And there was something elegant in the balance about this situation, something I didn’t want to break.
Finally, southern swamp-Gothic houses began to whip by: the outskirts of Palatka.
“Unlock this handcuff,” I pleaded. “Hand me back the gun, and that’ll be it. We can even take the money down together, if you want.”
“No,” she said.
“Why do you keep doing this stuff to me?” I said.
She leaned back into her chair and sighed. “You mean, why did I kill poor Temptress Moon?”
I nodded. In a funny way, that first betrayal mystified me more than this one. There hadn’t been eighty-four thousand dollars at stake back then.
“That’s simple,” she said. “Everyone asked me to.”
She leaned closer, her chest a foot from the barrel of my Taurus. “The game’s called Mayhem, T-Moon! But with you controlling everything, there were never any atrocities to avenge! Your meddling goodness made it boring, sucked all the mayhem out of it. In that narrative framework, killing you was the greater good. Boyfriend or not.”
My jaw dropped open. “But nobody ever said?—”
“Everyone hated Temptress Moon,” she shouted. “People were begging me to kill you for months! I tried arguing with you, wiping out your minions, anything to get you unstuck from that lame alignment.” She shook her head sadly. “I’m still trying.”
I sat there, the gun in my hand wavering for the first time.
“But you just can’t let the balance go, can you? Maybe if I make it easy on you.” She stood and dropped the Walther on her seat. “This is my stop. Give my regards to Miami.”
She took a step toward the door, briefcase in hand.
I blinked, looking at the discarded Walther on the empty seat across from me, then at the gun in my own hand. Why had she…?
“Wait,” I said softly.
Lexia shook her head, put her hand on the latch.
I raised the gun. “Stop!”
She rolled her eyes. “Or you’ll shoot me?”
“An interesting possibility,” she said, and slid the door open.
She was really walking out with eighty-four thousand dollars of the ConCom’s money—the community’s collective good faith in currency form. I couldn’t let this happen.
I pointed the pistol at her leg….
Lexia turned back to me, smiling now. “Thought I wouldn’t remember your ankle holster, T-Moon? I remember every one of your stupid guns.”
I flung myself forward as far as the handcuff allowed, grabbing the discarded Walther from Lexia’s seat and pointing it at her.
“Click, click, click,” she said.
I wavered for a moment, the gun right in her face, then sighed. Didn’t bother pulling the trigger, just dropped the gun on the floor.
“So this whole standoff thing,” I said. “It was just so I wouldn’t yell for help?”
The train was braking hard now, a ragged concrete platform sliding past. Not a cab in sight in this tiny station. How did she plan on getting away? I could call for the conductor now, but somehow the screams didn’t come to my throat.
Lexia sat down across from me, reached a hand into her pocket. “Don’t be silly, T-Moon.” She pulled out a handcuff key. “Like I said, it was an experiment.”
The cuff snapped open, and she took my wrist and began to massage it.
“But it’s all over now.”
I blinked. “So the money…?”
“Goes to Miami. Like I said: chaotic good really wants those seventeen thousand costumed geeks gathering downtown. I just needed a little quality time with my old boyfriend.”
I coughed. “Quality time? You drugged me, handcuffed me, forced me to decide whether to shoot you or not!”
She shrugged. “Chaotic quality time. But it’s all for the good.”
So…yes, we took the eighty-four grand down to the hotel owner, who turned out to be more pleasant in person. Just a big fan of punctuality. She served us tea on her veranda, wearing a floral sundress that was all the colors of linoleum.
The convention went on as scheduled, the downtown streets full of stormtroopers, Browncoats, pirates, quidditch players, and Dr. Who sidekicks, along with fresh new ranks of unkillable cheerleaders and Guitar Hero characters.
Not to worry, chaos marches on.
And…no, we didn’t get back together, if you thought that’s where this was going. Are you nuts? Lexia’s fucking crazy.
In any case, her scheme had never been about rekindling our love. It was simply her own very chaotic version of that goodbye kiss we’d never shared.
But one old flame was relit by the trip: I started playing Mayhem again. Anonymously, for now, long hours of grinding every day. And I’m not some lame-ass neutral good paladin this time, but a creature much more interesting. A chaotic evil assassin of the Iron Clan with a cloak of weirding, jeweled sight, and two specialties in climbing. I’m currently questing for the legendary Knife of No Doubt.
You see, my assassin doesn’t want to stay anonymous forever. One day she plans to visit the keep that Lexia and I built together, climb in through that window, and reintroduce herself to an astonished world.
Frakk neutrality. Revenge will be mine.
Scott Westerfeld still owns the original trio of staple-bound D&D rulebooks, purchased when he was twelve, roughly the same time he went to his first fannish event: a Famous Monsters convention in New York City. Since then he’s designed computer games, composed twelve-tone music, learned Esperanto, and ridden in a zeppelin. The geekiest thing he’s done lately was to devise a tactical combat system for steampunk ironclads played with Lego miniatures.
He is the author of the Uglies and Midnighters series, and the novels So Yesterday, Peeps, and The Last Days. But his next trilogy will be far geekier: Leviathan, an alternate-history, Edwardian-biotech, living-airship extravaganza set in 1914, coming Fall 2009.
Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Hope Larson.
by cassandra clare
The moment Lisle walks up to the front door, swinging her duffel bag determinedly over her arm, I have the strangest urge to grab her arm and tell her to get back in the car with me, that we should drive home and not come back. That this whole meetup thing is a bad idea. That I want to go home.
But the moment is brief and passes, and besides, Lisle would never listen to me anyway. She’s already ringing the doorbell of the condo, over and over, a manic grin on her face. I can hear the harsh buzz of the bell as it echoes over and over inside. I glance around. The condominium is one of several dozen fake chalet-style structures scattered up and down the side of a grassy hill. A lake sparkles distantly under the gray winter sun. The air is cold and I shiver, wondering what the hell I’m doing here.
At last, the door is opened by a middle-aged woman with curling brown hair streaked with gray. She is stocky, wearing jeans and a baggy sweatshirt with the face of a wolf airbrushed onto the front. She drips silver pendants: pentagrams, Hands of Fatimah, Stars of David, and ankhs dangling from her neck, a sort of decorative spiritual grab bag.
“Well, hello there,” she says, putting her hands on her hips. She has a distinct British accent. “And you are…?”
“Jane,” I say, and then when Lisle’s elbow jams into my ribs, “Catherine Earnshaw.”
“Oh, right, you’re one of the book people.” She smiles, extends a hand. “Xena, Warrior Princess. This is my place.”
Xena, Warrior Princess? The kickass chick with the breastplates? This woman resembles someone’s weirdo aunt, or an elementary school art teacher, the kind who’s always telling you to “feel” the paintings.
Lisle is grinning. “I’m Faith,” she says. “The Slayer.”
“Then I’d better let you in before you start slaying!” The woman laughs like she’s said something uproariously funny, and stands aside. “You can drop your bags in the first bedroom on the left. Everyone’s in the living room.”
We drop our bags as ordered in a small, plain bedroom with a king-size bed. The bed is covered in bags; I balance my duffel gingerly on top of a backpack covered in Invader Zim buttons. Lisle is already stripping off her sweater to reveal her black halter top and studded belt. She looks hot, enough to get me worried. I didn’t really bring any special clothes, just jeans and T-shirts. But then, all that Ben has seen of me so far is my left eye, my hands, and my feet in sandals. It’s hard to live up to that sort of mystery.
Lisle grabs my hand. “Come on.”
The hum of voices hits us before we reach the living room. It’s as big as promised, with a balcony overlooking a green lawn that slopes down to the lake. There’s a granite island separating the living room from the kitchen, and lined up on it are all sorts of bottles—all sorts of booze, and some soda-pop mixers. Xena, Warrior Princess, is behind the island, mixing drinks into plastic cups. Everyone else is sprawled out all over the living room, and of course I recognize no one. One thing I can say: no one looks like their online icons. There are two skinny girls seated uncomfortably on a couch, staring at each other, and a bunch of college-age-looking boys sprawled around a low table on the floor, rolling dice and arguing in loud voices. There are older people, too: a woman with glasses, knitting in a chair. She’s wearing a T-shirt that says THE HAMSTER OF DOOM RAINS COCONUTS ON YOUR PITIFUL CITY. Some teenage girls with long hair are playing cards at a round table. They look up as Lisle and I come into the room, then look down again, obviously uninterested.
I feel suddenly so uncomfortable that I’m almost dizzy. It’s like I crashed a party where I don’t know anyone, a party I shouldn’t have been invited to in the first place. Everyone’s wearing these long, color-blocked scarves, too, even inside. I rack my brain. Was I supposed to bring one? Is it a Game thing?
“Huh,” says Lisle, looking around. She has that expression, an expression I know. It’s “Where are the cute guys?” I’m briefly, meanly pleased that she feels uncomfortable, too, before I realize that Lisle’s never uncomfortable. She just feels cheated of the cute guys that are her due. “Well, everyone’s not here yet,” she says to no one in particular. Then she grabs my hand, and hisses in a stage whisper: “Is one of these guys Ben?”