THE punt boat glided over the deceptively calm stream. Small speckled frogs perched on the wide queenscrown leaves. Somewhere to the left among the growth, a reed-walker traveled on long legs, emitting a staccato of clicks from his throat to ward off rival birds.Cerise leaned into the pole, discreetly clamping her jacket tighter to herself. The stiff plastic packet hidden in the lining dug into her ribs. Still there. Tracking down Uncle Hugh took longer than planned - he'd moved and she had wasted two days trying to find his new house. Only four days separated her from the court date. She had to hurry. If she didn't show up with the documents on time, the family would be ruined. She had to move fast, and fast wasn't easy with a punt boat and some Weird knuckleheaded drylander who thought he owned it.Lord William sat at the stern. Muscular, fit, wrapped in black leather, and more handsome than a man had a right to be. The first time she saw him, she almost did a double take. He had the whole tall, dark, and lethal thing going. Except at the moment he wore the expression of a man who'd just got a mouth full of soggy spinach. Maybe he was upset that his pretty leather pants got wet.Lord William was bad news. That he was a blueblood from the Weird was plain as day: expensive clothes, well-groomed hair, and excellent weapons. She'd felt a spark of magic when that little crossbow went off. And he fired it fast, didn't even pause to take aim, and still hit that cursed fish in the gills. The man had training, the kind of training bluebloods from the Weird got when they wanted to play soldier. Excellent balance - he walked on the boat as if it were solid ground. Light on his feet. Very fast. Probably very strong, if the muscle on his arms was any indication. Bad news.Why couldn't she have gotten another Edger or some dimwit from the Broken for a passenger? No, she got Lord Leather Pants here. In the Weird, nobles specialized. Some went into academics like her grandfather. Some devoted themselves to civil service. And some became killers. For all she knew, he was one of those multi-talented bluebloods, who cut down trees with their magic and sprouted weapons all over the place at the slightest hint of danger.Cerise stole another look. The blueblood was surveying the Mire, and she let herself linger. He had the prettiest hair she had ever seen on a man: dark brown, almost black, and soft like sable, it fell down to his shoulders. She wondered what he'd do if she threw some mud in it. Probably kill her. Or at least try. Not that she had any intention of letting him win that fight. Talented or no, he wouldn't stop her sword or her magic.She scrutinized his face. Strong chin. Narrow face without a trace of softness in it, square jaw, smart hazel eyes under black eyebrows. Interesting eyes, almost amber-yellow. That's what you looked at in an opponent - the eyes. The eyes told you what sort of person you faced. When she looked into William's eyes, she saw a predator. There he sat, all calm, but something behind those eyes promised violence. She sensed it the way one killer sensed another.Bad news.He caught her looking and scowled. "Give me that damn thing."Cerise leaned into the pole. "Don't worry, you will get your chance when we hit a stronger current. For now, sit pretty and enjoy the scenery. Look, there is a cute Mire gator to keep you entertained."He glanced to the side, where two large yellow eyes looked back at him from a floating clump of waterweeds.Let's see what you're made off, Lord Bill . . . "It's just a baby. Eighteen feet tops. He won't bother us. They grow much bigger."No reaction. Come on, tiny boat, big gator, that ought to worry anybody."In a few years, he might get to be around twenty-five feet. Some old fellows grow to thirty. We call them ervaurg . Means 'big eater.' "Lord Bill appeared unconcerned. Hmm.Cerise pushed him a bit more. "The thing about ervaurgs is that they aren't like normal animals. When you feed a dog, he'll sit and wait for you to give him his food. When you feed a Mire cat, he'll grab the treat and rip it out of your hands. Feeding a Mire gator is like feeding a pair of giant, razor-sharp scissors. One moment you're holding a chunk of cow carcass on a hook above the water and then huge jaws come out and" - she snapped her fingers - "the meat is gone. No tug, no extra weight, nothing. Just jaws and an empty hook.""Doesn't make much sense to feed them, then," William said."We do it for leather. A thirty-foot ervaurg packs a lot of leather, but his hide is too hard to make into anything. You might armor a boat with it, but other than that, it's not good for much. But when they're young, their leather is supple, so leather merchants breed them on gator farms like cows and kill them off with poisoned meat when they get too big. Mire gator leather is one of our few exports.""It must've killed you not to talk for a whole day," he said.Handsome, scary, and an ass. As expected from a spoiled rich blueblood from the Weird. She imagined thumping him on the head with her pole and gave him a bright smile.His eyes narrowed. "I get it. You kept your mouth shut to hide the teeth."And smart. Homeless people didn't have good teeth. Kaldar had stressed that one to her before she left.Cerise would've preferred a dumb Lord Bill over the smart one - the smart one was more trouble - but in the end, it didn't matter. She gave her word and she'd keep it. They'd get to Sicktree, and then she'd drop him faster than he could blink. She would just have to watch him carefully and keep her sword close.The swamp rolled by, savage and beautiful at the same time. It'd been a few months since Cerise had come this way, but she remembered it well enough. She was Kaldar's favorite partner in crime for his excursions to the Broken. He'd wanted to come to look for Uncle Hugh so badly even she couldn't convince him to stay behind. It took Richard. He'd frowned and Kaldar gave in.Cerise glanced at the sky. Please keep the lot of them safe in the Rathole. Please. Someone had to meet her in Sicktree to take her back to the house, and she'd agreed to let Urow do it, because he was the best rolpie driver the family had and because he nagged and piled on the family guilt until she couldn't stand it anymore. Urow was difficult. He was big and strong, and he thought that made him a good fighter. He also had a chip on his shoulder about being included in the family business. She should've said no, but she knew it would crush him and so she didn't. Now that decision was costing her a bundle in frayed nerves.But then Urow would come with a boat and a good, fast rolpie, and she was late enough as it was. She would need his boat and his crazy driving to get her to the Rathole on time.Cerise brushed the jacket, feeling the stiff packet of papers again. Still there. Hold on, Mom, Dad. I'm coming.002THE woman lay on the floor, curled into a fetal ball. Spider sighed. Her skin had acquired an unhealthy greenish tint. The matter wasn't helped by a patina of bruises covering her legs and arms. He always believed in the doctrine of maximum pain with minimal damage during torture - he wanted to break her spirit, not her body - and their sessions left only the lightest of injuries. Unfortunately Genevieve insisted on attacking the guards and trying to kill herself in her spare time. Subduing her without causing injuries proved difficult.Her attempts grew more and more reckless. This last one was brilliantly executed and almost took her from him. He couldn't afford to lose Genevieve. Not yet.Spider waited by the grimy wall. The place smelled of mildew. Gods, how he despised the swamp.Genevieve stirred with a soft moan. Her eyelids trembled and she whispered, "Non."Gaulish. Finally. She had reverted to her native language. It meant he had cracked her armor. Too little, too late. The Hand informed him that the Mirror was aware of his activities in the Mire and had sent an agent. They were unable to ascertain the agent's identity, but Spider expected the Adrianglians would send their best. The Mirror did produce worthy opponents once in a while, and he couldn't afford to jeopardize the integrity of the project. Some tough decisions would have to be made."Yes," he told her in Gaulish.Genevieve pulled herself upright. A blue and black ring clutched at her throat."The bruise on your neck looks atrocious," he continued in the same language. "I have to admit, using magic to strangle yourself with your collar was an elegant move. Tell me, did you learn metal alteration before your parents were exiled to the Edge or after?"She stared at him with intense, focused hatred."It saddens me that you hate me," he said. "I'm being sincere. You're a scion of one of the oldest blueblood families, as am I. We should be having a civilized conversation, spiced with good red wine and an occasional witty remark. Instead we find ourselves here." He spread his arms. "In the drain for all of the world's muck, with you reduced to a battered animal and me your batterer."She didn't answer. He was wrong. She wouldn't break anytime soon. A pity."It takes approximately five minutes to choke an adult to death," Spider told her. "That's why people in my profession prefer to break the target's neck. We're frequently short on time. It took my people thirty seconds to remove the collar. At no point were you in danger of suffocating. But in a way you did succeed. You see, now I'm short on time. I can no longer gently choke you and wait for you to comply. I have to break you now."No reaction. As if she were a mannequin.He leaned to her. "For Gods' sake, Genevieve, this is your last chance. The war between Adrianglia and Louisiana is inevitable. It will be fought in my lifetime, if not in yours. The diary holds the key to winning it. Thousands of lives will be spared on both sides, if this war is resolved quickly in a decisive show of force. That's why that translation is vital to me. I will have it."She spat at him. He leaned just enough to avoid it and shook his head. "I need an answer. Will you translate the diary? Think before you answer, because you will sign your death warrant with the wrong word. Think of your husband. Your daughters."Her cracked lips moved. "Go to hell."Spider sighed. Why did people insist on frustrating him?"John?"The door opened and John stepped into the cell. Tall, gaunt, and stooped, his clothes perpetually rumpled, the man had a wary manner about him, resembling a neurotic buzzard. Spider had worked with several mages skilled in human alteration, and John was neither the most difficult nor the easiest to work with. He was, however, the best at what he did.John dipped his head. "Yes, my lord?""We'll have to fuse her."Shock slapped Genevieve's face. "You're a monster!"Spider gripped her neck, swiping her off the floor, to bring her to his own eye level. "The world is full of monsters. I chose to become one, so the rest of my country-men can sleep peacefully in their beds, knowing that their families are shielded by the likes of me. You've tied my hands, Madame. Take responsibility for your decisions."He dropped her."Go ahead and fuse me," she hissed. "I will kill the lot of you. You will get nothing. My family will bury you in the swamp without that diary."Tiresome. Spider glanced at John. "How much time?"John surveyed the woman on the floor. "She's nearing fifty. Ideally a month, but I can do it in two weeks.""Make it ten days.""She won't be stable."Spider looked at John for a long moment to make sure he had the man's attention. "She is my key, John. If you break her, I will be quite put out."The alteration specialist swallowed.Spider paused before the door. "Tell me when she is in the first stage. Her daughter left the family compound and traveled to the Broken. I want to know why."AHEAD a bright green spot of fresh vegetation marked the mouth of Sandal Creek. Cerise turned the boat, steering it into the weeds. The bow mashed the green reeds. She laid into the pole, putting all of her weight into it. The boat tore through the green and landed in clear water.A narrow channel stretched before them, flanked by purple willows. Tiny magenta and blue leaves littered the calm water.Lord Bill's eyebrows crept together, but if he had questions, he kept them to himself."That river back there gets a bit senile in another half a mile," she told him. "It forgets that it's flowing through the swamp and gets a good current going. Instead of paddling against the current, we're skipping the whole mess and saving ourselves a couple of hours. We should be back to the main river in about seven miles."She tossed the pole at him. He snapped it out of the air. Good reflexes."Your turn. Don't use your arms, let your weight do the work. I'll see about lunch."Lord Bill stood up, keeping his balance like he was born on water, and stabbed the pole into the water. The boat predictably slid from under him. It took him a couple of tries but he hit his stride.Cerise sat down, dug in her bag, and pulled out a short fishing pole and the bait box she'd liberated from Vern's boat. She hooked a fat white grub and let the line fall into water."NOTHING yet?" William glanced at Cerise.The hobo girl shook her head. The fishing line trailed forgotten behind the boat. She sat alert, her gaze scanning the banks, her body calm but ready. Like a veteran soldier expecting an attack."Something's wrong," she murmured. "The stream should be teeming with fish. It's too well blocked for sharks and too small for ervaurgs.""Or you might suck at fishing." He surveyed the swamp. Torn clouds dappled the sky. The willows lined the shore, like slender women washing their locks in the water. No small noises, except for the distant shrieks of some insane bird.William inhaled deeply. No odd scents, beyond the usual smorgasbord of algae, fish, and vegetation. And Cerise. She was right. It was too quiet.The hobo queen rolled into a crouch and reached into her jacket. Here comes the blade. He'd been waiting for her to pull it out again. A foot long, narrow, single-edged, simple hilt. In good shape. She wasn't homeless - the sword gave her away before the teeth did - but the way she held it struck him as odd. Her grip was loose. Almost delicate, with the hilt caught in her long slender fingers. Clutching your weapon made you clumsy, but a firm grip was best. If you held you sword like it was a painting brush, sooner or later someone would knock it out of your hand.Ahead an old willow leaned over the bank, its long branches cascading down to the river. A dark shadow shifted in the water under the willow leaves."Don't move," Cerise whispered.He froze, pole in his hand. The boat glided slowly, using up the last of its speed.Ripples pulsed under the willow, wrinkled the river, and vanished.Cerise crouched at the bow, watching the water like a hawk.A huge blunt head sliced through the river an inch from the surface, followed by a sinuous serpentine body. William held his breath. It kept coming and coming, impossibly long, moving in total silence, so enormous it seemed unreal. A low fin sliced through the water, sun glinted on the brown hide speckled with yellow flecks, and the creature vanished.At least fifteen feet. Maybe more."A mud eel," Cerise whispered.William nodded toward the pole. She shook her head.The boat drifted downstream, heading for the right bank. The bottom scraped mud. They stopped. He raised the pole to push off.The eel smashed into the side of the boat with a thud. The craft went flying. William leaped onto the bank. His feet touched the mud, it gave, suddenly liquid, and he sank to his hips.The eel's blunt head reared from the water and hissed, its black maw flashing a forest of sharp needle teeth. The creature lunged onto dry land, clawing at the mud with short stubby paws. The damn thing had legs. Fucked-up place, fucked-up fish.William spun the pole and rammed it into the nightmarish mouth. Jaws locked on the wood, ripping it out of his hands. Round fish eyes fixed on him, expressionless and stupid.He pulled a knife from his jacket.The eel reared back. A bright red mark glowed on its forehead, a crimson skull with two gaping black circles for eyes.William snarled.The fish lunged.Steel flashed, biting deep into the eel's left orbit, and withdrew. The milky gel of the fish eye slid free, its golden iris glistening like a small coin on wet cotton.The eel jerked. Its huge body whipped around. The fish plunged into the river and sped away.The hobo girl sighed and wiped the blade on her sleeve. "A single sinkhole on this bank for fifty feet in any direction and you managed to jump right into it. That takes real talent. Are you trying to make my job harder, Lord Bill?"Lord Bill?"The name's William. You stole my kill." He put his hands against the mud, trying to lift himself free, but it just crumbled under him. She could slit his throat from ear to ear, and there wasn't much he could do about it."Sure I did. You were just about to rip that big bad fish to tiny pieces." Cerise grabbed a willow with her left hand and leaned toward him. He gripped her fingers. She grunted and pulled him free.Strong for a woman. And quick, too. That was one of the fastest strikes he'd ever seen.Cerise was looking at him. "You look adorable."Black slimy mud stained his pants, filling the air with the scent of old rot. Great. And he didn't even get to kill the fish."It's peat," she said. "It will wash right off. The eel won't be back for a few minutes, so if you want to clean up, now is your chance."William pulled off his boots, emptying half a gallon of sludge onto the bank, and waded into the stream. The oily peat rolled off him in a slick wave, leaving no stains.That was a hell of a sword thrust, fast, precise. Professional. The Mirror had no female agents in the Mire. Maybe she was Hand, one of Spider's crew. William ran through Spider's known flunkies in his mind, mentally comparing her to the women. No match. Either the Mirror had no information about her or they had neglected to share it.William had a distinct urge to turn around, grab her, dunk her under the water, and wash all that dirt off her face, so he could see what she looked like.He was a blueblood. He had to keep his cover.William climbed out. The hobo queen greeted him with a huge smile. "So how are you enjoying your tour of the swamp so far?"Smart-ass. He pulled on his boots. "Branded fish with legs weren't in the guidebook. I want a refund."She blinked. "What do you mean, branded?""It had a skull etched between the eyes.""Did it glow red?""Yes."Her face dropped. She tilted her head to the sky. "That was rotten of you. I didn't deserve that. I have more than enough to deal with, so how about you stop throwing rocks at my windows? If you don't like the way I'm handling things, come down and try fixing this mess yourself.""Who are you taking to?""My grandparents.""In the sky?"She faced him, her dark eyes full of indignation. "They're dead. Where else would they be?"William shrugged. Maybe it was one of the odd human things changelings didn't understand. Or maybe she was just crazy. All Edgers were mad. He'd known that from the start. He was letting a crazy woman lead him deeper into the swamp. How could this not turn out well?Gods, he missed his trailer. And his coffee. And dry socks.Cerise strode to the overturned boat."What does the skull mean?""Never mind."He picked up the pole and stepped in front of her. "What does the skull mean?"She flipped the boat over. "It's Sect."He followed her. "And that means what?""The eel belongs to the Gospo Adir Sect. They're necromancers. They alter eels and other things with magic and use them as watch dogs. The eels are vindictive as hell by nature, but this one is enhanced, which means it's smart and it's trained to hunt down trespassers. The damn thing will follow us around until we have to kill it, and if we do kill it, the Sect will want me to pay restitution for it."Cerise pushed the boat from the shore and threw their bags into it."So let me get it straight - the fish attacks us, but you have to compensate this Sect for it?"Cerise heaved a sigh. "Look before you jump, Lord Bill. It's a good rule. Learn it."Blueblood. Act like a blueblood. Bluebloods don't growl at the hired help. "Wil-li-am. Do you want me to say it slower, so you can remember it?"She clenched her teeth. "I hate dealing with the Sect. They aren't reasonable. We'll end up killing the stupid creature, and then Emel will eat a hole in my head over it.""Who's Emel?""My cousin. The Red Necromancer. That's why I will have to pay restitution. The eel knows me by scent. It wouldn't have attacked me if I were on my own, so if you weren't with me, I wouldn't be in this mess."He would strangle her before this trip was over. "Should I just let the fish eat me next time?""It would certainly make things easier."William scraped the last of his patience together and tried to pretend to be Declan. "I'll pay you for the fish.""Yes, yes, and that flock of pigs crossing the sky looks particularly lovely this time of day."He lost it and snarled. "I said I'll pay for the damn fish if we have to kill it!"She waved her hands in the air. "Do me a huge favor, Lord William. Keep your thoughts to yourself for the next few miles. If you keep talking, I'll have to hit you with this pole, and nobody wants that."THE stream turned, spilling back into the river. Cerise leaned onto the pole, and the boat slipped into the wider water.At this rate they'd reach Broken Neck by nightfall. She had no desire to chance crossing the labyrinth of peat islands and sunken cypresses in the middle of the night, not with the damn eel following them. They'd have to find a secure spot to camp. Maybe they would avoid Broken Neck altogether. Take one of the offshoot streams. It would be safer but slower. And her time was in short supply. More so because of the idiot blueblood.You stole my kill. Ha.Cerise glanced at him. Lord William had taken his crossbow out. His amber eyes scanned the water. There was something deeply predatory in the way he sat, silent and alert. Like a cat waiting to sink his claws into living flesh.Cerise thought of the eel and William, stuck in the mud, only a knife in his hand. Most people would've panicked. He just waited for the fish to charge him. His eyes were predatory back then, too. Calculating, hot amber eyes, full of outrage, as if he was insulted the eel had attacked him.She'd seen her share of exiles from the Weird. Once in a while, Louisiana would send a blueblood into the Edge. Some of them were powerful, some were desperate, but none were like William. She wanted to pry him open and figure out what he was made of. Why was he here in the Mire? What did he want?He was only a blueblood, Cerise reminded herself. She would dump him in Sicktree. She had bigger things to worry about. She just liked looking at him, because he happened to have a handsome face and because with the two of them alone in the entire swamp, there wasn't anything else to look at."Looking for the eel?" Cerise asked.He glanced at her and Cerise almost dropped the pole. His eyes luminesced like the irises of a wild cat hidden in darkness.Holy crap.Cerise blinked. William's eyes were back to their normal hazel. She could've sworn she'd seen them glow.What the hell did she get herself into?"I'm going to kill that damn fish," William growled.Oh, for Gods' sake. "Crazy necromancers, anal cousin, financial liability, did any of that penetrate?""That fish is everything that's wrong with this place.""And what, pray tell, is wrong with the Mire?" Cerise could write a book about what was wrong with the Mire, but she'd earned that right by being born and bred here.He grimaced. "It's sweltering and damp. It smells of rotting vegetation, and fish, and stagnant water. It shifts constantly. Nothing is what it seems: the solid ground is mud and the fish have legs. It's not a proper place."Cerise smirked. "It's old. The Mire was ancient before our ancestors were born. It's a piece of another time, when plants ruled and animals were savage. Respect it, Lord William, or it will kill you."His upper lip rose, revealing his teeth. She'd seen this precise look on her dogs just before they snarled. "It's welcome to try."Ready to take the swamp on, was he? Cerise laughed. He glared. She was dying to know what his prissy behind was doing in the Edge, but she'd made the rule about personal questions and she had to stick to it."So what's a proper place?""A forest," William said, his expression distant. "Where the ground is dry soil and stone. Where tall trees grow and centuries of autumn carpet their roots. Where the wind smells of game and wildflowers.""Why, that was lovely, Lord Bill. Do you ever write poetry? Something for your blueblood lady?""No.""She doesn't like poetry?""Leave it."Hehe. "Oh, so you don't have a lady. How interes - "Magic prickled her skin. Her hands went ice-cold. A shiver gripped her. Her teeth chattered, her knees shook, and the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on their ends. Fear washed over her followed by a quick squirm of nausea.Something bad waited for them around the river bend.A familiar revulsion clamped William's throat and squeezed. His stomach lurched. Invisible magic sparked off his skin.The Hand. Strong magic, coming fast. Ahead the river bent to the left. Someone from Spider's crew had to be just around the turn. Could be one man or could be fifteen. No way to tell.Cerise froze at the stern. Her body trembled."Hide," he said. "Now."She maneuvered the boat into the clump of reeds, sank the pole into the river's bottom, and crouched, keeping them put. He pulled a white coin from his pocket, locked his arms around her, and squeezed the metal. Here's hoping the Mirror's gadgets work.The coin grew hot in his fingers. A faint sheen of magic flowed from his hand, dripping onto Cerise's arm, over her jacket and jeans, over his arms, swallowing the whole boat.Cerise tensed. Her hands gripped the pole, until her knuckles went completely white. The pupils in her irises grew into dark pools.A reaction to the Hand's magic. At least the hobo queen wasn't working for Spider.Cerise shivered. The first exposure was always the hardest. He had built up tolerance, chasing Spider, but she had none. If he didn't contain her fast, she'd lose it and break the spell.William pulled her tighter against him, clamping the pole in case she let go, and whispered into her ear. "Don't move."A large boat rounded the river's bend.Cerise shuddered. He clenched her to him, willing the spell to hold.The magic sheen around them swirled with a dozen hues and snapped, matching the green of reeds and gray of the water with a mirror's precision.The boat sliced its way against the current, drawn by a single rolpie. Men waited aboard, holding rifles. Not the Hand's regulars - the gear was too varied. Probably the local talent. He counted the rifles. Seven. Too many to kill easily. Someone in that crowd had to be from Spider's crew . . .A man stood up at the stern. A long gray cloak hung off his shoulders.The man raised his hand, and the boat drew to a stop. The rolpie's head poked through the water. The man at the stern pulled off his cloak. He wore baggy pants and no shirt. Too skinny, like someone had wrapped a skeleton in tight muscle and poured a skin of red wax over it.William ran through Spider's crew in his head. A couple of male operatives were skeletally thin, but only one had brick red skin. Ruh. Spider's tracker. According to the Mirror's intel, he and Spider were joined at the hip. So the sonovabitch was in the swamp after all.The skin between William's knuckles itched, wanting to release the claws. One bite on that toothpick neck and Spider would be out a tracker. Seven rifles and fifty yards of water meant he wouldn't get a chance. Fine, he would get his shot later. Ruh probably tasted vile anyway.William breathed in deep and even. Hard to kill seven men and the tracker. In cramped quarters on solid ground, maybe. Especially if it was dark. He'd go through them with knife or teeth, and they'd never know what hit them. But out here, if the spell collapsed, they were sitting ducks.If Ruh saw them, he'd flip the boat in the air, use it as a shield, and make a run for it. The girl would slow him down, but if they got to the cypresses in one piece, he could pick Ruh's crew off one by one.Getting to the cypresses would be a bitch.An older, stocky Edger pulled a line from a wheel bolted to the boat's bow and caught the rolpie's long fragile neck in a slip knot. Keeping one hand on the line, he turned the wheel, winding it down. The rolpie jerked, startled, and fought back like a fish on a wire, but the line gripped its neck and dragged it against the side of the boat. With no room to dive and its head trapped above the water, the beast went limp.Ruh anchored himself on the bow, his bare feet gripping the deck with toes like bird talons. He leaned forward over the water, his body bent to a degree that would've pitched a normal human into the river, and stretched his right arm to the water's surface.A bulge of flesh grew on Ruh's shoulder. It squeezed and relaxed slowly, growing thicker with each contraction. What the hell . . .Ruh moaned. A huge drop of yellow ichor swelled over the tracker's right deltoid and burst, releasing a tentacle.Acid burned William's mouth. Right, if he ever fought Ruh, stabbing him in the back from above, right between the shoulder blades, would be good.The tentacle shivered above the tracker's shoulder, like a worm the color of raw muscle, and clung to Ruh's red skin. Lubricated by the ichor, the tentacle slid, winding its way down the arm. Another followed it, twisting about the first, then another.Cerise gagged. He clamped her tighter. If she vomited, the body fluid would break the spell.The tentacles plunged into the water. The rolpie moaned and screamed, trying to get away.A sickening magic swept over them like an avalanche. If it was wind, it would've rocked the boat.Cerise shuddered in his grip.Don't panic. Just don't panic. "I've got you," he whispered into her ear.Thin tendrils of magic stretched from the boat. Colorless, shimmering like hot air rising from the ground, they snaked their way along the surface of the river, through the reeds, toward them.If the spell broke, they were fucked.The magic hovered, waiting, probing. The colorless tendrils lapped at the edges of the mirror spell.Hold. Hold, damn you, hold.The coin burned William's hand. A spasm rocked Cerise. "Almost over," he whispered. "Almost done."On the boat, Ruh peered straight at them.William held his breath.The magic tendrils swelled and split, flowing around the boat. They tasted the shore, slithered over the mud, and retreated.Ruh turned to the Edgers. William strained. His ears picked up the faint sound of Ruh's voice."Girl didn't . . . this way. Moving on ..."They were looking for a girl. The girl? This girl?The tracker pulled his tentacles out of the river. William caught a flash of a complex web, covered with long red eyelash-thin hairs dripping with water, and then the net folded in on itself. The cilia slid into the tentacles; the tentacles rolled into the shoulder like elastic rubber cords, and the skin sealed over it. Ruh massaged the viscous ichor into his arm, rubbing it into the skin like a lotion, and reached for his cloak.The older Edger released the rope, and the rolpie shot down the river, fleeing for its life and dragging the boat with it.William waited. A minute passed. Another. Long enough. He let go of the coin. It lay useless and cold on his palm, all of its charge spent. He had to give it to the Mirror. They made neat toys.Cerise slumped forward, curling into a ball. The parts of her that weren't covered with dirt had turned so pale, they looked green. The aftereffect of exposure to the Hand's magic should be hitting her full force now.If Spider wanted her, then William had to keep her for himself. Sooner or later Spider would come looking for her, and then they would finish the dance they'd started four years ago.Cerise coughed.The wild in him bared its teeth. She was weak and scared. Almost pitiful. Easy prey for anybody. He had to guard her or she'd get herself killed."They're looking for you." He kept his voice brisk.She clutched at her stomach. Her words came out strained. "No personal questions.""That's the Hand. Louisiana spies. Why do they want you?"She shook her head.Fine. The aftereffects of the Hand's magic became worse with time. He simply had to wait her out, the way a wolf pack waited out a bleeding deer. Sooner or later the deer would run himself into the ground and then it was dinnertime.William took the pole from her and sank it into the water, propelling the boat upstream.