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Book Three of the Ferryman Pentalogy

by Wayne Kyle Spitzer

Copyright © 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Cover design Copyright © 2017 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to:

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“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”

—Edgar Allan Poe

Prologue | Exorcism

By the time they’d been shown the other gateway back to Styx Flumen (which lie well-hidden in its grotto just a little downriver) and backtracked to land at the ramshackle dock near the rude farm in the rude village where the cage stood, having left Jamais’ boat tied off just around the bend, Jamais had debriefed them on the plan and they’d all donned their disguises: Jamais as the exorcist in Dravidian’s black cloak, Shekalane as the prostitute in a midriff–baring Samhain Eve costume from Jamais’ inventory (one shoulder of which had already been damaged by Milkweed’s little claws in the creature’s desperation not to be separated again), and Dravidian, bound with his own shackles, as the possessed, afflicted man with his oil slick–colored poncho and green-gray, dead-blue skin.

The background of the plan and the need for it was as simple as the plan itself: Having been shot at with a bow and arrow the first time he had tried to approach the property, Jamais had made enquiries at the local tavern and learned that the land was owned by a poultry farmer named Parvus Periver—a paranoid and miserly man known to visit the local brothel obsessively and to have long since lost his mind to ignudi dust. Thus they would present themselves behind the safety of the gondola’s shields and pretend to barter Shekalane for the use of his cage in an emergency exorcism. Then, once inside, it was hoped Jamais’ research would allow him to activate its lift mechanisms. As for what would happen after that—who could say?

And yet no arrows came, even when Jamais called out in his booming, baritone voice, and when Parvus emerged at last from his shambles of a cottage he seemed more curious than anything.

“Dravidian, you are possessed,” Shekalane reminded him, and he immediately began tugging at his chains and gnashing his teeth.

“We are in need of your help, good sir!” cried Jamais, wrestling with Dravidian, who was shackled to the boat. “I see you have a cage over yonder by the cliff face that could contain this poor afflicted man while I sprinkle Holy Water. May we use it?”

Parvus looked from Jamais to Dravidian to Shekalane to Jamais again … then back to Shekalane, who made a point to appear small and separate as though she were with them against her will. Milkweed had curled into a ball amidst the jumble of her hair and was not visible save for the tip of a webbed wing, which Parvus appeared to take special note of.

He looked at Jamais dubiously. “Have never seen holy man with sword at his back. And why need cage for shackled man?”

Jamais moved to speak then paused, raising his eyebrows. He glanced at Dravidian and Shekalane. “The man’s affliction … has imbued him with superhuman strength. Once, ah, the Holy Water flies … he will surely break his bonds. As he has done before. As for my weapon … I may be a holy man, but I am no fool. It’s a dangerous world.”

Parvus studied him, and it occurred to Shekalane that for a man who had “lost his mind to ignudi dust” he seemed awfully cogent.

“That cage full of chickens,” he said at last. “Where else I put them while you do this thing?”

Jamais hesitated, affecting deep and troubled thoughts as he struggled with Dravidian, who hissed and spat at him. “It would entail a loss if you were unable to recapture them, I understand. But I have money and will pay you generously. How …” He struck Dravidian with the back of his hand. “Settle, damn you! How much will you take?”

The man glanced at Shekalane, who shook her head slightly.

“I have money, preacher,” he said, and gestured with his arm to indicate ‘No.’ “Who is woman?”

“This …” Jamais indicated Shekalane but paused, thinking. “This is Jolie Laide. ‘Beautiful ugly,’ as the French say …”

Shekalane put a hand on her hip and arched an eyebrow.

“A good woman with a vile trade seeking reformation. She owes me a life-debt for liberating her from a cruel master of demidaines. I hope to deliver her to the nunnery upriver, that is if they will take her with her familiar, from which she is quite inseparable. Show yourself, little one … he will do you no harm.”

Shekalane reached around and roused her, and Parvus’ face lit up as Milkweed’s tapered head poked out from her hair and looked at him with sleepy, slanted eyes. White dust billowed slightly as Shekalane drew the drooping shoulder of her garment up.

“Hello, little one … fear not,” said Parvus, wetting his lips slightly. “She make lot of dust, that one. So, ah, white, and pure …”

Dravidian cried out suddenly and groped for the elfemale, causing her to squeal and to take flight briefly—directly to Parvus’ shoulder, where she alighted without clawing him and began to coo against his neck.

“Alas, money is all I have to trade,” said Jamais, and took up the oar. “I am sorry we disturbed you.”

“Wait!” said Parvus, touching Milkweed’s wing and running a white finger beneath his nose. “I have idea, preacher.”

We could be a theatre troupe, though Shekalane with a wry smile as they all played their parts: as Jamais circled the cage, rustling chickens aside and flicking Holy Water into it from his silver flask (which she would have bet good money was full of whiskey), and Dravidian hissed and yanked at his shackles within (which had been secured to the cage using the extra pair from his belt), and she herself —rather, Jolie Laide—stood beside her new guardian and teased his stringy hair playfully.

“Now it is safe for me to enter and finish the process,” said Jamais, and triggered the cage door, which whirred as it pushed out and slid sideways.

Shekalane distracted Parvus while Jamais examined the control board.

“I will need the young woman's assistance,” he said at length, and she quickly went in.

He was just about to power up the control box (which Milkweed had alighted on), when a group of Valdus’ men burst upon the scene—yanking Parvus aside and activating the cage door, which moved sideways and seated inward. They searched him for weapons roughly and found the key to the cage on his belt. A henchman held it up: “Is this for the cage?”

Parvus nodded, and the henchman used it to lock the door, looking up from the lock at the same time as Shekalane and making eye contact with her. Milkweed flitted to a lever near the ceiling of the cage and looked on.

The men quickly surrounded them, aiming their crossbows. Someone shouted, “Hold! Valdus comes.”

Jamais indicated the power switch to Dravidian and Shekalane with a nudge and a nod, then reached for it slowly. One of the men snapped forward, aiming his crossbow directly at his head.

And it was it this moment, oddly, and none before, that she noticed the golden plaque secured to the bars, and on it the unusual inscription: “Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?”

Now what in Ursathrax is that supposed to mean? thought Shekalane as the shadow of a man in a cloak and pointed hat grew upon the wall, and when she at last turned around she saw Valdus’ eyes glaring back at her, and she saw, too, that any innocence those eyes had ever expressed was long gone.

I | Confessions

Valdus arrived and paused outside the bars, taking the scene in, trying to figure out what was what, then began circling the cage slowly, making extended eye contact first with Shekalane and then Jamais—whom he paused in front of. His dark eyes flicked to the platinum key and back. “Who are you, sir?”

“I am a man of the cloth, as should be obvious,” said Jamais. My name, if you must know it, is Jamais Vu.”

Valdus just stared at him. “I do not trust you. Remove the key from around your neck and toss it between the bars.” He added quickly: “Not your weapons—any of you. Do not so much as think about them. We will deal with that in good order.”

Jamais hesitated, trying to pretend it was nothing, but quickly realized the ruse would get him nowhere. He surrendered the key and Valdus put it on his belt, then continued circling. He stopped in front of Dravidian and they stared at each other.

“I have confessions for you, ferryman. Would you like to hear them?”

Dravidian stood slowly, sliding his shackles up the bars, and glared at him flatly.

“The power stations, for example. All the work of my men and me …” He paused, cocking his head, and Shekalane saw his eyes virtually sparkle with pride. “But, of course, you and your Lucitor already knew that, didn’t you?” He continued to walk slowly around the cage. “The barge assaults. Again, my men and me. Indeed, on at least one occasion it was but one of my men—General Hirth here. Likewise, it may interest you to know that we’ve established supply chains and weapons caches throughout Ursathrax, some in the capitol itself. It was not difficult; the people support our insurrection. Of course they are not happy when loved ones get caught in the crossfire—who could blame them? But it is important that the Lucitor understands that we will stop at nothing to achieve our ends.”

He circled around to face Dravidian again and stopped. “The All Servants’ Day attack, for example.”

Shekalane did a double take to make sure she had heard him correctly, for the news of that dreadful event had reached even the likes of Jaskir.

Dravidian glowered at him. “Many women and children were killed in that. They were watching from the crowd as the flotilla passed. The flotilla was shielded, as you must have known. The onlookers were not.” He paused. “I was there. The body parts burned as they hit the shields. You are nothing but a murderer, Valdus. And your revolution will meet the same fate as the others.”

“Perhaps. And perhaps not. But I am a murderer no more than you. I just do so directly, and for a just cause. Such is the price of a free Ursathrax.” He ended the conversation abruptly. “Put something on the girl and take her to my boat, and prepare the block. Pray to your Lucitor, ferryman. It is almost time.” He whirled to leave as they removed Shekalane from the cage. “Watch them carefully.”

And as they spirited her away and she locked eyes with Dravidian over her shoulder (then saw him exchange glances with Jamais), she could only wonder what the two men were thinking.

II | Reunion

They went to where Valdus’ boat was moored, after which he told the guards to leave and the only sound was the river gurgling against the bank and the creaking and chipping of wood—which Shekalane quickly realized was Sthulhu trying to break free from the crate.

At length he said, “Why?”

There was a long pause.

“I thought he might be my son.”

“Your son?” He paused for a beat. “Do you think me a fool, Shekalane? He is too old to be your son. I guess him to be no less than … thirty.”

She turned and took a couple steps toward the edge of the dock, then looked out across the river. “I know. I knew it when he told me his name.”

Valdus’ tone became menacing: “Why would he tell you his name, Shekalane?”

She felt him glaring at the back of her head. At last she said, “He wants to run.”

There was an even longer beat before Valdus chuckled bitterly, then laughed. “You mean to tell me a ferryman is running?” More laughter. “To where? A chicken coup?”

Shekalane didn’t say anything.

“Is that why you were half-naked in a pen with a mask-less ferryman and a fat, old priest?”

She gazed into the depths, trying to sort her conflicted thoughts and feelings. It seemed to her as if she had been awakened from an enchanted dream and snapped back to a rude reality. Her thoughts and emotions swirled like the water. “There are times when a woman can accomplish more with … allure … than a great man with a great army, Valdus.”

Another silence.

“What do you mean?”

“You were correct in not trusting Jamais’ response. We met him immediately after entering Cuniculum Amoris.” She tried to think fast on her feet, thought of the ‘Peddlin’ Pair’ sign on Jamais’ boat. “He and his wife are thieves. They steal rare and valuable objects and sell them up and down the River Dire. The peasant, Parvus, is in fact quite wealthy. Jamais spoke of a chest he keeps in his bedroom, a chest full of precious gemstones, the key to which only Parvus knows the location. We were running a distraction for Jamais’ wife …” She thought quickly. “A master lock pick. In return we were to be given portions of the spoils. The ferryman planned on using his to run as far away from the Lucitor as he could.”

“And you with him, Shekalane?”

Yes, she thought, a thousand times, yes!

“No. No, of course not. My intention was to contact you once he was gone.”

There was a long pause as Valdus considered everything. “Is that all it was?”

Shekalane said, softly: “Yes, my love.”

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