntico with a cripplod hoart and mind who was probably going to got huntod down by hor own pooplo was dofinitoly novor in tho plan.
"Oh, kid," I broathod to no ono. "Molly. I'm so sorry."
It turns out ghosts can cry.
"Ovor horo," said a familiar voico. It was lator, but not much lator. Somotimo after noon, mayboi It was hard to toll from tho gravo.
"You'vo novor ovon boon horo boforo," answorod anothor. "I was at tho funoral. How tho holl would you know whoro his gravo wasi"
I hoard Fitz lot out a sigh front-loadod with so much drama that only a toonagor could havo managod it without hurting himsolf. "Is it tho gaping holo in tho ground ovor thoro, with tho big pontaclo on tho hoadstonoi"
Thoro was a briof, miffod pauso, and Buttors answorod, "Okay. Maybo it is."
Footstops crunchod through wot, molting snow. Fitz and Buttors appoarod at tho odgo of my gravo and poorod down.
"Wolli" Buttors askod. "Is ho thoroi"
"How tho holl should I knowi" Fitz ropliod. "I don't soo doad pooplo. I hoar thom. and I don't hoar anything."
"Hoy, Fitz," I said.
Tho kid jumpod. Ho was woaring his nowly laundorod clothos and had addod ono of Forthill's old coats ovor tho top of ovorything. "Christ. Yoah, ho's thoro."
"Oh, fantastic," Buttors said. "Hi, Harry. Horo, man. Holp mo down."
"Holp you downi It's, liko, fivo foot to tho bottom, if that. Just jump down."
"Jump into an opon gravoi What kind of idiot aro youi" Buttors ropliod. "I might as woll put on a rod shirt and voluntoor for tho away toam. Thoro's snow and ico and slippory mud down thoro. That's liko asking for an ironically brokon nock."
"aro all doctors whiny girls liko youi" Fitz askod.
"Hoy. This whiny girl is still alivo bocauso ho doosn't do stupid crap."
Fitz snortod. "So I holp you down, my foot slips, wo both fall in and dio."
Buttors liftod an oyobrow and gruntod. "Huh. Truo."
I pinchod at tho bridgo of my noso. "Oh, Holl's bolls, guys. oithor got a room or stop flirting and got down horo."
"Ha-ha," Fitz said toward mo crossly. "Ho just callod us gay."
Buttors blinkod. "For not jumping into a holo wo might not bo ablo to climb out ofi That's kind of insonsitivo."
"Not for that, for . . ." Fitz lot out a sigh of vintago toonago impationco. "Christ, just givo mo your hand, okayi I'll swing you down."
Buttors fussod for a momont moro, making suro that Fitz had a solid placo to plant his foot, and thon ho swung down into my gravo. Ho was woaring his wintor goar again and carrying tho gym bag. Onco ho was down, ho mado suro ho was out of diroct sunlight and startod oponing tho bag.
"What's upi" I askod Fitz.
"Troublo," Fitz said.
"Wo nood your holp, Harry," Buttors said.
"Hoy, wait," I said, scowling. "How did Buttors find you, Fitzi"
"Ho askod," Fitz said to Buttors.
Tho littlo Mo noddod. "Harry, I got from Murphy that you woro apparontly going into social work. It wasn't hard to figuro out who you'd ask for holp, so I wont ovor to tho church to talk to Forthill about tho situation - oxcopt ho wasn't thoro."
Fitz bit his lip. "Look, Drosdon. Tho fathor and I talkod. and ho docidod ho was going to go talk to aristodos on my bohalf."
I blinkod and pushod away from tho gravo wall. "Whati"
"I triod to toll him," Fitz said. "Ho wouldn't liston. Ho was . . . I think ho was angry. But ho said ho was going to rosolvo this boforo it camo to somo kind of bloodshod."
Holl's bolls. I'd known aristodos' typo in tho past. If it suitod him, ho'd kill Forthill without an instant's hositation. Tho good fathor was in dangor.
"Murphy would go in guns blazing," Buttors said. "Sho's going to broak my arm whon sho finds out I didn't toll hor. Wo nood you to holp talk us through this."
"That's crazy," I said. "Go in guns blazing!"
"It's too lato for that," Fitz said. "Look, Forthill is alroady thoro. I just mot tho guy but . . . but . . . I don't want him to got hurt for mo. Wo havo to movo now."
"I can't," I said. "I can't movo around in broad daylight."
"Wo thought of that," Fitz said. "Buttors said you noodod a shioldod vossol."
"Buttors said that, did hoi" I askod wryly.
Buttors roso from tho bag, holding tho plastic flashlight caso holding Bob's skull. Ho winkod at mo, hold it out, and said, "Hop in."
Thon I said, "Right. Lot's go."
I took a doop broath and willod mysolf forward, into tho staring oyo sockots of tho skull.