Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Nine

    is anyone else seeing a pirate ship outside rn or do i need to go to the hospital
  • Black-Knight@super.heroes:
    Hey @Coatimundi there’s a guy at the harbor who wants to talk to you apparently. Kind of surprised it’s not @therealghostdevlin – how many pirates do you know?
  • Coatimundi@super.heroes:
    @Black-Knight be right there!!

“Fill me in on the boat guy,” Coatimundi said, dropping down from a nearby crane. It had been kind of a pain to get on top of the crane, but she’d felt like the drama was warranted. She was having that kind of a day.

“You know as much as I do,” Black Knight said. The screen on his faceplate displayed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. “Couldn’t exactly learn a lot when he says he’ll only talk to you.”

Coatimundi shaded her eyes with one hand and squinted at the old-timey ship sitting in the harbor, trying to get a better look at the man standing at the front of it. The head? The… aft? She didn’t know boat terminology.

“It’s a caravel,” Black Knight added.


“The ship. I looked it up. It’s a square-rigged caravel.”

“Oh. Neat?”

“Yeah, I thought that would be useful. Don’t think it is. Still good to know.” His faceplate was back to blank. “My sensors aren’t picking up on anything dangerous from here, but I still don’t like it.”

“Think he’s a time traveler?” she asked.

“Why would a time traveler want to talk to you?”

“Because I’m cool.” She wiped her hands on her skirt, swishing her petticoats in the process. “Do we have a little raft or something? I feel like if I do a big heroic leap I’ll put a hole in his boat.”

“Caravel. Yeah, I’ll—” He cut himself off abruptly, grabbing Coatimundi with one arm to push her behind him. She immediately bypassed his protective instincts by pulling herself up by his shoulders, balancing on her hands to see what he was seeing. The man on the Caravel fell into the water. “Something got him,” Black Knight said. “There.” A robotic glove pointed to one of the cranes.

A shadow of a person holding a spyglass, outlined before the setting sun.

“Coati,” Black Knight began.

“No,” she said. “I’ll take care of this. See if you can save him, okay? Your suit does better in water than I do.” She leapt over his shoulders, bounding as much as running, heels shoving against the pavement to propel her forward with too much airtime. Her heart raced, her stomach churning.

Her target was on the ground by the time she reached him.

“What the fuck, Ghost,” she said, her hands balled into fists, her ears pinned back in her hair and her tail lashing. She thought of the figure of a man falling into the water and felt sick.

“Language,” he said.

“Don’t start with me,” she said. “Did you kill him?” Her eyes raked over him, found the empty loop at his hip. “A knife? You threw a—that’s too far to throw a knife.”

“Maybe,” he shrugged.

“You can’t just kill people,” she snapped.

“It won’t keep,” Ghost said. “I’ve killed him before. I might need to do it again. I’ll keep doing it, if I must.”

“Who is he?” she pressed, trying to get over her revulsion long enough to figure him out. “Was that the guy from our date?”

“It was,” Ghost said. “He was my neighbor.”


“He is henching for someone,” he said. He wasn’t looking directly at her. She didn’t want to look directly at him. “They seem not to like you, whoever they are.” His hand went to where his knife had been and found nothing there to grip.

“You should have told me,” she said, sicker still at the thought that he was going around killing people for her.

“It was taken care of,” he said.

“I didn’t ask you to do that,” she said, stepping closer. “I would never ask you to do that. If you told me, I could have taken care of it myself. Coatimundi can’t lose.”

“Maybe,” he said, which made her grit her teeth. “He will be back, if it makes you feel better. Or else he will never have died. I am not sure, with him.”

“Ghost,” she repeated. “No killing. I thought we agreed you weren’t going to kill anymore.”

“Did we?”

“We did,” she insisted.

He pulled out his cigarette case, took his time getting out a cigarette and lighting it. The longer he took, the more she wanted to scream. He exhaled smoke. “Must not have written it down,” he apologized.

The fur on her tail was standing straight up. “Ghost,” she snapped, with more teeth than she intended. “Don’t do this to me. I can’t—you need to promise you won’t kill.”


She hissed in frustration, and he raised an eyebrow. “You’re so—you’re full of it! All that my life is in your hands but now you won’t even—it’s not a big ask! Don’t kill people!”

He frowned, exhaling smoke through his nose. “I,” he said, “don’t make promises I cannot keep.”

“Don’t say that like you’re taking the high ground!”

“Promise me you’ll remember me tomorrow,” he snapped, and she recoiled, ears pinned back in her hair again. “Promise me you’ll wake up tomorrow in Metro City. Promise me that your parents lived, that your grandmother lived, that Black Knight lived long enough for you to be Coatimundi.” He was gesturing wildly with his cigarette. “I can ask for promises too, see? But I don’t. I will keep my promises to you, Pizote, even if you forget them. If you forget me. So I don’t make promises I can’t keep. “

She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down before she said something ill-advised. “I understand,” she said, “that your situation is complicated.”

“You don’t have to believe me,” he said.

“I didn’t say I don’t believe you, but—”

“I’m aware of what it looks like.”

“You killed a guy!” she snapped. “I just watched you kill a guy! All I want is for you to not do that! Don’t make me sound like the unreasonable one, here! There are steps you could have taken that weren’t killing a guy!”

“Maybe,” he said, and she was so annoyed she stomped on one of his toes before she could stop herself. He yelped, hopping back on one foot and cursing through his teeth.

“Stop with the maybes!” she said, feeling for all the world like milk left on the stove too long. “I’m trying to have a conversation instead of kicking your ass like anyone else would have!”

“Start a fair fucking fight, then,” he said, cigarette hanging off his lip, sounding like an underwater cowboy again.

“I am de-escalating,” she insisted.

“Horseshit,” he said. “All my playing housewife got you convinced I’d been domesticated, and now you’re pissy because your pet bastard still bites.”

“That’s not what this is,” she said.

“Ain’t it?” He stood, took the cigarette out of his mouth and held his arms wide. “Maybe it should be.”


“You want to kick my ass, let’s see you try it.” He gestured with his fingers, inviting her to come closer. “Let loose, live a little.”

“That’s—no, absolutely not,” she said.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” he asked. “Since last time we fought?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Is this a sex thing?”

He snorted. “I mean it.” He dropped his cigarette and crushed it under his boot. “You’re a good girl, you don’t tolerate a killer. Show me that violence in you, teach an old dog a new trick. See if you can keep me down.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Ghost,” she said. He snorted again. “I can hurt you,” she reminded him.

“So can I,” he said. “It ain’t hard.” He unsheathed the machete on his back, and she sucked in air. He hesitated. “What?”

“Sorry,” she said. “For a second I thought you were going to cut yourself to prove a point.”

“What? No.” He pointed the machete at her. “I was going to try and get that big bow off the back of your dress.”

She stiffened, fur standing on end. “Excuse me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I thought it’d be funny.” His sharp-toothed grin had her tail lashing behind her.

“You’re not convincing me this isn’t a sex thing,” she said, goosebumps on her arms.

“Could be,” he said, starting to step closer, lowering the machete. She stepped backward, but his legs were longer. He came close enough to slide the blade sideways behind her back, and she twirled away from him, unsure yet if he was fucking with her. “Might be that I’m a little bit frustrated,” he said, twirling along with her, the blade still nearly touching the fabric of her skirt. “Gotta work it out somehow.” He grabbed her wrist to pull her closer, but she dug her heels in and tried to pull away.

“You’re being weird,” she said.

“For me?” he asked, eyebrow raised. She felt on edge and jittery. Was this weird for him? She was forced to confront the reality that she only knew some of him. She knew that he had episodes, a hair-trigger temper that had made him the villain he’d been. But he’d always let her talk him down, before. “Knock me down, babygirl, you want to make the rules then you better enforce them.”

She hesitated. Then she stopped resisting, let him pull her closer so she could hook her leg around his knees. He let himself fall but grabbed her in the process, pulling her down with him. She took the wrist of the hand that held his machete, trying to keep it up and away from them both but letting him get the upper hand in the process. He pinned her to the concrete with a hand on her other wrist, and they paused.

“That didn’t take long,” he said, grinning again. She scowled at him, felt her face turn red.

Under other circumstances, she would have been perfectly willing to admit that the situation was actually kind of hot. But he’d just killed a guy, and also, was being an asshole about it. Which was definitely not as important as the first thing. But she really wished he weren’t being such an asshole about it.

So she rammed her forehead into his nose with a noisy crack.

He swore, letting her go and rolling away from her as she released her grip on him. “Cheap fucking shot,” he muttered, muffled.

“I will beat you up for real,” she warned him, huffing as she stood upright and tried to fix her skirt. His nose made a terrible sound as he set it, wiping blood from his mouth onto his sleeve. He stood, twirling the machete as a flourish before pouncing toward her blade-first. She yelped in surprise, dodging sideways, but when he pulled away he looked pleased with himself.

One of the ribbons fell out of her hair.

“Got one,” he said.

“You jerk,” she said, more irritated than anything as the hair over one shoulder fell loose and got in her eye.

“You’re not even trying,” he said.

“Are you?” she asked.

He pounced toward her again, but this time when she dodged she caught his hand, pulling him into a spin before tossing him aside. He skidded on his feet instead of losing his balance. He stalked closer, holding the machete backward so the flat of the blade was against his forearm. She got a running start and leapt higher than human legs would allow, high enough that she could clear him entirely; her plan was to get behind him and catch him by the throat. But he was almost as fast as she was, spun around to catch her. His machete touched her neck before she could roll backward to get away from it.

She touched her throat to assess the damage and realized he’d cut away the bow around her neck along with a few of the buttons, leaving her collar open.

“Seriously?” she demanded, and he laughed. She realized she was blushing again. She pulled the remaining ribbon out of her hair so that she could tie it all back into a ponytail.

“I’m not nice,” he reminded her.

“Is that what this is?” she asked. “Trying to drive me away, make some kind of point about how you’re a bad guy?”

He shrugged. “You’re angry with me. I’m annoyed with you. We’re working it out the old-fashioned way.”

“You know, it’s possible to be emotionally intimate with someone without beating each other up first,” she said.

“I’ll have to take your word for it.” He stalked toward her again, and this time she aimed a kick at his sternum; he blocked it with his forearm, and as her right leg fell she twisted to hit him with her left. His machete followed the shape of her skirt, but this time when she grabbed his arm she spun her whole body around to throw him over her head and slam him into the ground. It knocked the air out of him and probably broke some of his ribs—which she did feel bad about—but while he tried to breathe again she took the machete out of his hands and tossed it aside.

She could have bent it in half, but she thought he might want it later, and didn’t want to be rude.

“Stay d—OW!” Still on the ground, he grabbed her legs and pulled them out from under her, holding onto them so she couldn’t catch herself. She kicked him in the stomach so he’d let her go, putting her weight on her hands so she could rise into a crouch. He rolled onto his stomach, palms against the ground and watching her as he worked his way toward getting up. Some of his hair had fallen loose from his ponytail, and there was blood on his teeth.

It was, if she was honest, a good look on him.

“I’m not imagining that there’s, like, a weird horny energy happening here, right?” she asked breathlessly, and he laughed. “I didn’t want to say anything the first time because we’d just met, but this is definitely a thing.”

He pounced on her in earnest, and they were a tangle of confused limbs on the pavement as each tried to get the upper hand. She managed to straddle his chest long enough to punch him in the jaw, but it was hard to figure out how hard she could get away with. He rolled hard enough to slam her into the ground, grabbing her ponytail as stars swam behind her eyes.

“It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?” he said too close to her ear, and she laughed before trying to bite his face. He retreated in time, but not fast enough to keep her claws from swiping at his cheek. He hissed through his teeth, letting her hair go to try and grab her wrists. “Don’t think I won’t use this goddamn rope, I swear to—”

“Hey,” said Black Knight, and they both froze. His mask was amplifying his voice so he could stay at a distance, standing on top of a shipping container. “Not to interrupt, but should I be interrupting?”

“Hey,” Coatimundi said, turning her head to look at Black Knight and pointedly not looking at Ghost’s face. “We’re, uh. I got it.”

“Okay,” Black Knight said. “Because my mics picked up on the phrase ‘horny energy’ and now you’re on the ground. And I think I heard him say something about a rope? So.”

“Yeah,” Coatimundi said. “It’s under control.”

“I get if you guys have a whole thing going on,” Black Knight said, “but he’s about a million years old and you’re twelve.”

“It’s vampire rules,” Coatimundi insisted. “I’m twenty-six, it’s fine.”

“What? No. You’re in high school.”

“I was in high school when we met,” Coatimundi said. “That was ten years ago.”

“Jesus,” Black Knight said, looking down at his gloves. “Am I old?” he asked.

“So old,” Coatimundi said.

“What’s vampire rules?” Ghost asked.

“Okay, well,” Black Knight began. Coatimundi considered doing something about the fact that Ghost was still on top of her. “He did kill that guy. For the record. He’s dead.” Black Knight’s faceplate showed Xs for eyes. She swallowed hard. “But he was also already dead? Something about death certificates, I don’t know.”

“Ah!” Ghost sat up straighter, letting go of Coatimundi’s wrist to point at Black Knight. “I knew it!” He pointed back to Coatimundi. “You see? And now we know it’s—there’s two, in one timeline. This is the same timeline as when I killed the other one. This is useful information.”

“Wait, so you’ve murdered that guy twice now?” Black Knight asked.

“I—we’re investigating,” Coatimundi, still on the ground with Ghost practically sitting on her stomach. “We have an ongoing investigation.”

“I’ve heard that one before,” Black Knight said. “But this is very uncomfortable for me to look at, because he’s creepy and you’re a baby—”


“—so I’m gonna bounce before I start fighting him on principle. But maybe find an abandoned warehouse or something. Somewhere with privacy, you know?”

“Oh my god, Kenny.”

“That’s sexy nemesis 101. You have a safeword, right? You don’t have to tell me what it is, but—”


“All right, all right, I’m going.” He activated the thrusters in his boots, hovering briefly in the air. “I still don’t like him,” he added. Ghost gave him the finger as he flew away. She reached up to half-heartedly slap him, smearing blood across his cheek. He made a sound of irritation and tapped her cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“The moment’s gone,” Coatimundi admitted. Whatever the moment had been.

“Seems like,” Ghost said. “I can still tie you up, if you want.”

She exhaled an echo of a laugh. “Not—not this time, I think. Is this… what is this. What was that.”

Ghost shrugged. “It seemed we were about to start yelling. I thought this might be better.”

“That says more about you than the situation,” she said, watching as he dug into one of his pockets. He pulled out his phone and held it suspiciously aloft. “You’re not taking a picture.”

“I am.”

Ghost!” she shrieked, rising onto her elbows. “Why?

“You know why.”

She felt herself turn hot. Her hair was half out of her ponytail and lopsided, the top buttons of her shirt all missing. She couldn’t tell if it was sweat or blood rolling down her temple to her cheek. “That’s messed.”

“I am messy,” he agreed, tucking his phone back away. He took her chin in his hand, and she could feel a slight tremor to it, pain or adrenaline catching up to him. It made her heart hurt despite the circumstances. “Coatimundi can’t lose,” he said, “yet here you are.”

“Don’t push it,” she warned. She could keep going. She could beat him to a paste if she wanted. She didn’t want. She could feel him shaking.

“When a man makes clear, repeatedly, his intent to kill you,” Ghost said, “self defense is warranted.”

“You can’t die,” Andi reminded him.

“You could have hit me harder,” he said.

She didn’t want to. She didn’t know how many of his bones she’d broken. The slash marks she’d left across his face still bled. She didn’t know what it would do to him, having his head twisted backward or his limbs ripped off.

“There are worse things than death,” he confirmed.

“You shouldn’t kill people,” she said, sounding petulant to herself.

“For this, I will,” he said, “and you cannot stop me. I will have your hate if it keeps your life.”

“I can take care of myself,” she said, but he shook his head.

“You misunderstand me, Pizote. It isn’t for you. You survive, always. But it is this life, this girl that I want. I will accept no less than this. I would have my treasure untarnished.”

“That’s an unhealthy way to think about a person.”

“Yes.” He was still holding her chin.

“It isn’t good for you,” she said. “Killing.”

“You would save my soul the stain?” he asked. “It’s been dyed black too long to matter. Death is nothing to me. I’ve fought in three world wars.”



“There’s only been two world wars,” she said.

He let her go with a frown. “Really?” he asked. “Which two?”

“The German ones,” she said, but his expression didn’t change. “Franz Ferdinand and Hitler.”

“Huh.” He wiped blood from his cheek. “I wonder what that did to my pension.”

“I don’t think they pay that based on number of world wars fought.”

“No?” he said, aghast. “I don’t see why not.”

“Do you even still get a pension if you try to kill the president?”

“It was Reagan,” Ghost said. “That hardly counts.”

“I’m not disagreeing,” she said, “but the government has pretty strict rules about that kind of thing.”

Aha,” he said, tapping her nose with a finger. “You see? You agree. Murder is fine sometimes.

Shine: Chapter Sixteen


Emily froze. So did Drago.

“You better not have been murdered!” Sofia shouted, loud enough that Emily would have been able to hear her from the top of the lighthouse. She pounded on the front door with one of her fists.

Emily was underneath the pier.

Hide,” she hissed at Drago. She was going to have to pretend she’d been going for a walk or a swim. Something normal. Being under the pier was not normal, but that just meant she’d have to try and emerge inconspicuously.

Drago pushed himself as silently as he could under the water, as Emily tried to fix her dress.

Shit. Dress. Swimming in a dress was also not normal. When did it get so difficult to be normal?

… always. It had always been difficult.

She stood up in the water and poked enough of her head above the wood to see if the coast was clear.


The coast was not clear. She ducked back down beneath the pier, trying to figure out how to pretend she wasn’t there.

“Do you hang out under the dock now like a weird harbor seal?” Sofia asked, her voice moving closer. Her footsteps thudded on the wood. Emily sighed and accepted futility.

“Sometimes,” she said, sullen, emerging enough to peer over the wood again.

“I haven’t seen you in forever,” Sofia complained, “and now you’re telling me you’ve been hiding under a dock this whole time?” She put her hands on her hips, three-inch heels tapping in a way that looked unstable. Emily didn’t understand how she could walk in those without tipping over. Emily couldn’t walk barefoot without tipping over.

“Not the whole time.”

“Are you depressed?”


“Did Mantonio dump you?”

“No! And that’s not his name.”

“Okay, well, if you want to convince me that your mystery man isn’t trying to keep you isolated for murder reasons, you’re gonna have to join me for brunch.” Sofia knelt and offered both her hands to Emily to help pull her up.

Emily bit her lip. She didn’t want to leave Drago. Every minute with him felt precious still, and time away from him felt wasted. She wanted to wait until the next time he had to leave, for his mysterious merman reasons, and get all her errands and social life done then.

Which wasn’t super practical, now that she was thinking about it. And unsustainable, in the long term, unless she wanted to end up having to choose between the people she loved. Secrets were secrets, but friends were friends.

Knowing when to keep them was an important part of secrets.

“Sofia,” she decided, “I want you to meet my boyfriend.”

“Oh, lord.” Sofia rolled her eyes, tilting her head back in a plea to the heavens and dropping her hands. “Is he here?”

“Maybe,” Emily said, recalling that she hadn’t actually cleared this plan with Drago beforehand. “Wait right here and I’ll talk to him, okay? No peeking.”

Sofia rolled her eyes again as Emily disappeared back underneath the dock.

Drago was nowhere to be seen, so Emily waded deeper into the water, far enough that she could reach underneath it and try to wave her arms for attention. She felt foolish doing it until she saw the top of Drago’s head, just high enough above the water that she could see his eyes.

It actually made him look… scary. Like he was going to leap out at her and pull her under.

She waved both her hands in a ‘come here’ gesture.

Drago narrowed his eyes at the pier and didn’t move.

“I want you to meet her,” she whispered. Drago seemed to sink a little lower in the water. “Please? You can trust her. She’s important.” She clasped a fist over her heart as if that meant something he should be able to understand.

Drago didn’t move at first, but eventually and slowly he came closer to her, still watching warily for Sofia. Sofia, thankfully, did not peek.

“It’ll be okay,” she assured him, bending lower to better look him in the eye. “Nothing bad will happen. She’s special.”

Emily poked her head back up over the edge of the pier. “Okay,” she said, pulling herself up to sit at the edge. She patted the wood beside her. “You can come say hi.”

“He’d better be wearing pants,” Sofia warned, stepping closer. She didn’t sit down, despite Emily’s invitation. Her jeans were much too expensive to risk. “If you two were fucking when I got here, I don’t need to see that.”

Sofia,” Emily complained, mortified.

Drago came up out of the water, only to his shoulders. Sofia looked him over with disdain as a reflex. She stilled as she processed.

“What,” she said finally.

“This is Drago,” Emily said stiffly, gesturing with both hands. “Drago, this is Sofia. She’s my best friend and she promises not to tell the government that you’re here. Right?”

“… why does he look like that.”

“Don’t be racist,” Emily scolded.

“You know that isn’t what I meant,” Sofia said.

Drago did a quick backflip into the water and back up, enough to show off a quick flash of his tail. Sofia shrieked.

“Also,” Emily said, “I’m sorry because he definitely isn’t wearing pants and I know you said that was a dealbreaker.”

“Are you fucking with me?” Sofia demanded.

“My boyfriend is a merman and I lied because it’s supposed to be a secret because people aren’t supposed to know that mermaids are real but I’m telling you because you’re special. Also it wasn’t totally a lie because he is foreign and he’s like a sailor, and Ray can be short for Drago. So I barely lied.”

“Oh my god,” Sofia said.

“I know,” Emily said.

“This cannot be a real thing,” Sofia said.

“It kind of is, though,” Emily said.

“Are werewolves real?” Sofia asked.


“Because if mermaids are real then maybe werewolves are real, and if that’s the case I’ve made some posts about a hypothetical werewolf boyfriend that I need to delete,” Sofia said.

“I’ve seen those posts,” Emily said, “and you should delete those for unrelated reasons.”

“Is this why you said that thing about his dick?” Sofia asked.

“What?” Drago asked. Sofia shrieked.

“Oh my god, he speaks English,” Sofia said, covering her mouth. “I thought he was Italian.”

“No,” Emily said. “I think he’s tropical. I don’t know. I don’t think they have countries underwater. Do they? Do you guys have different groups with designated areas?”

Drago contemplated the question with narrowed eyes. “There are clans,” he said finally, “with territories.”

“You hadn’t thought to ask him about that until now?” Sofia asked.

“We were busy,” Emily said defensively. “I don’t want to pry. The fact that he exists is supposed to be a secret, I’m not going to demand answers about the ocean government.”

“That’s the first thing you should ask,” Sofia said.

“A merman?” Emily asked, incredulous. “The first thing I should ask a merman, who is real and hot and saved my life, is about governance?”

“Yes,” Sofia said. “What if he’s a mer-fascist? You don’t know!”

“He’s not a fascist,” Emily said, offended.

“How would you know?” Sofia asked. “You’ve never asked.”

“I don’t need to.”

“You’d be surprised. So he can’t grow legs or anything? He stays in the water?”

“I’ve wheeled him around in a chair before,” Emily said. “He doesn’t shapeshift. Drago, come sit.” She patted the pier beside herself since Sofia wasn’t going to be sitting anyway. Drago did not look pleased by this turn of events, but reluctantly pulled himself up out of the water.

“Oh,” Sofia sighed, “it was the arms, wasn’t it?”

“What?” Drago asked again as he turned himself around to sit. Emily did not dignify the question with a response, turning pink. “Ah,” Drago decided, and he gave her a quick peck on the cheek. Emily squeaked in surprise, turning redder.

“Hmph,” Sofia said, unimpressed.

“She’s protective,” Emily explained.

“Good,” Drago said. “You should be protected.”

“God,” Sofia said. “Of course you moved into a lighthouse to be closer to the merman boyfriend you got because you went swimming in a thunderstorm. I don’t know why I’m surprised.”

“Is that good or bad?” Emily said.

“It’s you,” Sofia said, “which means that if it was anyone else I would hate them.” Emily pouted. “Don’t you start with me,” Sofia warned. “And you,” she added, pointing at Drago. “If I find out you’re planning to eat her, or drown her, or drown her and then eat her, I’m going to kill you.” Drago nodded. “Do you actually understand what I said, or are you just nodding?”

“I would sooner die than hurt Emily,” Drago said solemnly.

“You will,” Sofia said with a nod.

“That’s not necessary,” Emily said. “I thought you’d be more understanding once you learned that he’s a merman.”

“All that means is that it would be even easier for him to hide a secret second family,” Sofia said. “Are mermen monogamous, or did you join an aquatic polycule?”

“What?” Drago asked.

“She’s asking if you have others,” Emily explained, tapping the spot where her necklace would sit between her collarbones.

“For me, there is only you,” Drago said, his gaze intense.

“Gross,” Sofia said. “I don’t mean that,” she added, “I’m jealous. And it’s gross. Stop being cute.”

“You know I can’t,” Emily said.

“I know,” Sofia sighed.

“You can’t tell anyone about him, Sofia,” Emily warned.

“I know that,” Sofia said. “What do you take me for?”

“Not even our friends,” Emily said. “If Gus finds out then the whole world will find out, and if we tell Alex then Gus is the only one who doesn’t know and that’s not fair.”

“It still doesn’t seem fair,” Sofia said.

“Gus can’t keep secrets,” Emily reminded her. “Putting him in a position where someone else’s safety depends on his ability to keep secrets isn’t fair to him, either.”

“Shit,” Sofia huffed, crossing her arms. “Is this going to be like that thing where Anne got married and had kids and now we never see her anymore?”

“We can still hang out,” Emily assured her. “I’m not ditching you guys.”

“You say that,” Sofia said, “but now every time we ask if you want to go to the movies, or get dinner, or grab lunch, or go to a show, you’re going to be like: I could do those normal things, or I could spend time with my merman boyfriend catching exciting new fish STDs.”

Sofia,” Emily hissed.

“What?” Sofia said. “Are you going to tell me you’ve been making the merman wrap it up?”

Emily turned red. “He isn’t human,” she muttered.

“Which means you should be extra careful,” Sofia said, “because swapping bodily fluids with non-humans is a great way to attain the title of patient zero when they discover some weird new fish man disease.” She threw up her hands. “It’s fine, it’s whatever, clearly that dick is out of the bag,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “For the record, I think ditching your friends for magical mermaid adventures is the objectively correct move. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, but I get it.”

“She is your clan,” Drago suggested, “and you love her.”

“Exactly,” Sofia said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Emily said.

“I am the one who is staying,” Drago said. “My territory is here now.”

“I thought you were nomadic,” Emily said.

“I was,” Drago said.

“He’s U-Hauling,” Sofia said. “He’s as bad as you are.”

“Yes,” Drago agreed. It was unclear how much of the sentiment he’d understood.

“Okay,” Sofia said. “I’m putting my foot down.” Emily and Drago both looked up at her from where they were sitting. “No puppy dog eyes,” she ordered, which made the puppy dog eyes worse. “Emily, I am going to go pick up our food to go. I’ll get him sashimi, I don’t know if he can have carbs.” Emily and Drago both shrugged, for different reasons. “While I’m gone, you’re going to find a table and chairs so we can sit outside with the merman and not ruin my jeans. When I get back, we’re going to have brunch, because I skipped breakfast so I could guilt you into having brunch with me and I’m getting hangry.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Emily said.

“I don’t have to do a lot of things,” Sofia snapped. She huffed. “I’m trying to be supportive of your little whirlwind mermaid romance, but honestly, you don’t look like you need much support. You look pretty supported. While I—we are on a deadline. In two hours, it’s not going to be brunch anymore, and I need to bitch about my week over brunch while you agree that I’m right about everything, or I am going to fucking lose it. Okay?”

“Okay,” Emily said.

Drago slowly raised a hand to give a thumbs-up.

hungry thirsty roots: 09

Clara started sneaking out of her cell to steal things.

Mostly candy.

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Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Eight

“You have a car?” Andi asked, surprised. She didn’t know why she was surprised. Plenty of people had cars, even in the city. But she didn’t understand his driver’s license situation. How did an American-born king of a no-longer-existent foreign country go about getting a driver’s license?

“I do,” he said. It looked like he’d taken it home from World War II and kept it, all utilitarian off-road army green. There was a telescope and a folded tent in the back seat. She wanted to ask, but didn’t.

“How far is your place?” she asked, clambering into the passenger seat and setting her purse by her feet.

“A ways,” he said noncommittally.

“You’re not reassuring me,” she said. “I’m already agreeing to let you take me to a second location.”

He grinned under his sunglasses. There was something funny about seeing him in sunglasses. Too modern, somehow. He’d worn jeans and a long-sleeved henley today. “Where do you think I’m taking you?” he asked.

“Abandoned warehouse?” she suggested.

“You think I live in an abandoned warehouse?” he asked, pulling away from the sidewalk.

“I’m not saying you live there, I’m saying you’re taking me there,” she said. “I wouldn’t put that past you, though. Living in an abandoned warehouse. Full of trees, like a jungle-themed mall restaurant. Then, in the middle, a cabin.”

“I can see that,” he agreed.

Andi fidgeted with her skirt. “Carrie asked me about Doc,” she blurted.

Ghost’s grip on the steering wheel tightened, jaw a little squarer. “Ah,” he said mildly.

“I told her that Doc Colossal was an asshole and I don’t care.”

His double-take nearly took them off the road, and he had to take a moment to correct his steering. “You’re feeling yourself?” he checked.

“I feel fine,” she said. “I’m allowed to curse, when the situation calls for it. And it does. Because he was. I just—I wanted you to know that. We’ve never talked about it before.”

“We haven’t,” he said. “I don’t like to talk about… him.”

“We don’t have to,” she said. “It felt important. As a thing you should know about me.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Have you been feeling better?” she asked.

“I have,” he said.

“I’ve been really excited about this,” she admitted. “Coming over to your place. Not because—not like that. But I don’t know what to expect? Aside from a cabin in a rainforest in an abandoned warehouse.”

“I will warn you now, that’s not where I live.”

“Aw. I was getting attached to the idea.”

“I could tell.”

She glanced at the line of cars behind them in her side mirror, and then at the speedometer. “You drive like an old man,” she observed.

“Shocking,” he said, and she giggled.

“Do you know how old you are?” she wondered. “It’s okay if you don’t want to answer.”

“I don’t know,” he said.


“I think it might be close to eight-hundred,” he admitted.

She stared at him. “… really?”

“I can’t be sure,” he said. “Time stopped working, for a while.” She gnawed at her lip and contemplated the chasm between eight hundred years and twenty-six. How young did she seem? How small was the whole of her life? It was no wonder he seemed crazy. “Everything would reset,” he continued, though she hadn’t expected him to clarify. “Every twenty-four hours. Not all at once. Twenty-four hours between when you cut your hand off and when it came back.”

“Oh.” That was a specific kind of example.

“It made it hard to keep track,” he said. “I had a system. If I kept multiple journals I could copy them into each other. They reset at different times. I had shorthand. They weren’t detailed, but I tried.”

The very idea made her anxious. “You brought it with you?” she asked. “When you got out?”

“Not intact,” he said. “Some. I keep it at home.” He pulled into his driveway.

“… you have a house?” she demanded. “I thought—didn’t you say you had an apartment?”

“I have a few places,” he said, sliding out of the car.

“With royalty money?”

“Good investments,” he said.

“Like stocks? There’s a guy out there who’s Ghost Devlin’s stockbroker?”

“I have a lot of things,” Ghost said.

“Yeah, I’m getting that impression.” It was a nice house, two stories with a willow tree out front. There was a front garden that managed to imply the presence of a larger and nicer back garden. It wasn’t a Victorian, but it was old enough to have character. It seemed like the house of a man who ought to have a large dog. Everything about him suggested he ought to have a large dog. She followed him awkwardly inside, gawking all the while at his nice floors and his welcome mat and the bench he kept for shoes.

“I imagined you more rustic,” she said, and he shrugged. “Where do you take all those cursed pictures of food, if your house is this nice?”

“I have ways.”

“Please don’t tell me you keep a second, shittier house to keep up appearances.”

“I might.”

“Weren’t you a communist?”

“You don’t have to be a communist to punch McCarthy,” he said. “I was broke and then I was royalty, I don’t know what that makes me.”

“Really cool?” she suggested.

“Thank you,” he said. His house did have a rainforest vibe. Plants hanging from hooks in every window, pots on shelves and sitting in corners, special planters with built-in grow lights. “You are being very normal today?” he asked.

He was always prompting her to stop hiding her tail. Sometimes she worried it was a sex thing. She shouldn’t verbalize that.

“Do you have a thing for when I have a tail?” she verbalized.

He frowned. “I was under the impression that it was more comfortable for you,” he said.

“It is.”

“I want you to be comfortable,” he said. “I want to see you and know that you can be comfortable. With me.”

She clapped her hands together to draw them out. “Like this?” she asked.

“Don’t do it for my sake, Pizote.” he said.

“I’m doing it to be comfortable,” she said. “And also because it’s cute that you want me to be comfy.”

He took her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Would you like to join me in the kitchen?”

“Heck yes,” she said, feeling pleasantly domestic all over again.

“There’s something I want to show you,” he warned, leading her by the hand.

“It better not be a mug too close to the edge of the counter.”

He let out a surprised laugh. “I should have! Shit. Go back and give me a moment.”

“Absolutely not,” she said, delighted by his delight.

“It’s about the butterflies, and the slugs,” he explained.

“Do you have a theory about that?” she asked. “They definitely seem related, right? Bugs doing weird things.”

“I believe they are related,” he said. “I have theories, but nothing concrete. I am not confident of my conclusions.” He let her go, and she sat herself on a barstool at the island of his kitchen. She admired his wooden countertops and the size of his sink. He’d set out several maps, one of them smaller and hand-drawn. “I was sent that map in a message,” he explained, opening his fridge. “It was on the day of the butterflies.”

If this lacked specificity, it wasn’t the kind of vagary that worried her. “You think it’s related?”

“I have strong reason to suspect as much.”

She set the hand-drawn map of an island next to the map of the world, where a small space in the Atlantic Ocean had been circled. If there was an island there, she couldn’t see it. She moved it aside to find a topographic map of the Atlantic, where another circle marked the island’s location. The shape of it looked similar enough, to her untrained eye. Another space on the same map, too close for comfort, had been drawn on. ‘Atlantis’, he’d labeled it, in his careful handwriting like an old textbook.

“Do you think they came from this island? The slugs, and so on?”

“Do you recognize it?” he asked, chopping potatoes. Logically he couldn’t use the machete for everything, and yet somehow she’d thought he’d try.

“I don’t,” she admitted.

“Have you heard of Xenoia?”

She gnawed at her lip. “Is it one of those land-before-time islands? Where there’s dinosaurs but also big gorillas for some reason?”

“Exactly,” he said.

“Wait—okay.” She rubbed her temple. “Is this the aliens one? I remember hearing about aliens making a dinosaur island, but I assumed it was fake.”

“Real enough,” Ghost said, dropping potatoes into a bowl of water before starting in on an onion. She pulled out her phone to check the wiki. She opened up the camera first and stealthily took a picture of him cooking. She couldn’t help herself. It was too cute.

“Okay, yeah,” she said, scrolling the article. “This says alien nature preserve, from dinosaur times. Except they also experimented on the animals? So there’s weird ones. Did you ever go here?”

“Once,” he said, with a shake of his head. “I was shipwrecked there. It’s where I met Jolene.”

“Oh,” she said. “I… don’t remember that one.”

“I never wrote about it,” he shrugged. “It was personal to me, and not that interesting, I thought. Lots of giant spiders.”

“That would have been in…”

“1941,” he said. He started frying potatoes. The fact that he didn’t flinch from the popping oil definitely counted as a superpower. “I also did not think anyone would be interested in my excuses for showing up late to the war,” he admitted.

“That’s fair,” she said. “You didn’t know about Atlantis until later, though?”

“It seemed plausible to me that she could have ended up there from Europe,” he said. “I had ended up there, after all. But I did not ask many questions. We were busy with the spiders, and the bees.”

“Giant bees?”

“Robot bees.”


“Part of the security,” he said. “Perhaps they were meant to resemble whatever beings created the island—but to me, at the time, they looked like bees.”

Andi looked over the series of maps again. “Someone is sending weird bugs from Xenoia, then,” she said.

“It seems that way,” he said. “Or they only want me to think so. It’s difficult to say.”

“Who knows that you were on Xenoia?” she asked.

“Someone stole my journal from that time,” he said. “But that would have been after the slugs had already been released in Midton, and so it may have been a poorly-timed feint.”

“This is really weird,” Andi fretted, as Ghost drained away oil and used what remained to start cooking onions. The whole kitchen smelled divine.

“Is it vanity to assume this relates to me, somehow?” he asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “Especially not if someone sent you this map. This makes it seem like someone’s trying to get your attention.”

“That was what I thought,” he said, “but I cannot imagine who.” He dropped a steak into the skillet, and it started to sizzle and smoke. “Who knows I was there, except my wife?” he asked quietly. She shrank in on herself. “And the bees, I suppose.”

He turned on the fan above the stove, and Andi didn’t bother trying to say anything that would need to be yelled to be heard.

The problem with getting swallowed up into some kind of space-time anomaly is that it didn’t exactly leave a body. Just an emptiness where once there was a person, was a country. How was a person supposed to get closure? Especially when coming back was so common? It was almost a meme now, that you couldn’t be sure unless you saw the body. Black Knight had been presumed dead twice. Skulltina had been presumed dead twenty years before she reappeared. Doc Colossal’s wife—what was her name?—had ‘died’ so many times it was almost a joke.

What if she was alive? His wife, out there somewhere, trying to get Ghost’s attention while he made Andi dinner. She rested her chin in her hands, covered her mouth with curled fingers. That would be wonderful if he didn’t have to mourn. He loved his wife. They’d been together for seven hundred years, by the end. How could Andi ever want anything but for the two of them to be reunited?

She watched him fry eggs with a sense of defeat unfamiliar to her.

“Do you think it’s her?” she asked quietly when he’d finally turned off the fan and started plating their food. Steak topped with onions topped with eggs, and a side of homemade fries. It was deeply unhealthy and she could already tell she’d wish for seconds and not ask for them. She told herself her heart was hurting in anticipation of all that cholesterol. That was a thing, right?

“It would make no sense,” he said, tipping his head to suggest she follow him into the next room. “It isn’t her style, these roundabout ways. She was always direct in her demands. If she were alive, she would have announced herself unmistakably. I’m sure of it.”

She reminded herself that this was a disappointment because she wanted him to be happy and have his wife back.

His dining room table was small, and he hadn’t bothered with anything like candles. There were four chairs, and he’d set Jesús the dinosaur into one of the extras. She snorted when she saw it, and he grinned at her.

“I am told it is important to eat meals together, as a family,” he said, setting out her plate.

“Very important,” she said, sitting down.

“What would you like to drink?”

“Water is fine,” she said, watching him disappear back into the kitchen. She prodded the yolk of her egg to make it run before it solidified in the heat of the steak beneath it. He set a glass in front of her before finally sitting down across from her. “It would be a good thing, right?” she asked, poking at the threat of an open wound. “If it were her.”

“I would be happy beyond compare,” he said, so she shoved a fry into her mouth. “I won’t get my hopes up.” He frowned at his glass of wine. “I… worry that it might be Tilzer.”

“… is that a person?”

“One of our husbands,” he said, and Andi choked on a bite of steak. Which was unfortunate, because it was delicious. “Of all of them, I have most often wondered if he was the one to blame for our downfall. His machinations were many, and subtle.”

“Roll back,” Andi said, swallowing. “Husbands, go back to husbands.”

“Ah.” Ghost sliced at his steak. “No, you wouldn’t know, would you.”

“I would not.”

“Seahorses,” he said.

“… seahorses.”

“Atlanteans are not—were not—human. They carried their young as seahorses do. Not exactly the same, but close enough.”

Andi squinted at him. “… the men… carry the babies?” she ventured. He nodded. “You. You were the king of mpreg country.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Don’t look it up.”

“You know that I will.”

“I guess it won’t be anything you haven’t seen before,” she said, sipping at her water.

“It was tradition for the Queen of Atlantis to take a King with whom to rule, and many consorts beside him.” He twirled the stem of his wine glass between his fingers. “She knew that I was not familiar with the ways of Atlantis. In deference to me, she took only husbands who would be my consorts, also.”

She jammed bites of steak in her mouth so she wouldn’t be tempted to say anything. If she focused on her food, he might not notice that she was having an absolute crisis at the moment.

Had there been orgies? This was Ghost. Of course there’d been orgies. Drug orgies, probably. With pregnant men. For seven hundred years. She was reconsidering the part where she tried to convince him that she was a woman of the world. She’d never even been to a sober orgy. She’d just assumed it would never come up, like a fool.

“Is this a problem?” Ghost asked softly. She realized he was watching her. His expression was… worried.

“That’s not—no,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m not about to… slutshame you?” That didn’t sound as reassuring as it had felt. His fork bounced in his hand, fidgety.

“It doesn’t bother you,” he pressed. “That I was with men.”

“What!” She dropped her fork. “Oh, my god, no. That’s—no. That’s fine. I’m cool with—oh my god.” She pointed at herself. “I’m totally bisexual. I sort of assume everyone is until they correct me, which is kind of problematic actually, but, I mean. I’m cool with it. That’s not—I’m sorry. Are you—were you coming out to me? Was that a big trust thing you did, and I totally dropped the ball because I didn’t realize? Oh my god, I’m the worst.”

The worry had left him, replaced by that easy smile as he watched her flounder. “I forgot,” he admitted. “Until I said it. I was in Atlantis for a very long time.”


“It was… strange. When I came back. I had forgotten many things about America. Being American.”

“Going from Atlantis and your royal husbands to the 80s is kind of a worst-case scenario,” Andi sympathized.

“Even when I managed to find my old things—my journals—things had changed. Not only with time, but time had changed. People and places missing. No more hippos.”

“It’s really impressive,” she said, “that you’re doing as well as you are.”

“I’m not,” he said. “I fake it well.”

“I think it counts,” she said.

“Did you hit it yet?” David asked from the futon, still looking at his phone.

Andi slammed the door behind her. “We’re taking it slow,” she snapped.

David looked up. “You are, or he is?”

“It’s fine,” she said, careful not to slam her bedroom door.

Say the word, he said, but that was before she’d known about the orgies. How was she supposed to compete with orgies? She had superpowers, sure, but she also still had a gag reflex. This was going to be a disaster.

hungry thirsty roots: 08

It was odd, the little things that changed. It was as if a switch had flipped when the Goblin Lord decided he’d be stuck with her for the long haul.

Clara scrubbed the floors with old rag blankets and the soap he insisted was for flea-bitten horses. She scrubbed the tub and the toilet, and even the shackles just on principle. Attendants took her old bedding, all stained with sweat and blood and gods knew what else, and left her new things. A buckwheat futon, wooly pillows, woven blankets. She enjoyed the novelty of setting them up, making herself a bed as if it would ever be restful.

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Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Seven

Ghost Devlin was sitting in her apartment, and she had no idea how he got there. She had to assume he’d broken in through the balcony. He was sitting on the futon in the living room, his knee bouncing, with a thousand-yard stare in front of him. The television was off.

“Ghost?” she asked, setting down her purse.

“Andi,” he said. She couldn’t place his tone of voice. It made her nervous. “When did you last see me?” he asked.

“Three days ago?” she said nervously. “We went hiking?” Considering their previous conversations, the question worried her. She didn’t know what she’d do if he remembered something different, if her memories weren’t his. Could a changed timeline give her memories of him when he hadn’t been there?

He rubbed his hands over his face and then kept them there, obscuring his expression. This was not reassuring.

“Is that right?” she asked. “Is that what you remember?”

“Yes,” he said, muffled. “I remember.”

“Is everything okay?” she asked, coming closer to him. He seemed upset.

“Everything is good,” he said, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with both hands. “Will you sit with me, please?”

She perched herself at the edge of the futon. He finally took his hands away from his face and looked at her. His eyes looked red and watering, but he took her face in his hands. They weren’t as rough as she remembered.

“Look at you,” he said, almost awestruck.

“It’s me,” she agreed, not sure what he wanted her to say. He pulled her into his arms, so gently it seemed like she might break. His chin rested on her shoulder.

“It’s so good to see you,” he said. ” Pizote.”

She tried to relax into him, but she was worried. “Did something happen?” It seemed like something had happened.

“No,” he said, implausibly.

“Did something… not happen?” she tried instead.

“Don’t ask me that,” he said.

“Okay.” She rubbed his back. “That’s okay. We’re good now. Right?”

“Yes.” He buried his face in her hair and took a deep breath. “It’s so good to see you,” he said again.

“Did you want to go out?” she ventured. “We could go somewhere.”

“I.” He swallowed. “Shouldn’t impose,” he finished. He was still wrapped around her.

“Tell me what you need,” she said.

“I’d like to stay here,” he admitted. “I want to be with you, for a while.”

“Okay,” she said. That might get awkward once Carrie got home. And if anyone else came over. “Is it okay if we sit in my room?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, not moving. She had to coax him in the right direction as she stood, walking with him latched onto her like a starfish. He eventually let her go long enough to stand listlessly in the middle of her bedroom, watching her the entire time. His hair looked longer than she remembered.

“You seem a little traumatized,” she ventured.

“Usually,” he agreed.

She held his hands. “Do you… wanna cuddle?”

He pressed his forehead to hers, nearly a headbutt. ” Yes,” he said, with more vehemence than a theoretical cuddle had ever demanded.

“No boots in my bed,” she warned, kicking off her shoes.

“Yes’m,” he said, sinking into the comforter at the corner. She sat on the other side of it and watched him unlace his boots. It felt more domestic than evocative. Something had happened to sap away the intensity that usually suffused his every action. He just seemed… tired.

He reached for her as soon as his boots were off, and they began the clumsy process of figuring out how to lie in bed together comfortably. Figuring out what to do with her arms was a whole thing.

In the end, they went for a traditional spoon configuration. Cuddling wasn’t the time to try to get creative. He wrapped his arms tight around her waist, and she rested her hands over his.

“This good?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said against her hair.

Ghost went back to his old apartment, his current apartment, his whatever-it-was. It was all as he’d left it, peeling paint and butterflies pinned to the wall. He’d spent a lot of time thinking about those butterflies. About that map. He’d even figured out where it was, though he hadn’t been able to do anything about it. Couldn’t change too much, couldn’t break time. Not when it meant doing it all over again. He’d needed it done right the first time.

As far as this apartment was concerned, he’d been here three days ago. All his plants still alive and thriving. All his journals on the shelves. Except the one, the missing one, the one that had been stolen the first time he killed Mr. Paul.

The rotund dinosaur sat in his hammock, same as he remembered it. He’d forgotten about the hammock. A bed would take up too much space, he’d thought.

A past self, the same self, not long ago, a lifetime ago.

He’d tried to take up more hobbies in the last fifteen years. The alternative was obsessing. That wouldn’t be fair to her, obsessing too much. He’d definitely obsessed. There was no avoiding that. But he liked to think he’d struck a balance.

He could never tell her. He’d decided that a long time ago. It would feel like too much. Like he’d given her fifteen years. He didn’t think he could explain that in the grand scheme of his life, fifteen years was nothing. How many hundreds of years had he spent in the library of the royal castle in Atlantis, after time stopped working? He couldn’t say. Fifteen years was nothing. If he could explain, it would make her feel small.

Another thing to swallow until it stopped making him sick. This was nothing. It barely bled.

He would pack up his things, and move in with himself. He would settle back in to who he was and who he’d been.

He had a place that he could actually invite people to, now. That was something.

“So,” Carrie said, stirring honey into her tea. “Ghost.”

“Ghost,” Andi agreed, stirring her macaroni.

“You slept with him.”

“We slept,” Andi corrected. “Literally. We cuddled and ended up taking a nap.”

“That’s kind of worse,” Carrie said.

“Kind of,” Andi agreed.

“You’re serious about this?” Carrie pressed. “Ghost Devlin. That’s who you’re going with. You’re dating the Devil.”

“No one ever really called him that,” Andi said, focusing on watching cheese melt. “I know you don’t like it, you’ve made that clear.”

“I want to understand, that’s all,” Carrie said. “I worry about you, you know that.”

“I know.”

“Is it a sex thing? A sexy supervillain thing I don’t get?”

“You’re too focused on the supervillain idea,” Andi said. “Even if he weren’t reformed, he was barely even a supervillain in the first place.”

He killed Doc Colossal,” Carrie said, louder than felt warranted. “You know everyone’s not bringing it up to be polite, right? That’s a big deal, and you’ve been ignoring it for years now.”

Andi shut the burner off. “Doc Colossal was a Nazi,” she said.


Definitely,” Andi said, trying not to lose her temper with her best friend. “He admitted it. He was a Nazi.”

“Everyone knows there were extenuating circumstances,” Carrie said. “He was probably being mind-controlled. We never found out, because Ghost killed him first.”

“Why is everyone so willing to give him the benefit of the doubt?” Andi snapped. Carrie blinked in surprise. Andi never snapped at her. “People have been saying that for years now, but no one’s ever proved it. Who was mind-controlling him? What evil plan was it a part of? Nothing’s ever come out about it. I understand why his wife defends him, but I don’t understand why everyone else is so insistent that he had some good reason to be a Nazi.”

“Obviously we don’t mean it like that,” Carrie began.

“You kind of do, though,” Andi said. “Ghost is—most people don’t even know Ghost. It’s like everyone forgets that he used to be a hero. He was a hero! Until he fought Doc. Now that’s all anyone remembers, that he’s a supervillain, because he was always trying to kill Doc. But Doc was a Nazi.”

“He didn’t used to be,” Carrie said. “We know he wasn’t. And it wouldn’t be the first time he was mind-controlled.”

“Yeah, and that’s really convenient for him, that every time he did something terrible it turned out it was aliens, or brain-slugs, or hypnosis, or a clone from an alternate reality. Didn’t you ever think it was weird, that it seemed to happen to him so often? That he was always making doomsday machines, or starting interdimensional wars, or creating weird quasi-governmental police agencies that turned out to be evil? Black Knight never did that. But for some reason with Doc Colossal everyone accepted that it was a thing that happened, all the time, somehow.”

Carrie set her mug down. “Did you not like Doc?”

Andi leaned back against the counter. “Let’s not make this a whole thing.”

“It feels like a thing,” Carrie said. “Doc Colossal was the hero.”

“That’s what everyone keeps telling me!” Andi said. “I honestly—I didn’t care about Doc Colossal. I just didn’t.”

“Not once you were older.”

“Never! Especially not when I was a kid. And I never talk about it because it seems like sacrilege for some reason, but I did not get the whole thing with Doc Colossal. If we were talking mainstream heroes, I always thought Black Knight should have been the more popular one. I’m not saying that because he was my first team-up, he was my first team-up because I thought he was the cooler one. Doc Colossal was just… some white guy.”

“I guess,” Carrie said dubiously.

“I don’t mean it’s not cool to like him, lots of people like him, obviously. You probably had the lunchbox.”

“Everyone had the lunchbox.”

“I didn’t have the lunchbox! I didn’t have any Doc Colossal anything. I didn’t care about him, and the one time I met him, he didn’t care about me. Which is fine! It was mutual. I didn’t… you know? I didn’t like him. He was a rich guy who made a big deal about how much smarter he was than everyone else, and I didn’t like him! I don’t care if he was actually a genius, and he saved the world. There are a lot of geniuses, and a lot of people who save the world, and most of them never make a doomsday device even once. I grew up reading stories about Ghost Devlin going on adventures and doing good, and hearing news about how Doc Colossal nearly killed us all again, and I’m sick of feeling like I’m the weird one for thinking Ghost deserves a chance. I’m sick of people acting like Ghost killing a Nazi was some kind of fluke! He does that! He literally fought in the second World War! If it weren’t for Doc Colossal, I think people would like Ghost fine.”

“You’ve been holding this in for a while,” Carrie said.

“I guess?” Andi said. She didn’t know where all that had come from, hadn’t realized it was sitting inside her somewhere.

“Black Knight is also a rich guy who makes a big deal about how much smarter he is than everyone else,” Carrie pointed out.

“When he does it it’s charming,” Andi said, well aware of her own hypocrisy.

Carrie took a sip of her tea. “You could have told me I was being a bitch, before.”

“You weren’t—you were being a bitch,” Andi conceded. “But I like that about you. You were raising reasonable concerns. I like Ghost, and I think he’s a fundamentally good person, but I also recognize that he’s not entirely stable.”

“I kind of thought he was the ‘some white guy’ one,” Carrie admitted. “What with the whole. You know. Exploring the Amazon, thing.”

“I don’t know,” Andi said. “It’s hard to explain. The stories got collected into books and the books added a bunch of weird stuff with, like, native women. Trying to make him seem cool? But I read the magazine ones and in those he mostly got dunked on. That was the whole thing. They didn’t all age well but language didn’t age well in general I think. It’s like, if you read them and pretend they’re modern they’re offensive, but if you remember they’re old then they’re cool. If that makes sense. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Carrie said. Andi wasn’t sure she believed her but appreciated that she was willing to pretend. Andi was well aware that she was making excuses, self-justifying as much as anything.

“Right,” Andi said. “It would have been different if he’d… I don’t know. Given me shit about my Spanish. Or if he’d done that thing, putting his arm up to mine and teasing me about how he’s darker.”

“Who does that?”

“A lot of people,” Andi said. She finally got a bowl for her macaroni. “You’d like him, if you got to know him better.”

“I do like him,” Carrie insisted. “I didn’t like him for you, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. He’s saved my life at least three times. Now that I know you’re serious about him, I’ll keep an open mind and be less bitchy about it. Okay?”

“I appreciate it,” Andi said, hunting for a clean fork. “You don’t have to be nice, just chill with the supervillain talk. You know?”

“I get it,” Carrie said. “I don’t think you’re going to get many people on board with your ‘Doc Colossus, Science Wizard, was a supervillain the whole time’ theory.”

“That’s why I don’t bring it up,” Andi muttered, taking a bite of cheesy pasta. There was too much cheese, which was almost enough cheese. “You know,” she said, “one of the first things Ghost did when he got out of the space-time whatever was try to kill Reagan.” She’d never asked him about it because it hadn’t ended well for him, but she was under the impression it had something to do with drug policy.

“You should have led with that,” Carrie said. “Ugh, wait, that means Doc saved Reagan. Okay, I lied, I’m provisionally on board with your crackpot theories.”

“See?” Andi said with a triumphant poke of her fork. “That’s what I’ve been saying! I should start leading with that.”

“Are you going to make it official?” Carrie asked. “Coatimundi and Ghost, a couple?”

“I’m not going to announce it or anything,” she said. “We’ll see if it comes up. I don’t know. Ghost doesn’t usually show at team-ups unless I specifically invite him, so it might not even be an issue.”

“Don’t say that,” Carrie said. “If you say that, then a week from now Helen of Troy is going to be trying to cut his head off, and you’re going to think back to this conversation and be mad about it.”

“Irony isn’t actually a law,” Andi said. “Unless Ironicarl is back, in which case we have bigger things to worry about than my love life.”

Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Six

Andi was practically singing on the way home from work. There’d been a break in the case—her break—and she was riding the high of success. Carrie had stayed behind to follow up on a few loose ends, but she was pretty sure they had their man.

It wouldn’t be right to say that private investigation was fun, with all the horrors it entailed, but something about it suited her. Some small thing that she could do to feel less powerless. Later she’d drag Carrie with her to the bar for company, and see if she could get lucky twice in one day. Weirder things had happened.

She froze as soon as she’d entered their apartment and closed the door behind her, aware of a presence that didn’t belong. She reached into her purse, but she hadn’t brought her gun. She’d been trying not to keep it on her since that night at the docks the month before.

The sensible thing to do would have been to back out and close the door, instead of taking curious steps forward. She realized this and prepared to retreat. Before she even could, a man came out of her kitchen. She froze.

“Knight’s Tower is missing,” he said, in an accent she didn’t recognize. “I knew this was going to happen, I didn’t think it would be this, but—I don’t even know if you remember.”

She realized that she recognized him, from posters and television and book covers. Andi’s heart beat against her ribs. “Why are you in my apartment?” she demanded.

Ghost Devlin, the Ghost Devlin, in the too-much-flesh, stepped closer. “You don’t remember.” It wasn’t a question. His hair was falling half in front of his face, his eyes wild.

“What am I supposed to remember?” She wanted to keep him talking, try to talk him down. She knew he was supposed to have had a psychotic break at some point, his grip on reality tenuous at best. He had powers, there wasn’t anything she could do in the face of someone with powers except try to talk her way out of it. He was looking her over, her jeans and her boots and her leather jacket.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked, his enunciation careful.

“You’re Ghost Devlin,” she said, “the Last King of Atlantis.” A glimmer of hope passed over his face. “I’ve read some of the books.” His jaw tightened, expression shattering into a worrying nothing.

“Okay,” he said. He took a deep breath, fists clenching and releasing. She took a step back. He looked like a man on the edge, and she didn’t want to be anywhere near it with him. “This will be a strange question, and I need you to answer me honestly, P—please.” His voice broke, but he rallied. “Your thirteenth birthday. What happened on your thirteenth birthday?”

The question felt personal and that made her feel a little sick. “Nothing?” she said, helpless. He listened more carefully than a single word required.

“Your parents?” he asked.

“Dead,” she said, unable to hide that the question upset her, hands balling into fists. It always upset her, but especially now, asked by him and like this. Like it was his business.

Shit.” He dragged his fingers through his hair, pressed his palms to the side of his head and dropped to a crouch with his head between his knees. “Oh, no. No no no.”

He looked like he was having an episode. She didn’t know of what. She only knew that it scared her, the fear of a man acting irrational and unstable. The fear she’d feel even if he weren’t a literal supervillain. “Do you need help?” she asked. She felt like she ought to do something, even if she were being menaced. People didn’t stop needing help just because they terrified her. She leaned a little closer, started to reach out but thought better of it.

“I can fix this,” he said, standing abruptly. She recoiled as he all at once took up all the space in the room. “I’ll fix this.”

“I don’t know what you’re—” He grabbed her wrist faster than she could react, and sheer instinct made her try to pull away.

“How did it happen?” he demanded. She felt hot and cold all over, his fingers digging into her skin. “When? I’m sorry, I really am, but I need you to tell me.”

“Fuck you,” she snapped before she could think better of it. He looked surprised.


Fuck you,” she said with venom, trying to claw his hand from hers with nails all bitten to the quick.

“I’m not complaining,” he said, remarkably conversational for the situation. “I’m not used to it. You’ve never been the type.”

“You don’t know me,” she said, trying to stomp at his leg. It had no apparent effect on him.

“Miss Bravo,” he said, slowly as if with great patience. “I’m sure I could look it up. What happened to your parents?”

She was tearing up, and she rubbed irritably at her eyes with the palm of her free hand. “Someone broke into our house and killed them while I was at school,” she said. “Some serial killer or something. We never—they never caught him.”


“I was eleven,” she spat.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and she almost believed him. “You are friends with Miss Davenport?” he asked.

She stiffened. “Leave her out of it,” she said. “I don’t know what you want, but leave her out of it.”

He held up a staying hand. “Okay. That’s fine. Just checking. Chronofist, you’re friends with Chronofist?”

She frowned. “The superhero?” Of all the heroes to have brought up, that was a random one. She’d never heard anything about Ghost Devlin fighting with Chronofist. They had a much weirder stable of villains, as a rule.

“Shit,” he said again. “No, this is fine. You know of Chronofist. That’s something.”

“I don’t know Chronofist,” she stressed. “If you want to fight Chronofist, there’s no reason to involve me. I’m a private investigator, I don’t do hero stuff.”

His hold on her loosened, and she dared to hope.

The front door opened, and Carrie froze when she saw them.

“Hello,” Ghost said.

Carrie started fumbling through her bag for her gun.

“Shit,” Ghost said, grabbing Andi by the waist and throwing her over his shoulder. She yelped in protest before all the air was knocked out of her. “Sorry,” he said, before running to the balcony, sliding the door open, and leaping down to the street.

“Put me down,” she shouted, hitting her fist against his spine.


“I don’t get involved with hero stuff!” She was breathless as she watched the ground beneath them move, jamming her eyes shut before she could get motion sick. The bouncing of her stomach against his shoulder didn’t help, his arm around her legs and holding on to one of her thighs. “I’m not going to be any use as a hostage.”

“Maybe I like the pleasure of your company,” he suggested.

Why?” That was the thing she didn’t understand, the why of it. It felt completely random. She’d have understood if they’d been investigating him, if he’d been a suspect, if she’d done anything at all that involved him.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said, which didn’t surprise her. She opened her eyes, glimpsed how far they’d gotten from the ground, and jammed her eyes shut again. “If this works, you never will.”

“What could killing me possibly accomplish?” she asked. She didn’t want to be pleading, but she was. Everything about this was bad, but the worst part was how senseless it all felt.

He set her down, and her legs almost gave out as she took in the rooftop on which they stood. Wind was whipping at her jacket. Her heart stopped with the certainty that his hands were about to wrap around her throat to choke her, but he held her face instead, green eyes bright with what could only be madness. “You will not die while I live,” he said, solemn.

“Bullshit,” she said, pulling away enough that she could rub at her eyes again.

“You don’t have to believe me.” He pulled out his phone, and she was tempted to slap it out of his hand. He was so casual about it, taking her hostage and then getting his phone out to text. This was just another day for him, she was sure. A day job as boring as any other.

“Can you at least try to explain this to me?” she asked. “All I want to know is why I’m here.” He ignored her, still on his phone. She swallowed. “I’m scared,” she tried, and it was true. At that, he looked up and put his phone away. He grabbed her hands and started kissing her knuckles. She shivered and didn’t know what she was feeling.

“So am I,” he said. It hardened her certainty that he was having some kind of episode. “Chronofist will be here to save you soon,” he said.

“You don’t have to do this,” she tried.

“I really do,” he said.

“I’m not anyone.”

“You’re a normal girl,” he agreed hoarsely. “Extremely normal.” He squeezed her hands, and the intimacy felt wrong. He was looking at her like she knew something she didn’t, something she didn’t want to know. He pulled her close, and she went rigid as he spun her around to hold her back against his chest, grabbing her neck. She pulled at his hand.

Chronofist was wearing what might have once been a leather motorcycle riding suit, which was now covered in too many buckles. Instead of a mask, they wore a reflective chrome band over their eyes.

“This is super weird,” Chronofist said, which felt anticlimactic. They spread their hands in confusion. “I don’t know either of you people.”

“You want to save her?” Ghost asked, his voice booming in Andi’s ear.

“On principle, sure,” Chronofist said.

“How much control do you have?” he asked. “If I need a specific time, can you do that?”

“Give or take a couple months,” Chronofist said with a shrug. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not gonna work. The timeline’s got an equilibrium, or I’d have punched someone back to kill Hitler by now.”

“I’m counting on it. Left fist to go back, yes?”

Chronofist flicked their left hand with their right, and flickered out of existence for a second. “That’s the idea.”

Ghost splayed his fingers out over Andi’s neck, tilted her head back and brushed his lips against her ear. “Give me the date.”


“You were eleven, that’s a year. I need a month.”

She still didn’t understand what was happening. She only knew that she was upset, that she felt sick and she hated everything about this. “September,” she said, angry with herself for the tears running down her face. “The first day of school.”

“I’ll fix it,” he said, and she was shaking with fury and confusion. How dare he. What gave him the right?

“Fuck off,” she croaked, and her whole body shuddered when he pressed a kiss to her temple.

“You heard her,” he called. “Fifteen years ago, let’s err on the side of early. I let her go, and you send me back.”

“Why should I?” they asked.

“Because you want to see what will happen,” Ghost said, sounding almost amused. “Because I cannot die, and if you miss, I can wait as long as it takes to come back.”

“Fair points,” they shrugged.

“I’ll see you again,” he murmured, and then he all but tossed Andi aside, onto the roof and out of the way.

She watched as Chronofist got a running start, left fist cocked.

Ghost had already known where Andi’s parents lived, in the suburbs outside Midton. He’d looked it up as a precaution. Didn’t want to risk accidentally running into her parents. It seemed like something he might do. He’d written it down, along with other notes he’d taken about her.

Social media changed as much as anything else. His journals didn’t. Writing down details about important people kept him from losing them. It was a rational series of decisions that had led to keeping a journal filled with things like her addresses and birthday and hobbies, the way she got her powers and her grandmother’s maiden name. Sketches of her face and the way her nose crinkled when she was irritated.

This whole situation proved he’d been justified. He was sitting in an old oak tree because most people didn’t notice someone sitting in a tree. That was a mistake. He was proving it by sitting here, chain-smoking cigarettes and staring intently at the Bravo family home.

He’d been waiting weeks for this day, living the way he had in the old days, odd jobs and small robberies. It was fine. As far as anyone here knew, he was still doing time for the Reagan debacle. He felt unpleasantly sober. He’d had a headache for two weeks before time changed, and there’d only been a brief window before a new headache had returned. This one, at least, signified nothing but his body’s rebellion at a loss of self-medication. It felt like years of stifled pain returning all at once, like it had been hiding under the surface this entire time. His only comfort was that it wasn’t too far in the past, and he’d figure out a way to score sooner than later.

It was a suburb. Someone around here had some oxy, at the very least. He was old, not stupid.

It was a relief to see someone he recognized. Someone who didn’t belong.

Ghost dropped out of his tree, and stalked toward his target. He held out his hands in the universal sign for ‘what the fuck’.

“Really, Mr. Paul?” he called.

The man in question froze.

“I felt bad for you, Mr. Paul,” he said, pulling a knife off his belt. “I felt guilty about killing you! Did you know that?” He threw it in time to catch the man’s hand, eliciting a scream as he dropped his gun.

“I liked you!” Ghost added, still moving closer as the other man backed away. He kicked the gun away as he unsheathed his machete. “I thought you were a good neighbor.” He slashed toward his stomach, but the erstwhile assassin managed to dodge it, bolting sideways to start running. Ghost started to run after him, machete still in hand. His focus was singular, leaping after him over fences and through backyards.

Mr. Paul seemed to realize that he wouldn’t win in a test of agility. He started running through a cul-de-sac, an empty stretch of road. He didn’t win a test of speed, either. Ghost might have been a loser, but these weren’t the things he lost. He kept his head; Mr. Paul didn’t. Adrenaline and super-strength and a sharp almost-sword all conspired to slice straight through the man’s neck, barely hesitating at the spine.

Ghost caught the head, and threw it at the ground in a fit of pique. It didn’t make him feel better when he kicked it, either. He kicked the headless body in the ribs and broke a few of them. He yanked the knife out of the corpse’s hand.

He was going to need to clean this up.

He circled back to the Bravo house first. He couldn’t bring himself to put the machete away. He might need it. Walking through a suburb with a bloody machete was going to get attention. Maybe that was better. Cops around on high alert, no faux serial killers lurking to change the timeline again. Ghost would be able to get away. They wouldn’t even be able to prove it was him. He had the airtight alibi of being in prison.

Crouching in the grass, he looked in the kitchen window. Andi’s father was cooking something; nothing amiss there. He crept around and peered in another window, found Andi’s mother in an office typing on an old computer. A new computer. Whatever.

The next room had posters of musicians and superheroes on the wall. Ghost sheathed his machete. He wiped the blood off the knife against his thigh, then used it to lever the screen out of the window. He jimmied the latch, and it clicked open without incident. Carefully, he pulled himself inside.

He was scouting. Making sure no one was lurking under her bed, was all.

There was nothing under her bed but shoes. Her desk was covered in homework. There was a Chilean rose tarantula in a terrarium on her desk. It made him smile. She’d never mentioned it. Why would she? It was cute. A little girl with a pet spider. Of course she was.

He checked her bookshelf. It was mostly Japanese comics and books with dragons on the cover. He opened a shoebox and found a copy of 100% True Tales of Terror. The version of him on the cover had shorter hair and no earrings. It only barely resembled him, with a dimple in his chin and perfect teeth.

He reached into the saddlebag strapped to his thigh and found a pen. He opened to his story, near the middle of the issue, and held the pen cap in his teeth as he signed it.

Stupid. An absolute, grade-A moron.

He felt lighter as he slipped back out the window, shut it, and put back the screen. He was almost whistling as he retrieved Mr. Paul’s head, and started dragging his body into the decorative woods surrounding a culvert near the houses.

… fifteen years. He had to relive fifteen years. What could he even do, without threatening the future he’d known? People would die, and he would see it coming. What could he do? Who could he save? What were his obligations, being here and wanting someday to go home?

How did a person go about investing when they were supposed to be in prison?

Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Five

The butterflies were a problem.

Ghost was sitting on the floor of his apartment. He was surrounded by killing jars. He was pinning butterflies to his wall to study them. He needed to see a lot of them at once. This was temporary. He only wanted to get a good look at them. It was a reasonable decision to make. He wasn’t using his wall for anything else. Might as well be temporary butterfly storage. It was a logical series of steps that led to a floor covered in jars and a wall covered in pinned butterflies. His head was pounding hard enough to hammer his eyes out of their sockets.

He’d filled a sketchbook with diagrams, all different angles and cross-sections, pulling them apart to commit them to paper. All different butterflies. They looked almost the same. Almost identical. All males, the same shape to their wings and size to their bodies. Butterflies traced over each other.

The difference was in the patterns, lines of thin black on red wings. He thought it was interesting. He’d started out trying to record the patterns. They were unusually distinct. Some were plain red, no black at all. Some had duplicates, and those duplicates were identical in every way. But there wasn’t any sense to it. He couldn’t identify camouflage in a stark black line drawn straight across a butterfly’s wings.

This one. He’d found this one. This butterfly. It was a problem. He’d stared, and left it, and stared again. He’d drawn it. He’d tried taking a picture, because sometimes that helped when he saw things that weren’t right. A handy thing about always having a camera in his pocket, now. Helped him figure out what was in his head. His brain couldn’t fool him that way, hadn’t found a way to transpose phantoms onto a flat screen or a photograph. It tried, but he could tell.

This butterfly had a compass rose on its wing.

The problem was that this butterfly put the others into a new context. He looked at stark lines, and he saw borders. He was sorting them now into different jars, drawing out the patterns on them and taping the patterns to the glass to help him sort. He needed to know how many there were. He couldn’t put them together until he knew how many pieces they were.

It was hours later when he finished. He still hadn’t slept. He had pill bottles of homemade capsules filled with powders. He didn’t remember what was in them. He’d written it down, somewhere. They worked, was the important part. He was awake, and there were at least fifty pieces to this puzzle made of insects.

He’d cleared his wall, and was pinning butterflies anew, starting with the compass rose in the bottom left. He didn’t know what the final picture was supposed to look like. How many blank butterflies were duplicates, and how much of this map was only empty?

If it was a map. He didn’t know if it was a map. He felt sure it was a map. He’d drawn so many maps. He was intimately familiar with the iconography of a hand-drawn map. A message in a bottle, a message in a killing jar.

He had a breakthrough when he found a long and continuous line. A coast. He followed the line through butterfly wings, hunting through to find the next that matched the last. He had to move the butterfly with the compass rose. There was more coast than he’d expected, the line kept going. Eventually, he realized it was a ring. He felt a grim satisfaction pinning down the last butterfly, closing the loop.

An irregular circle, a cove to the north. An island. Did he know this island? Did he know this map? Was his certainty born of familiarity? He didn’t know. He forgot too much. He tried to remember so much. All he had was the outlines. There was no clear sign of how anything was supposed to fit inside.

He sat down, opened his journal to an empty page, and started drawing the incomplete map. It might help to see it on paper. Jog things loose. He lit up a cigarette, cross-legged on the floor. He didn’t know what he’d do with the map once he had it. If he had it.

Couldn’t follow it. If this was a message, it said ‘trap’. Couldn’t just leave it. Someone was out there printing maps onto bugs. That had to be a red flag for something.

He thought of Coatimundi, Andi Bravo and the blood under her nails. He pushed the thought away. He knew where the line was drawn. It was well before ‘secret messages from butterflies’. She wouldn’t call him crazy. She never called him crazy. Sometimes he saw pity beneath her eyelashes.

It would be a personal project. A hobby. Like whittling. Hunting down an island that might not exist. Even if it had existed. That never meant anything. Atlantis had existed, for all the good it did him now.

“Do you think there’s a new bug guy?” Andi wondered.

“Bug?” David asked.

“Not Bug, bugs.” She was using the TV to play video games, and David was watching her. “We’ve had two weird bug incidents in the last month. It seems like there might be a new villain trying to foreshadow their arrival. With bugs.”

“Aren’t bugs fake?” he asked. “There’s insects and arachnids, and bugs are a fake idea.”

“That’s what they want you to think,” Andi said. “It’s all fake, anyway. Bugs don’t care what science says they are. Someone with bug powers isn’t going to be limited by a scientist with a well, actually.”

“Maybe,” he said, dubious.

“Two harmless bugs, swarming the city and trying to eat people. That’s suspicious.”

“I’m not saying it’s normal,” David said. “It’s definitely weird. Do you think Ghost’s had the hots for you this whole time?”

Her character fell off a cliff and died. “Dude! Seriously?” She nudged him irritably.

“I’m just wondering,” he said, holding up his hands. “If he could tell the whole time, and the first thing he did was hit on you, I feel like that means something.”

“That doesn’t mean the whole time,” she said, retracing her steps in the game. “Our first fight was pretty intense.”

“Not that intense,” he said. “You barely hurt each other.”

“It felt intense,” she insisted.

“Maybe it was the sex vibes.”

“Oh my god.”

“We’re superheroes,” he added. “We’re kind of fucked up.”

“I don’t need to know that about you.”

“Everyone knows that about me. All I’m saying is, you wouldn’t be the first hero to miss the obvious sexual tension in a fight.”

Andi frowned as she navigated her character over a complex series of platforms. Their first meeting had been nerve-wracking. He was Ghost Devlin. He was the guy who—

He’d done a lot of things.

She was proud of herself for holding her own without hurting him. She was proud of herself for talking him down and convincing him to trust her. He’d flung her a couple of times, which she supposed might have been his idea of taking it easy on her. It hadn’t felt like it at the time. It had felt like getting grabbed and flung, which was always terrifying.

Getting grabbed at by men was always more terrifying than getting punched, now that she was thinking of it.

“I don’t think it was that kind of fight,” she decided. “He chilled out at the end, once we’d got to talking and stuff. He wasn’t weird about it.”

“It’s kind of romantic.”

“Is it?”

“If he’s been quietly pining for you for like, years now.”

She nudged him again. “We didn’t even see each other that often.”

“He’d been showing up more lately,” he reminded her. “And he replies to basically half your posts.”

“I thought he was coming out of his shell.”

David laughed.

It had been two hours, and they’d barely covered a mile.

Andi wasn’t mad about it. She was determinedly not mad. It was good that Ghost was engaged, and she wanted to encourage his interests.

Every few feet, it seemed like, he saw something he wanted to take a picture of. She’d teased him about his drawings, laughed when he said that would take too long.

Considering how long it had taken him to photograph things, she felt retroactive gratitude at his self-awareness. They’d be stuck in the first twenty feet still, surely.

He’d dressed the way he always dressed instead of for a hike, which made a certain amount of sense. He hadn’t exactly wandered the Amazon in comfortable sneakers. His DSLR with the long lens was incongruous with the rest of his outfit. Every time a bird called, he would freeze and listen, waiting to decide if he wanted to look for it.

Andi was getting very little exercise, and learning a lot about patience. She was learning even more about exploring unrecorded wilderness. If it took him this long to record the sights and sounds of a well-trod path, how did he get anywhere in the rainforest? Every three steps he must have been stopping to sketch a frog. This suggested much less adventure than the word ‘explorer’ had always implied to her.

What she wanted was to use this as an opportunity to experience the wonder of nature through his eyes. For the first half hour, it had even worked. Now he was standing stock-still, and had been standing still for five minutes, waiting for a particularly small bird to emerge enough from the leaves for his camera to catch. It was just too… boring.

She wiggled her phone out of her pocket while he was distracted, and started scrolling memes at the level of her waist.

The shutter of his camera closed several times in quick succession. “I got it!” he said, triumphant.

“That’s great!” she said immediately, shoving her phone back into her pants before he could see.

“Thank you for this,” he said. “I would not have done this alone. I’m having a good time.”

She felt pleased and guilty all at once. “Good,” she said.

He looked her over, not for the first time. She’d worn shorts and an athletic tee, a baseball cap and sneakers. It felt like a good hiking uniform, but something about it also felt skimpy when he looked at her legs like that.

“No tail today,” he said finally.

“We’re in public,” she said.

“You are hiding them.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged.

“Does it feel strange?”

She dragged her shoe in the dirt. “A little. I trip more. I don’t know if you—”

“I noticed.” He let his camera hang from his neck. “I would like for you to be yourself,” he said.

“I am,” she assured him. “I’m used to this.”

“Still,” he said.

She hummed thoughtfully, looking around them. It wasn’t a popular trail. She pressed her palms together, and shut her eyes, pulling her tail and her ears back from wherever it was they went. When she opened her eyes, he was grinning. Her tail was sticking out of the leg of her shorts, no convenient hole for it to thread through.

“That’s my girl,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her closer.

“Am I?” she asked.

I think that you are,” he admitted. He pulled her hat from her head, which had been hiding her ears. He put it on, and she giggled at how he looked in the floral snapback. He touched one of her ears, and she recoiled with a squeak.

“Careful!” she warned.

“I am always careful,” he said, in spite of all evidence. “You were born with these?”

“Nothing like that,” she said with a shake of her head. “It was a whole rite of passage when I turned thirteen, my parents had to explain it to me. I guess it’s from my mom’s side of the family? It didn’t work for her, but Nana was a jaguar or something. Which I think is pretty cool, personally. Not that coatimundis aren’t cool.”

He had a thoughtful, somewhat faraway look.

“… do you want to get your notebook out to take notes.”

“Little bit,” he admitted. “But I can remember.”

“To write it down later?” she teased.

“Perhaps,” he said. He pressed a sudden kiss to her forehead. “Thank you.”

“I told you,” she said. “I like hiking.”

“No.” He took the hat off and touched his forehead to hers. “For pretending to believe me.”

“I believe you,” she said, not sure if it was true.

“You don’t have to,” he said, putting her hat back on her. “I know how it sounds. I am not so far gone that I do not know.”

“You’ve been through a lot,” she said. “Like, confirmably a lot. It’s on the wiki and everything.” He laughed.

“I have read your wiki,” he said, “It was locked, I noticed.”

She huffed. “It’s whatever,” she said. “Nerds suck sometimes, who cares.”

“Do you think you have ever lost a fight?” he asked.

“Winning and losing is a problematic binary,” she said. “Not everything is a straightforward fight. Sometimes it’s a conversation. Conversations shouldn’t have winners and losers.” She paused. He raised an eyebrow. “But I don’t lose,” she added.

“No,” he agreed. He ran his thumb along her lower lip. “Do you have luck powers?”

She scowled. “Why do people keep saying that?” she said. “I’m not lucky. I’ve—I have solid stats! I can throw a car! I wouldn’t, because that would be inefficient and destructive, but I could.”

“I believe you,” he said. He started to say something, then stopped. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he reached into the bag on his thigh.

“It’s fine,” she said, letting him go.

“I want to write it down,” he said, pulling out his notebook and pencil.

“I understand,” she assured him.

“I’ve…” He trailed off, writing things sideways in the margins next to previous notes. “I’ve been getting headaches.”


“They’re getting worse.”

“That’s not good,” she said, even though she felt like he was signifying more than pain.

“I’ve been taking—a lot of things. It helps, a little. The headaches come back. They get worse.”

She squeezed his elbow in an attempt to be supportive as he wrote.

“This is how it starts,” he said. “The headaches.”

That made her stomach churn. “I’m sure it will be fine,” she said.

He shut his journal and jammed it into his pocket, grabbing her all at once and kissing her with a terrible desperation. She was startled, but she tried to reassure him with arms around his neck. He put his hands on her hips and buried his face in the crook of her shoulder.

“I’ve been happy,” he said.

“I’m glad,” she said, stroking his hair.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to be happy,” he said, muffled.

“That seems like a bit much,” she said, hoping to talk him down. “I don’t think the abstract concept of time has it out for you, specifically.”

He took a deep and shaky breath against her skin. “I loved my wife,” he said, like a knife right through her ribs that made tears prick at her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Ghost,” she said, holding him tighter.

“I won’t let this happen again,” he said.

“I’ll be okay,” she assured him, not sure at all. “Coatimundi can’t lose. Remember?”

He wrapped his arms all around her, made her feel small. His camera pressed uncomfortably into her stomach between them. “Yeah,” he said.

Ghost Devlin – Devil Out Of Time: Chapter Four

Ghost showed up for their date wearing combat boots and a bomber jacket. Andi wore a circle swing dress with knee socks. They were accidentally a very 50s couple, or a TV’s idea of the 50s.

“Am I overdressed?” she asked, looking down at herself.

“I would usually prefer you to wear less,” he said. She bopped him with her purse. David, who could hear them from his spot on the futon, wolf-whistled.

“Stop being a sitcom,” she demanded through the door before shutting it behind her. “You’ve been a very bad influence on Jesús,” she said as they took the elevator down.

“I’m a bad man,” he agreed. He wrapped his arm around her waist and nuzzled at her hair. “I’ve been enjoying the pictures you sent me,” he murmured.

“Hopefully not in front of Jesús,” she mumbled.

“… I put him in the other room,” he admitted, and she laughed.

“That’s the best,” she said.

“Miss Bravo,” he said, “you should know that I plan on kissing you before the night is over.”

“Oh.” It was the hand-holding all over again, chaste and yet somehow not. “Is that all?” she asked, anxiety pitching her voice higher.

“That’s up to you,” he breathed into her ear, making her knees go all to jelly.

“Cool,” she said, uncoolly. She worried that she was crossing some kind of line by not telling him who she was. A single date on a whim was one thing, but this felt like more. Too much.

He ran his fingers through the seams between hers again, splitting them apart in that unnecessarily evocative way. She pointedly spread her fingers wide and squeezed his hand. He grinned. Her heart was thumping when they left the privacy of the elevator, leading her through streets she already knew.

“Did you ever find the guy you were looking for?” she wondered. “Was it who you thought?”

“Must’ve been mistaken,” he lied, and she pursed her lips but didn’t press the issue. “Sorry you had to walk home without me.”

“I’m over it,” she lied. “Do I get to know where you’re taking me?”

“A Greek place I like,” he said. “You like Greek food?”

“I like most food,” she said.

“You may have been here before,” he warned her.

“I haven’t been with you.”

He stopped and pulled her close to him, the flow of pedestrian traffic passing around them. “I want to take you to all my favorite places,” he said with surprising intensity. “New York and Brazil and Metro City.”

“I don’t think I can go to Metro City,” she reminded him.

“I’ll take you to New York before it’s gone, and Metro City when it comes back.” He squeezed her hands against his chest. “I’ll remember for you, if you forget. We’ll take the bullet train to Panama and catch a zeppelin to Punta Arenas, and I’ll show you the mountains at the end of the world.”

She didn’t have the heart to tell him there wasn’t a bullet train to Panama, let alone any zeppelins. She hated it a little bit when he spoke Spanish, even place names. His accent was better than hers, and it embarrassed her.

“That’s a lot of travel,” she said.

“Say the word, and I’ll take you anywhere.”

Wasn’t that a bit much for a second date?

“Greek food works for now,” she assured him.

He remembered himself and started weaving her through the crowd again, hand-in-hand.

The Greek place was a dive. It might have looked trendy in the 40s, but she had a hunch it had always looked sketchy. The vinyl covering the seat of every booth was cracked and peeling. The tables were covered in stained tablecloths. Most of the decor looked like it didn’t used to be brown, but was now; she could almost guarantee they used to allow smoking and hadn’t done a deep clean since.

“How often do you come here?” she asked, allowing for the possibility that it wasn’t what he remembered.

“When I can,” he said, clarifying nothing. He sat down at a booth without waiting to be seated. “I was in the other week.”

“Okay,” she said, taking that for an answer. She was assuming this meant the food would be spectacular, because that’s what a restaurant that looked like this staying open usually meant. A hunched and grey-haired woman appeared from the back, waddling with stiff hips.

“Ghost!” She shook a scolding finger at him. “Did you bring another woman here?”

Andi was hit like a freight train with the realization that this woman, who could be her great-grandmother, could also be Ghost’s ex.

“I did,” Ghost said, chewing on a toothpick he’d grabbed out of the holder. “This is Andi—Andi, this is Betty. She’s my best girl.” He waggled his eyebrows.

“He’s been saying that for forty years now,” Betty said, “trying to scam free baklava out of me.”

“And it works,” he said, looking pleased with himself. She smacked Ghost on the shoulder.

“You want the usual?” Betty asked. She had not bothered bringing out menus. Andi felt adrift.

“Iced tea and a gyro for her,” Ghost said without asking. She thought about kicking him under the table. “Does that sound good?”

“Sure!” she said cheerfully because that felt polite. It was even true. She still would have preferred to choose something herself.

“I’ll get that right out,” Betty said, heading back into the kitchen.

“She won’t,” Ghost mouthed. “I usually get dolmades and moussaka,” he explained. “But the gyro is good. Greek coffee is terrible, but I like it.”

“Forty years, huh?” she teased. “I thought you would have been coming here since the 50s.”

“I didn’t last long in the 50s,” Ghost shrugged. “Not after I decked McCarthy.”

“You did not.”

“I remember doing it,” he said. “It’s why I finally went running off to Atlantis. It was a good plan, until time broke. Why’d you think I ran off?”

She frowned. “I guess I don’t know. Because you were in love?”

“I loved a lot of people I didn’t marry.”

Andi smiled as Betty brought out their tea. Ghost immediately started pouring sugar packets into his.

“I don’t really have any cool stories,” Andi said. She did, but they were all Coatimundi stories. Ghost didn’t have a secret identity. All his stories were his. Andi Bravo was who she was while staying home playing video games. She liked herself fine, but she didn’t have a lot to contribute to stories about punching anti-Communist crusaders and marrying into underwater royalty. “I can burp the alphabet,” she suggested. “I’m not gonna, so you have to take my word for it, but I can.”

“I believe you,” he said, propping his chin up on his hands to watch her. “What does a normal girl do for fun?” he wondered.

Not fight crime. “Um.” Definitely not fight crime. “I listen to a lot of podcasts,” she said.

“No going out on the town for drinking and dancing?”

“Sometimes,” she said, stirring less sugar into her tea than he had. “I like bonfires,” she said. “And camping. The kind of camping with a river and a cooler that has its own float. I like rollercoasters. Parties are okay but I mostly like watching other people have fun. That sounds like a terrible introvert meme, sorry.”

Ghost pulled a battered leather notebook out of the pocket of his jacket, a pencil tucked into the spine. It was the one he’d been drawing slugs in, before. He was still chewing his toothpick. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Are you taking notes?”

“Something like that,” he said, flipping his notebook open.

“Now I feel like I’m being interviewed,” she said.

“I might have to remind you later,” he said, pencil scratching against paper. “Don’t you like to have your own fun?” he wondered.

“I do,” she said defensively. “I’m lots of fun. I do all sorts of fun stuff.” She swirled her straw through her tea and watched the ice cubes. “I don’t like being the center of attention,” she said finally. “I like to observe and… pick my moments.” She looked at him, his attention split between her and his busy pencil. “I guess you can relate?”

“A bit,” he agreed. “Is it because you know you’re better?”

She blinked. “Better at what?”

“Everything,” he said. “Pretty, funny, smart. If they paid you too much attention, they’d notice. They might start to resent you for being better than they are.”

She sipped at her tea. “I think you’re overestimating me,” she managed finally. “I’m not even the smartest person in my apartment.”

“You’re creative,” he said. “You’re good at creative solutions.”

“Says who?”

He paused. “I can tell,” he said. He flipped the page, pencil moving again. “My intuition is good.”

“Is that why you asked me out?” she asked. He grinned.

“You’re pretty,” he said plainly. “You smell nice.”

“That’s a weird thing to notice about someone you just met,” she protested, ignoring that she’d done the same thing.

“You’re extremely normal,” he continued, “but not too normal to go on a date with me.”

“Yeah,” she agreed weakly.

“There is something about you,” he said, “that called to me. Something familiar.”

“Oh.” She felt awkward about lying to him all over again.

Betty finally brought out their dolmades before disappearing into the back again.

“She was never quick,” Ghost confided, setting his journal aside. Andi wanted to snatch it away to look at it but thought that might be too personal. She didn’t want to be nosy. Except that she did.

“What do you do for fun?” she asked.

“Drugs,” he said, and she choked. “Lots of drugs.”

“Neat,” she squeaked. “You seem… lucid.” She clamped her mouth shut.

“That’s the drugs,” he agreed with a slow nod.

“Like… prescription?” she asked hopefully.

“I have been self-medicating since before most of these doctors were alive,” Ghost scoffed, picking up a grape leaf. “I’ve discovered more drugs than they’ve taken,” he said, popping it into his mouth.

“Cool,” she said, feeling like the nerd in an after-school special about peer pressure. “That sounds like something that’s definitely under control.”

He licked his fingers. “I have a system,” he shrugged. “And I can’t die,” he reminded her.

“That’s true,” she said warily.

“There is a specific fungus,” he said, “that grows only on a particular carnivorous plant, the Dragon’s Mouth. If you’re attentive, Dragon’s Mouth gets big enough that you can feed it a poisonous tree frog. The leaves of the Dragon’s Mouth become toxic, but the fungus, small amounts in strong coffee will make you believe that you can see the underlying framework of the cosmos. You feel enlightened. You aren’t. You’re very stupid. Everything you write in this state is childishly wrong. But you become very sure that you’re correct. There are scientists now using some of my samples to try and create a new medicine for anxiety, they tell me. Mostly they are killing mice. They’re working on it.”

“That’s really cool,” she said softly, and she meant it this time. He’d grown animated while he spoke, gesturing and making little puppet motions with his hands. It was rare to see this kind of enthusiasm from him. Intensity or aggression, but not the way he lit up trying to explain a fungus. “How’d you learn about it?”

“In Guyana—there’s still Guyana?” She nodded confirmation that they hadn’t misplaced a country. “There was a tribe, they would feed it spiders. Small spiders. I wanted to see what would happen. I had already been licking frogs, recreationally.”


“I was immortal by then, so the poison ones only made me seize, usually.”

“… right.”

“I thought there might be some useful information in how it felt, but it turns out that when you’re immortal and something shuts your body down, it all just turns into seizures. Interesting, but not useful. It shuts down the nerves, though! That happens to everyone. I had thought, filtered through the plant and then the fungus, it might make a painkiller. I’m always looking for painkillers.”


“Instead it only—it did something to inhibitors. I don’t know, the details are a little…” He wiggled his hand in the air to indicate a general fuzziness. “I don’t do it often, it’s fun at the time but when you see your notes afterward it makes you feel bad. Emotionally. Once I’d gone through all my newspapers circling all the bits about dogs. Dogs are the key! I’d written it all over. I thought dogs were interdimensional beings, that was why we could talk to them. We can’t, I know that now, but at the time I was—you call it ‘tripping balls’ now, I was absolutely tripping balls.”

She giggled despite herself. Ghost grabbed his notebook and pencil again. She didn’t want to giggle, even though he thought this was a funny story. She also didn’t want to be a prude about it by pointing out that this all sounded harmful. It couldn’t have been pure curiosity driving him to lick toxic frogs and feel his body struggling not to shut down. He’d called it recreational.

Whatever people thought about her—wholesome, they were always using the word wholesome—she wasn’t any kind of just-say-no crusader. She’d smoked weed before and hadn’t cared for it. She knew addicts of all kinds, only one or two of them supervillains.

It was the dying. The almost dying. The cavalier way he treated his own body, his own pain. Drugs as the first thing he’d gone to when asked about fun, not art or books or his botanical experiments. He hadn’t said ‘gardening’. Just drugs, some of them not even drugs. Some of them poison. His body as a receptacle for new and interesting kinds of pain, hurting himself as a hobby.

Betty dropped off Ghost’s moussaka and Andi’s gyro. Most of the plate was full of rice.

“Would you want to go hiking with me?” she asked. “There’s a national park not far out of the city, and… maybe we could go. If you want.”

He grinned at her as he dug into his food. “Worried about me?” he teased.

“It’s—you make it sound like you sit at home getting high all day. Wow, that sounded judgey. I didn’t mean it like that. I meant, if you’re getting high all day and playing video games, that’s cool, actually. I know a lot of people who do that. But if you’re staring at the wall, that seems like a problem.” She tried a bite of gyro and rice.

It was good. Not transcendent or anything. About what you would expect from gyro. It was a difficult food to make taste bad. This left her trying to parse whether Ghost thought this food was transcendent, or if he was only loyal. There was something cute about that, if so. If he’d once been a supervillain trying to wheedle free baklava out of the local Greek place and then kept it up for another forty years.

“I get out,” he assured her. “I eat. I read.”

“I know,” she said, feeling defensive about her own assumptions.

“I’d like to go hiking with you,” he said, “if that’s an invitation.”

She crossed her ankles under the table. “It is.”


“Do you bring a lot of dates here?” she asked. She immediately felt like she was being too obvious.

“I don’t go on many dates,” he said with a rakish smile.


“We usually skip this part.”

“Oh.” She turned her attention to her food, turning pink. “You’re more into hookups, then,” she said. For some reason she felt like saying it would make her seem more worldly, as if he might otherwise assume she didn’t know that hookups existed.

“I don’t have a lot to talk about with most people,” he said, which wasn’t at all what she’d expected.

She toyed with her fork. “Is it that you thought we’d have something to talk about, or is it that you thought you could bluff your way through to get to the good part?” She braved a glance upward, but he didn’t look offended. He was watching her, the way he so often seemed to be watching her. A man used to watching things and committing them to memory.

“There is something about you,” he said again, “that called to me.”

“I wish I knew what it was,” she murmured.

“Maybe it was your heart.”

She snorted, then covered her mouth. “Sorry,” she said. “That was. It seemed like a cheesy line. Sorry.”

“It was,” he agreed. “I meant it. You’re clever, but you’re kind. You see something in me. I don’t know what it is, but I like that you see it. It feels important.”

“I think you’re better than you think you are,” she said. She thought that about most people, but especially about him. She couldn’t believe that Ghost Devlin was ever supposed to be the bad guy. That wasn’t who he was.

“I think you’re smart enough to know better,” he said.

“You might have a blind spot,” she said.

There was a growing sound of panic and screaming from down the street. Andi dropped her fork and looked up, ready to leap out of the booth. Ghost noticed at the same time that she did, but he reached across the table to grab her hand.

“Wait here,” he said.

Oh, no, she thought as she watched him stand and run out of the door. She was supposed to be normal.

No. This had gone too far. She slid out of the booth to run after him, before realizing he hadn’t paid for lunch yet. She hesitated, then dug into her purse to find a credit card. She left it behind on the table and hoped for the best as she ran into the street.

Pedestrians were running down the sidewalks, drivers leaving their cars to flee on foot. There was a great red cloud descending.

Andi squinted.

Were those… butterflies?

“Andi!” Ghost grabbed her by the wrist, and pulled her into the little space between the Greek place and the shop next to it. “I told you to wait where it was safe,” he said, taking her face in his hands. “You are very normal. Remember?”

She held his arms. “I’m not, though,” she admitted, gently pushing his hands away. “You should close your eyes, don’t touch me, it’s dangerous.” She clapped her hands in front of her chest, and he let her go as warmth and light all wrapped around her. She bit her lip as she waited for his reaction when his eyes opened, her ears pinned back against her hair.

His smile was rueful. “So soon, Pizote?”

Her brow furrowed. “You’re not—” She froze. “Did you know?” she accused, voice small.

He shrugged.

“Wh… when? When did you know?”

“You think that I would ever not know you?”

That felt like getting stabbed in the heart. Her face burned with mortification.

He must have thought she was a moron.

She blinked away any upset she might have felt because there was a situation to be dealt with and that meant feelings could wait.

“We’ll talk about this later,” she said, pushing away from him.


“Don’t call me that,” she snapped, running into the street. She still wasn’t clear why everyone was running.

“My eyes!” someone screamed, falling to his knees with a cloud of butterflies around his head. She managed to chase them away, swatting at butterflies with her hands.

“Why are you getting out of your cars?” she yelled at someone running by.

“Because everyone was running and I didn’t understand what was happening!” they yelled back, not slowing down.

“That’s fair,” Coatimundi said.

“They’re drinking tears,” Ghost said, observing the mass of fluttering red wings.

“That’s a really weird assumption to go to first!” she called, trying not to bristle at his very presence.

“I’ve only ever seen it with turtles,” he continued. His mess of an accent, which she had realized now was actually three accents stacked on top of each other under a trenchcoat, managed to go all over the place in the word ‘turtle’. She wanted him to say it again, except that she wanted him to shut up because she was angry with him. “Not usually so aggressive, butterflies.”

“Yeah! I know!” She batted more of them away from her face before realizing she looked too much like a housecat. “I don’t suppose you know any cool gardening tricks to get rid of these?”

“Butterflies aren’t pests,” he shrugged apologetically.

“Shoot.” She wanted to be angry at him for being unhelpful, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Maybe we can wait for them to disperse.” There was a sharp pain in her hand, and she squeaked in alarm, waving the butterfly off of it. “It bit me!”

Ghost stood straighter. “Really? I’ve never heard of that.”

“Okay, I can’t wait for the tear-drinking vampire butterflies to disperse,” she decided. “But I can’t take them out one at a time, either.”

Ghost made a small gesture with both hands that she briefly thought was meant to indicate waving a flag. He corrected her by saying, “Net?”

“Oh my gosh.” She looked down at her hands. “Video games have been training me my whole life for this moment.” She clenched her fists. “Where do you even buy a butterfly net?”

It was not until after a great deal of tedious butterfly netting that Coatimundi was finally able to sit down and fume. She needed to go back to the restaurant and get her credit card, but the thought of returning to the site of their date was too much to bear. She sat on a big blue mailbox and thought about texting David. David would understand. She’d never hear the end of it from Carrie.

Ghost Devlin did her the second indignity of approaching on foot, at street level, so that she could see him coming. The decent thing to do would have been to surprise her. This way she had to think about what she was going to say, none of it adequate. He had the gall to lean against the mailbox, and she turned her knees away from him.

“You must think I’m really stupid,” she said finally.

You are the one who lied about yourself, remember.”

“You started it!” she argued. “You acted like you didn’t recognize me. You flirted with me.”

“I wanted to see what you’d do,” he said. “You lied.”

“It isn’t like that,” she insisted, feeling ready to burst into tears. She was the wronged party, here, and he was turning it all around and making it her fault with facts. “I thought you liked me.” She grabbed her tail, trying to stroke the fur flat. “You swept me off my feet and I thought—were you making fun of me?”

“Little bit,” he said, like a fist in her chest. He left one hand on the mailbox and moved to put the other on the other side of her hips so that she couldn’t turn away from him entirely. She kept her head aggressively leftward to compensate. “My life is yours, Pizote,” he said, which he’d said before but which she resented now.

“That was mean,” she said feebly.

“I’m not nice,” he agreed. He leaned closer, looking up at her, and it was hard not to look back. The sun was getting low, not low enough for the street lights yet. “A pretty girl fell into my arms, and I saw a chance to have a little fun.”

“Mean,” she repeated.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Andi Bravo, Coatimundi. Would Coatimundi join me at the waterfront? Win me prizes, hold my hand, steal my shirt? No. I would not insult her with the offer. If Andi Bravo wishes to pretend she doesn’t know me, who am I to contradict her? If it means I can be close to you, I’ll swallow whatever lie you see fit to serve me.”

She was still avoiding eye contact, turning pink. “I wanted you to like me.”

“I do like you.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “You think you owe me. You know me, at least a little. I thought you didn’t know me. I thought you just saw me and… you liked me.”

He tilted his head with a sideways lean closer to the center of her vision, getting a good look at her face. “You want me to tell you you’re pretty?”

“Don’t make fun of me,” she said, gripping her tail with her shoulders hunched.

“You think I don’t like your little skirts? Didn’t save those pictures you sent me?” His left hand touched the top of one of her stockings, fingers lightly stroking behind the bend in her knee. She shivered, trying to take a deep and calming breath.

“It’s a thing villains do, you know,” she said, finally meeting his eyes. “Not all of them. They—it isn’t really flirting. We fight, and they try to make these implications. They think it’ll scare me. Or it’s a joke, that they’re these worldly villains and I’m me. Which sucks, but it’s also… they flirt with Helen. You know? It’s still menacing, but they mean it, because she’s hot. Everyone knows she’s hot. I don’t get to do that. If anyone thought I did, that would be funny.” She let her tail go to pat at her cutesy skirt, kick her cutesy shoes.

His hand curled under her knee and made her breath stop. She pressed her fists down on her skirt as he ran his hand down her calf, lifted it so it stuck straight out with her toes pointed and his grip on her ankle.

He pressed a kiss to the thin stocking over her ankle bone.

“I plan on kissing you before the night is over,” he reminded her.

“I’m still angry with you,” she said shakily.

“Wanna fight about it?”

“I’d win.” That wasn’t bragging. She always won. People liked to pretend it only counted when it was punching, but she always won when it came to punching, too. Everyone liked to forget that part, it seemed like.

“If you wanted,” he agreed. He’d dropped her ankle, and somehow his hips had made their way between her knees, his hands on her thighs. “Unless I make you want to be a loser like me.”

“You’re not,” she protested.

“Honey, I’ve lost more lifetimes than you’ve got years,” he said. “I drag everybody down who’s dumb enough to keep me. You doing the smart thing, or are you letting me make you worse?” His nose was nearly touching hers, his crooked hook next to her dainty button. She didn’t know how she was supposed to respond.

“It’s really funny when you say turtle.”

That wasn’t how she was supposed to respond.

He grinned. “Turtle.”

She giggled, and he caught the sound of it with his mouth. His hands framed her face, callouses against her cheeks, holding her hair back against her temples. She gripped the lapels of his jacket. Her legs wrapped around his waist, and he made a muffled sound of alarm as she squeezed a little too tight. When they broke apart, he pressed his forehead to hers.

“Is this you?” he wondered, pulling back enough to run a finger down her nose, over her eyebrows.

“Yeah,” she said. “The costume’s extra—I don’t always have the costume. The tail and everything are normal, though. I have to hide those, except when I’m home. We shouldn’t be doing this in the street.”

“And what is it that we’re doing in the street?”

She unwrapped her legs, though there were no demure options when he was pressed up between her thighs and pinning her to a mailbox. “Kissing? Necking. Making out. We’re not—it felt like this was going somewhere.”

“Would you like it to?”

“Now you’re giving me time to think about it, which complicates things.”

He gave her a quick kiss. “I can wait,” he assured her.

“I don’t know if I want to wait.”

“Then I do,” he shrugged, making her pout. “Your wish is my command, Pizote. You need only say the word.”

Saying words was hard.

“I meant it,” she said. “About hiking.”

“I know.” He laced his fingers with hers, less an insinuation in his touch this time. “Lead, and I will follow.”

Astielle: Chapter Forty

Eson was a port city built next to cliffs. It had expanded outward, as cities do, until it filled out all the space between rocks and water and started climbing upward. Not all at once, and not in the same places. They built on top of the cliffs, and upward beside them, until the two met. It was a country’s worth of people all crammed into one city, climbing up toward the sky and down toward the water, fitting buildings into every spare bit of space.

This made Eson an absolutely baffling son of a bitch to try to navigate.

Minnow had done her best to add notations to her maps to render them useful, but there was only so much that could be done. There were streets at ground level, which was sea level, and there were streets at ground level, which was up above sea level on the cliffs. There were streets between the two, spiraling from one to the other on a steep slope just flat enough to allow carts to use them. Some of them had been constructed upward, and others down, and so two roads that looked like they ought to intersect would instead be slightly above or below each other. Two buildings might be only five feet apart, but to get from one to the other on the streets required heading all the way down and then back up again in a process that took an hour. A better strategy might have been to make a different map for every level, and she’d tried, but it was too hard to figure out where one level ended and another began. She’d done her best, but she was no longer happy with the decisions she’d made and didn’t have the heart to bother re-doing them.

She planned to spend as little time as possible in Eson with Leonas because he would not take kindly to her jumping off high streets and climbing into windows. She would not take kindly to anyone insisting she walk. It was an argument waiting to happen.

There was a Door that had been put at the top of the cliffs, which would have been excellent for gliding down from before they built more city on top of it. Knowing that she—her past self—had put the Door there made it more annoying than it had been. The feeling that if she could only learn the trick, she could move the Door somewhere more useful. Easier to cope with the unfairness when it felt random and out of her control, like weather or the ocean.

Years ago, Minnow had bought a small apartment in Eson. She’d fixed it up as nicely as she could before deciding she wanted something even nicer, so she’d bought a different apartment. She’d done this several times, and now owned several homes of increasing niceness, only the nicest of which she ever used. Strangers lived in the others and paid her for it by dropping payment into the mail slot of her nicest house. Mostly it was coins, but sometimes there’d be other things, interesting looking rocks or old books or maps. It was a very informal arrangement. If it took her long enough to come back, the mail slot would get clogged up with stuff and no one had to pay her anything until she’d cleared it out again.

This ought to have incentivized her to visit more, but, well. She had the lanternmelons. The occasional maps were much more interesting than the gold.

Gerry wasn’t in Eson and hadn’t been for some time. There was a shop by the waterfront that specialized in messenger pigeons trained to seek out ships at sea. Unfortunately, the old woman who ran it had come down with something that left her bedridden, and the only doctor she trusted was one on the other side of the city at the top of the cliffs. Minnow spent the trip mulling over how nice it would have been to have put a Door at the bottom of the city as well as near the top.

“We’re closed for the weekend,” the man at the clinic said as soon as she’d arrived.

“Mrs. Hanna is sick,” Minnow said.

“She’ll be sick three days from now, too.”

Minnow debated all the things she could spend three days doing. She could go back to the cabin with the boys, follow one of her new maps, or spend some time shopping at the bazaar. All of those things would likely distract her for longer than three days. With her luck, they would distract her long enough that she’d come back in time for his clinic to be closed again.

She set her bag down in front of the clinic and used it as a pillow to take a nap underneath the doctor’s windowsill.

Leonas had set a chair outside the cabin to read. It was a day before Karzarul realized it was because he couldn’t see the Door from underneath the willow tree.

It had been three days since Minnow had gone through the Door on her own.

“We could go check on her,” Karzarul suggested. He’d been a Tauril much of the time they’d been here, and Leonas had stopped flinching at the sight of him.

“It’s only been three days,” Leonas said, not looking up from his book.

“You could use the Seeing Stone,” Karzarul said.

“It’s only been three days,” Leonas said again. “She doesn’t answer if you use it too often.” He turned the page. “It’s fine. When she comes back she’ll apologize for accidentally getting a job at a tea house and losing track of time. It happens.”

Karzarul had spent enough time on the questing side of things to know the truth of it. But it felt different waiting, watching Leonas watch a Door.

“Have you been to Ocrae?” Karzarul asked.

“No.” Leonas flipped back a page, having realized he hadn’t read it properly. “I’ve been to Astielle. And Thexikar, once. Anywhere else I’ve been, I’ve been with you.”

“We could go together,” Karzarul suggested. “If I hid under your shirt—”


“Violet,” Karzarul hissed into his Seeing Stone. He was in the middle of the field of wildflowers, far from the cabin but still in view of it. It was unlikely Leonas would hear him, but he was being cautious anyway.

«And to what do I owe the pleasure?» Violet asked, fluttering his lashes at the stone.

«You said before that you wanted monsters to be around humans again, right?»

«Ye-e-es,» Violet confirmed.

«Did you—are there places yet?» Karzarul asked. «Places where monsters are?»

«Other than here, you mean,» Violet said.

«Obviously that’s what I mean,» Karzarul said. «I want places I can go that won’t—I’ll still draw attention. Obviously. But not as much. Maybe. If there are already Taurils wandering around. You know?»

Violet hummed thoughtfully. «What’s the vibe?» he asked.

«Sexy? But casual.»

«That goes without saying,» Violet said. «Wine, beer, rural, urban?»

«Do you remember Rison?» Karzarul asked.

«It’s Eson now,» Violet said.

«Right,» Karzarul said. «If we could do a sort of beginner’s version of Eson.»

Violet drummed his fingers against his chin. «I’ll ask Buttercup, I’m sure he’ll know a place. I’ll get back to you.»

Minnow had been sitting in the street reorganizing her bag when the doctor became annoyed by her continued presence outside his front door. He gave her a list of ingredients for some kind of medicine, all of which she already had somewhere, but none of which she had with her. The mixture itself was unfamiliar, which he told her was because it was only good for treating the one specific illness that plagued Mrs. Hanna.

Minnow had three jars of healing potions in her bag, but they were only good for knitting flesh back together. Really more of a healing unguent, or salve. It didn’t work as well as a sacred spring, but she justified keeping them as a matter of emergencies. If Mrs. Hanna could have cut her leg off instead, it would have saved Minnow a great deal of running around, as well as retroactively validating her bag-related decisions. Minnow would not be telling her that her insistence on being ill instead of being mutilated was an inconvenience, but she would be thinking it.

“Do you know where I can buy cave orchids?” she asked the woman who sold rare flowers.

“Those are very rare,” the florist said.

“I know,” Minnow said, setting gold on the counter before grabbing flowers by the handful to shove into her bag. She didn’t need any of them yet, but it might save her a trip later.

“I’ve heard there’s a place near here—”

“I know about the cave,” Minnow interrupted. It would take her about three hours to get there, assuming she left immediately.

“Yes, there’s a cave to the south,” the florist continued, undaunted. “But it’s—”


“Yes!” the florist agreed. “It’s rumored to be full of—”


“The Captain of the—”

“Guardsmen, I know, I’m not talking to him,” Minnow said. “Do you know anywhere that I can give someone gold and they give me cave orchids and I don’t go to a cave?” Minnow was aware of a number of caves with cave orchids, but the rest were even further from a Door than the smugglers’ cave south of Eson.

“No,” the florist admitted.

“Bye.” Minnow stepped off the street and into the air rather than allow the florist to give her any additional advice. In a motion made automatic through years of practice, she pulled her scabbard from her belt with the Starsword still in it, flipping it up above her head. Dragonfly wings made of starlight burst out from it, catching the air and immediately slowing her descent. She held onto the crossguard and surveyed her options as she drifted downward, debating steering her glider into the harbor. She didn’t recognize any of the ships, but dropping onto one from the sky could be a fun way to meet new people.

She spotted a traveling merchant’s cart on a lower street and navigated the glider in their direction. When she was approximately above the correct spot, she spun the Starsword in her hands to collapse the glider and let herself fall.

“Do you have cave orchids?” Minnow asked the startled merchant as she rose from the crouch her fall had brought her to. She reattached the scabbard to her belt while they recovered from the shock to respond.

“I don’t,” they said finally. “There’s a cave to the south—”


“I’ve been catching up with Violet,” Karzarul said abruptly.

Leonas raised an eyebrow. He didn’t look up from his book, which he hadn’t been reading anyway. Karzarul had been hovering around him most of the day, and it was too distracting. It put Leonas on edge, waiting for him to make a request or ask an unpleasant question.

“Is he doing well?” Leonas asked.

“Maybe,” Karzarul said. “He said the Taurils have been spending time in a town called Salt Creek.”

“Gross,” Leonas said.

“It’s better than it sounds,” Karzarul said. “I’m told. There’s a Door nearby. I was thinking about going.”


“With you.”


“If you wanted.”

Leonas closed his book as he considered this. He had been prepared for the probability that both Minnow and Karzarul would wander off, if not together then at the same time. Minnow wandered as a matter of habit, and Karzarul had a kingdom to consider. Leonas would not be an asset to either of them, and he was used to waiting.

“A town,” Leonas repeated.

“In Ocrae,” Karzarul said. “Mostly Ocrae. The creek is a border and the town is quite large.”

Leonas drummed his nails on the cover of the book. “It would need to be,” he murmured, “to fit more than one Tauril in it. That won’t bother you?” Leonas hadn’t forgotten the city in the gorge, Karzarul avoiding even Rootboars.

“No,” Karzarul said, with a confidence that did not feel earned.

“What will we be doing there?”

Karzarul hesitated before answering. “We could see a play,” he suggested finally. “Or eat. Outside. I don’t fit in most buildings.”

“Not like that, you don’t,” Leonas agreed. “You could be something else.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“Hm.” Leonas opened his book again to stare at the pages, not reading.

Smuggler’s Cave was empty the vast majority of the time, but somehow never when Minnow wanted to pick flowers. It was as if her intention to be anywhere near it was enough to summon a ship to sit in the middle of the cave, full to bursting with absolute morons.

Minnow debated killing them all. It would save her a lot of time. However, it felt rude when they were still minding their own business, and killing was messy. She headed straight for the back of the cave with the orchids, looking purposeful and giving the smugglers a wide berth. This was sometimes enough to get her safely ignored.


Minnow took off at a run. A surprising number of problems could be outrun.

“Intruder! We’ve got a stowaway!”

“No you don’t!” Minnow shouted back, still running. She jumped over a stack of crates and narrowly avoided running into someone. “Ignore me!”

That never worked, but it felt like she ought to give them the opportunity.

“Catch her!” someone shouted.

“Ignore me!” Minnow shouted again. “This has nothing to do with you!”

The yelling did not sound like the yelling of people taking her word for it. However, the majority seemed off-put enough by her determination to give her some breathing room, and that was all she needed. She jumped at one of the cave walls to grab a spindly white orchid from the wet moss it had nestled itself into, landing on uneven stone with water up to her ankles. She jumped for a few more with graceless splashing.

A large rock hit her in the back of the head, which was not enough to injure her, but was enough to startle her into dropping her orchids.

“Seriously?” she complained underneath the triumphant noises of a young man who thought himself clever, bending down to catch her orchids before they drifted away.

Another rock hit her, and she scowled.

“Okay,” she sighed, unsheathing the Starsword. “Fuck this.”

“This feels excessive,” Karzarul said.

“You’re the one who said you wanted color,” Leonas said, tucking more flowers into Karzarul’s hair. There were so many wildflowers he looked like there was a garden spilling all down his back. They’d found him a dark blue shirt that mostly fit and had thrown a quilt over his back half like an oversized saddle blanket. The theory was that enough color would obfuscate the fact that the whole of him was the color of the moon, and make him look more like any other Tauril.

“I want it to look good,” Karzarul complained.

Leonas paused. “Are you doubting my fashion sense?”

“I look like a grandmother’s funeral,” Karzarul said.

“The flowers look nice,” Leonas insisted. “If the quilt bothers you that much I’ll—I don’t want to magic it, it might be important to Minnow. We can buy something different when we get there. I don’t see why it matters, I already know what you look like.”

“You’re not the only one who’ll be seeing me,” Karzarul reminded him.

“So?” Leonas said. “You’ll be with me. You shouldn’t care about other people.”

“Don’t wear your makeup, then.”

“That’s different.”

“I don’t know what you thought was gonna happen,” Minnow said, pouring out the last of her healing potion. “I don’t expect everyone to recognize me, but I am an adventurer. I’ve got a sword. What’s your name?”

He sniffled instead of answering, so she kicked the freshly healed stump of thigh where his leg used to be. He made a sound like she’d stepped on a frog.

“Name. You’ve got a name?”

“Bullseye,” he managed.

“That’s stupid,” she said. “This happens—listen. Stop making that sound, it’s gross. This happens every time I come here, and eventually, you’d think you guys would stop coming here. Or at least you’d figure out to ignore me.” She wandered away to start digging through the pockets of the nearest corpse, using its shirt to wipe blood from her hands. “Except, I thought about it, and that was my mistake. If I kill everyone, there’s no one left to say: hey, if you see the Starlight Hero, ignore her. She’s doing unrelated stuff.” Very few of the dead smugglers had anything interesting in their pockets, though one had a cool knife. She used a piece of the sail to wipe blood from her face. “Actually, if you guys picked the orchids yourself and sold them at port, I wouldn’t even have to come here. It would save me a lot of time. But I never left anyone alive to tell anyone that, which was my bad.” She kicked at a crate to try and guess at its contents. “Is it drugs? Do you guys have drugs?”

Bullseye nodded.

“Cool.” Minnow pulled out the Starsword again to hit the edges of the crate until it cracked, peeling away the wood to reveal cloth sacks packed with powder. “I wasn’t planning to take this,” she added, trying to determine the best way to carry as much as she could. She’d take the whole ship, but it was covered in corpses and she’d broken the mast besides. She’d prefer to leave that to be someone else’s problem. “You threw a rock at me and that’s why you don’t get to have legs or drugs anymore.” Or his rock-throwing arm, but that went without saying. She started pushing one of the intact crates toward the small boat she’d used to row here.

“Where are you going to take me?” Bullseye asked.

Minnow frowned. “Nowhere?” she said, confused by the question.

“I’ll—I’ll die here.”

“Nah,” she said, pushing her crate again. “You’ve got an arm, you’re not losing blood anymore. You can drag yourself somewhere if you really want but you’d be better off waiting for the next boatload of idiots.”

“We were coming to port,” he said. “There’s no supplies left.”

“It’s not like you’re short on meat,” she pointed out. If there’d been any color left in his face, it disappeared. “You’ve always got those if you’re squeamish,” she added, gesturing to his legs. “But you’re going to want to cut up the rest of the crew anyway to make sure they don’t get back up, so you might as well. Eating your own legs is weird.”

Leonas had never blended in. Not in the castle, where everyone looked like his father and no one like his mother. Not in Thexikar, the first time he’d realized that there were different ways for a person to be pale. For a few years he’d fooled himself into thinking he could lose himself in a crowd, veiled and playing the part of some lost stray witchling.

Even then, he’d always known better deep down. He revealed himself with the small thrill of excitement he felt when he saw someone else with skin any darker than boiled milk. Recognition, or a desire for recognition. An impulse to wave or to nod, as if they ought to recognize each other. As if this one small thing gave them anything in common, made him any less his father’s son.

Clinging to Minnow as if any of it meant anything to her.

Salt Creek was smaller than Fort Astielle, fewer people in fewer buildings all clustered together in ways he didn’t recognize. Roads of irregular widths that wound instead of carving straight, every roof sloping and some of them shared. The language was six languages, familiar words jumping out from the middle of sentences. Almost everyone looked like Leonas, or looked like his mother, or looked like what he imagined his mother must have looked like. He was the only one who found this off-putting. The sense of recognition wasn’t going away, was instead a persistent false alarm. He felt conspicuous.

A Tauril named Bo had told Karzarul where to find a better saddle blanket. He found Karzarul’s going by Ari much funnier than Karzarul did. Monsters wandered the streets in small numbers, nothing compared to the number of people but enough of them to notice. It was difficult to glean how the locals felt about this new type of tourist, but shopkeepers were eager to seem inviting. Whatever else a monster was, all of them had more money than sense, Karzarul most of all.

Leonas felt conspicuous, and it had nothing to do with Karzarul. Karzarul was charming and polite, spoke the language fluently, and remembered to translate though Leonas hadn’t asked. Vendors sold him scarves and painted fans and strings of bells, and Karzarul paid for the novelty of strangers being happy to see him. Leonas watched him and wondered if this was the Ari that Minnow had known, the one that Leonas had never met because he’d always been Karzarul.

Leonas hated him.

He didn’t exactly hide behind Karzarul, but he did. He fidgeted with his gloves and with the scarf he’d worn as a veil. He hadn’t bothered hiding his hair. It meant nothing here. He’d always thought he had his father’s hair, but he’d seen more than one person in Salt Creek with reddish curls. That felt like it ought to mean something, but he didn’t know what.

He felt conspicuous. He’d thought it would be the Sunshield, but he wasn’t the only one with a shield. Most of the others had swords to match. He wouldn’t know what to do with a sword.

They still used Astian coins here. Leonas fished one out of his purse to drop in the bowl of a roadside drummer. The drummer nodded thanks, and Leonas’ hands twitched, reflexively wanting to press the heels of his hands together. He hadn’t seen the gesture since leaving home. Not home. Astielle.

The Kingdom that would be his, if it didn’t find a way to kill him first.

“Did you want to get something to eat?” Karzarul asked, lifting him up onto his back. “She said there’s good samosas if we take three lefts and a right over there.”

“Three lefts and a right would bring us back here,” Leonas said, curling his knees up sideways close to Karzarul’s back.

“You’d think so,” Karzarul agreed, “but I’m told they’re odd lefts.”

“Sure.” Something about this city felt louder.

“Are you having a good time?”

“Yes,” Leonas said automatically, examining the flowers in Karzarul’s hair. He touched the ones that were starting to wilt to revive them.

“Is there anything you’d like to do?” Karzarul asked. “I still haven’t bought you anything.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“There’s a theater by the river,” Karzarul suggested, gesturing toward a flyer that Leonas couldn’t read.



“The other monsters aren’t a problem?” Leonas asked.

“No,” Karzarul said. “This is—there isn’t a contrast.”

“Okay.” Leonas considered the possible downsides of asking Karzarul to make him a sedan chair with curtains. He found the stall with the samosas, a slapdash outdoor kitchen of cookware precariously balanced over open flames staffed by too many people all navigating around each other. Leonas found it best to avert his gaze from the open metal bowl of boiling oil that wobbled whenever anyone moved.

“You are from Astielle?” an older woman asked in accented Astian, drawing his attention. She was assembling triangles of dough. Leonas nodded, and she gestured to her face, where a veil would be if she wore one. “Witches don’t have to wear that here,” she said.

His face felt hot. He mumbled syllables that didn’t form into words, only made the vague sound of an explanation.

“Here,” Karzarul said, twisting to try and pass food back to Leonas without spilling anything. Leonas had to scoot backward, reaching to accept the unglazed clay cup of tea and the curled leaf with the samosa in it. The fried triangle had been cracked in the middle so that a sauce could be poured into it, with two whole chilis alongside it. It was unclear to him what he was meant to do with the chilis, or if there was a correct method of eating.

Leonas couldn’t decide if it looked good, if he wanted it to be good, what if anything it would say about him if he didn’t like it. A cloud passed overhead, its shadow blanketing the street. The hum of it pulled at him. He wrapped the tea in sunlight to keep it from spilling over. “I don’t want to eat this here,” he decided.

“Oh,” Karzarul said, having eaten his samosa in one bite and followed it with tea like a shot. He started to walk with a careful gait to keep Leonas steady. “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” Leonas said. “Away.”

“Would you like me to go faster?”


Karzarul took off at a gallop, seeking out empty streets and taking long leaps over obstacles. Leonas put a dome of sunlight over himself, a variant of the bubble he used sometimes when he was bathing. It meant he couldn’t see the buildings rushing by, but he was fine with that. The shouting wasn’t ideal, but that was unavoidable. Leonas listened to the fall of Karzarul’s hooves, pounding on stone until the stone gave way to pressed earth. The footfalls slowed, and Leonas let the sunlight he’d been using dissipate. The city was distant now, Karzarul following a worn path away from the river and all the buildings along its banks.

“You can tell me if you’re not enjoying yourself,” Karzarul said finally.

“I never said that,” Leonas said. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”

“I’ll put something in your mouth.”

“Absolutely not,” Leonas said. “Go fuck yourself.”

Karzarul laughed. “Fuck me yourself.”

Leonas took a tentative bite of the corner of a samosa. “Oh,” he sighed. “That’s really good.”