ZEKE Wallace's shop occupied a large wooden structure that in the Broken would've been a barn. In the Edge, it must've passed for a respectable storefront, William decided, since it had a giant gator head above the door and a sign that said ZEKE'S LEATHERS under it.William swung the door open and remembered to hold it for Cerise. The inside of the store was cool and dim. A long counter sliced the floor in half, offering a variety of knives, gator leathers, belts, and assorted junk. A man sat behind the counter next to a large crossbow.William glanced at him, evaluating. In his early forties, lean, probably still fast. Skin like a walnut - weathertanned and lined. Hair, once black, now neither here nor there, worn on the longer side. Hooded dark eyes.Their stares met. "What can I do you for?" the man asked."Looking for Zeke," William said."I'm Zeke. What are you and your lady looking for?"Cerise turned to him. "Hi, Zeke."Zeke flinched.It lasted half a second, a mere flicker across the man's face, but William caught it: eyebrows raised, eyes wide, lips stretched back. That was the one human expression he was very familiar with - fear. Zeke Wallace was afraid of Cerise.The man recovered fast, in the same breath. "Hello, Ms. Mar. And how are you this fine evening?""Good, thank you." She wandered down the counter looking at the knickknacks.William raised the fish head. "I need this stuffed."Zeke looked at the head. "That's a Gospo Adir eel."Cerise grimaced. "Yes, and he's very proud of killing it.""The Sect won't like it," Zeke said."Can you do it or not?" William let some growl into his voice.Zeke frowned. "Fish mount is a tricky thing. You have to scrape the meat out from the cheeks and skull and then soak the thing in alcohol to get the rest of the meat to harden. I don't do them, but my nephew, Cole, has done some on occasion.""If it's a question of money, I have it." William pulled one of the Mirror's coins from his pocket and tossed it to Zeke. It looked just like a normal coin, except for the engraving of the Adrianglian lion. The lion on the real coins had three claws, not four.Zeke snapped the coin out of the air and looked at it. "Right. Well, you know what they say - money fixes everything. Like I mentioned, fish mounts are tricky, and there's a couple of ways to do them. I've got some samples in the back. If you pick out what you want, we can talk price."He headed to a small door. William followed. They went into the back room and Zeke shut the door."I expected you yesterday," he whispered."We ran into some sharks," William said.Zeke grimaced. "Figured it had to be something like that. That's Cerise Mar out there. I about broke my head trying to think up a way to get you close to the Mars, and you walk into my store side by side with her like you're bosom buddies."William sat on the edge of a table. "What's the story with her family?""They're swampers - native Edgers. A big family, very old, land rich, money poor. They've got themselves a family house out in the swamp. People call them Rats behind their back, because there's so damn many of them and they're poor and mean. The Mars aren't afraid of blood or lock-up, and they hold a grudge like it was their family treasure."Zeke glanced at the main floor through a peephole in the door. "The Mars are feuding with their neighbors, the Sheeriles. The Sheerile family isn't that big - mother and three sons, but they've got money and use a lot of hired muscle. The old woman runs the whole thing, jerks her sons around like puppets on a string. Rumor has it, Gustave Mar and his wife, Gen, disappeared a few days ago and the Sheeriles were involved. That's a hard trick to pull off. Both the Mars and the Sheeriles are Legion families.""What does that mean?""It means they have old magic," Zeke said. "The families take root from the ancient Legion marooned centuries ago in the swamps. The Sheeriles would've needed help to take Gustave alive. Lagar Sheerile is very good with his blade, but Gustave is one mean sonovabitch. His daughter is of the same stock - if you get in trouble with her, don't count on any mercy. A guy on the Sheeriles' payroll says the Hand was involved in the whole thing." Zeke frowned. "She's getting impatient."Things were clearer but not by much. "Anything else?""That's all I've got. If I need to reach you, where will you be?""In her house."Zeke's eyebrows crept up. "You got invited to the Rathole? You must be a miracle worker."William hid a smile. Sure, he was.Zeke pulled the door open. "Pleasure doing business with you.""It's all yours," William growled.Cerise looked up from the counter. "Are you done?""Yes." William nodded."Zeke, can we use your back door?""Sure thing," Zeke said.A moment later they were outside, and William inhaled the scents of the swamp town swirling around him."Took you for everything you had?" Cerise's eyes laughed at him."I held my own.""Sure you did." The back of the shop faced the Mire, and Cerise headed straight for it. "Our ride is this way.""We have a ride?""My cousin," she said. "Come on, Lord Bill. We've kept him waiting long enough already.""GENEVIEVE . . ."The soft insistent voice reached through the fog clouding her mind and tugged on her, demanding attention."Genevieve ..."Slowly Gen opened her eyes to the blurry world wrapped in a shroud of light too bright for her dilated pupils. The pain came slowly, from some dark well within her. It built on itself, growing dense and heavy. Hot claws ripped into her insides, and the world reeled and shuddered. A face blocked her view. It seemed ridiculously large, bigger than her, bigger than the room, darker than light."Can you hear me, Gen?""Yes," she whispered through the tortured tempo of her breathing. She knew this voice. She knew it very well."Your daughter, Cerise, went to the Broken and came back. Why would she do that? Tell me." A hand stroked her hair, and the voice came again, gentle, friendly, caring. "I know you're tired. Tell me why Cerise went to the Broken, and I'll let you rest. Come on, darling."Her dry cracked lips moved, shaping the words. "Go to hell, Spider."The pain swelled larger and suddenly burst like a fiery explosion. Her ears filled with the ringing of countless bells. The fire slid down into her chest and lower to scald her legs. It scorched the skin, melted the muscle, and sank its teeth into the bone. Instinctively she tried to curl into a ball, like a newborn, but couldn't. The world spun in chaos, faster and faster with each rise of her chest, as if fueled by her breathing. Gen Mar retched and sank into oblivion.CERISE strode down the twisted path, listening to the chorus of Edge cicadas seesawing in the underbrush. Night had claimed the Mire. It came on padded feet, soft and cautious, like a swamp cat, with its ears raised and its eyes opened wide. The reds and yellows of the sky burned down to deep indigo and purple. To the left the lazy, wide expanse of Deadman River stretched into the gloom. As the cooling air drained warmth from its calm current, the last of the nightweaver dragonflies streaked to the water, prickling the surface to snag water fleas in their chitinous claws.She loved the night. The world seemed bigger somehow, the sky vast and endless, the soft darkness full of possibilities and excitement. Yeah. Right now excitement was the last thing they needed. Jogging down the path in hopes of watching Lord Bill trip on a stray root was as exciting as she wanted it to get. So far he hadn't stumbled once. It was like the man could see in the dark.He went through Kent and his thugs like a sharp knife through a ripe pear. Didn't even break a sweat. She'd never seen anything like it. Kaldar once took her to an action movie in the Broken and she'd laughed the whole time at the ridiculous punches and kicks she could see a mile away, but she had to admit, the fights did look pretty. William's fight didn't look pretty. It was terrifying. He moved on liquid joints, so fast and sure, she just stood there and watched him until he was done.She wished she could've watched again, in slow motion this time. He could've killed them all with his bare hands. He looked like he might have enjoyed it, too. And after all of that, he trotted over with a "Wasn't I cool?" look on his face and tried to make her laugh. I left you one. Heh. He wasn't even winded.She glanced at the sky for a second. It spread above her, vast and cold. Why now? she asked in her head. Why couldn't I have met him a month ago, when I could flirt, and laugh, and didn't have to worry about sending the family to the slaughter?She looked at him. Lord Bill trotted down the road, soundless, like a night shadow. She couldn't hear his steps, and she'd spent a lifetime listening for odd noises in the swamp.If he is that good with his hands, I wonder how he is with his blade.She could beat him. Of course, she could beat him. But it would be interesting to see what he could do up close.She should've left him in Sicktree. That would've been the smart thing to do. But she never claimed to be smart. He knew the Hand and was willing to fight it, and that was good enough for now. She would sort out her own feelings later. When they were safely inside the Rathole, and she was clean and had a plate of food and a mug of hot tea.It took all of her will not to laugh when he'd refused to give her money up front for guiding him to Zeke. It was such an Edger thing to do. He still hadn't paid her either. She killed a snicker. She bet Zeke took all of his money and Lord Bill was too proud to back out of the deal.William stopped. One moment he strode next to her down the narrow path between the cypresses and the next he froze, caught in mid-step. His hand went to his blade."What is it?" she asked."I'm not sure." He stared at the old cypress up ahead.Heh. He had found Urow. Cerise breathed a sigh of relief. She'd figured Urow was all right when she saw Lagar's men on the road. If they'd known where he was, either the lot of them or her cousin would be dead by now."Come out," she called. "He sees you."A huge gray shade peeled itself from the cypress. Urow stepped onto the path. He wore blue jeans, no shirt, and no shoes. As if on cue, the moon rolled out from behind a ragged cloud. Silvery light bathed Urow's gray skin. He stood five feet tall and seemed nearly that wide across his shoulders. Huge slabs of muscle lined his massive chest and biceps. His left arm was human. His right was at least six inches longer, with thicker longer digits. Black claws tipped his fingers and toes.William stared. She didn't blame him. Urow would give anyone pause, especially in the dark. His looks won him no friends, but nobody was in a hurry to become his enemy either.Cerise walked over to him and gave him a hug. "How are you?"Urow hugged her back, patted her gently. "What took so long?" His voice sounded like it came through a gravel grinder."We had a date with the sharks."Urow glanced at William. "Who's your friend?""His name is William. He's from the Weird. I found him in the swamp and he followed me home."Urow's black eyes took William's measure. "Did you feed him?""Yes.""There's your mistake. That will do it every time."The blueblood hadn't moved."This my cousin Urow," she told him. "We keep trying to get him to work less on strong and more on tall, but he doesn't listen."Urow tossed back the mane of coarse black hair and grinned, showing a mouthful of serrated teeth. William's face showed nothing. He simply waited, his attention focused on Urow.Urow squared his shoulders, flexing. Just what she needed. Two knuckleheads in a tough man contest. She had to nip it in the bud. Urow outweighed William by at least two hundred pounds - her cousin weighed four hundred and then some, none of it fat, but Urow got along on brute strength and a loud roar, while William threw Lagar's crew around and made it seem effortless, like he was playing. Like he hurt people for fun."Stop trying to pick a fight with the blueblood." She patted Urow's arm. "He's my guest, and besides, he isn't the jumpy type."She turned to where Urow's boat waited, tied to the cypress knees. He'd brought the smaller of his cargo boats, the smallest size that could be pulled by a rolpie without being tipped over. They'd go fast, and after the cramped canoe, extra room felt like a luxury."Is the blueblood coming with us?" Urow asked."He is.""To the house?""Yes."He chewed that over. "Are you sure?"She let a note of steel slip into her voice. "Yes, I'm sure."A rolpie popped out of the water. Cerise leaned over and patted the brindled head.Urow frowned. "It might be a mistake. We don't know him."Cerise turned and looked at him, copying her father's stare as best she could. It must've worked, because Urow clamped his mouth shut."If you have an issue with the way I make my decisions, you can take it up with my father, when he's back. Until then, I run the family and what I say goes. Now will the two of you get into the boat, please, before I take off and leave you standing on the shore?"004THE boat sped across the brown water, sending shallow waves to lap at the nearest shore. William stood against the rope rail, resting on it but not really leaning. At the stern, Cerise sank to the bottom of the boat, leaned over, and skimmed the water with her fingertips. Her face seemed lighter, as if she had been carrying a heavy pack and had finally dropped it. He decided not to tell her how close he'd come to shooting her cousin in the throat.Urow, whatever the hell he was, sat at the bow, guiding the Nessie wannabe with his reins and sulking. He smelled odd. William wrinkled his nose. Not a changeling, definitely, but not all human either. Something strange. If William had been wearing fur, the scent alone would have made his hackles rise."Any news of my parents?" Cerise asked."Nope." Urow grimaced. "A woman was killed near Dillardsville. She had claws between her knuckles. Bob Vey said she shot a web at them. It hardened on their skin and ate away half of his nose. He looks like a Gospo Adir skull now.""Serves him right," Cerise murmured. "Bob is a scum-bag of the first order. Last year he beat Louise Dalton bloody because she wouldn't spread her legs for him."Urow nodded, shaking his black hair. "That's what I said. I bet Louise is laughing now."A long narrow island loomed ahead, on the left. In the bright light of the moon, the cypresses and slash pines crowding the shore stood out, etched against the river."What are you?" William asked.Urow glanced at Cerise. "He doesn't mince words, does he?"She laughed. "What are you talking about? Subtle is his middle name.""I'm half-Mar, half-thoas," Urow said."What's a thoas?""The moon people," Cerise said."The swamp elders," Urow said. "The mud crawlers.""They are an odd race." Cerise slumped against the short rope rail. "Some think they may have been human at some point, but they look different now. We don't know if they came from the Weird or from the Broken. They live deep in the swamp and don't like people much. Something about the full moon mesmerizes them. That's about the only way to see one - deep in the swamp, staring at the full moon with glowing eyes.""My mother was raped by a thoas," Urow said. "Although the rest of the family seems to think otherwise."Cerise cleared her throat. "We don't dispute the thoas part. We're just a bit unsure about the rape."Urow leaned to him and wagged his eyebrows. William fought an urge to jump back."My mother was a woman of loose morals." Urow winked."You make her sound like a whore." Cerise grimaced. "Aunt Alina just liked to have fun. Besides, she was just about the only one of the family your wife could stand."Wife?"Don't say it," Cerise warned."You're married?" William asked.She sighed. "Now you've done it. He'll never be quiet about it now. The whole trip will be, 'Oh, look at my pretty wife. Oh, look at my pretty babies.' "Urow dipped his head and pulled a plastic wallet off his neck. "Just because you don't have a pretty wife ...""I don't want one." She sighed. "Wives are too much trouble."William barked a short laugh.Urow passed the wallet to William. "The redhead is my wife. On the right that's my three boys and a baby.""Three boys and a daughter," Cerise told him."Right now it's a baby. When it starts talking to me and comes when I call, then it's a daughter."William opened the wallet, carefully holding it by the edges. A picture of a pretty redheaded woman looked at him from the left. Three adolescent boys crowded into the picture on the right. All had black hair and a grayish tint to their skin. The oldest looked like a younger copy of Urow, down to an oversized hand and claws. The smallest, the one holding a baby, could almost pass for a human.William closed the wallet. Even this man got to have a family. But no matter how he tried, he just made a mess of things. He slapped a lid on the familiar frustration before it took over and made him do something he might regret.They were looking at him. This was one of those human situations when he was expected to say something. "Your wife is very pretty."He tensed, in case Urow lunged at him.The gray man grinned and took the wallet from William's hand. "She is, isn't she? I have the prettiest wife in the whole of the Mire.""Maybe you should stop rubbing it in," Cerise said softly.She must've seen something in his face. William pushed his regrets deeper, away from the surface."Do you have any family, Lord Bill?" she asked softly."No." He didn't even know what his mother had looked like.Urow's eyebrows crept up. "All right, all right." He slid the wallet around his neck.A bolt thrust through Urow's shoulder. It was attached to a line.William grabbed for Urow, but the line snapped taut and jerked the gray man off the boat.UROW plunged into cold water. Webs snapped open between his toes, and he kicked, but the line dragged him to the surface. He skimmed the face of the river in a shower of spray. Water burned his stomach. He flipped on his side and back on his stomach again, digging deep into the waves, and thrust his hands into the current. His fingers found the line and gripped it. He searched for something to brace his legs against but met only water.A dark form rushed at him through the waves and smashed into his gut. The last of the air burst from his mouth in a violent, silent scream. Pain bathed his left side. He clutched at the obstruction, gripping it with his limbs. Rotting bark, slick with algae, crumbled under his fingers. A log, Urow realized, and dug his claws into the soft water-soaked wood.They shot him. The sonovabitches shot him with a harpoon and pulled him off his own boat. He'd rip out their guts and make them eat it.The line pulled. The bolt tore at his flesh, hard, harder, ripping a growl from him. Urow clung to the tree and felt the heavy sodden mass move, compelled by the draw of the line. Pain burned him, reaching down across his chest to his ribs and his neck.Something whistled through the air and punched the tree in twin thuds. The line snapped free, and the log rolled back under his weight. Urow submerged and surfaced. Two short black bolts punctured the wet bark of the log. Someone had shot the line, severing it.Urow grabbed the bolt lodged in his shoulder and wrenched it free with a snarl. A piece of his bloody flesh still quivered on the barbs of the bolt's hooked head, and he rammed it into the sodden wood. Bleeding but free, he pulled himself onto the log and crouched on it.A small river barge crowded with people headed for his boat, drawn by three rolpies. Cerise had her sword out, and the blueblood was reloading a crossbow. So that was where the bolts had come from. He'd have to thank the guy later. Right now he had work to do.To the far left, a second boat struggled, its towing pulley spinning wildly, the way it did when the line had snapped. Four people manned it, as its driver tried to guide their rolpie into a tight turn.Hello, fellas. Shoot me, will you? Time to go over and say hello, in a friendly Mire way.An ugly snarl rippled from Urow's mouth, and he dived into the river, heading for the smaller cutter and its crew. They had no idea how fast the son of a thoas could swim.WILLIAM reloaded. Thirty yards away a large boat sped toward them. He counted the shadowy figures on the deck. Ten. They weren't kidding.Magic pricked his skin with a hot needle. "The Hand."Cerise didn't answer. He glanced at her face and saw rage. She kicked aside a coil of docking line and stood in the center of the deck, leaning lightly forward, her sword pointing downward. A white glow rolled over her eyes.So she could flash.Twenty yards. Six men, three women. One undetermined in a long cloak.They should've been shot at by now."No bows," William said. "They want you alive.""Bad for them," Cerise whispered. "Good for me."William raised his bow, sighted, and fired. A woman screamed and one of the figures stumbled back. The rest ducked, trying to take cover, all except the guy in the cloak, as expected. William reloaded and fired again at the man in the cloak. The bolt sprouted from his target's neck.The man shuddered. The cloak fell from his shoulders, revealing a naked hairless body. The man gripped the shaft of the bolt and ripped it out of his throat. An odd clicking, like the sound of nut shells crunching under someone's foot, issued from his mouth.One of the Hand's freaks. William bared his teeth. He'd met this kind before. He didn't even need the Mirror's intel to identify it. This type was called a hunter. They specialized in tracking and apprehending. Spider really wanted Cerise.The Hand's agent snapped the bolt in two, tossed it overboard, and licked his fingers."Stay back this time," Cerise said. "It's my fight.""There are nine of them. Don't be stupid.""Stay the fuck back, William.""Fine." He took a step back and raised his crossbow. If that's the way she wanted it, he could always rescue her later. "Let's see what you got."The larger boat slammed into them, sending a quake through the hull. Two men jumped onto the deck.Cerise struck and paused, blood running down her blade.The first two fighters died without a scream. One moment they stood on deck, and the next the top halves of their bodies slid down into the river.William closed his mouth with a click.The attackers drew back.The edge of Cerise's sword shone once, as if a glowing silver hair were stretched along the blade. She leaped onto the larger boat.They swarmed her. She whirled, cutting through them, slicing limbs in half, severing muscle and bone. Blood sprayed, she paused again, and the fighters around her fell without a single moan.Four seconds and the deck was empty. Nothing moved.She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.He would have to fight her before this was over, just to find out if he could beat her.A rapid staccato of clicks came from the back of the larger boat. The hunter was still alive."I see I missed a spot," Cerise said.The hunter stared at her, his eyes solid black in the moonlight. His hand jerked up . . .William jumped, shoving her out of the way.Pale liquid sprayed the deck in the spot where she had just stood and hissed, hardening into a corrosive paste.The hunter creaked like he was crushing a load of beetles in his throat. "Give girl."William snarled. "Come and take her."The second stream of spray hit the spot where he'd just stood. Now both of the hunter's hands were empty. No more web.The hunter charged him, clawed hands ripping the air in a wide swing. William dropped under the thick arms and swept at the agent's legs from a crouch. The hunter jumped, avoiding the kick, and struck, claws poised like daggers.William dodged and laughed. The Louisianan thought that having claws made him a hotshot. It's not the same, pal, unless you're born with them.The hunter whirled, slashing. William sidestepped and hammered a kick to the agent's kneecap. Cartilage crunched. The leg folded and the hunter dropped to his knees. William grabbed the man's bald head, locked the vertebra, and twisted. The neck snapped with a light popcorn pop.Frothy yellow spit boiled from the hunter's mouth. His eyes rolled back. William let go and the agent toppled like a log, facedown.It felt good. William chuckled and stepped over the body. "Weak knees and elbows. All that magic makes them easy to break."He glanced at Cerise. She didn't look happy. She should've been happy. They won.Her gaze slid over him. She was sizing him up.William shrugged, popping his neck. You want to dance, hobo queen, I'm ready. What do I get when I win?She thought about it. He saw it in her eyes. She wasn't sure if she could take him, but she was willing to try.A scream ripped through the night. They both turned. Far to the left a smaller boat drifted off."Urow needs help," Cerise said."We should help, then."She nodded.He hid his disappointment and helped her fish the rolpie reins out of the water