"Playmates," Thomas said absently. "Plural."
Totally not fair.
"Hmph," I said.
He frowned. "Hey. How did you know about that?"
"Ghost me was there the night Justine decided she'd had enough of you moping," I said.
"Ghost you was there for how long, exactly?" he asked.
"I left before it got to an NC-17."
He snorted. "Yeah, well, Justine . . . has sort of become a dietitian."
He shrugged. "You are what you eat, right? Same principle applies to vampires. Justine thinks I'm sad, she brings home someone happy. She thinks I'm too tense, someone laid-back and calm." He pursed his lips. "Really . . . it's been kind of nice. Balanced, like." His eyes narrowed and flickered through a few paler shades. "And I get to be with Justine again. Even if it was hell, that would make it worthwhile."
"Dude," I said, making the word a disgusted sound. "Single guys everywhere hate you. Starting with me."
"I know, right?" he asked, nodding and smiling. Then he looked ahead and pointed. "There, see it?"
I peered ahead into the black and found a giant block of more solid black. We were at the island.
The cabin door opened and Molly emerged, the blanket still wrapped around her shoulders. Her face still looked drawn, but not as pale as it had before we left the marina. She came up the steps to the top of the wheelhouse and stood beside me. "Thomas," she asked. "Why were you down at the boat tonight?"
Thomas blinked and looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean why were you sleeping on board?"
"Because you didn't tell me what time you'd be there, and I got sleepy," he said.
Molly glanced aside at Thomas, and then at me. "I asked you to do it?"
"Uh, yeah," Thomas said, snorting. "You called around ten."
Molly kept looking at me, frowning. "No. No, I didn't."
Thomas promptly cut the throttle on the boat. The Water Beetle began coasting to a halt, and the sound of the water hitting her hull resurfaced as the rattle of her engines died.
"Okay," Thomas said. "Uh. What the hell is going on, then?"
"Molly," I said, "are you sure?"
"None of my issues have included memory loss or unconscious actions," she said.
Thomas squinted back at her. "If they had, how would you know it?"
Molly frowned. "Valid point. But . . . there's been no evidence of that, to my knowledge. I'm as confident about that as anything else I perceive."
"So if Molly didn't call me . . ." Thomas began.
"Who did?" I finished.
Water slapped against the hull.
"What do we do?" Molly asked.
"If someone set us up to be here," Thomas said, "it's a trap."
"If it's a trap, they sure as hell didn't try very hard to hide it," I said. "All we really know is that someone wanted us here."
Molly nodded. "Do you think . . . ?"
"Mab's work?" I asked. "Having my ride prepared? Yeah, maybe."
"If your new boss wanted you on the island, wouldn't she just have told you to go there?" Thomas asked.
"Seems like," I said. "Taking her orders is pretty much my job now."
Molly snorted softly.
"Maybe I'll grow into it," I said. "You don't know."
Thomas snorted softly.
More water sounds.
We didn't have a lot of choice, really. Whether or not we'd been manipulated into showing up, there was still a giant potential problem with the island, something that had to be addressed as soon as possible. If I waited, dawn would be upon us, and it was entirely possible I'd be too busy-or dead-to fix the problem before it went boom. Which meant that the only time I had to take real action was right now.
"Just once," I growled, "I'd like to save the goddamned day without a shot clock. You know?"
"The monster business is an easier gig," Thomas said, nodding. "Way, way easier."
Which was my brother's backhanded way of telling me what he thought of me.
"I think we all know I'm not smart enough for that," I said. "Eyes open, everyone. Thomas, pull her up to the dock. Let's see who's waiting for us."
* * *
The island had once been host to a small town, back in the late nineteenth century. It had been home to docks, warehouses, and what might have been a fishery or cannery or something. Probably no more than a couple of hundred people had lived there, at most.
But the people weren't there anymore. And what was left of the town was like some kind of skeleton lying among the trees that had grown up through the floorboards. I don't know what happened to the town. Stories from the time mention only mysterious events in the lake, and an influx of new customers to what passed for a psychiatric care facility of the day. The town itself had been expunged from any records, and not even its name remained to be found. The island, likewise, had vanished from the official record-though if I had to guess, I would say that the reigning authorities at the time decided that covering up the island's existence was the best way to protect people from exposure to it.
Actually, knowing what I know now, I'd guess that the island made them come to that conclusion. The island I'd named Demonreach was very much alive.
Most of the world is, actually. People think that civilization and organized religion have somehow erased the spirits that exist in nature, in all the world. They haven't. People aren't the omnipotent force for destruction that we arrogantly believe we are. We can change things, true, but we never really destroyed those old spirits and presences of the wild. We aren't that powerful. We are very loud and very self-involved, though, so most people never really understand when they're in the presence of a spirit of the land, what the old Romans called a genius loci.
So, naturally, they also didn't understand when they were in the presence of a truly powerful spirit of the land-a potent spirit like that of, say, Vesuvius.
I'd been to the island on most weekends up until I got shot, and Thomas had often come with me. We'd used some fresh lumber, some material salvaged from the ruined town, and some pontoons made from plastic sheathing and old tractor-tire inner tubes to construct a floating walkway to serve as a dock, anchored to the old pilings that had once supported a much larger structure. Upon completion, I had dubbed it the Whatsup Dock, and Thomas had chucked me twenty feet out into the lake, thus proving his utter lack of appreciation for reference-oriented humor.