One Long Walk Later, at Darmo House

I love how the other half lives. You just can't beat it.

Lady Filima's mansion definitely put her on the side that has the really good stuff in life. It was bigger than any other building I'd seen in Rumpock and cleaner, too, made of smooth, whitewashed stone, looking like an art-deco wedding cake. Once past the wrought iron gates, we had a quick stroll up a paved, garden-flanked drive to a set of huge doors with gold- leaf trim. It impressed the hell out of me - in an intimidating kind of way. People with this kind of money and power could be dangerous.

Shankey and his friend cut over to a smaller side door on the left. I didn't rate the main entrance, but at least the goon squad had stopped carrying me. A dozen feet from Clem's they'd stopped the come-along routine, allowed me to face forward, then we'd walked more or less normally if you call being arm-braced by two humorless guys normal. Neither of them answered my questions or loosened their grip. Cozy.

Shankey gave a yell and some kid within opened things up. We trooped into a dim hall. The kid gaped at me as he shut the door. Shankey told him to take off, then turned to his partner.

"Debreban, it was great for you to help like this, but you should keep out of sight. I don't want to have to explain you. Her nibs can get touchy seeing those colors."

"Then I'll lose them," said the blond fellow. He let go of my arm long enough to shrug clear of his garish cloak and throw it on a table.

"She might recognize you anyway."

"Doubt it. She's never noticed me before. Come on, Shank, I gotta see this through to the delivery. My lord will skin me if I don't have something to report."

"But maybe my lady won't want him knowing what's going on."

"She'll get her way then, 'cause neither of us knows what's going on."

"Count me in, too," I said. They glared, apparently having forgotten my presence. "Listen, guys, let's just go see this lady and get it over with. My guess is she won't be looking at either of you once I'm in the room. You can hang back and play fly on the wall, then everyone will know what's going on."

Shankey opened his mouth as though to object, then clammed up. "Okay, why not?"

I relaxed a little, reassured by his show of common sense. "Cool. Now where do I freshen up?"

"Freshen up?"

"If I'm going to meet a lady I want to look my best. You got a place where I can brush off the dust?"

Debreban shifted on his feet. "Sounds like a good idea. I'm feeling a little pressure, myself. All that beer . . ."

"Now that you mention it . . ." began Shankey. He finished by leading the way to an indoor facility that was down a flight of stairs in a stuffy basement chamber. The flat, low-browed windows, shoulder-height here, ground level outside, were for ventilation only. No way for me to squeeze through any of them. Along one wall was a long bench, with dividers between the holes: a three-seater with no waiting.

"This wasn't what I had in mind," I stated. There wasn't a mirror in sight where I could check the lay of my mane. I was still in performing clothes, so hopefully their flashiness would make up for shortages in my grooming.

Shankey and Debreban were too busy imitating Niagara Falls - American and Canadian sides - to pay attention to me. I waited them out. Afterward, they looked a lot less tense. We went upstairs again.

"Now what?" I asked Shankey.

"Now you shut up and speak when spoken to. Show respect."

Well, he didn't make any friends with me for that answer. He sent someone ahead, then we all marched upstairs to the more refined areas of the joint.

The house looked like a movie set for a Cecil B. DeMille epic, but on a really big budget. I gaped a lot, admired paintings and sculptures, and fiercely wondered what the hell I was doing here.

Our hike ended before a set of elegantly tall double doors, painted royal blue. Their detailed trim sported enough gold leaf to give me and Terrin room and board at Clem's for the next year or so, no singing for my supper necessary.

The great doors silently swung wide just before we reached them. I looked for hidden wires, but spied only a couple of page boys in matching blue tunics. Like the kid below, they stared at me. I smiled back. Anything to brighten someone's day.

A mournful-faced man in black and silver emerged, stopped, and made like one of the pages. I smiled at him, too, my lips together. The fangs tend to alarm neos.

The doors wafted shut again, blocking any glimpse of the next room.

"Good afternoon, Lord Perdle," said Shankey, with a slight bow.

Perdle recovered fairly fast. "Hello, Captain. Erm . . . who is this person, if I may ask?"

Shankey hesitated, then made a quick introduction, but I doubt if Perdle heard any of it. I gave a little bow as well, but could tell by his eyes he thought I was some kind of performing nutcase in a mask. It seemed best to preserve that illusion, so I kept my smile fixed in place.

"Friend of Lady Filima, what?" He spoke to Shankey, not me.

"I think so, your lordship."

"Is there a circus in town?"

"Not that I'm aware of, your lordship."

"Too bad. Might have added to the Mid-Summer Festival, what?" He frowned at me, then noticed Debreban. "Hello, Captain. What are you doing here?"

"Just visiting with my friend, your lordship." Debreban nodded at Shankey.

"Good to see everyone getting along. And how is Lord Cadmus?"

"He's very well, your lordship."

"Excellent, excellent. Well, carry on, then." He moved out of the way. Shankey and Debreban closed ranks next to me.

Once Perdle was out of earshot, Debreban snickered. "Did you see his face?"

"That was funny."

"Not to me it wasn't," I put in. Just to remind them I was there. Neither chose to respond. Maybe I could get a job here as wallpaper.

"Why is he here, though?" wondered Shankey.

"Who knows?"

"Overduke Anton. He'll have word about this little encounter ten minutes from now. Perdle repeats everything to him."

"Why should the overduke bother about me?" asked Debreban. "I told the truth. I am visiting."

"He'll figure Lord Cadmus sent you over, then think up ten good reasons why, even if they aren't true."

"The first one will be. Everyone knows my lord's interest in your lady. I wish she'd accept his suit and they'd both settle down."

"Don't worry, we'll hatch out some kind of plan. Come on, let's get this over with." Shankey tapped three times on one of the doors, two quick, one slow, and they opened. The pages were still there, now able to have a clear view of the Myhr and Two Stooges show.

The big room beyond had a blue theme all through it, but not in such a way as to bore you. Tall windows allowed in plenty of light and air. The floor was a large-scale mosaic in a hundred shades of polished blue stone; the ceiling was always summer with a painted sky full of fluffy clouds. Very oddly, smack in the center of the room, was a circular pavilion-style tent made of black velvet. The top was suspended from a ceiling rafter like some kind of fabric chandelier. Maybe it was a bed chamber of some sort.

Then I noticed her and the whole room just melted away.

I didn't know they made them like that any more, sort of an Elizabeth Taylor crossed with Josephine Baker type. There was no way to see her all at once; she was a series of quick, intense perceptions that hit me all over. I wanted to root myself to the floor and stay for a few years to absorb every nuance of this feminine phenomenon.

Eyes, the kind that grab you, beat you up, yet you keep coming back for more. They were a pale crystal blue that made the blues of the room look like so much sludge. To call them living gems leaned toward insult.

Her skin was like honey on cinnamon. I wanted to taste it, to find out whether that smooth-looking texture was as sweet and spicy as it appeared.

And her figure . . . it was seven or eight miles beyond wow. I could have written symphonies just on her breathing alone.

Yes, I drooled. On the inside. Outside, I just stood and gaped a lot. My brain had disconnected, the speech centers shut down, but other parts of me were very much up, alive, active, and real happy. If I didn't start thinking baseball scores soon she'd be able to tell whether or not I'd been circumcised.

"Captain Shankey?" she said.

Ohh, I could float to Tahiti on that voice.

"My lady," he responded briskly, bowing.

How could the guy act like nothing extraordinary was in front of him?

"My lady" - he straightened - "here is the . . . the person you wished to see. Mr. Myhr."

She nodded. Man, she could give lessons to queens on how to get it right. Regal clothes, too; her long, dark blue gown seemed painted on, hugging her every move.

Rowhr-rowhr. And then some.

Shankey looked at me. "This is the Lady Filima Botello Darmo of House Darmo."

I had just enough brains still working to know what was expected and swept into a low bow. "An honor, lady." The gesture earned me a small smile. Woo hoo.

"Thank you," she said. "You may remove your mask if you will."

Shankey cleared his throat and shot me a narrow-eyed warning. "My lady, he's not wearing a mask. That's his face."

She stared for a full minute. It seemed that long. No one else moved the whole time, either. "You're kidding." Her dulcet tones jarred with abruptly informal speech.

"Uh . . . no, my lady."

Then she stepped close enough so I could feel her breath and inhale it for my own. She'd been eating fruit. Strawberries. Sweet ones. Mmmm.

"You're not kidding." She reached up and yanked on my nose, jolting me from my Strawberry Fields Forever fog.

"Ow!" I said, backing away. "That's attached, if you don't mind."

"You're. Not. Kidding!" She drew back as well. "What are you?"

I flared my lip whiskers, annoyed. "I'm a who, not a what, and the name has been mentioned. Myhr. Rhymes with purr."

"Show respect," Shankey muttered through his teeth.

"Where are you from?" Filima went on, oblivious to him.

"Dallas." There was no recognition of the name from any of them, so I could assume no equivalent city was in this world. "Dallas, Texas? As in deep-in-the-heart-of?"

"Texas? Where's that?" she demanded.

"It's a long way from here, a whole other country if you can believe the tourist hype."

"Are all those from Texas like you?"

"I don't know. I haven't met everyone who lives there yet." Her eyes blazed, sapphires catching the sun. Amazing. But I couldn't let them distract me. "It's my turn. Why did you have me dragged over here?"


"Where I come from it's not considered neighborly to go around kidnapping people. I've got nothing against these guys, they're only doing a job, but I'd like an explanation of why you wanted to see me. How do you even know me? We've never met." I would have remembered. So would she.

She did a wonderful thing with her lips, tucking them in, then pursing them out again. I wanted to do wonderful things with them, too, but the way her eyes went all glower-like the possibility of that seemed remote. "No, we haven't, but I had . . . knowledge of you all the same."

"Oh, really?"

"And I know that you are connected to the Hell-river." She spoke like a TV lawyer about to crack the star prosecution witness during the cross-examination. Raymond Burr would have been proud. Shankey and Debreban, in the midst of their fly-on-the-wall opportunity, shifted on their feet as though startled. Apparently a large clue had been thrown out on the nice blue floor.

But it only got a blank reaction from me. "I am?"

"You will tell me everything about it," she said, with much certainty.

Maybe she was talking about that black mist. "I'd love to, but I don't know anything. Really. I'm just a tourist passing through. What gave you the idea that - "

Some invisible sign must have passed from her to Shankey. He cuffed the back of my head. "Answer," he snarled.

I paused to turn and shoot him a withering look. "I am. You guys got something against the truth? I don't know squat except what I saw last night, and that scared the hell out of me."

Filima smiled, all sexy triumph. "You were able to see it."

"Yeah, and I wish I hadn't. You guys have a serious pollution problem here."

"Very, very few others are aware it exists; certainly none of the ordinary folk of Rumpock."

I shrugged. "Well, sometimes a tourist notices things a resident misses. What is it, anyway?"

"That's what you're going to tell me."

I almost went "hah-whazzat?" then sealed up quick. She didn't seem the type to take ignorance for an answer; she was way too nerved. I recognized her kind of tension. Some guy in a casino I'd been in had bet everything he owned on the turn of a roulette wheel. Filima had that same intense look in her eyes that he had while following the little white ball around the wheel. I'd left before the ball came to rest on either his salvation or destruction. No such freedom for me here. But before I could come up with an appropriately clever response that might get me on the other side of her front door, my stomach growled. It didn't just growl, it put on an extended chorus with curtain calls.

Shankey frowned, Debreban tried not to smile, and Filima blinked.

"Sorry," I said. "Haven't had lunch yet."

She blinked again, seeming to take me in on a different level. It was subtle, but I sensed an easing in her luscious body. The blaze in her eyes cooled. "How remiss of me not to offer you refreshment. Captain Shankey, would you be so good as to ring the bell? Three long and two short."

Shankey must have twigged that she was going to try for a softer kind of campaign to get information. He nodded with sudden cordiality and went to drag on an embroidered bell pull. I was just able to pick out a distant ringing from the far depths of the house. Middle C. Before too long a tubby geezer in formal-looking clothes ushered in a small parade of servant-types in identical blue smocks, all carrying trays. The smells of perfectly cooked food plucked the air like music. The gastronome gang set up a table for two with gold plates and utensils. Within a minute Filima and I were seated opposite each other, and I was invited to pick what I liked from the mobile buffet.

Talk about a change in gears.

I'm pretty adaptable, though, and common sense told me to eat up while I could. I pointed to dishes that I had no name for, but which appealed to my instincts. In the worlds I'd been to it's better not to inquire too closely about the strange food, just trust that if the natives survive on it then you will, too. Besides, it usually does taste like chicken, even the chicken, which I was sucking down like it would go out of style. Filima had a goo-ood cook.

And a crafty wine steward. My glass was filled to the brim. I drank deep to quench my thirst, secure that my weird body chemistry would keep me out of trouble. Terrin and I had made a few pub crawls in our time, usually running out of money before we ran out of sobriety. Even Clem's potent beer had only given me a pleasant buzz and then mostly because I'd been tired.

"Tasty," I said, grateful.

Filima barely touched her stuff, mostly sipping what looked to be ice water from her goblet. She watched me scarf away, trying to smile pleasantly, but could have saved herself the effort. My back hairs were up - in a very literal sense - and she'd have to do more than just feed me to get what she wanted. I had enough human DNA to resist that bribe. Of course, it also helped that I was clueless. The black mist, or Hell-river as they called it, was Terrin's area of expertise. He should be the one here, not me.

So . . . I ate enough for two.

"You live here long?" I asked.

"Why do you ask?" she countered.

I hate when people read ulterior motives into banal conversation. "Because when you answer it'll cover up the noise when I belch."

Her mouth tucked in again and her eyes flickered. She didn't seem offended. Amused. Good.

"You gonna answer?"

She lifted her chin. "I've been here for three years, since my wedding day."

Damn. She was married. "What's your husband's line of work?"

"He doesn't work. He died just two weeks ago."

Damn. She was widowed. "I'm sorry. My condolences."

"Thank you. May I ask what your line of work is?"

"I'm an entertainer."

Another one of those subtle-change things took place. She straightened a little and her eyes got brighter, if that was possible. "Really? What do you do?"

"I sing and tell jokes."

She came down a notch. "A patterman, eh?"

I shrugged, filing the name away for future use. "It's a good life. I travel a lot, meet fun people." At this I glanced at Shankey and Debreban, who were doing their best to be invisible with the rest of the servants.

"I used to do that," she said. "I don't miss the travel, but the applause was great."

"You used to sing?"

"And dance. I was the best oochie-coochie girl in the five provinces." No little pride in her tone.

I gulped as my imagination put Filima's superb figure into an oochie-coochie outfit. I'd never seen such a costume, but my internal picture made me think of a Vegas showgirl wrapped in the final silky wisp from the Dance of the Seven Veils, with more beads and feathers than fabric. "I bet you were. Wish our paths had crossed earlier so I could have caught your act."

"You're sweet, but I've hung up my dancing shoes. I'm all out of practice."

"Aw, you're just waiting for someone to talk you into them again."

"Maybe so, but with all this - " She shrugged as though to take in the enormous house. "I have to keep within the dignity of my station."

"That's too bad. Everyone needs to get out, cut loose, and boogie through the night."

"Oh, we have parties. It's not the same, but better than nothing."

"Yeah, I've been hearing about some summer fest that's coming up. Could you tell me about it?"

"It's a big celebration, singing and dancing in the streets, games and contests of skill, horse racing."

"Sounds like a blast. Need any entertainers?"

She smiled. "Perhaps."

"Paid entertainers?"

"Perhaps. I've just been placed in charge of planning it out."

"Coo-ool. Maybe you could find a spot for me. I'm really great at Master of Ceremony work."

"A place might be made available." She'd stopped being sincere, turning to coy. I don't like coy unless it's sincere.

"What do I have to do to get it?"

"Tell me about the Hell-river."

I put down my fork. My plate was empty anyway. Someone whisked it away and a wine server topped off my goblet. Another server slipped some kind of elaborate dessert in front of me that smelled of brandy. I sensed a conspiracy. "I'd really love to help you, but I don't know anything about it. What I saw was huge, black, and spooky as hell. Last night it tried to ooze into my room at Clem's inn and I stampeded downstairs yelling the house awake. But when Clem and his wife looked outside they didn't see any mist. That was freaking weird."

"Yes, many folk are not magically sensitive, so they don't see most of what's around them. You're different from them, obviously."

"I guess so."

"Please." She leaned forward, so casual that she was intense. "Please tell me about yourself, then."

Wow. A beautiful woman who feeds me and wants me to talk about myself. What are the odds? And was she any good at belly-rubs?

"Well," I began, then out of nowhere started singing to the tune of a hillbilly sitcom song.

Lemme tell you a story 'bout a cat named Myhr

A poor patterman with really soft fur;

He travels around with a dude named Terrin

And their poverty thing really is wearin'.

(Cashless they are, ain't it a shame?

Donate, please!)

I did NOT know where that had come from. Maybe the wine was working on me after all.

Well, Myhr sings and jokes and Terrin gets laid

They have lots of fun but rarely get paid;

They're aheadin' home when the stars are right

In the meanwhile, remember their plight

(Pockets empty, thumbing rides. Donate, please!)

Filima, with her sagging jaw, had obviously expected something along the lines of where I'd been born - which I didn't know, having been too young at the time - and other dull stuff like that.

But why should I tell my whole life story to strangers? This wasn't a bank loan application.

* * *

Elsewhere, at Overduke Anton's Palace

"She was a bit surprised at first, of course, but after expressing to her your complete confidence that she was indeed the very best choice, Lady Filima at last accepted the honor of putting together the festival."

Anton lifted a long hand an inch from the arm of his chair, halting the flow of Perdle's droning voice. The man tended to turn even the simplest of reports into epic drama. "That's good. See to it she has whatever she needs to organize things."

"Yes, my lord. There is quite a lot in the palace archives she will no doubt find extremely useful."

"People, too. She'll want an outside staff that knows what it's doing. Find those who have worked on the festival before and make sure they're sent 'round to her."

"Excellent suggestion, my lord."

A pretty damn obvious one, thought Anton.

"Lord Cadmus must still be presenting his suit to her, I think."

Anton shifted, restless. His throne was very comfortable, but he'd been in it far too long and wanted to stretch his long legs, maybe look in on Velma to see what she was doing and if she'd like some company for it. But Perdle had made a leading comment that wanted a response. "Why do you think that?"

"Captain Debreban of his guard was at Darmo House. I couldn't tell if he had a message in hand. Said he was visiting his friend Captain Shankey. He didn't appear too comfortable, but I suspect I sometimes intimidate a few of the lower echelons. You know how it is, my lord."

Perdle couldn't intimidate so much as a rabbit, but it would have been impolite to say so. "Yes, I know," Anton said agreeably. "The burdens of rank and all that." He should have a word with Cadmus about Filima. The idiot would have better luck with her by backing off for a month or so, allowing her a decent interval for mourning. Anyway, she'd be busy with the planning work.

"I think perhaps her ladyship might have had an inkling of your festival proposal before I ever arrived to deliver it, though." Perdle shuffled his papers, tucking them under one arm, ready to bow himself away.

How could Filima have an inkling? Anton hadn't thought of giving her the job until that morning. Unless she'd been scrying on him. Not likely. The palace's shielding spells had been in place for decades and still worked just fine. Besides, everyone knew Filima got awful headaches whenever she tried magic. "How so?" he asked casually.

Perdle sounded pleased. "Because she already had some sort of circus performer on the premises, though there's no circus in town. A rather odd-looking fellow."

Anton gave a mental shrug. "Probably an old crony from her oochie-coochie days."

"He was most amusing, yet didn't say a word. I suppose he couldn't with that mask on. It was quite a charming bit of work. Very realistic rendition of a cat's face it was. Thought it was a sort of man-cat creature at first. Took me back a step when I clapped eyes on - "

"A cat's face?" Anton's heart sped up, but he was careful to keep his voice normal.

"Yes, my lord. If he is one of her entertainer friends we must have him perform here while he's still in town. The mask alone is well worth seeing, though what he does besides I could not venture to guess. An acrobat or an actor, perhaps?"

Anton managed not to twitch. Crystal sharp, the nightmare vision returned to his mind's eye. Some thing with a cat's face and a human body pushing him into the Hell-river. With that idiot Cadmus helping. Cadmus was no worry, but this other creature . . . Anton took his visions seriously, because too many of the bad ones tended to come true in a very literal sense. He had hoped this new one would only prove to be symbolic. In vain. Dammit.

"What news have you on the Hell-river?" he asked.

Perdle gave an apologetic cough. "Forgive me, my lord. I'd quite forgot about that report. Very puzzling business it is, too. It didn't behave in its usual manner last night."

There was nothing usual about the damned thing. Anton wished Perdle would realize that. "Go on."

"One of the Talents on watch noticed a section of it flowing up the side of an inn near the bell tower. Someone had a window open on an upper floor there and was looking out. That might have attracted the river's notice. The tenant closed the shutter and the river hovered outside for a goodly while, then subsided. It's happened before. No one was hurt. But very strangely the river vanished away from the streets shortly after, hours ahead of its usual time at dawn."

"Who was in the room?"

"I don't know, my lord, but can find out."

"Do so."

"At once."

"Yes, my lord."

"And write out some sort of informal invitation to send to Lord Cadmus. Ask if he's free to come 'round for dinner tonight. I think Velma would enjoy the diversion." Unless required by the demands of his office, Anton preferred just the two of them alone at dinner. It had been especially true since the coming of the fog. With his curfew in place guests had to stay overnight and he disliked imposing on people. Perhaps they were flattered by the invitation, but there was the risk it might go to their heads. Bloody politics. Ah, well, this was as good a time as any to give Cadmus that talking-to about Filima. Velma would put in a few words herself. Perhaps some of it might sink in.

"At once, my lord."

"And Perds?"

"Yes, my lord?"

"Have someone keep an eye on Filima's house. When that fellow in the cat mask comes out, ask him over. I'd like a look at him."

"Oh, yes, your lordship." Perdle seemed pleased. "I'm sure you'll find the workmanship most amusing."

Gooseflesh crept along Anton's arms. He was anything but amused.

In the Streets Near Clem's Place

Terrin poked his nose into yet another herbalist shop, but sensed nothing of magical note. At least it wasn't full of wannabe wizards, tree huggers, and kids in black trying to scare their Bible Belter parents with pentacles and over-dyed hair. Dallas had been full of those, but so long as their checks and credit cards cleared he never minded them coming into his shop. Besides, he'd put plenty of wards up to keep out the real riff-raff, seen and unseen.

No shortage of Talents back home, but this world was a freak show for having none at all. His nape hair had been on end from the first moment. The exact cause of his unease still eluded him, but he had a pissy feeling he was on the right track for it.

In search of others of his kind he'd asked around Rumpock, carefully phrasing his questions so only insiders would understand. Sometimes he'd get a deep enough conversation going to openly ask about magic. People here were fairly comfortable about it; they'd heard of Talents, but no one knew where to point him. Some gestured vaguely toward the east side of town, saying that some of the titled types "did that sort of thing," but they couldn't recall who. It was like trying to track down an urban legend; everyone had a story, but no real source to name.

The empty astral plane bugged him, too. Deeply. It was just too damn fricking weird, like those movies where New York City's deserted because someone had dropped the bomb. He wanted to find a local wizard to tell him what was going on. If that was normal for this world, then okay-fine, but if not, then he wanted out. A-s-a-p. Sooner, if possible.

But none were to be found. Usually he couldn't help but sniff out another Talent. In fact, they tended to trip over each other. But here, nothing.

He did find a few mysteriously closed shops that gave him the creeps. He'd pass by their sealed doors and shuttered windows and feel a strange tugging, but it vanished when he drew near. Touching the buildings to pick up leftover vibes didn't work. All he felt was brick or plaster; any latent emotional signature of the previous tenants just wasn't there. That was very wrong, particularly for the older structures. Nearly everything was capable of absorbing that kind of energy and holding it for a time, like a scent lingering on still air. In this burg it was like a great wind had swept through and swept away all the magic.

And oh, lordy, was he tired. The two nimble girls he'd spent some athletic afternoon hours with had cheered him a lot, but not powered him up as much as he'd expected. They'd all parted company on buoyant terms, and though he felt a little better for the psychic feeding and physical exercise, he should have been bursting with energy, not dragging around like a sloth on downers.

It seemed to get worse by the minute. Better get back to the inn for a nap, then pow-wow with Myhr about speeding up their departure from this dump.

Maybe I'm going through techno withdrawal.

Terrin did miss the warehouse raves down in Deep Ellum. Nothing like the deafening blast of electronic music thrumming through his body with crowds of kids mashed together, jumping and weaving to the hyper-beat like one gigantic animal, throwing off more energy than even he could pull into himself. He wanted a big dose of that right now, just to crawl back up to feeling low-end normal again.

Terrin hadn't been this bad since his gall bladder had done a meltdown a few years back. The docs had had to suck it out with medical vacuum hoses because it had liquefied. Too bad. He'd wanted it in a jar as a souvenir. The painkillers had been fun, though. He could use a few right now for a little flying. Nothing specific hurt, but being knocked out for a day or so might draw his strength back. Taking that street bruiser on hadn't helped; not the physical part, but the magic. Gawd, he was drained. . . .

Free association of memory made something click in his head.

Mirror. He wanted a mirror.

On this tech level the only place that might have one would be a shop selling women's clothing. Not a Walmart or Rodeo Drive chain store in sight.

He found a likely prospect, walking through the open door like he owned the place, sketching a wave at the startled proprietress. Was she staring because this was a chicks-only place or was there another reason? A framed mirror stood on her front table where she could keep an eye on it. Not large, and kind of warped, but valuable enough. Vanity and thieves were universal, he'd found in his travels.

The shop was nearly too dark for him to properly see himself. He angled the glass to reflect outside light onto his face and got a good look.

Oh. Shit.


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