If you’re starting from the beginning, I suggest going here.
Death stood up from her/his throne. Click. Clop. Click. Clop. The sound of his/her footsteps coming down the steps toward me.
The pig, only a few inches away, radiated a feverish heat. He scrabbled on the floor’s slick marble. From my vantage point I could see the stone’s grain under the shine of its polish. When I raised my head, I couldn’t see the limits of the room. We stood (or in my case crouched) in the ruins of a vast city’s stonework, its grey stones patterned somewhere between the Taj Mahal and medieval Paris. Both a landscape that had not aged well, masonry fists clenched agaisnt the sky, erosion loosening their sinews until they slumped, resigned, to the earth.
My own hands lay not on marble now, but worn stone, its surface irregular. A crack ran through the block I sat on, and weeds pried at it, blooming yellow, each green leaf traced with a skeleton of white.
Click. Clop. Click. Clop. The steps acquired an edge of grit as they transitioned from steps to level surface. Death stood a step or two away. This close, I could see pancake make-up on the male side, along with carefully shaped eyebrows and cheekbones alluded to with rouge. The woman wore nothing on her face. Chilly armor stretched to just below her pale face, flowed to encase the rest of her, even slender hand and foot.
Both studied me. At first I thought they might be smiling. Then I realized each had a lip updrawn in scorn. Their gaze moved from me to the pig. He shuddered a breath inward, lungs whistling.
“Who are you?” they asked.
“Billy-Bob. Billy–Bob Barbecue. I was here, entertaining. In your employ!”
“Were you doing it well?” Only the female asking that, shifting the duo voice to a solitary soprano.
He drew himself up. “Of course.”
Her eye rolled. The male side remained impassive.
Click click on the stone, coming up from behind. Biggles stepped into view, paws twisted nervously in front of his waistcoat. I wondered what sort of afterlife the supernaturals had. They’d always refused to answer that question. Speculation was rife, but not as rife as on the question of what it was like for humans. The question there didn’t lack an answer. It was that it had too many contradictory ones.
I cleared my throat. The armored hand rose in a gesture that forestalled me or Biggles as Death stared at the pig. “What are you?”, said in bass.
Billy-Bob swallowed hard and audibly before answering.
“A mascot, your Majesty. For a barbecue chain.”
“An ephemeral,” Death said, both voices speaking. The way she/he said it made me think it wasn’t the most complimentary term in the supernatural world. The gaze turned to Biggles. “And a creature of Holiday.” The eyes dropped to me. “And a human. You seek sanctuary from these two, pig?”
Billy-Bob gathered himself and stood. I followed suit, emboldened by Biggles’ presence beside me.
“She means to kill me!” he squealed.
“To keep you from wreaking havoc,” Biggles said.
“I was here doing stand-up!”
He had a point. The Holiday Consortium had made it sound as though most of the ephemerals were relatively mindless, but this pig clearly had a brain (and accompanying survival instinct) of his own.
“I’m new to this,” I said.
“Yet you chose quite a place to stage the taking of your first prey, human.” Death’s voice was flat with dislike in both registers.
I gawped at him/her. “The pig chose the location. I didn’t.”
“Surely you had your choice of targets. Very ambitious of you, to come here first.”
“I was sent here!”
“Indeed. An odd choice. Perhaps someone wanted you to not succeed.”
I glanced at Biggles. He shrugged at me in a way that said, “Let’s postpone this particular conversation.”
I turned my attention back to Death.
“You’re a presumptuous human,” Death said. “I take your kind on a daily basis. Why shouldn’t you be punished for your invasion here?”
“I didn’t know.”
“No excuse! The minute you saw what sort of place this was, what you’d be intruding upon, you should have turned on your heel and left.”
Biggles and I were going to have a serious talk. If we both survived this. But I was starting to care less about that, because I was getting pissed off.
“You keep sneering every time you say the word ‘human’,” I said. “But aren’t you dependent on us? As much a product of our imagination as Billy-Bob here?”
There was a shocked inhalation from every single other person in the room, including Billy-Bob and Biggles.
Death didn’t react, just stood there staring at me.
“Would you like to repeat that?” s/he said softly, an almost whisper. Where there had been dislike in the voice before, it had been crowded out by downright hatred.
Biggles said, “My lord and lady, we are on a mission for the Holiday Consortium.”
“Fuck the Holiday Consortium,” Death said, never taking their eyes off of me. “And the ever-sanctimonious Nicholas. They have no jurisdiction here.”
“Of course not,” Biggles said. “None at all. But there are certain courtesies to be extended on both sides. I thought you had received forewarning or I would have never come, or brought her with me.” His paw rested on my hand. I could feel the blood beating like hammer strokes in the pads of his phalanges, but his voice never wavered.
Death’s stare drew me in. I felt as though I were suffocating.
“Courtesies on both sides,” Biggles repeated.
Death finally looked at the rabbit and I could breathe again. “You say that as though it was valuable.”
Biggles shrugged. “The Holiday Consortium reaches very far on this world. And the ephemerals will overrun us all, if they are not contained.”
“True enough. Very well, take the pig. If you are not out without the hour, I will have oth of you killed.” Death turned around.
“Wait!” The pig darted forward to grab Death around the knees. “I implore you…”
The voice trailed off as he slumped to the ground, pink skin turning cyanotic.
“Or do not take him,” Death said to Biggles. “As you wish. He will be dead within the hour, so I have saved you the trouble of killing him. Now go while I am still licking my teeth.”
Together, Biggles and I dragged the pig across the stones, step by step. The pig was heavy but Biggles proved much stronger than I would have thought. I wondered where in this city we were going, but it faded with our steps, grew dim and misty, and the dark light of the Shadow Casino surrounded us again.
“Well,” Biggles said as the door closed silently, untouched by any hand. “That did not go as well as I had hoped.”
“What were you expecting? Did you not know that I was going to get that sort of reception?”
“I’d filed the right paperwork! They should have known we were coming!”
It looked as though the Easter Bunny was right. Or at least things seemed to point in that direction. Someone had sabotaged us, probably hoping Death would do what came naturally.
The pig’s breath was long, shuddering gasps. “We’ve got to get him to a…” I paused. There wasn’t a hospital in the country that could help with this sort of thing.
“I know a healer,” Biggles said. “But why bother?”
“Yes. That’s the point. Slap your disk on him, let it drain off his energy, and we’re done. He looked along the corridor. “We can shove him in one of these alcoves.”
I shook my head. It didn’t seem right.
“So you want to get him to a healer, then kill him for the Consortium?” Biggles’ head was cocked to one side, watching me as intently as a hawk.
“No,” I said slowly. “I want to get him to the healer. Then we’ll figure out what to do.”
Biggles’ face was clear and sharp against the shadows, white fur crisp and real as any non-supernatural creature’s. “Right then. We’ll need to hurry.”
The way out of the Casino proved much shorter than the way in, and also much less populated. Except for the sole figure that barred our way.
She looked down at the pig and smiled. “Caught your first mouse, have you?”
“We don’t have time to talk,” I said.
Her stare was like a pin, I was the butterfly caught by it. “Indeed? No time for me?”
I called up every ounce of inner empress. The only way to deal with Fairies at this time was to out-regal them, knowing either you’d get away with it, or face becoming an inanimate object. I thought about the arms holding the lamps lining the Shadow Casino’s walls and restrained my shudder. Had those been humans once, that pissed someone like this off?
“The pig has…” I glanced at my cell phone. “Forty-two minutes left. Your Majesty, happily will I come and speak with thee, but I ask you once to step aside.”
Her eyebrow lifted. “Once?”
I looked directly into that gimlet stare. “I ask you twice.”
This is a law of the supernatural world: ask three times and be denied, and there will be blood, on one side or another. I was telling her to kill me or let me pass, and she knew it.
She stepped aside. “You will return to me when you are done with this creature.”
“When I am done with him,” I said, and felt magic stirring around me, magic locking onto the words as secure as handcuffs, as inexorable as iron.
Biggles didn’t say a word about Titania, just gave me one wide-eyed look as we pulled the pig past her and out into the sunlight.
“It’s morning,” I said. “How long have we been in there? If time’s screwy, how do we know how much he has left?”
“We don’t,” Biggles said. “Want to give up, knowing that?”
Together we shouldered him into the back seat.
Starting the car, I touched the GPS into life. “What’s the address?”
“Uh.” Biggles scratched his head. “Just go south.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“It’s a metaphysical thing. Just trust me.”
“Like I trusted you to guide me to the pig without trouble?”
“I told you.” His whiskers twitched with irritation. “That wasn’t my fault.”
“You say it wasn’t. But you could be the traitor as easily as anyone else.”
“Yeah? Well then, what’s stopping me from just killing you and keeping you from detecting out my traitorosity that way?”
I paused. “Traitorosity?”
“Just go south!”
I swung out into traffic and we headed south, the GPS screen blinking a question mark, barely visible in the sunlight slanting over the dashboard.
Author’s Note: Unfortunately, I’ve had to put THE EASTER BUNNY MUST DIE! on hiatus while I finish up another book. I hope to return to it in 2014. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll check out my other writings, such as fantasy collection Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight and SF collection Near + Far. You can find links to many of my online pieces here.
all the best, Cat
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