“But didn’t they say…?” Gerd nodded at the open grave.

“Yeah. They did.” Marius set his jaw. “I don’t have to listen to them. It’s like… remember I told you I spent three months imitating a eunuch at the court of the Caliphate of Taran?”

“Um, yeah?”

“Well, the only way I could get away with it, the only way I could make anyone believe I was a eunuch, was if I believed it as well. It’s something that Jemefie, my first acting master, told me. It’s easy to take an audience along with you when you’re on stage. But if you want them to have faith in you after they’ve left the tent then you have to believe yourself.”

“So you believe you’re dead, is that it?”

“No.” Marius concentrated, and his hand filled out in response, growing more pink as blood rushed in to fill expanding capillaries. “But the mob down there,” he tilted his head at the ground, “They have faith in their own deaths. They made me believe in mine, made me forget that I belong with the living. Thing is,” he concentrated again, and watched his hand shrivel and die, then blossom once more into life, “look what I can do now.” He smiled, and even though his face was ruddy and in the bloom of health, Gerd saw something dead lurking just below the surface, and shuddered. “I can make myself believe anything, as long as I need to.”

Gerd sat up. “What now, then”

“What am I going to do with this?” Marius examined his hand, “I don’t know.”

“No, I mean, what are you going to do at all?”

Marius stared over the simple headstones, away from the open earth at their backs.

“Good question. What about you? Back downstairs with our friends?”

Gerd grimaced. “I don’t think so.”

“You have a choice?”

“Well,” Gerd smiled. “In all the excitement of the new king, and your hilarious exit, nobody thought to wonder about what my release from service actually meant. So I guess I can do as I will, hey?” He leaned back, and stared at the sky. “Granny’s going to die, soon. She knows it, too, that’s why she wants me with her. I’m the only family she’s got. I’ll be there when she goes, then I’ll be ready. Meet her below, help her adjust, show her around. That sort of thing.” He stood, and turned to get his bearings. “The mountains are that way.”

Marius followed his finger, and nodded.

“The opposite direction to Borgho City.”


“Yeah.” They sat, staring at the blue line of the horizon, until Gerd eventually stirred.


Marius sighed. “Yeah. Keth. I should probably, you know…”

“Tell her you love her. Make things up to her.”

“Yeah. You know…”

“Do the right thing.”


“Buy her that place you talked about.”

“Yeah.” Marius closed his eyes, pictured himself at the window of a little cabin, a big, fat ginger cat under his fingertips. Keth walked towards him across the open fields, her hair swinging loose in the breeze, smiling, arms full of fruit for dinner. “That actually sounds good.”

“Get a job.”

“Hey?” Marius’ eyes snapped open. “Steady on,” he said, clambering to his feet. “No need to go too far.”

“Well,” Gerd joined him. “How then?”

Marius threw his arm around Gerd’s shoulder, and turned him towards the distant city. “There’s a running game at Big Nessie’s, just under the dock fronts. Guys who’ve been at sea for two years and big idiot merchants with more money than card sense. I can work up a stake on the way there. In fact,” he took a few steps, guiding Gerd with his arm, “If I had an off-sider, a stooge, if you like…”


“Yeah, sidekick, who wanted to split the takings…”


“Yeah, like I said…”

Talking fit to wake the dead, Marius steered his partner down the long road to Borgho City.

About The Author

Lee Battersby was born in Nottingham in 1970, departing from a snow-covered city in 1975 directly to a town on the edge of Australia’s largest desert. In November. He’s only just now beginning to recover from the culture shock. He doesn’t like to take credit for it, but there’s nothing to suggest that Angry Robot would have set up shop in town only a mere 30-odd years later had he stayed.

Lee is the author of over 70 stories in Australia, the US and Europe, with appearances in markets as “Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror”, “Year’s Best Australian SF & F”, and “Writers of the Future”. A collection of his work, entitled “Through Soft Air” from Prime Books. He’s taught at Clarion South and developed and delivered a six-week “Writing the SF Short Story” course for the Australian Writers Marketplace. His work has been praised for its consistent attention to voice and narrative muscle, and has resulted in a number of awards including the Aurealis, Australia Shadows and Australia Sf ‘Ditmar’ gongs.

He lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby and an increasingly weird mob of kids. He is sadly obsessed with Lego, Nottingham Forest football club, dinosaurs and Daleks. He’s been a stand-up comic, tennis coach, cartoonist, poet, and tax officer in previous times, and he currently works as Arts Officer for a local council, where he gets to play with artists all day. All in all, life is pretty good.


My thanks to Lyn and the kids for understanding and allowing me the space and time to write, and not rolling their eyes when I was banging on and on and on about the damned book. To Amanda, Lee and Marc at Angry Robot for steering the book through to publication, and Darren for all the cool promo and web grooviness. To my agent Richard Henshaw, for making me rich and powerful so that I can kill minions by the millions without having to fill out a single tax form. Big callout to the Anxious Appliances, and to Chuck McKenzie, with whom I struck a deal waaaaay back in 2002. Here it is, Chuck: How do you make a hormone? Put sawdust in her Vaseline! To my beta- readers – Adam, Kim, Greg, Miffy and David. Can't wait to kill you in the sequel, guys! Big props to all those brilliant Oz SF people who have held my hands, patted my head, told me to shut the fuck up and write, and been friends every step of the way, especially Kate Eltham, Tehani Wessely, Stephen Dedman, Adrian and Michelle Bedford, Dave Luckett, and Paul Haines (Miss you, buddy). Lastly, to my wife Lyn and this kids. I know I've already mentioned them, but they're worth a second call out. Love you, my fambly. If you're still reading this, why not drop into the Battersblog and tell me your dirtiest joke. I need one for the sequel's acknowledgement page…

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