Codespell

CodeSpell: Necessity—the sentient computer that runs the universe—has caught a virus that crashes most of the magical internet, and Ravirn is tasked with fixing it. And Ravirn hasn’t missed the fact that whoever repairs Necessity will, for that moment, run the universe, able to remake the worlds to their liking.

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CodeSpell: Book #3 of the WebMage Story, an Excerpt

#Chapter 1#

Zeus wants you!

I flipped the invitation open again. A paper rendition of the big guy popped out and pointed his finger at me. It was tipped with a lightning bolt.

Zeus wants you!

For spring break. Summer has come early to Olympus, and it’s here to stay. At least that’s what I hear from Persephone’s mother, who has officially canceled winter. Call it global warming or call it Raven, whichever suits your fancy. In either case, it’s time to celebrate changing times in the pantheosphere. So come on up to the real eternal city for a party on the edge of forever.

Below that were details: time, place, dress code, rules of conduct—the usual boilerplate for a divine party, banning duels and personal violence—and a personal note scrawled in a bold hand:

House Raven will be expected to make a formal appearance.

Zeus

House Raven—that meant me, though I still prefer Ravirn. Ravirn, the Raven. Persephone’s freedom and the end of winter. Zeus. A divine blowout where I would have a target painted on my back.

Was it any wonder I had insomnia?

Okay, maybe that’s a little dishonest. It wasn’t just the card costing me sleep. It was the way I could read it in the dark—by the light of my eyes. My recent upgrade from demi-god 2.0 to 2.5 or whatever version I was on at the moment had come with some dubious “perks,” including glow-in-the-dark eyeballs.

Oh, sure, I could put “Raven, Chaos Power” on my business cards now, but inside I was still plain old Ravirn, a very young and very late entrant into the Greek pantheon. And a tired one. Did I mention I wasn’t getting enough rest? I desperately wanted sleep. Now, there’s a perk I could go for.

Morpheus, Phobetor, Phantasos. We call these gods of sleep the Dreamers. Unfortunately, they don’t always call back, not even for family. The relationship’s distant, but it’s there. As the umpteen-times great-grandson of the Greek Fate Lachesis, I’m pretty much related to the whole damn pantheon. It didn’t help.

I’d tried e-mail, voice-mail, snail-mail…. So far, nothing. I was starting to have serious thoughts about giving hate-mail a go. For most of my life I’d thought of sleep as something of an annoyance—unnecessary downtime. Now that I’d come face to face with serious insomnia, I couldn’t wait for another visit from Morpheus and co.

Damn my eyes!

They used to look a lot like the rest of my immediate family’s. Which is to say, two of them, slit-pupiled, with all the usual bits in the usual places. Then I died…. No, not died actually. Ceased to exist, which was much better. Dying would have put me in Hades’ power, and the Lord of the Dead hated me as he hated few living beings.

I blamed Persephone for that and whole lot more. My invite from Zeus, the eyes, Hades’ attempts to kill me. When I’d rescued her from Hades the place, Hades the god had gone kind of non-linear. He’d pushed me to the very edge of death and I’d decided to try to take him with me, opening a hole into the place between worlds.

Primal Chaos poured through into the here and now. It consumed Hades’ offices and a good bit of the surrounding underworld. I hurt him badly, though I didn’t quite destroy him. I couldn’t say the same for myself. Chaos is caustic stuff. It ate me alive—poof, Ravirn all gone. Actually, more like aieee! Ravirn all gone, but you get the picture.

That’s one place where the Raven thing saved me. Ravirn 1.0 would have died. But 2.0—born of my conflict with Fate—had managed to imitate my Titan ancestors, creating a fresh body from chaos through will alone. Call it version 2.5. There were some changes in this newest model, most notably, my glowing eyes. Chaos looks out at the world from the slits of my pupils now and lights my way with its tumbling infinitude of glowing colors and shapes.

It’s a little disturbing. No, I’ll be honest, it’s a lot disturbing. Chaos burned away my body and now it burns in my eyes. Cerice hates it. I glanced over at my lady fair. She was asleep, curled on her side with her back to me. I couldn’t see much beyond her ashen hair. When we slept face to face, she caught a flash of light every time I blinked. She didn’t like the new look, not one little tiny bit. I guess I couldn’t blame her, not considering how I felt about it.

I felt…like getting up. I stretched and sighed. It was pretty clear the Dreamers had decided to skip my stop again. There was no point in tossing and turning until I woke Cerice. Sighing, I rolled out of bed. My silk robe, green and black—the colors of House Raven—lay over the back of a chair. I grabbed it though I didn’t need it in the warm tropical night. I also grabbed the invite as I headed for the lower levels. I wanted to look it over again.

Raven House is a great sprawling structure built mostly of green and black marble and aqua-tinted glass. The style is a surprisingly harmonious mix of tiki-modern and classical Greek. It sits on a mountainside overlooking the half-moon of Hanalei Bay on a version of Earth that hasn’t yet produced any human neighbors to spoil the view. As far as I’d been able to determine, I had the entire Island of Kauai to myself in this DecLocus. That’s Decision Locus for the less technically inclined, the designator the mweb uses for the data tags that keep track of all the infinite worlds of probability.

At least that’s how things are supposed to work. My little conflict with Hades had done even more damage to Necessity—the goddess in computer shape who maintains our physical reality—than it had to me. The system has gone seriously out of whack, with repercussions the pantheon was still discovering. Technically that’s all Persephone’s fault, but I suppose I have to shoulder some of the blame. If I hadn’t broken into Hades the place in order to bring my dead friend Shara back to the land of the living, the virus Persephone wrote to take over Necessity would never have gotten loose.

“Sir?”

I tried not jump out of my skin when a quiet voice spoke up from behind me as I reached the bottom of the stairs.

“Yes, Haemun.” I turned to face him.

The satyr served as Raven House’s resident staff. He claims he’s a product of my subconscious mind, but I have my doubts. I don’t think I’m twisted enough to have put a soul patch and the multiverse’s ugliest Hawaiian shirt on a man-goat with the voice of Don Ho. I really don’t.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked. “Some slippers? A midnight—” he stopped and checked his watch disapprovingly, “—three a.m. snack. A drink?”

“How about that last, a mojito. I’ll be out on the balcony.”

“Lanai,” he corrected me. “This is Hawaii after all, even though it lacks Hawaiians. We should endeavor to use the local syntax wherever possible, don’t you think?”

“Fine, I’ll be on the lanai.” That was another thing. Would my subconscious really act so difficult?

Haemun headed for the back of the house, and I headed for the front. The main balcony looked out across the bay. There were a number of lounge chairs scattered around and I took one of these, whistling the brazier next to it alight with a quick burst of binary. That way I could pretend to read by something other than the light of my eyes. The heat felt nice too; it was chillier outside.

The invitation really was gorgeous. A complex multilayered thing with cutout and pop-up effects, it mirrored the Parthenon when fully unfolded, complete with a visiting deity in the shape of the pop-up Zeus.

“Hmph, dead trees. How antiquated.” The little blue webgoblin hopped onto the arm of my chair, tapping the card with a sharp claw. “You’d think Zeus would get with the times. CEO of Pantheon Inc. and he can’t even send an email.”

Melchior. Bald, blue, bad attitude, and about the size of a cat, at least in webgoblin shape. He’s smaller as a laptop, and quieter too. Familiar and friend, he’s been with me for years. The relationship has changed quite a bit in that time, from master and servant to partners.

I raised an eyebrow. “You’re just jealous that I get real mail and you don’t.”

He sputtered at that for a moment before regaining his momentum and theatrically rolling his eyes. “Jealous? Of you? Right. You just keep telling yourself that while I tote up the list of deities who want you dead but don’t much care about me. Hades, Atropos, Lachesis, Clotho—”

“That’s not fair,” I said. “Those last three are all Fates. They should count as one.”

“Maybe for someone who isn’t actually related to them. But Lachesis is your grandmother and still out for your blood. That takes special effort, and it should get equally special consideration.”

“Hey,” I protested, “that’s umpteen times great-grandmother and it’s not like she’s actively trying to kill me.”

“Not that you know of.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it again. He might have a point. The Fates are subtle, and I couldn’t be sure they were off the case just because nobody had taken a shot at me in the last few days. I groped around for something else to say. I hate losing arguments with my familiar. He’s a foot-and-a-half tall, and I built him—that should give me some kind of advantage. My eyes fell on the card in my hands, and I thrust it at him.

“Zeus likes me.” I refrained from adding a “so there” or sticking out my tongue. I might be feeling childish, but no way was I going to admit it to what amounted to a laptop with acute gland problems. “He’s throwing me a party.”

“Zeus likes parties. End of story.”

Well, there was that. Zeus is a party animal, a sort of divine hybrid of king of the gods and the ultimate frat boy, which makes a certain amount of sense I suppose. Fraternities refer to themselves as Greek and attach Alphas and Omegas to their front doors, and my family has provided plenty of inspiration on the drinking and debauchery front. For his casual sex contributions alone, Zeus deserves a special place in party history.

It’s actually kind of strange. Here we have the Lord of the Sky, God-King and King-God who defeated and imprisoned his Titan forebears in the war known as the Titanomachy. Yet, when he’s not painted breaking heads, the myths are mostly about him seducing mortals. I guess that’s what happens when you try to run a multi-dimensional divine operation with a one-dimensional personality.

I looked at the invitation again.

Zeus wants you!

And, House Raven will be expected to make a formal appearance.

That didn’t leave me much wiggle room. House Raven—the institution—as opposed to Raven House—the building I called home—pretty much consisted of me, and maybe Melchior. The latter depended on whether you counted him as a person or not.

Cerice’s matriarch—Clotho, the Fate who spins the threads of life—had thus far refused to accept Cerice’s resignation, which meant that technically Cerice still belonged to the Houses of Fate. Shara, Cerice’s familiar, would always have a home at Raven House, but her relationship to House Raven was even more tenuous than her mistress’s, since she was trapped within the computer-mind of the goddess Necessity for at least the next month if not forever. It was hard to guess what would happen to her with Necessity in such dire shape.

As for Haemun…. Well, as the spirit of the place, he worked more for Raven House than he did for me. I really hadn’t had time to accumulate an entourage, and I preferred it that way. As a hacker and cracker, and a demi-god of same, I tended to think of myself more as a lone coder than any kind of head of a Divine House. In fact, I really didn’t much like the whole idea of becoming a power, however minor. Of course, no one had asked me. They’d just gone ahead and made me one.

Just then, Haemun arrived with a mojito for me and a very small snifter of something amber for Melchior.

“Your drinks,” he said, leaning down with the tray.

“Thanks, Haemun.”

“You’re welcome, sirs. Can I get you anything else?”

“No, thank you.”

Haemun wandered off and I took a long sip of my drink—rum and mint, lime and sugar, a bit of soda and absolutely fabulous. Okay, so there were a few perks to this whole House Raven thing. They didn’t begin to make up for everything I’d had to go through to get here. Or, I suspected, the grief the whole deal was going to buy me in the future. I tossed the card onto the table beside me.

Melchior picked it up. “This party smells like trouble.”

“Everything smells like trouble to you, Mel. I think I misprogrammed your paranoia levels.”

He nodded. “That’s possible, but it’s more likely the company I keep. You are a trouble magnet, and this party setup,” he tapped the card, “is begging to be exploited. It nails you down in one place at a specific time and announces the details to all of your enemies.”

“No one’s going to try to pull anything right under Zeus’s nose.”

Mel rolled his eyes again. “Yeah, it’s not like there’s any precedent for that. Like say, a golden apple with ‘For the Fairest’ tossed into another Olympian party by Eris, goddess of Discord.” He snapped his finger. “Oh, wait, isn’t that how the Trojan war started?”

“Well, when you put it that way….”

“Is there another way to put it?”

I winced and tapped the part of the card that talked about House Raven being expected. “Unfortunately, being a chaos power doesn’t mean that I get to let what I want to do get in the way of what I have to do. If you can think of a good way to weasel out of this, now’s the time to suggest it.”

He shook his head. “I hate it when you resort to reason like that. It’s out of character.”

I could feel the muscles in my back and shoulders beginning to tighten and took another drink. If it were daylight, I’d have gone surfing to distract myself, but misjudging waves in the dark is a great way to become one with the reef. Besides, my glowing eyes tended to attract sharks. We got an awful lot of them in the bay, maybe because in this DecLocus, no humans had come along to prey on them. The eyes draw bugs too.

I wondered if Discord had the same problem. Her eyes are like mine, only more so, two glowing balls of chaos. I liked Eris, even if she was crazy, but her eyes had always creeped me out. Now I saw their close cousins looking back at me every time I faced a mirror.

Melchior was probably right about the party, but I really didn’t have any outs. The great powers of the Pantheon are Chaos, Order, Death, and Creation—Discord, Fate, Hades, and Zeus. With Order and Death already out to get me, I really didn’t want to piss Zeus off too, no matter how stupid he was.

I sipped away at my mojito and tried to pretend everything would go fine. Yeah, right. About the only good thing I could see was a chance to plead my insomnia case to the Dreamers in person if they showed for the bash.

#

“Ravirn, be serious.” Cerice glared at the leather pants I’d just pulled out of the closet. “You can’t wear those.”

“Of course I can.” I slipped them on, ignoring her glower. “They’re comfortable and practical.”

The pants were racing leathers made by a little company called Tech Sec and lined with about seventeen layers of Kevlar. Great if you happened to crash your bike, better if someone started shooting at you.

“The invite said House Formal.”

She was wearing a red and gold brocade dress that would have been perfectly appropriate in the court of Elizabeth I. It looked fantastic on her. Cerice is tall and slender, with china pale skin and white-blonde hair. Her slit eyes are blue, her cheekbones high, her ears pointed, and her face shaped like a narrow heart. The children of Fate are at the root of the legends of elf-kind, and my own appearance is a black-haired masculine mirror of hers.

I stepped in close and planted a gentle kiss on her cheek. “I know that, Cerice. But I no longer belong to the Houses of Fate. I am my own House, and I don’t like classical. Not the way it is worn at House Clotho,” I tugged at her sleeve, “and not the three-thousand-year-old Athenian version favored on Olympus.”

She sighed and smiled. “I understand that, but if you’re going to go modern, couldn’t you at least wear a tux instead of riding leathers and a T-shirt?”

“The leathers stay. I like bullet-proof.”

“Bullet-resistant,” interjected Melchior. “There’s a difference.”

I gave him a sour look. “I will concede the T-shirt.” I’d planned on doing that anyway, and this way I’d get relationship points for it as well. “What would you suggest?”

She headed deeper into the closet, returning a moment later with an emerald silk shirt with Edwardian ruffles. I took it dubiously and slipped it on, then added my jacket.

“Oh my.” Cerice grinned.

“Good?” I asked.

“Surprisingly so.”

A quick look in the mirror confirmed her judgment. Tech Sec leathers are custom fitted, and a very silky black. With the jacket open and the ruffled shirt, the whole looked something like Edwardian Modern. Even the boots added to the effect, since I’d opted for Tech Sec’s English riding style. Nice.

That just left one thing. Stripping the jacket off again, I put on a low profile shoulder holster and slid my .45 into it.

“Uh, Boss?”

“Yes, Melchior. What do you want? And would you please stop calling me Boss? We’re partners.”

“Whatever you say, Boss.”

“Melchior?”

“Yes?” He gave me an innocent look.

“You were saying…”

“Are you sure you want to bring a gun along? You do remember that Zeus has banned them, right? ‘Nobody thunders but me’ and all that jazz.”

“I was going to conceal it with a spell,” I said. “Besides, my rapier and dagger don’t go with the outfit.”

“So you’re leaving them behind?”

“Well, no. I was going to have you to tuck them away somewhere.” I flapped my fingers mystically. Melchior often parked my blades in a sort of pocket of folded space when I didn’t want them visible.

“Why not have me take the gun too? It’d be safer.”

I wanted to argue, especially after he’d reminded me what a lovely target this party made of me, but he was right. I handed over the .45 very reluctantly. He took it and whistled a quick string of binary code. The spell opened a hole in space, into which Melchior tucked the pistol. My blades followed a moment later, but he kept it open and gave Cerice a rather pointed look.

“What?” she demanded.

I grinned. “If I’ve gotta, so do you.”

“Oh, all right.” She reached under her skirts and produced a small Beretta semi-automatic. It went wherever it was Mel had parked the rest of the stuff, and he closed things up. Cerice’s slight but smug smile as he did so suggested to me that she was holding out. I didn’t call her on it.

“Are we ready?” I asked.

“As we’re likely to get,” muttered Melchior. “I just wish we could travel like sane people and ltp it.”

That would have been nice. Despite my new-found facility with faerie rings, I also preferred Locus Transfer Protocol gates. But the damage to the mweb had removed the world that held Raven House from the net and cut off all mweb-based magic in the process. That left us no other choice.

“You want to walk or ride?” I asked him.

“Ride I think. I’m less likely to draw divine attention if I play inanimate object for most of the evening, and that’s the way I like it.”

“Fair enough. Melchior, Laptop. Please.”

He grinned and began to melt into a blue puddle—the first step in the shift from webgoblin to laptop. He could have done it on his own of course, but he seemed to prefer the old ritual of command and performance when running most of his spell programming. Kind of odd actually since the “please” we’d substituted for “execute” made the whole thing as voluntary as if he’d initiated the spell himself.

But then, he was a bizarre little mix of hardware, wetware, software, spellware, and whatever spiritware Tyche and Eris had snuck into the webgoblin specs to give them free will. As far as I can tell, AI is at least as weird as the regular sort of I. When he was done, I lifted his laptop form—a translucent blue clamshell—into a Tech Sec shoulder bag and bowed Cerice out the door in front of me.

The faerie ring was embedded in the marble of the grand balcony, a circle of black veining within the green stone. Taking Cerice’s hand, I stepped into the circle and went…elsewhere.

Faerie rings are a form of chaos magic that acts as a loophole in the idea of place. Outside, you’re somewhere specific. Inside, you’re not. Every single ring, is at one and the same time, both itself and every other ring. When you cross back over the border on the way out, your odds of stepping out of any other circle are perfectly even. At least, that’s the theory. In practice, most people experience the rings sequentially, seeing potential exit points in a series of flickers, like high speed channel surfing.

That’s how it worked for plain old Ravirn—very dangerous and very scary. But the Raven is a power of chaos which gives me unusual power over the rings. Now when I enter one, I somehow experience the whole damn system simultaneously and can simply step out into the world of my choice. Convenient but, in its own way, even scarier.

#

This time the Olympus ring was a chain of braided flowers, bright in the afternoon sun. They lay on the floor of a small marble temple, the pantheonic equivalent of a gazebo. On my last visit to the mountain, it had been a circle of dancing satyrs. Athena is the head of Olympian security and she does not allow permanent rings.

As we stepped over the flowers, a small, fat satyr pranced up to greet us. He had more flowers in his hair and looked to be a sweet-natured thirteen. In reality, he was probably in his late hundreds and as steeped in vice as the rest of his half-goat relatives. That impression was reinforced by a glance over his shoulder to the place where a half dozen of his fellows were hunched over some kind of game that involved dice and lots of drinking from unmarked brown bottles.

“Raven and consort, so good of you to come. If you’ll just follow me, I’ll lead you to the party.”

“I prefer Ravirn,” I said.

“And consort?” demanded Cerice. “Don’t I even get a name?”

“Look,” said the satyr, “I don’t write the cards, I just read ’em.” He waved a slender calling card at us.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes. “Out of the arrivals box. Security’s pretty tight for this gig, and Athena’s people are monitoring all the incoming traffic, both ltps and on the ring network. Whenever any of the invitees comes in, a card pops up with titles and whatnot on it.”

“What if someone isn’t invited?” I asked.

He shrugged. “That’s not really my department. I assume all hell breaks loose. It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope to miss it if it does. Now, are you coming?”

He led us to a large field with dozens of pavilions. A line of slender posts linked by golden rope surrounded the area, and we walked along these to a place where the rope spiraled around a taller pair of poles to form an arch. A pair of ten-foot cyclops in security guard uniforms and mirror-shades stood to either side of the opening.

The satyr handed the calling card over to the nearer of the two. He read it carefully and painfully, silently sounding out the syllables. When he finished, he turned his head so that the single lens of his mirror-shade was aimed right at me and frowned.

“I remember you,” he said.

He didn’t sound happy. Neither was I. The last time I’d come into contact with the rent-a-clops types that supplied muscle for Athena’s security operations, we hadn’t exactly seen eyes-to-eye. In fact, there’d been some shooting involved. Mostly them, at me, with high caliber gyro-jet pistols, but it hadn’t all been one way. It was going to be very embarrassing if I got into a fight with one of the security guards and got thrown out of a party in my own honor.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You missed. I missed. Can we just call it even?”

“I don’t t’ink so,” said the cyclops, cracking his enormous knuckles. “I really don’t. One of these days, you and me are gonna have a long talk in a dark alley somewheres.” He shook his head with some disappointment. “But it ain’t today. Today is professional, not personal. Zeus invited you, so I gots to let you in, but Athena said to make sure I frisked you first.You wanna assume the position? Or do I gets to go personal on you ahead o’ schedule?”

What I really wanted was to go back to Raven House, but all the reasons I had to come to this event still applied. Besides, I didn’t think I’d be allowed to simply walk away at this point. With a sigh, I put my hands on top of my head.

The ‘clops looked briefly triumphant when he found my shoulder holster, but that faded as soon as he saw it was empty. At the end of the pat down, he turned his gaze on Cerice.

“Don’t even think it, eyeball.” Her voice was quiet and almost sweet, and that made it even scarier. “If they ever found your body, they’d develop drinking problems over the missing bits.”

The cyclops stepped aside and waved us in, looking more than a little pale as he did so. Once more we followed the satyr, this time threading our way through a milling crowd heavy on his goatish cousins, nymphs, and booze on our way to the largest of the tents.

As we stepped inside, he loudly announced, “Raven and consort.”

“That’s Ravirn,” I said.

“And Cerice,” she added.

“It’s not like anyone’s listening,” replied the satyr before he ducked back out of the tent.

He had a point. The party had clearly started without me, and his bellow probably didn’t carry more than a couple of yards. Hundreds of figures crowded the pavilion, filling the place with noise and movement so wild I had a hard time making sense of it. If anyone noticed our entry, they didn’t show it.

“Now what?” I asked Cerice.

“Mingle and look for Zeus, I guess. We can’t leave until that’s out of the way, and even if we decide to stay, it’s the polite thing to do.”

I nodded. “Sounds good.” I hoped to find Morpheus in there somewhere as well, but I had my doubts. “Let’s see if we can’t get a couple of drinks on the way.” Taking Cerice’s hand, I plunged into the crowd.

Snapshots from a divine madhouse.

Eris, Goddess of Discord, playing cards with her half-brother Ares and Hephaestus, the smith who hammered out Zeus’s lightning bolts. The boys were losing. I’d been there and didn’t need to add to Discord’s wins tonight, so I kept going.

A half dozen satyrs stood by a bar where Dionysus poured drinks from a jug that never emptied.

I got Cerice and me a couple of glasses. It was wine, clear and golden and sweet and tart and hot and cold all at the same time.

I sipped at it as we passed the head table, a crescent of white marble slabs enfolding a grotesquerie of a fountain—all little cupids and spouting tritons with dark wine pouring from the tips of their weapons. Zeus’s golden throne stood empty in the center of the tableau, so we moved on.

In the corner of another tent, a lamia, a sphinx, and a chimera sat around a small table swapping hero recipes.

At some point, Cerice left me to find us more drinks. While I was waiting, I saw a familiar face with an unfamiliar expression. My cousin Dairn, smiling. When he saw me, he waved as so many others had.

I waved back unthinkingly, then froze. Dairn is a grandchild of Atropos, who wants me dead, and one of the greatest archers ever to live. He has tried to kill me on three separate occasions. The scar had not survived my rebirth, but he once put an arrow through my left forearm.

The last time I’d seen him, I’d pushed his unconscious and hamstrung body into a faerie ring, more than half hoping he’d lose his soul in that magical maelstrom as so many had before. It seemed fair payment for the arrow that had cost my friend Shara her life. I hadn’t heard from or about him from then till now, and I’d assumed he was dead.

As he headed toward me, I opened my bag and pulled out Melchior, quickly flipping up his lid.

Run Melchior, I typed. Please.

I set the laptop down as it began to shift into Melchior’s webgoblin form. I wanted my hands free and I wanted the backup. As Dairn got closer, I did a double take. Rather than the tights and tunic I would have expected from a child of House Atropos in good standing, he wore motorcycle leathers that mirrored mine. Nor were they in his traditional colors—a mixture of browns. His ruffled shirt was a rusty red, the leathers dark and silvery, almost like a blackened mirror.

“Raven,” he said, raising an empty hand. “I’ve been looking for you.”

I nodded a greeting but didn’t take his hand. I didn’t want to get that close to him. Something wasn’t right, and it was more than a change of clothes and colors. After a moment, he dropped his hand, though he didn’t look put out. In fact, he smiled and his eyes seemed almost to twinkle.

“It’s that way is it, Raven?”

“Ravirn,” I corrected him. “I don’t see how it could be any other way. Not after our last meeting.”

“Are you thinking of the part where your toy computer hamstrung me, the bit where you stole my webpixie, or the end, when you pushed me into a faerie ring bound and unconscious and left me to die?”

He said it all with a grin that set a chill to the back of my neck. His voice was light, almost teasing, like nothing unusual had happened between us. Like I’d done him some sort of favor, even. It was much more frightening than the rage or indignation I’d have expected from someone like Dairn and deeply out of character, more the kind of thing Eris or Athena would have used to throw an enemy off balance. I’d known Dairn most of my life, and he simply wasn’t that sharp.

“Actually,” I said, being careful to keep my tone as light and friendly as his, “it’s before that, where you helped to take my girlfriend hostage and murdered her familiar. You do remember that, right?”

He waved a hand dismissively. “I served my House, and besides, decommissioning a webgoblin hardly counts as murder. You don’t really believe all that rot about them being people, do you?”

Somewhere down around my knee Melchior began whistling a string of angry binary. It was too fast for me to parse, but I could tell the end result wasn’t going to be healthy for Dairn. Since that would have violated Zeus’s party rules, I reached down and caught the scruff of Mel’s neck—too late. By the time I’d lifted him into the air, he was already finishing whatever spell he’d started, though it sounded very strange at the end.

At that point havoc should have ruled the field. It didn’t, and it took me a moment—and a mental replay of what had just happened—to figure out why. That’s when my exchange with Dairn went from moderately disturbing to downright frightening.

Melchior’s spell hadn’t failed. Dairn had canceled it by whistling one of his own, and not a general nullification charm either. He’d matched his own whistle to Mel’s for a bar, then shifted to a harmony, and finally a self-harmonized counterpoint that turned the original spell on its head.

He shouldn’t have been able to do that. It was the kind of magic that only webtroll supercomputers and a few of the powers, myself not included, could use. It took a great deal of effort to stand my ground. Effort I probably should have spent on running, but I really hated to run blind.

“Who are you?” I asked, still holding Melchior in the crook of my arm. It felt as though he might be trembling.

Dairn smiled, and his eyes flashed again. “Dairn, whom you abandoned to the faerie rings.”

I recognized the flash this time, a tiny spark of pure Primal Chaos within his pupils, and my own grew wide. At that, his spark grew brighter, and I recognized something else. The spark was a reflection of my own, not an internal light. His pupils were dark mirrors, like smoked glass over quicksilver.

What are you?”

“Ahh, now that’s a better question. I am what you made me. I am your enemy.”

Copyright © Kelly McCullough 2008. May not be reproduced without the author’s permission.