WILLIAM reclined, sinking deeper into the comfortable softness of the Mars' library chair. Spider was gone. Gone somewhere in the Mire. Everything rode on that damn journal. It would tell him where Spider went and what he wanted from Cerise. Except the fucking thing was in code.Cerise took a spot by the window with the journal, a pen, and some paper.The library was crowded. The Mars kept coming in and out, radiating anxiety. William clenched his teeth. All of their tension made him jumpy. In the corner Kaldar brooded over a glass of wine. He, Richard, and Erian sat by the door, like three watch dogs.William kept running the pattern in his head. He'd memorized a page and a half of code. It was a code, he was sure of it. It had a pattern. For one, the numbers ran in sequence.R1DP6WR12DC18HF1CW6BY12WW18BS3VL9S R1DP6WG12EThe numbers repeated themselves, but rarely with the same letters - R1, P6, R12, C18, and then F1, W6, Y12 ... Or was it 1D, 6W? They differed by 6. Except for the first interval from 1 to 6, which differed by 5 . . . But then there was the second sequence - 3, 9, 15, 19. Sometimes the numbers would run the entire sequence, and sometimes they ended and a different series started over.He had hammered his brain against the pattern, ever since he saw it. Codes weren't his thing, but he knew the basic premise: figure out the combination of letters and numbers occurring most often and try sticking the most often used letter of the alphabet in its place. But he was a hunter, not a code breaker.Erian swung his legs off the chair and paced, measuring the library's length with long strides. His voice was quiet. "It's been three hours. She's not going to break it.""She'll break it," Richard said. "It was Vernard's life's work, and she was his favorite grandchild.""Yeah." A bitter edge in Erian's voice set off an alarm in William's head."What is your problem?" Kaldar kept his voice low. "Did she spit in your breakfast?"Erian pivoted on his foot. "It's over. Why don't the two of you get it? The feud is done, we've won, we're fucking done.""It's not over until we have Gustave and Spider's head," Richard told him.Erian swung his hand, his face slapped with disgust. "The whole damn family went mad."Richard rose smoothly, crossed the library, and pulled a large leather volume off the shelf."What is it?" Kaldar asked."Grandfather was exiled under Article 8.3 of the Dukedom of Louisiana's Criminal Code. I just realized that I never thought to check what Article 8.3 was."Richard unlocked the leather flap securing the book, flipped the cover open, and riffled through the yellow pages. He frowned. "Found it."Richard raised the book, showing them the page. The red-lettered heading read "Malpractice and Corruption of Vows." A long list of subsections crawled down from it."Subsection 3," Richard read. "Page 242."The pages rustled as he turned them. "Malpractice. Unlawful Human Experimentation. Gross Disregard for the Integrity of the Human Body. Intent to Create an Aberration.""How is that different from what the Hand is doing?" Erian asked."The Hand is not supposed to exist," William said. "If captured, the Hand's agent receives no support from Louisiana. They cut him loose because their magic modification is illegal.""Grandfather was convicted of using magic to tamper with the human body, which broke his Physician's Oath." Mikita walked into the room. "Mother says they had a conversation about it once. He knew they would come after him, but he did whatever it was anyway. He said it was too important to quit.""What was the nature of the research?" Richard asked."He was trying to find a way to teach the human body to regenerate itself. He said that humans had all of the power to heal themselves and take care of any illness. That they just needed to find the right switch inside their bodies."To break an oath and risk everything, his cushy blueblood life, his position, a man had to be driven. A man like that, a man with the purpose, wouldn't have let the swamp stop him, William thought. No, he'd keep working on whatever it was. Here. In the swamp.Looking for a way to teach the body to heal itself.To regenerate.His memory forced an image of a monster in the moonlight, its wounds knitting together. Pieces clicked together in his head. A self-healing, indestructible monster. In his life William had seen dozens of different animals, but he'd never met anything like the creature. It wasn't a cat, a wolf, or a bear. It wasn't even related to any of them.If it wasn't natural, it had to be made. And who would be better to make it than a man like Cerise's grandfather.If the monster was made, Spider would want to get his hands on it, pull it apart, find out how it came to be.If Cerise realized that a monster her grandpa made was running around the woods, she'd move heaven and earth to kill it and kill Spider. That's the way her mind worked: she took care of her responsibilities, and she paid her debts. Spider had twenty agents with him. They had . . . the Mars, and at least seven or eight of Cerise's relatives were out of commission. Twenty lethal, trained, magically enhanced freaks against maybe thirty-five regular people. Nothing regular about the Mars, but even if the lot of them pulled every magic talent they had out of their asses, it would be a slaughter. Cerise would be in the front line, and she would die.His mate would die.William's hands curled. The skin between his knuckles itched, wanting to release the claws.They would all die: Richard, Erian, Ignata, Makita, even the idiot Kaldar. None of them would make it. He couldn't stop them from fighting, and worse, he needed them desperately, because he couldn't take on twenty agents alone.He felt trapped, like a dog on a chain.He could be wrong. There was no link between the monster and Vernard. Not yet."Done," Cerise said.They looked at her. Her eyes were haunted and wide, as if she'd seen something that wasn't fit to be seen."It's a simple substitution cipher," she said, her voice flat. "It's very difficult to break unless you have the key.""What's the key?" Kaldar asked."A Gaulish lullaby. He used to sing it to me when I was little." She pushed from the table. "I think we better call a family meeting."TWENTY minutes later the Mar family assembled in the library, and Cerise read the journal in a flat voice in air thick with human breath." ' The art of medicine, as ancient as the human body itself. It began with the first primitive, who, plagued by ache, stuck a handful of grass in his mouth, chewed, and found his pain lessened. For ages, we followed in that primitive's footsteps, holding fast to the notion that the introduction of a foreign agent into the body was the only path to cure. We invented medicines, ointments, potions, splints, casts, slings, and endless devices to facilitate healing, yet we have never focused on the healing process itself. For what is healing, if not the body's self-correction of imperfection? What is the role of medicine if not to push the organism onto the path of regeneration?" 'On this day, I, Vernard Dubois, a man and a healer, state that a human body possesses all of the means to heal itself, to cure every malady and every defect without intrusion of a surgeon or a physician. I make this claim, believing that one day I and those like me will become obsolete. It is in the name of that glorious day, I now embark on the path of research and experimentation. It is a path strewn with rocks of self-doubt, mistakes, and persecution. Let it be known that I forgive those who would condemn me, for I comprehend the reasons that drive them to act. Misguided though they may be, they hold the interests of humanity close at heart, and I bear them no ill will."'Of the Gods, I ask forgiveness for my past transgressions. Of my wife and my daughter, I beg forgiveness for my future ones. I pray that one day you may understand the reasons for which I must continue.' "She kept going, reading pages of formulas and equations. Some heads nodded - Aunt Pete, Mikita, Ignata. Most people looked the same way he did: blank. As best he could gather, Vernard had found some kind of microscopic algae that spurred regeneration. The algae emitted magic that changed the body, accelerating the healing. Vernard got it to work on mice, but failed when he tried it on anything larger. Once inside the body, the magic algae died, and he couldn't get enough of it into his test subjects to make a difference. He'd tried feeding it to them, he'd tried injections and blood transfusions, but none of it was fast enough.Cerise stopped. "There is a page here with one word: EXILE. The next entry reads: 'We've reached the swamps. In the grove behind our new dwelling I found a peculiar moss, red and similar to fur in appearance. It spread across the grove's floor, forming an irregular mound in the middle. Upon examination of the mound I found a rabbit's corpse underneath, partially digested. The moss has an enormous eno concentration. The young man who fancies Gen - I think his name is Gustave - informed me that locals call it the burial shroud and avoid it with superstitious fear.' "Cerise paused, swallowing with effort, and kept reading.William zoned out, listening to the words but not understanding. There was something about the moss and the gastric juices of some sort of cavity and combining the moss with the previous plant he'd screwed around with. Finally he raised his hand, feeling like he was ten years old, sitting behind the school desk. "Can you explain it to me?"Cerise paused."There is a plant that looks like moss," Petunia said, scratching at her eye patch. "We call it burial shroud. It's not really a plant, more like an odd cross between plant and animal. It's native only to the Mire and it needs magic to survive. Burial shroud feeds on corpses. Its spores settle on the carcass, and then its shoots pierce the dead animal's skin. It then siphons the liquids from the corpse through its shoots, takes what it needs, and dumps the rest back into the body.""Like a filter?" William frowned."Just like that," Petunia nodded. "These shoots are very, very tiny, but there are so many of them, they can filter all the liquids from a carcass several times within one day. With me so far?"He nodded."Vernard needed a fast way to introduce his miracle algae into the body, fast and in large numbers. He stumbled onto burial shroud and tinkered with it until he managed to get his algae inside the moss and used magic to get it all to play nice. So, he ended up with burial shroud full of regeneration algae. Makes sense?"William nodded again."Then he built himself a casket and lined it with burial shroud. Let's say you put a person into the casket. The burial shroud will attack and start pulling liquids out of this person. It will take some proteins and other things, and dump the rest back into the body. But!" Petunia raised her finger. "As it returns liquids to the body, it will add the miracle algae to it.""It would hurt," William said."Oh, yes. It would hurt like hell, but if you're dying or getting old, you wouldn't care." Petunia grimaced. "Keep going, Ceri. I'm guessing your grandfather experimented with putting creatures into the casket."Petunia proved right. Vernard had designed five test subjects: a cat, a pig, a calf, someone he called D, and E. Before he could stick them into his coffin, he made them drink some sort of herbal concoction he called the remedy. Cerise's face jerked as she read the ingredients." 'One-quarter teaspoon crushed redwort leaves, one tube of fisherman's club in full bloom, one-quarter teaspoon minced burial shroud, one cup water. Let steep for twenty hours." 'Today I've taken the cat, subject A, and slit its side to cause massive bleeding. I've placed it into the Box and shut the lid. I will check on it tomorrow. Tonight I must go fishing. I promised Cerise, and one must always keep a promise given to a child . . ."'The cat is alive. The gash has healed completely, and a new pink tissue marks the location of the wound I had inflicted. I've beheaded the cat, and upon dissection, found its heart still beating. The pulse continued for nearly six minutes and stopped, I suspect, because the body ran out of blood.' "The cat wasn't the only victim. William growled in his head. He could see where this was heading. Once Grandpa started putting things into the damn Box, he would crawl into it himself eventually. First, the cat, then the pig, then the calf . . ." 'The calf lives. The bones of its broken leg have healed. It stands renewed in the back corral, together with the piglet. It is time for a true test. Tonight I enter the Box.' "Ignata buried her head in her hands. "Oh no. No, Vernard, no."" 'Words fail me. At first I felt the agony of each sting puncturing my skin. My world shrank to a red daze and I floated in it, buoyant in my pain, twisted, battered, mangled by it, and yet somehow supported and made whole. The pain tore the very fabric of me, unraveled it strand by strand, and wove it back together anew. As it consumed me, I found deliverance in its red mist. I found strength and vigor. The universe had opened like a flower to my mind, and I saw its secret patterns and hidden truths. I stand before the Box now. My mind is clear, but the insight has left me. The secrets gained have slipped away, beyond the veil of consciousness. I can feel them, yet they pass through the fingers of my mind like smoke coils. I must return to the Box . . ." 'It's easier to breathe. The budding arthritis in my hands troubles me no longer . . ." 'I ran three miles in the morning to test myself, and discovering myself free of fatigue, I ran three more . . ." 'The visions of the red daze haunt me. I must enter the Box again . . ."'I shall speak nothing of what I glimpsed beyond the red curtain. I must understand it before I commit it to the page . . ." ' The scar on my shin is gone. I've had it since I was a child ..." 'And then I picked her up into my arms and danced across the house, danced and danced. She laughed, throwing her head back . . . Gods, I haven't seen her laugh like that since we were twenty ...' "Cerise's voice kept on, flat and steady, reading Vernard's thoughts as he slid deeper and deeper into delirium. The Box was addictive, and the addiction came with a price. It unhinged Vernard's mind." 'I'm becoming violent. My moods, my rage are growing difficult to control. I screamed at Genevieve this morning when she brought us drinks. She had spilled my mug of tea. I didn't mean to lash out, yet my body did it seemingly on its own, while I watched it act from the depths of my consciousness. It is as if I'm steering a boat with a broken rudder . . ."'The remedy failed me. The toxin proved too potent . . ." ' Too late. It's too late for me."'Too late . . . Impatient. Too impatient. Too many visits to the red daze. Had I just waited another month, letting the remedy affect me, had I limited myself to three trips and no more . . . Had I, had I . . ." ' Had I been a husband, had I been a father," 'I shall die alone, abandoned by my lover," 'Lay me down gently, I'll go no farther," 'Lay me down gently . . ." 'I found the pig dead in its pen. Its torn body was a mess of blood and bruises. I suspect the calf. I don't like the way he looks at me.' "Cerise closed her eyes for a long moment and kept going." 'Today, when I dumped the feed into the calf's trough, it tried to ram me. I saw it coming, yellow eyes burning with a radiant hunger. It galloped to me, hooves striking a thudding battle hymn from the ground. It meant to kill me. I didn't move. I couldn't. I didn't wish to. It reached me, and my body took over. I spun out of the way. My hands closed about its neck and tore into the flesh. Blood washed over my fingers. Its scent . . . oh, its scent, intoxicating and sickening. It took hold of me and rode me, and I could not escape its grasp."'I buried the calf. The rational part of me is horrified by the sight of the body, by its odor, by the taste of raw flesh on my tongue. But its voice is growing weak. The logical center of my being is fading. It leaves a ravening dog in its wake. And I have not the power to contain its rage. But she did fine. She did just fine. Only once and no more. My gift. My curse. My poor sweet E, carry it in you. I wanted so much for you and have given you so little. I'm just a selfish old man, tired and stupid, sitting on the shards of my tower. I fought against the forces of nature and was found wanting. I should've let it die, but couldn't. I would beg for forgiveness, but I know you'll have none to give. I love you. Gods, how hopelessly inadequate this simple proclamation feels." 'The red daze is coming. It will claim me soon." ' I've hid it. Hid it where the fisherman waits.' "Cerise stopped. "This is the last coherent entry. On the next two pages he has written 'poor Vernard' over and over, and then it dissolves into scribbles."She slumped in the chair, exhausted.William's mind raced. That's what Spider wanted. The Box.If the Hand's freaks got cooked in the Box, they would come out more psychotic than they were before. They would regenerate their wounds in seconds, and they would kill and kill and kill, never stopping.Louisiana wanted a weapon against Adrianglia. This was it.Vernard never died. The thought dashed through his mind, illuminating the fractured pieces of the puzzle. Of course, Vernard never died. Not after that many trips to the Box. It would make him nearly indestructible."This is the day the secrets get told," Grandmother Az said.William looked up. She stood in the middle of the room, wizened and ancient as ever, and deep sadness pooled in her small dark eyes."You're awake," Ignata said and rose to offer her chair. Grandmother Az ignored it. She stared at him, and William felt a pull of magic."Tell them, child," she said. "Tell them who you've seen in the woods.""Vernard never died," William said. "I've seen him. I fought him in the Mire.""The monster? No." Cerise shook her head. "No, it can't be.""He prowls the night," Grandmother Az said. "He stayed away from the house for many years, but he's come back. He knows something is wrong. He is a monster now, but some memories still linger. The thing he did, the unnatural thing, it changed him too much. The magic was too strong."Silence fell, tense and charged, like the air before the storm."Who is E?" Ignata said. "A was the cat, B was the pig, C was the calf. D was Vernard himself."Kaldar rose. "The Box. It speeds up the healing, yes?"He crossed the room. A dagger flashed in his fingers. He took Cerise by the hand and glanced at her. She nodded. Kaldar cut at her forearm. Blood swelled. He wiped the crimson liquid off with his sleeve and raised her arm high. A thin line of red marked the wound but no more blood came."Sweet little E," he said. "I've wondered about that for years. She never got a cold. All of us would be down with flu or some other crud, but she would be up and chipper."Cerise studied her arm as if it were a foreign object. "I don't remember it. The Box. I don't remember it at all.""He probably sedated you," Ignata said."It would have to be a bloody strong sedation," Murid said, "to dull that kind of pain."Ignata frowned. "Do you remember the remedy?"Her mother grimaced. "Oh, please. It's the redwort tea. During the last few weeks, he practically drowned her in it every chance he got. That's probably the only reason she is sane now. That's what the remedy does - it keeps you from going mad."Richard's clear voice filled the room. "The question is what we are going to do with the journal now."WILLIAM tensed. His every instinct screamed in alarm.Faces turned to Richard."We have the journal. It is too late for Genevieve, but not too late for Gustave. Cerise told me that he's being held in Kasis."Richard leaned forward. "The place is a fortress and the Earl of Kasis has a lot of guards at his disposal. Not only that, but the place itself sits on the border between Adrianglia and Louisiana in the Weird. It touches the Edge, but that's about it. If we attack it, we'll have people from both countries on our trail. But we must get Gustave back. We must at least try.""Blackmail," Kaldar said. "We trade Gustave for the journal. Spider will do anything to keep us from turning it over to the Adrianglians."And it all went to shit. William bared his teeth."Spider is too dangerous," Erian said."Screw Spider. That journal is monstrous!" Petunia's voice cut him off. "It's the product of an abnormal mind. Brilliant but abnormal. We must destroy it."Kaldar gaped at her. "As long as we have the journal, we can get Gustave back."She glared back. "William! How big was the creature you saw?"They all looked at him. The hair on the back of his neck rose under pressure. "Large. At least six hundred pounds."Shock slapped the Mars' faces. Even Cerise paused, frozen in an instant.Aunt Pete whirled to face Grandmother Az. "That's about right, isn't it?"Grandmother nodded.Pete's stare pinned Kaldar like a dagger. "So, ask yourself, nephew, do you really want to hand that monster-making blueprint to the world in exchange for one life?""It's not our problem," Erian said. "Why are all of you ignoring me? It's not our problem!"Mikita shook his head. "It is our problem. We are the Mars. It was made by our in-law on the land that's now in our family. We are responsible."Aunt Pete stomped her foot. "There is a bigger responsibility here. Human responsibility. Vernard knew enough to hide this thing - mad as he was, he locked it away and hid it from humanity. It's not right to let this knowledge out!"Kaldar threw his arms out. "Who the hell cares if the Weird's nobles kill each other? What did they ever do for us?""What he says does have some merit." Richard drummed his fingers on the desk.Aunt Pete studied him as if he were an insect. "Who are you people?"William looked at the Mars and knew Aunt Pete would lose. They wanted Gustave back. They were family and family looked out for their own first. He looked at Cerise's face, lit from within by hope. He remembered her head against his chest, how it felt to hold her, the smell of her hair, the hot, sweet taste of her mouth . . ."We can arrange an exchange someplace public ..." Kaldar said.William rose from his chair. "No."Cerise's eyes found him.Kaldar frowned. "You said something, blueblood?"William ignored him. "Adrianglia and Louisiana are grinding against each other. They can't afford to let the other side have any advantage. Once Spider learns that you've got the journal, he will try to wipe you out. Once Adrianglia learns that you have it, they will do the same."He found Cerise's gaze. "Listen to me. Everyone in this room will die. Everyone. They will kill you, they will murder your kids, they will burn your house, they will shoot your dogs. They will obliterate you. It would be as if you never existed.""You seem very sure of that." Richard's quiet voice echoed through the silent room.William almost snarled. Because they will order me to do it."Adrianglia doesn't know about the journal," Erian said."They will very shortly. Burn it. Burn the fucking journal and never speak of it again."Cerise was looking at him. There was something in her eyes, suspicion, hurt, anger, he couldn't tell. Whatever it was, it reached deep down into his chest and jerked at his heart.If he told her the whole truth now, if he told her about the Mirror, he would lose her. But if he could make her understand, she would live."How will Adrianglia know about the journal, William?" she asked, her voice very soft.The wild howled and screamed inside him. No! Shut up. Shut the hell up. Don't lose the woman!"Last night I used a drone bug to send the complete report to Zeke Wallace," William told her.The room shrank to the two of them. He was ice calm. There was no going back."You're not a bounty hunter," she said."No.""Is Adrianglia paying you to kill Spider?" she asked."No. They don't mind if I kill him, but I'm not here for him. I'm here for the Box and the journal. That's what the Mirror wants, and they will order me to slaughter the lot of you to get it.""You lied to me.""I meant the rest of it," he snarled. "Wolves mate for life and you're my mate.""Wolf?" Erian jumped off his chair. "William Wolf? The one the freaks are so scared of? And you brought William Wolf into the family? Are you out of your mind? He's a fucking changeling."William bared his teeth.Erian caught himself but it was too late. Cerise was staring at him, half-risen from her chair, her face bloodless."Erian," she said.Erian stumbled backward, looking lost."It was you." Cerise's voice brimmed with pain. "You sold my father and mother to the Hand.""My own brother." Richard's face contorted and for a moment he couldn't speak. The desk creaked under the pressure of his white-knuckled hands. "Why?""Because somebody had to," Erian snarled. His hands shook. "Because neither you nor that fucking waste of space that's our other brother would do anything. I saw our father die. I remember everything: the shot, the blood, the look in his eyes, everything! You know what Gustave told me at the funeral? He told me, 'You will get your revenge.' I waited for revenge. Years I waited, but he didn't give a fuck about it, oh no, he was happy squatting in this house, our father's house, letting his spoiled brat daughter run the place. He would've grown fat and happy, while our father rotted in the ground. Every year I came to him, and every year he told me, 'It's not time, Erian. We can't afford a feud right now.' It would never be time, so yes, I fucking did it. I gave the Sheeriles an edge. I gift-wrapped Gustave for them, because if he stayed here, the feud would never end. Now the Sheeriles are dead. Our father is watching from above and he's happy, Richard. You hear me? He is happy!"Richard's face turned white. "I must kill you," he said very calmly. "Somebody give me a sword."Cerise rose. "Uncle Hugh and Mikita, take Erian out. Lock him in the north building. Make sure he can't hurt himself."Erian bared his teeth. Hugh hit him on the back of the head. Erian's eyes rolled back in their orbits, and he sagged down in Mikita's arms. They carried him from the room.Cerise turned to William."If you bargain for the journal, you will die," he said. "If you go to fight Spider, you will die, too. Don't. Don't do it.""I don't have a choice," she said. "I can't live knowing that I had a chance to keep thousands of people from dying and I did nothing."CERISE clenched her teeth. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her mouth tasted bitter. Erian. Of all people, it had to be Erian.Her legs had turned to wet cotton. Her chest constricted. She wanted to bend over and cradle the hot knot of pain in the pit of her stomach, but the entire family was here, watching her, waiting to see what she would say, and she held it in.William stood alone, in the middle of the room, his face pale. She looked into his eyes and saw it all: pain, grief, fury, fear, and resignation. He thought she would leave him. Why not, everybody else in his life did."You're a Mirror spy?" she asked softly."Yes." His voice was low and ragged.She sighed. "I wish you had mentioned it earlier."It took a second to penetrate. Amber rolled over his eyes. Shock slapped his face. It lasted only a moment, but the relief in his eyes was so obvious, it filled her with anger. Anger at the monsters who had damaged him, anger at Erian, anger at the Hand . . . Her hands shook, and she clenched them together."I love you," she told him. "When I asked you to stay with me, I meant it.""He's a changeling," someone said from the back.Cerise turned in the direction of the voice. Nobody owned up. "I've managed the family's money for the last three years. I know all of your dirty secrets. Think very carefully before you start throwing rocks at the man I love, because I will throw them back and I won't miss."Silence answered her."Okay, then," she said. "Glad we got that settled. Why don't you talk between yourselves." She turned and marched out on the balcony and walked away, around the corner, out of their sight.Outside the heat of the swamp enveloped her and she exhaled. Tears wet her eyes and ran down her cheeks. She tried to wipe them off, but they just kept coming and coming, and she couldn't stop.William came around the corner and grabbed her.She stuck her face into his chest and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to stop the tears.He clenched her to him."I can't believe you didn't tell me," she whispered. "I asked you point-blank back in the swamp, and you didn't tell me.""You would never have let me come with you," he said."We're trapped," she whispered. "I just want to be happy, William. I want to be with you and I don't want anybody to die, and I can't have that."He gripped her shoulders, pushing her away so he could look in her face. His eyes were driven. "Burn the journal, Cerise. Listen to me, damn you!""Too late," she told him. "You know it's too late. The Hand will come for us, if not now, then in a week or a month. You said it yourself: they can't afford to let any of us live. And even if they did, if they use the Box, it won't just mean war. It will mean the end of the world in the Weird, because they will make these creatures and then they won't be able to control them.""Let me handle it," he told her."Twenty agents against you alone? Are you out of your mind?" She wiped her tears with the back of her sleeve. "If I offered to go up against twenty agents, you would pitch a fit. We have no choice."He hugged her, his hands stroking her hair. They stood together for a long time. Eventually, she stirred. "I have to go back. It won't be okay, will it?"William swallowed. "No.""That's what I thought," she said. She turned around and went back to the library.Inside familiar faces waited for her. Aunt Pete, Aunt Murid, Ignata, Kaldar. Grandmother Az sitting in a corner, letting her run the family into the ground. Cerise sat at the table and braided the fingers of her hands together. Gods, she wished for guidance. But the person in the sky, the one she always asked for advice, was apparently running around in the woods, killing things at random.Her grandfather had murdered her grandmother. If she thought about it too long, it made her want to rip her hair out.Richard was off, too, gone to blow off steam.Who am I kidding? she wondered. Richard would never be all right. None of them would ever be all right."It has to be the Drowned Dog Puddle," she said. They went to gather berries there every year to make the wine. It was a big family affair: children gathered the berries, women cleaned them, men talked . . . "What else could it be?"Murid said, "Nothing else. Vernard didn't know anything else."The question had to be asked and so she asked it. "What do we do now?""What do you want us to do?" Murid's clear eyes found her, propped her up like a crutch. "You are in charge. You lead and we follow."Nobody disputed her words. Cerise had expected them to. "We must destroy the Box.""Or die trying," Kaldar said.Aunt Pete shook her head. "We all benefited from Vernard's knowledge. We studied his books, we learned from him, we made wine together. He was family."Cerise looked to Kaldar. "Kaldar?""They're right," he said. "I hate it, but we must fight. It's a Mar affair. Our land and our war, and it won't be done until we've chased the freaks from our swamp." He hesitated and scowled, deep lines breaking at the corners of his mouth. "I'm glad we have the blueblood. I don't care if he is a changeling. He fights like a demon."They blocked her on every turn. Cerise turned to Grandmother and knelt by her. An old word slipped out, the one she used when she was a child."Meemaw ..."Grandmother Az heaved a small sigh and touched Cerise's hair. "Sometimes there are things that are best to be done and things that are right to be done. We all know which is which."Murid slid her chair back. "That settles it."Cerise watched them go and a sick feeling of guilt sucked at her stomach. Nausea started low within her belly and crept its way up. She was tired of the last dinners before the big battle. Tired of counting the faces and trying to guess how many more she would lose.A hard, heavy clump of pain settled in her chest. She rubbed at it.Her grandmother's fingers ran through her hair. "Poor child," Grandmother Az whispered. "Poor, poor child ..."WILLIAM strode down the hill, carrying the Mirror's bag. Gaston chased him."So that's it?""That's it. We get our shit together and go fight the Hand."Gaston mulled it over. "Will we win?""Nope.""Where are we going now?""We're going to make sure that this insane family doesn't get wiped out, if we win."Gaston frowned."Insurance," William told him."Wait!" Lark's voice rang behind them.William turned. Lark dashed down the slope, skinny legs flashing. She braked in front of them and thrust a teddy bear into William's hands."For you. So you don't die."She whipped around and ran back up the hill.William looked at the teddy. It was old. The fabric had thinned down to threads in spots, and he could see the stuffing through the weave. It was the same one she had up in her tree.He pulled his bag open and very carefully put the teddy bear in. "Come on."They walked down, away from the house, deeper into the swamp." ' Where the fisherman waits,' " William quoted. "What does that mean to you?""It could be a lot of places. There is a whole bunch of Fisherman's this and Fisherman's that in the swamp.""Vernard wouldn't know many places. This place has to be close. Some place your family would go often."Gaston frowned. "It might be the Drowned Dog Puddle. It's a bad place. The thoas used to come there to die.""Tell me about it.""It's a pond. There is a hill on the west side of it, and it kind of hugs the pond. The water is pitch-black because of all the peat. Nobody knows how deep it is. You can't swim in it and nothing lives there except snakes. The hill and the pond open to some swampy ground, cypress, mud, little streams, and then the river eventually. The family goes there to pick the berries for the wine each year. They grow all around that hill.""What about the fisherman?""There is an old tree growing by the pond, leaning over it. People call it the Black Fisherman.""Sounds about right." William looked around. Tall pines surrounded them. He couldn't see the house. Far enough. He dug in his bag, taking care not to damage the bear. "How's your handwriting?""Um. Okay, I guess."William got out a small notebook and a pen and handed them to Gaston. "Sit down."Gaston sat on the log. "Why do I need those?""Because Vernard's journal is very long, and my handwriting is shit. I need to write it down because I don't understand any of it, which means my brain will forget it soon."The kid blinked at him. "What?""Write," William told him. "The art of medicine, as ancient as the human body itself. It began with the first primitive, who plagued by ache, stuck a handful of grass in his mouth, chewed, and found his pain lessened ..."