The Chronicles of Fone Bone Oathbreaker

D. G. D. Davidson

BONE is © 2006 by Jeff Smith.

Chapter 9: A Prayer for the Damned

O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

--2 Samuel 19.33b

Night.

The stars were clear in the Valley, and Funny Bone couldn't take his eyes from them. He wasn't used to seeing stars. Thin smog always hung over Boneville, and the bright lights of the city masked the skies. At night, the Boneville sky was a plate of smoked steel, its only light a reflection of the lights below--neon lights advertising dance clubs and casinos or red lights flooding the Kiss 'n' Tell District where heavily made-up bone girls promised quick smooches in dank back alleys. At night, the beer and dingleberry wine flowed freely. At night, bone men in pinstriped, double-breasted suits without pants walked briskly, swinging watches on gold chains and averting their eyes from the homeless who slept for warmth on steaming sewer grates. At night, bone women in high skirts, mouths rimmed with thick lipstick, clutched fashionable designer purses and chattered and winked as their heels clicked against the walks. At night, the churches, synagogues, and mosques stood empty and dark, the sky was blank and uninteresting, and no one had to think about the big things.

Funny Bone stared, his rifle hanging in his limp hand, and he wiped a grimy sleeve against his forehead. Several of the bones who had traveled to this Valley were dead now. About twelve, all told, thanks to that angry blur that had leapt from the wall. The bones were anxious and afraid, so Funny Bone was on night watch to make sure there was no further funny business.

He spun when he heard the crunch of feet in the dust behind him. He let his breath out slow when he saw it was only Floyd.

"Don' sneak up on me like that, Floyd," Funny wheezed through his adenoids.

"You s'posed to be guardin' the camp," Floyd said. "Look to me more like you starin' inta space."

"Sorry," Funny said. "I jist don' see stars much, y' know? Don' get out."

"Tha's too bad, Funny Bone," Floyd said. "Ya gotta get out."

"Yeah. Yeah, I know." Funny Bone's hands trembled as he pulled his old rifle to his chest.

"You shakin', Funny."

"Yeah, sure, Floyd. Cold, y' know?"

"Yeah, it sure chilly. But it ain't dat chilly."

Funny backed up a step and looked at him askance. "How you know? You can't know how cold another man is."

"Truth."

"Sure." Funny turned his head away, trying to look relaxed.

"You wearin' a sweater," Floyd said.

Funny fumbled and almost dropped the rifle. He took another step back. "Well, I always wear a sweater, Floyd Bone. Get cold easy."

"Sure," Floyd answered, stepping forward. "Chubby boy like you get cold 'lot faster 'n a thin boy like me, I bet."

"Yeah. Well, no. Well, whatever. Whaddayew want, Floyd Bone?" Sweat trickled from Funny Bone's bald head.

Floyd squeaked a finger against one incisor and then said, "You sure it ain't cuz you nervous...'r maybe cuz you need a hit?"

"What?"

"C'mon, Funny."

Funny shouldered the rifle and moved from one foot to another. "Yeah, yeah. I ain't had smack for a few days. Mebbe I quittin', y' know?"

"Maybe y' full o' sweat." One by one, Floyd cracked each knuckle on his right hand. "Never touch th' stuff m'self. But I hear what it does when ya come down. Stuff's like endorphins. Big rush. Come off it 'n no more endorphins. Makes ya depressed, sensitive ta pain, too. You sensitive to pain, Funny?"

"I dunno." Funny edged away from Floyd.

Floyd stepped forward again. "Me, I don' touch the stuff, like I said. I get high on life. Y' heard that phrase, Funny Bone? High on life?"

"Whaddayew want, Floyd?"

Floyd cracked the knuckles on his left hand. "Endorphins. Adrenaline. All that sweat. Don' need me no fix like th' smack you rub on your nose. Discipline, Funny. Ya ever hear o' people who can give 'emselves adrenaline, jus' like that, when'er they wan' it?"

"Yeah..."

"I kin do that." Floyd scrunched up one shiny eye, shook a moment, and grinned. "Don' do it much, though, cuz I got discipline. High on life."

"Yeah, you keep sayin'."

"Only when I need it, ya see. Like when I need ta get pumped." Floyd tilted his head to one side and cracked his neck. "Like when I need ta beat th' livin' hell outta somebody." Floyd Bone stepped forward again and pulled an arrow off his back.

Funny cringed. "Ah, Floyd..."

"Discipline, Funny Bone." Floyd gouged the arrow into the back of his own wrist and pulled it a few inches. Blood seeped and then streamed down his arm. Floyd didn't even wince. "Think you could do that?"

Funny, shivering badly now, shook his head in three quick jerks.

"Tha's discipline." Floyd stuck the arrow back in the quiver and took another step forward. His eyes glinted and stars shone through his hair, seemingly caught in his waving locks. His was a gorgon's head, hovering over Funny Bone and writhing with snakes. His left wrist drizzled blood onto a clenched fist. "I hear you been talkin' 'bout me," Floyd said.

"Now, Floyd..."

"Hear ya been spreadin' rumors. Sayin' I tricked Dolly Bone inta comin' so's I could shoot the rat. That about right?"

"Floyd, I..."

"Funny Bone?" Floyd asked.

Funny stopped shaking and his eyes slid to Floyd's feet. "Yes."

Floyd nodded. "Now, Funny Bone, tha's real unkindly. Ain't it? Ain't it now?"

Funny nodded.

"Now Funny, I know you know this. What's the first rule o' survivin' in Boneville? C'mon now, you tell me."

"Don' mess with Floyd Bone," Funny whispered, not looking up.

"Can't hear ya, son."

"Don't mess with Floyd Bone," Funny said a little louder.

"Tha's right. Cuz Floyd Bone, he find out, don' he? Don' he?"

Funny nodded.

"Tha's right. Ya let ol' T. Bone puttcha up fer yer drugs, cuz he wants ta ruin my reputation. Ain't that right?"

Funny nodded again.

Floyd pressed his hands together as if he were praying and cracked all his knuckles at once. "Pay now or later, Funny Bone?"

Sweat broke from Funny Bone's skin in waves, but his shivering stopped. This wasn't much, really. He'd been beaten before. Many times before. His father, the bullies at school, thugs on the street, his pushers, a few employers. Beat Funny Bone, Boneville's official pastime. After all that, a beating from a real honest-to-goodness Floyd ought to be an honor.

"Pay now, Floyd Bone."

Floyd clenched the knuckles he'd been cracking and moved in. Funny didn't cry, yelp, or even whimper. He didn't exactly take it like a man, but he took it like one who had taken it before and knew the ropes.

Both of Floyd Bone's fists were bloody now, but Floyd wasn't going to stop, not until he was good and satisfied.

88888

Fone Bone lowered a rope and climbed down the wall. Creeping quietly through the burned outer town was a bit of work, but he managed. He thought sneaking into the bone camp would be harder, but that was easy, too. It seemed the bones didn't have a guard out. Fone Bone heard sounds from the other side of camp, like thumping and maybe a few dampened groans, but he wasn't in a curious mood and he didn't investigate.

Finding Phoney's tent was simple. It was the big one, the one in the middle. Fone Bone slipped in and crouched near the flap, letting his eyes adjust. In the dim glow of moonlight peering through the nylon, he spied Phoney sleeping on a bedroll. A dark object lay near his head.

Still crouching, Fone Bone crept closer. He reached out a hand for the dark spot on the floor and his fingers closed around the hilt of a knife, smooth from age and somehow warm in the chill air. He recognized that feel. It was the family heirloom, Piecemaker, old Big Johnson's knife.

Big Johnson Bone. Somehow, thinking of Boneville's founding father made Fone Bone hesitate, though he didn't know why. He didn't know what Big Johnson would approve or disapprove. Fone Bone didn't know a thing about him.

The knife slid out of its sheath, and there was the blade, still sharp and shiny after all this time. All of Big Johnson's descendants had kept it safe, sharp, and packed in oil. This might be the first time it tasted blood in twelve generations.

Blood. There was that word again. Fone Bone was beginning to hate it.

He pressed the long blade against Phoney's neck and hissed low:

"Wake up, Phoney."

Phoney snorted.

"Wake up, Phoney Bone."

"Umnugham," Phoney said, smacking his lips as he slept.

"I want you to wake up and look me in the eye before I cut your throat."

Phoney swam through that void again, and a harsh, insistent voice floated after him. It was talking over that other voice, the one that always visited Phoney in his dreams. Phoney thought he recognized the new voice. He tried to follow it, and soon he found the void dissipating and the close walls of the tent growing in solidity. The darkness came into focus and a face loomed above him. Even in the dark, he could make out some of its features, or rather its distinctive lack of features.

"F-Fone Bone?" Phoney asked.

Fone Bone grabbed the neck of Phoney's star nightshirt and pulled him upright. He kept the knife against his throat.

"You..." Fone Bone hissed. "How...how could you?"

Phoney swallowed and his unibrow lowered. "Don't point that at me. I'm your cous--"

"Don't even!" Fone Bone hissed back. "You killed her! You're no cousin of mine!"

"It was an accident!"

"Accident?" Bone demanded, then checked his voice, afraid he was too loud. He hissed again, "You call it an accident that you tromped into the Valley and shot the place up? What were you thinking?"

Phoney opened his mouth. No words came, and that was unusual for him. He didn't know what he was thinking. It seemed so much easier to do it than not to do it. It seemed...

Holy cow. Was he Phoncible P. Bone? Since when did Phoney Bone take the easy path? He would have slapped himself if that wouldn't have jarred his neck against the knife. The sudden threat on his life brought him out of the stupor into which sleeplessness had pulled him since the night that horrible, amorphous creature first appeared in his dreams.

"Fone Bone..." And he stopped. He wanted to tell about the voice, but he couldn't. Phoney Bone didn't take the easy path, but he didn't confess or confide, either. "I don't know what came over me," he said, and he opened his hands and scrunched up his face, mimicking remorse as well as he knew how. That should be enough for Fone Bone.

Fone Bone dropped him, stood, and looked down in disgust. "You think that makes it better, don't you?"

"Fone Bone--"

"Well, it's the closest I've heard you get to sayin' sorry. That's pretty amazing from you."

"What do you want me to--?"

Fone Bone grabbed at Phoney's neck and shoved his nose in Phoney's face. "I want you to bring her back, Phoney. Don't you get it? You killed Thorn!"

"And you vowed to kill me."

Fone Bone's grip loosened. "I did?"

"Yeah. Up on the wall. Don't you remember?"

Fone Bone tried to think back. He didn't remember. "I did?"

"Yeah." Phoney sounded calm. Maybe he wanted this after all he'd done. There had to be something for which even Phoney Bone couldn't forgive himself.

Fone Bone looked at the knife. He felt like this was his life, this knife. Two edges, one pointed at Phoney and the other at himself. Right now, this very moment, he could change his destiny. He had made another oath, and he had the chance to fulfill it.

That's three for me, he thought. The prophecy only mentioned two, and one of them was Thorn's. Either Taneal couldn't count or something else was going on.

Fone Bone dropped Phoney and moved away. Another broken oath.

Bad things came in threes, wasn't that right? It was the first broken oath that mattered because it led to the others. But Thorn had first broken an oath...but then again, Fone Bone had asked her to, had demanded it. Unreasonable demands. He asked her not to save the world. She asked him to stay with people who were not his people. He could have said no. He could have gone home. Everything could be all right now. Maybe Thorn wouldn't have paid the price if Bone had left the Valley.

It really was his fault.

The knife slipped to the ground. Bad things came in threes.

Phoney crawled to the edge of his sleeping bag. "Fone Bone," he whispered, "I am sorry! I am! I didn't mean it, but...she's just a human. A human. Like a Portsmouther. Can't you understand that? Can't you see that? What's wrong with you? You and your human books and your human fantasies! If you just woulda gotten yer head outta the clouds, ya coulda been happy, ya know that? Ya coulda married...I dunno, Annie Bone 'r somebody. Come home, Fone Bone. Now you don't have any attachments here, right? Now you can come home with me and we'll forget all this and everything'll be alright, right?"

Fone Bone, face displaying both disgust and despair, shook his head. "You don't get it, Phoney--"

"She was just a human, Fone Bone!" Phoney shouted.

"She was the mother of my child!" Fone Bone shouted back.

Phoney's expression collapsed like melting wax. He held out his fingers and groped about as if he didn't know where he was. "Oh, no...no. No, no, no! Fone Bone! No! What have you done? What have I done? No, no! No!" He clutched his head and mashed his face against the ground.

Fone Bone picked up the knife and shoved it into the floor of the tent near Phoney's head. "Live with yourself, Phoney Bone," Fone Bone said, "and I'll do the same."

He crept out of the bone camp the same way he got in. He climbed over the parapet, untied his rope, turned, and jumped when he saw Gran'ma and several Veni-yan.

"Gran'ma?"

Gran'ma stood with her arms crossed, glaring down at him. One of the Veni-yan grabbed Fone Bone by the neck and picked him up.

"While you were out," Gran'ma said, "there was a little coup d'état, as we quaintly call it. I'm afraid you're the coup-ee, Fone Bone, dear, and I'm the coup-er."

"Ugurrugh," Fone Bone choked back.

"Let him speak," Gran'ma said.

The soldier's grip loosened. "Gran'ma," Fone Bone gasped, "I'm prime minister. The queen--"

"Figure it out, Bone!" Gran'ma snapped. "You're deposed. By me. Do you understand what's happened here? The Harvestar line--my granddaughter!--is dead, thanks to you. I'm angry enough to have you killed, but I actually intend to throw you in the dungeon until this little war is over, and then I'm going to send you without supplies over the Dragon's Stair and let you fend for yourself. Don't make it worse." She looked at the Veni-yan. "Throw our prime minister in the dungeon, please."

"But, Gran'ma, I didn't do anything--"

"No, dear, you didn't. That's the problem."

A gloved hand pressed over Bone's mouth.

88888

The more things change, Fone Bone thought, the more things stay the same.

It was much like it had been before. He was down in a dungeon cell with wan light tilting in through a high, barred window. Manacles were on his ankles, and Adrian was peering in at him through the bars.

But this time, Thorn wasn't here. Fone Bone's heart was bruised deep inside. Seat of emotions. Symbolic of course, but it really did hurt in the chest. Bone wondered if humans felt their pangs of disappointment and loss in some other place, or if their hearts also hurt. Maybe their pain was worse; after all, they had a lot more organs, so maybe they could hurt in more places. With that in mind, Bone could forgive Gran'ma. He had looked in her face as the soldiers hauled him away, and he had seen an expression he'd never seen before. A real anguish, a real despair. Gran'ma had sheltered Thorn and then pushed her, and Thorn had broken just as Bone feared she would. Bone could read Gran'ma's heart--or whatever--in her face: it said, I'm a bad grandmother. That was an emotion Bone could understand. Self-pity. Not the most virtuous of sorrows by any means, but easy to understand.

And now he was back in the dungeon, and Adrian was peering through the bars.

"Fone Bone?" Adrian said.

Bone looked up. "I'm sorry, Adrian. I've made some pretty big mistakes."

"I'm not mad at you, Fone Bone."

"Thanks."

Adrian clutched the bars as if he were the one in a cell. "Is there any way, do you think, to help my sister?"

Bone forced a smile. "I...really don't know, Adrian."

His mind fell on what Ishmael, or an image of Ishmael, had told him as he lay in the garden after Thorn's death. "My message is this, Father. I will wait for you at Sinner's Rock. Come to me there. That is all." He also remembered Taneal's chilling words, screamed in a voice that wasn't hers, "You're next, oath breaker!"

The memory struck him as if she were right there in his cell, and her words echoed off the dank walls, or perhaps they echoed in his head. He knew what she meant, and he knew what Ishmael wanted, and he knew he couldn't escape.

I'm so tired. That thought engulfed him like a cold pool. As he washed in it, his muscles relaxed and a knot of tension behind his forehead loosened. He was numb. Maybe he didn't want to escape. Thorn dead, his son lost. Maybe Fone Bone wanted to meet his destiny. Perhaps, like Œdipus, he could be at peace in the Garden of the Furies.

Fone Bone leaned his head against the wall and said, "I may be able to help her, Adrian. I may be able to make this all stop. There's something I have to do, though. Do you think you could get me out of here?"

Adrian looked right and left. No guards. They were all at the wall. "I'll get the hammer," he said.

88888

Adrian was still the little smuggler he had been when Bone first met him. This time he shoved Bone in a large knapsack and flung it over his shoulder. He knew every back alley in the city, and as Bone rode in the cramped, moldy pack and breathed in the breath he'd already breathed out, it seemed Adrian was using them all. After an hour or more, Adrian let him out of the pack near a small gate in a corner of the city wall.

Bone breathed deep. The air of Atheia was never pleasant, but it was fresh after the inside of that pack. "No guards," he said.

"They're stretched thin," Adrian answered, "and they won't see any reason to guard this gate. It's for pilgrims; we're near the temple district. But it leads out into the burned town near the city's northwest corner. From there, can you get to wherever you're going?"

Bone nodded.

Adrian hugged him, and Bone hugged him back, appreciative of the warmth and friendship.

"I don't know what's going on," Adrian said, "but I trust you, and I know if anyone can help Taneal, you can. Come back and tell me when you've done what you're going to do."

"I will," Fone Bone lied. He paused, and his mouth twisted into a small smile as he added, "I promise."

Adrian pulled back the bar from the gate. "Go, and may the stars guide you."

88888

The sun rose over the city, and the towers and pagodas cast long shadows over the squalid huts and clustered warehouses. When the sun rose, battle came fresh. Gran'ma stood near the main gate. She looked up to the top of the wall where several Veni-yan crouched. Anyone who raised his head above the parapet got shot, and so the soldiers kept low. They didn't even dare put men in the watchtowers because even there some of the bones could reach them with their magic rods.

Thintook and Tom both knelt in Atheia's oily dust at Gran'ma's feet. "Your Highness," Thintook said, "I swear fealty to you."

"And so do I," said Tom.

"I am grateful for your loyalty to the Holy City and my ancient house," Gran'ma answered. "We will need brave men, men willing to die, but we will win." Gran'ma turned away from the men and looked down at Ted, who was perched on her finger. "Ted, I need to ask you a favor."

"Uh, Gran'ma..."

"Ted," she warned, "please don't argue, dear. Not now."

88888

The Portsmouthers and their bone companions moved southward along the base of the western mountains where there was less blowdown and ash. With the city in view, they hid behind a line of boulders in the plain below Sinner's Rock. A brass spyglass in hand, Serge surveyed the plain and muttered to himself.

"C'mon, c'mon," Rictus said, shuffling his feet. "Either speak up or stop hoggin' the glass."

"Zuh bones are zer," Serge said. "Zey camp near zuh vall. Too close, really, if zose humans have arrows. Your Phoney is no varrior, I sink. Und zer is an outer town outside zuh vall, but it seems to be in ruins."

Annie was crouched behind him. "Did the bones do that?" she asked.

"I do not sink so. Zer is nossing burning now. I see no sentinels on zuh vall. Probably zuh bones haf been shooting zem, ja? My guess is, zuh city is assessing zer losses and planning a counter-attack."

Rictus slammed a fist into a palm. "That means we've got precious little time to neutralize the bones and get 'em out o' here."

Christian scratched the stubble on his lean jaw and, hunching low, moved to the boulder next to Serge. "Herr Bürgermeister, zuh potential for casualties might grow higher if ve interfere. Zuh bones vould likely shoot us, and even if ve can get zem out, zuh troops in zuh city may pursue if zey detect a retreat."

"I am avare of zat," Serge said. His voice indicated that he didn't much like to hear it.

Christian glanced at Dietrich, who sat next to Annie. Annie had no difficulty reading Christian's eyes. He's beginning to wonder if Karl was right, Annie thought. The Portsmouthers were growing tense.

It occurred to Annie that they were going to do what they came for, and that she could die shortly. Ludicrous as it seemed to do so, she tried hard to remember what her last meal was. It was hard to remember; it certainly wasn't enjoyable. Hardtack, dried dingleberries, and water. Yes, that was it. She wished she'd had something more memorable if it was to be her last meal.

She noticed a strange sound. She pressed a hand against one auditory membrane. "I hear it again," she said. "A hum, like an animal speaking..."

"Grab that bug," Rictus said, pointing.

With a flick of his hand, Dietrich plucked the small, green insect out of the air.

"Th' bug's talkin'," Rictus said. "Somethin' about the city." Rictus put his face next to Dietrich's hand. "Talk, in there. Are you with the humans?"

"Oh, I always has a bad habit o' talkin' to m'self," said a small, buzzy voice. "I don' know nuthin'."

"You're not gettin' away with that," Rictus answered. He looked up. "Dietrich, open your hand a bit."

Dietrich did.

Rictus looked down on the little insect. "Listen, bug. We're here to stop the bones and get them out of here, do you understand? We're tryin' to help. We need to know what they're planning in the city, get it? What do you know?"

Ted looked up at him and shuffled. "Nuthin'."

"C'mon," Rictus said, his eyebrows connecting in a scowl, "I been 'round the block a few times. I know bugs, bug, and if there's anybody knows what's goin' on in this Valley, it's you. So let me put it to you this way--if you don't tell me their plans in the city, I'll rip your legs off one at a time."

A minute of silence followed.

"They sent me ta scout," said Ted meekly. "I was doin' that when I ran inta you folks. Is you from Boneville?"

"I am," Rictus said. "These humans are from Portsmouth, which is near Boneville. We're tryin' to stop the killing. Can you help us?"

"You's tryin' ta stop th' killin'? Well...I guess I can tell ya, then. Gran'ma's queen of Atheia now cuz poor Thorn is dead, an' Gran'ma's plannin' a charge out th' main gate."

"Vhat is it saying?" Serge asked.

Rictus held up a hand for silence.

"You complain I hog spyglass und now you hog insect."

"When's the charge?" Rictus asked.

"Ah, c'mon..." Ted complained.

"Bug, I could squish you flat." Rictus raised a hand to illustrate.

"Rictus, be nice," Annie admonished.

He glared. "We don't have time to be nice, Annie, or haven't you noticed?"

"Okay, okay!" Ted whined. "I ain't fit fer this sorta work. I'll tells ya, but I don' feels too good about it. Ain't never ratted on friends before, but they's plannin' ta charge as soon as I gets back and says there won't be no extra nasty surprises...such as th' likes o' you."

Rictus nodded. "You scout because they can't see off the wall. I get it." Rictus cupped a hand to Serge's ear and whispered into it. Serge nodded. Rictus turned back to Ted. "Okay, bug, we're gonna have to trust each other. I know that's tough, but we're here to stop the killin', got it? I need you to wait until our men are in position, and then go back and tell your queen that it's good for the charge. To show you I don't mean ta double-cross you, I'll tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna move into the outer town down there while there's still no guards to watch us from th' walls, and then when they make that charge, we're gonna be there as the gate opens. We'll stop the charge but we won't shoot anybody, got it? And we'll have another team to surround the bones. If it all goes well, no shootin' and nobody gets hurt, see?"

"Sounds sorta risky and stupid," Ted said.

"If we take off with the bones in secret, your queen will figure it out and pursue. This way, we neutralize everybody. And here's the alternative, bug. This queen has underestimated the bones' firepower. If they charge outta that gate with swords and bows, they're gonna get slaughtered. You got that?"

"Well..."

"Now come with us while we move," Rictus said, "and then we'll give you the go-ahead back to the city." Rictus turned to Serge and scratched in the dirt with a stick. "Listen, Serge. Put your men in two groups. Put two Bonebreakers in one for the city, and three in the other for the bones. Get about two thirds of the submachine guns in the bone group, to make sure they're intimidated when our men come out of hiding. I'll be with the bone group, and I'll confront Phoney. It's best if you be in the other group and meet this queen. Got it? If necessary, we shoot the bones, but we try to avoid shooting any of the people in the city."

"Makes sense, Rictus."

"Sounds risky," Christian said.

"Hush," Dietrich said. "Serge knows vhat he is doing."

"Annie and Smiley can stay here with the kids," Rictus added.

"Just a minute," Annie interrupted, "I get to help out."

"Annie..." Rictus began.

"Oh, no," Annie said, stopping him. "I can shoot now, Rictus. I'll help you confront the bones."

"Annie..." Rictus said again.

Dietrich cleared his throat. "I am to stay vis Miss Bone, and I can be von of zuh Bonebreakers to confront zuh bones, ja? See vill be vis me." He jerked a head toward Smiley, who was further up the hill, surrounded by the other troops and his flock of children. "He vatched kids until ve arrive, surely he can do it for a little vile until ve ready to leave."

Rictus scowled. "Dietrich, you're being an enabler."

Annie smiled. "Thank you, Dietrich."

Dietrich shrugged.

"Ve vaste time," Serge said. "Let's move."

The men organized and began a stealthy stalk down the mountainside. It was slow going over the rocks, but they ensured that they were unseen. Sweat dripped off each of them. They were at the edge of the burned town, ready to move into position, when Annie looked back.

"Fone?" she said.

"Sssh," Rictus hissed.

"Fone Bone!" she shouted. She stood up and stared back at the mountain where a small, white figure was disappearing among the rocks.

Annie ran.

"Dammit," Rictus said through clenched teeth. "That woman!"

Dietrich looked at Serge.

Serge grunted. "Go, Dietrich. Give me your Bonebreaker, ja? Und zen ve haf enough firepower visout you."

Dietrich handed over the Bonebreaker and ran after Annie Bone.

88888

Fone Bone climbed to Sinner's Rock. A light wind blew across his skin. He gazed to the north and saw the Valley was green with summer. He knew it was the last time he would see it, and he was glad to see it like this.

Ishmael sat near the entrance to the cave. He was kneeling and his lips were moving.

"Are you praying?" Fone Bone asked.

Ishmael opened his eyes and looked up. "Of course, Father."

"To who?"

"To whoever will listen. I'm afraid my parents never catechized me."

Ishmael stood and arched his hunched back, trying, it seemed, to stand more like a man.

Fone Bone walked toward his son. "Around here, they pray to th' dragons, I think."

"Then they will listen if they are able and of a mind to," Ishmael said. "Have you said your own prayers, Father?"

Fone Bone shook his head. "Smiley was always th' religious one."

"A pity," Ishmael answered, and his face, tortured and deformed as it was, showed genuine compassion. "Religion gives a death like yours more meaning."

"You're going to kill me?" Bone asked.

"Aren't you here to kill me?" Ishmael asked in turn.

Bone gazed again at the Valley. So beautiful. It was much as he had seen it that first day in late fall, except now it was green and bright. So very green. So very peaceful.

It was a good place to die.

"I guess I am," Bone whispered. He clenched his eyes and felt tears press out. "I just want it all to stop."

Ishmael stood behind his father and he, too, gazed at the Valley. "Then I will defend myself, Father. This is just."

"Is it?" Bone asked. "Is any of this just? You kill people, and you act like you don't even care."

"I care," Ishmael said. "I care very much. I love you, and I love my mother. But I do what I was sent to do."

"To punish my broken promises? By killing bones and humans?"

Ishmael shook his head. "There are many sins to avenge." He waved a hand to the warring city. "There. Atheia. Ruled for countless generations by House Harvestar. The ancient queen, Ven, was a wise and virtuous ruler, gifted by the dragons, guardian of the Dreaming. But her line became polluted, and now it is cut off. Rose Harvestar bore a bastard child, and that child also committed wrongs, and she was justly slain, but then her own child did the same evil." He gestured to himself. "I am the fourth generation, born of Queen Rose's sin, so now Queen Rose will see the destruction of her house, for it is written, I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."

"That's cute, Ishmael," Bone said. "You're real good at that. But I can quote th' Bible, too. How 'bout this one? Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die."

Ishmael smiled. "You think you've found a contradiction? You haven't. You see, that third and that fourth generation--they're sinners, too."

Fone Bone chuckled, still looking over the green trees. "You'll think this is funny. I'm illegitimate, like you. Phoney researched it in the courthouse and found out. He never told me, and he thinks I don't know. But I know."

"It is just," Ishmael repeated. "Three dynasties end here this day: Harvestar, Big Johnson Bone, and one other."

"One other?" Bone asked.

"It is none of your concern, Father."

Fone Bone turned to look at Ishmael. He looked for a long time. He could no longer pretend Ishmael was beautiful, and yet somehow, on some level, he was: he was Bone's own son, and Bone was glad, before the end, that he had held his offspring, if only for a moment. "And it absolutely has to be this way?" Bone asked.

"Of course, Father. It's Fate."

"Is there no free will? Can't we make our own destiny at all?"

Ishmael shook his head. "Your line is set to end, Father, and that is that. Can you see any way, now, that it could be preserved?"

"No," Bone admitted.

"Can you even imagine how your circumstances might change from this point?"

"No."

"That is Fate." Ishmael pointed to the towering pinnacle of Sinner's Rock, which jutted over the Valley at a dangerous angle. "One more thing to explain. Do you know how this place got its name?"

"I don't."

Ishmael walked to the pillar and rested his hand on the coarse sandstone. "It is formed by wind, of course. In the old days, the very, very old days, the Atheians took the worst criminals here--murderers, rapists, and the like--and tied them to this rock and cut their throats, leaving them to bleed so that the Valley would not become defiled by their misdeeds."

"It's always blood with you, isn't it?"

"Not always, but often, Father. The Atheians saw the shape of this stone as symbolic. I wouldn't expect you to understand it, but trust me on this. In the old tongue, it is called a lingam, and since it is a natural lingam, and a large one, they believed it was a powerful centerpoint of all existence. This is where they came to balance the Dreaming. Ven Harvestar performed her rites here. In time, the Veni-yan and the Harvestars forgot the ancient rituals, so the Dreaming grew unstable, and that allowed the Locust to rise near the surface. The forgetfulness of short-lived, lazy humans made his prison walls thin. It is ironic that I, the new Locust, will repair this oversight." He turned a grim but humorous eye on Fone Bone. "Such is the justice of the universe."

"How do we do this?" Bone asked.

"It is simple. I try to kill you and you try to kill me."

Fone Bone walked to the stone and placed his hands beside the long claws of his son. He pictured Ishmael's sharp teeth digging into his throat and sucking out the life. His middle felt hollow and his head felt light. He was afraid. He had never been afraid like this before because his destiny had never before felt so certain. Cold perspiration rolled from his head and his fingers trembled. His tongue darted across his teeth.

His teeth.

He remembered the night he kissed Thorn, and he remembered the numbness in his mouth that spread from his incisor. The Crown of Horns--Ishmael had said in his dream that it was destroyed, but two shards remained.

Fone Bone had one of them.

The Crown of Horns was the opposite of the Locust. Was a fragment enough?

Fone Bone turned to Ishmael. He felt his cheeks run wet. "Before..." he whispered, "before we do this...let me...let me just kiss my son. Just...once."

Treachery. But he knew it was right--or at least poetic--that it should end like this.

Ishmael smiled another compassionate smile and, tears streaming from his own eyes, opened his arms. "Come, my father," he whispered, "and break your oath to me."

Does he know? Bone wondered, but he moved into Ishmael's embrace. Ishmael lowered his bald head, and Bone kissed it.

My son.

Bone bit down hard.

Ishmael reeled backwards, roaring. Bone felt the tooth dissolve in his mouth. Ishmael clutched at Fone Bone and dug his long claws into his back. They cut deep, very deep, too deep. It was like getting hit in the back with a sledgehammer, but the initial shock kept coming and wouldn't fade. Bone's blood, thick like ink, splashed onto the base of Sinner's Rock and sank into the dry, porous, and thirsty stone.

Ishmael pulled Bone into the air, and then Bone could feel himself falling. His head struck the base of the rock, and his arms spread out to either side. The pain in his back went from sharp to numb, and his vision swam with shadows. He saw his son. The top half of Ishmael's head was gone, and in its place was a black, smoking hole.

Ishmael rocked on his feet. "Father..."

He tumbled forward and his ruined head fell across Fone Bone's lap. Fone Bone could hardly move, and his vision darkened, but he tilted his head to the sky and moaned before his energy faded, "Ishmael, my son, my son! Ishmael, my son!"

88888

Annie and Dietrich reached the top of the rocky eminence.

"Fone Bone!" Annie cried. She ran to Bone's side and sank to the ground, scraping her knees. She hardly noticed the gargantuan beast lying across Bone's lap.

"So much blood!" she said. "Dietrich, give me a kit! Give me..."

Fone Bone opened his eyes. His weak expression grew curious. "...Annie?" he asked. "Annie...Bone?"

"Fone Bone." Annie cradled his head. Her tears dripped onto her glasses, so she took them off.

"...Annie," Bone whispered, "...I'm sorry."

"Don't be," she whispered back.

"...I read your book."

She smiled, and even though she was crying, she almost laughed. Books? Now? "You did?"

His nod was feeble. "I didn't finish, though. Please tell me how it ends."

Annie bit her lip. She could see he was fading. "Well, Arthur and his son have a fight for the kingdom. Arthur kills his son, but he's terribly wounded and is going to die."

"...Yes...?"

"And so fairies come," Annie whispered. "They are beautiful ladies, and they come in a lovely boat that barely touches the water. They weep over Arthur's wounds, and they take him into the boat and into their arms, and they carry him away to Avalon."

Fone Bone reached with one hand and stroked a lock of Annie's long, auburn hair. A faint smile appeared on his mouth. "Yes," he said, "yes, that seems about right."

His hand dropped and the life began to leave his eyes. On impulse, Annie bent her head down and brushed his lips with her own. When she lifted her head, she saw an expression of wonder that slowly faded as his breathing ceased.

Annie's tears washed the spattered blood from his face.

After a long time, she stood. She touched her lips and looked shyly at the ground. She couldn't believe what she had just done. She felt guilt for having done it, and shame for having done it in front of Dietrich. She pulled her windbreaker close about her because the wind was coming up cold. She looked up at Dietrich as the breeze blew her hair around her face, but she saw no judgment in his eyes.

She tried to clear her throat, found it clogged, and realized she was still crying. "Dietrich?" she asked.

"Yes, Miss Annie?"

"Do you, um, do you Charioteers or whatever you are, do you pray for the dead?"

"Yes, Miss Annie."

"Would you, please?"

He took the beads from his pocket, kissed them, knelt beside Fone Bone, and recited. Annie stood by and listened. She didn't understand all the words, but they were beautiful and they soothed her.

His chant floated past her aural membranes as she stared out across the Valley. The treetops waved in the breeze like a dark sea. So green, so very green, so full of life.

88888

Atheia opened. Armed with swords and arrows, Gran'ma, Tom, Thintook, Astynax, and several Veni-yan stood poised as the gates swung in.

About to charge, they stopped at the sight of several armed humans pointing weapons like those the bones carried.

"Halt!" a large, bald man shouted. "Stop right zer, please. Drop your veapons."

Gran'ma and the soldiers paused. Gran'ma turned a glaring eye to look for Ted, but Ted was nowhere in sight. "Who are you?" Gran'ma demanded.

Serge chambered the first bullet of the Bonebreaker. "I am Serge of Porstmous, und zis is my mess-you-up machine. Ve haf charge of zees bones, und ve vill be taking zem back vis us now."

"Just a minute." Gran'ma stomped forward, put her fists to her hips, and looked Serge over. "They've made war on my city. They've killed the queen. They've killed my only granddaughter."

"Go back where you came from," Thintook shouted. "This doesn't concern you."

"It concerns us," Tom added.

"It concerns us all," Serge answered. "I vant no more killing." He patted the gun. "But I kill you all in a moment if I must, ja? Do not make zat necessary."

Behind Serge, Christian, Rictus, and the other men surrounded the bones. The bones stood in place, dumbfounded, staring at their weapons stupidly or with horror. Without the influence of the Lord of the Locusts, they no longer understood why they had come to this Valley to kill, and disorientation mixed with guilt settled over them like a large cloak. Only Floyd and T. Bone, the really fervent murderers, remembered their purpose. T. Bone, ever the opportunist, knew when it was time to quit.

Floyd Bone, however--

"Rictus!" Floyd shouted. He bared his teeth, pulled an arrow from his back, and put it to the string. Before he could pull it, Rictus drew his pistol and fired from the hip. The bullet snapped the string in half with a crack, and the broken ends whipped across Floyd's shoulder, making a deep line of blood. The bullet entered Floyd's face, smashing through his teeth and traveling upward through the base of his brain. Floyd's thin face contracted, and he swayed on his feet before tumbling to the ground.

The other bones didn't run, didn't panic. A few flinched. A few covered their mouths. T. Bone, standing next to Floyd's carcass, merely sucked his cigarette, kept his eyes straight ahead, and fought the little smile that threatened to take over his mouth. Funny Bone, bruised black from head to foot, cried.

Rictus walked up and looked at the body. "Wasn't much of a barber, anyway." He chewed the inside of his cheek and looked around at his fellow citizens. "Now, let's see...ah." His eyes settled on Phoney Bone.

Phoney swallowed. Rictus walked toward him.

Smiley ran in and pushed his way past Christian. He ran between Phoney and Rictus.

"Smiley, shouldn't you be watchin' the kids?" Rictus demanded.

"They're safe," Smiley promised. "Dolly's real mature and she'll watch th' others. I wanted to keep my eye on you, Rictus, in case you tried anything like this. I won't let you hurt my cousin."

Rictus clenched his teeth. "Smiley Bone, your cousin made this trouble."

"Yes, Rictus, but--"

Rictus sighed. "Yeah, I know. Your own flesh and bone, is that it?"

Smiley nodded.

"Let me tell you somethin', Smiley. I'm through with Boneville. I lied, I stole, and you won't have to deal with me again." He pointed a finger at Phoney. "But before I go for good, I'm gettin' rid of that menace. He's through with Boneville, too, and so are you, if you try to stop me." Rictus stepped forward. Smiley crossed his arms, stood at his full height, and blocked his path.

"Smiley..." Rictus said.

"Do it," Smiley answered. "Just do it."

Rictus raised his fists.

The Portsmouthers and bones watched. There were no cheers, no shouts, no jeers or encouragements. It was more like a solemn rite, perhaps a funeral.

Rictus sized up his opponent. Rictus was big for a bone, and back in the day, he had been tough, but Smiley was twice his height. What's more, Smiley was young, lean, and fast. Though he was normally friendly, more than a few bones were awed by, or even afraid of, his prodigious strength. Rictus figured he had one advantage over this giant: he knew hand-to-hand combat, though it had been years since he'd used it, and Smiley was no fighter.

Smiley raised his fists in imitation of Rictus's stance, and they circled each other.

Smiley came in swinging. Rictus took a jarring blow to his wrist as he blocked one punch, and he received a glancing rake across his jaw. Seeing a few stars, he nonetheless took advantage of his height and gave Smiley two quick jabs to the stomach before they broke off and circled each other again.

Rictus was already feeling his wind. Sweat rolled from his face, and his heart thumped hard. I'm too old, he thought. He used to go round after round in the ring, pummeling his opponents. Had that really been him? How long ago was that?

This time, Rictus made the first move. Smiley sidestepped his swing and planted an uppercut square on Rictus's lower face. Rictus felt his teeth rattle and he stumbled, giving Smiley opportunity to plant an elbow squarely between Rictus's shoulders. Rictus fell facedown in the dirt. He pressed a tongue against his flat teeth and found a few were loose.

Smiley let him get up.

Enough boxing, Rictus thought. Time for some dirty fighting. Rictus came in again and, as he anticipated, Smiley sidestepped it. Rictus raised a foot and slammed it down into Smiley's knee.

Smiley's knee distended, but the joint didn't break. Smiley fell to that knee and Rictus laid a swinging punch across his mouth. Smiley returned it before scrambling backwards.

They wiped blood from their mouths and gazed at each other.

"Rictus..." Smiley said.

"Bring it," Rictus answered.

Smiley brought it. They both swung as fast and as hard as they could. Rictus kept his arms up and found he could anticipate most of Smiley's moves, though he had to be quick. Smiley, on the other hand, was forgetting to block.

Smiley lashed out, putting his shoulder into it. Rictus ducked the punch and gave Smiley a solid smack in the armpit. Smiley bent to the side and Rictus swung around him, put him in a half nelson, and grabbed one of Smiley's eyebrows. Smiley's body weakened with the searing pain. With his hand stiff, Rictus chopped Smiley's long nose and broke it. The end purpled and swelled, and the porous olfactory membrane underneath dripped long stringers of blood.

Through it all, Smiley didn't even whimper.

Wheezing from the strain, Rictus punched Smiley several times in the face. Smiley struggled, but Rictus used his greater weight to hold firm. He kept punching, and he didn't stop until Smiley went limp. Then Rictus dropped him, cracked his knuckles, and looked up.

"Now." Rictus's breathing was violent. "Phoney."

Phoney moved to run, but Rictus grabbed him, punched him a few times, and then hauled him by the collar of his shirt. He took hold of the back of Smiley's vest with his other hand and dragged them both to the gate of Atheia. He walked past Serge's men and dropped the unconscious cousins. "There," he said. "There's the trouble-makers. Phoney Bone and his partner in crime. They're yours, Your Highness, or whatever you are. Do with 'em what you like. The rest of the bones are goin' home." He glanced at Serge. "Let's not stand around and argue, Serge. Let's get out of here. The show's over."

The Portsmouthers rounded up the bones into a circle, disarmed them, and trained their guns on them. It would be a forced march back to Boneville. As the humans rode, the bones would walk and endure their shame. Rictus rode with Serge. An outcast, he would remain an outcast. He would go to the city of the humans where he would live out his last years and die. Their people were his people now.

88888

Dietrich held Annie's hand as they walked down into the Valley and joined their victorious companions. Dietrich mounted his camel and looked at his friend. "Vill you ride vis me, Miss Annie?" he asked.

Annie wiped her glasses and put them on her face. She smiled at him, but her smile strained and then faded. She thought about Fone Bone, and about what she'd done. She looked at the carnage before the city gate. She looked at the bones, standing there with their heads hung in remorse, confusion, and exhaustion.

She looked at Dietrich. She hoped she would see him again when it was over, but she knew she wouldn't. She could acknowledge now what she felt for him, could acknowledge that he was the fulfillment of her childhood fantasies, but she could also turn away, and somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice that wasn't hers said, Your will is free. The voice sounded like Fone Bone's.

She shook her head, hesitantly at first, but then firmly. "Thank you, Dietrich. Really. But no. I'd like to, but no." She breathed. "I am a bone, Dietrich, and my place is with my people."

Annie walked into the midst of the bones. She touched heads and shoulders and offered smiles. They were spent, and she tried to give them what strength she had. She would endure their punishment, and she would share their shame. They were wicked and foolish, true, but who wasn't?

She spared one last glance at Dietrich on his camel, who looked more than ever like Galahad on a charger, and she said to herself, "It's time to grow up."

88888

Pushy Veni-yan soldiers led Phoney Bone in irons. They dragged him into the gardened courtyard of Tarsil's Tower. There in the middle of the green lawn sat Gran'ma Ben on an oaken throne. She wore a long red robe woven with gold embroidery, and she leaned on one fist. The deep scowl of a monarch rested on her brow in place of a crown.

Thintook came in behind Phoney and gave him a kick that sent him sprawling onto his face.

Phoney raised his head, looked at Gran'ma, and swallowed.

"Well?" Gran'ma asked.

Phoney swallowed again. He worked his tongue around his mouth until he found his voice. "Gran'ma, I..."

He received another boot to the back of the head and his nose rammed into the grass.

"You'll address Queen Rose as Your Highness," Thintook said.

Phoney looked up again. "Your Highness..." And that was all he could think to say.

Gran'ma shifted her weight and sat upright. "You killed my granddaughter, Phoney Bone, and many of my people are dead because of you. I am old; I will have no more children. You have brought an end to my house."

She reached behind her throne, clutched something, and threw it in front of Phoney.

"So I will make an end of yours," Gran'ma said.

"No!" Phoney screamed. "Smiley!" He stared in unbelieving guilt and horror at the severed head of his cousin lying in the grass, its coagulated blood staining black the stump of its neck.

Phoney tore the grass with his fingers and beat his own face with his palms, but then Thintook yanked him off the ground. Phoney looked into the man's bearded face. "Here," Thintook said, "let me do that for you," and then Phoney saw only a fist, and then he saw only darkness.

88888

He came to in a dungeon cell. He was still in irons, but now they were connected to the wall. He opened his eyes and groaned. The chains clanked coldly.

The light in the cell was a dead white, drizzling in through the high, barred window. The light was empty of heat and empty of color save a tint of deathly blue. A shadow fell across the window and blocked some of that chill light, and Phoney raised his throbbing head.

Gran'ma peered in. "You'll rot in there, Phoney, if you like," she said, "but I rather expect you wouldn't like, so I'll give you another option."

Something flashed as Gran'ma tossed it into the cell, and it fell with a loud ring in front of Phoney's face. He saw with dismay that it was the great knife Piecemaker.

"Live with yourself, Phoney Bone," Gran'ma said, "or don't." Her face withdrew from the window and the ugly light returned.

Phoney stared at the knife. The light reflected from its glinting blade, and in the middle of that unearthly shine was the black reflection of Phoney's own left eye. It looked like a dark pit yawning to swallow the room. As night drew on and the cold light faded, the pit grew and filled the dungeon with a heavy dreariness, and still Phoney didn't move or even blink as the blade changed from white to blue to an engulfing black. The chains scraped against the stone floor as Phoney moved his right hand to touch his wrist and feel the vein throbbing with the steady thud of his heart. He lay there through the night, keeping a grisly vigil, as he stared into the darkness at the place where the knife lay. His end was clear and there was no changing it. "Phoney Bone makes his own destiny." He had said that once. He couldn't remember when. It seemed so long ago. He had said that, and it was true. He had rolled his own dice and made his own mistakes, and now they were consummated in this moment. There was one mistake left to make. It wouldn't be nice, or fun, but he could at least delude himself that it had a certain poetic finality. And he had no doubt that, when that action was complete, a pit as black as the one he had seen in the blade awaited him on the other side.

That last thought brought a grim smile to his face. Smiley would have thought it ironic, to be sure. It took despair, chief of sins, to bring religion to Phoncible P. Bone.

88888

After the war comes the real grisly part: the cleanup. The bones, and Thorn, had left destruction in their wake, and people moved out of the city with shovels to bury the dead, beginning with the slaughtered bones in front of the wall. The two rat creatures watched as the men marched past on their ugly errand.

"All that meat wasted," the purple one said.

"It could go real well in a quiche," the brown one commented.

"You know," the purple one said, scratching his fur, "there's no particular reason they have to bury all those moist, succulent, marbled-with-fat bones when we could make cleanup easier."

"That's a good point, Comrade," the brown one said. "Let's see if they need our services."

"Let's."

The rats shook hands on it and then walked together out of the gate to do their duty for the city of Atheia.

Meanwhile, Wendell and Rory stood at Sinner's Rock, shovels in their hands. They looked down at the bodies of Fone Bone and Ishmael. Wendell felt numb, but his mind held at least enough curiosity to note with some interest that bones' eyes turned into little Xs when they died.

"Stars, what a mess," Rory said.

"Yeah," Wendell agreed.

Rory bent over Fone Bone. "Prime Minister Bone. Huh. Guess we best bury 'im." He reached out a hand and touched Fone Bone's head. "Say..."

"What is it, Rory?" Wendell asked.

"This skin. You ever felt this stuff? Pretty weird."

"Yeah, well, bones are weird. Let's get to it."

"Well, wait a minute, Wendell. I say weird, I don' mean bad. I mean, should we let this go to waste? This is fine skin. Back's all tore up, I see, but I bet you could get a hat or somethin' out of 'im."

Wendell furrowed his forehead. "You wanna make a hat out of Fone Bone?"

"Why not?"

Wendell leaned on the shovel and looked north. After Bone saved the Valley, the idea would have disgusted him. Now that felt like ages ago, and he wasn't sure if anything would ever evoke strong emotion from him again. He shrugged. "Yeah. Why not?"

Rory drew a knife.

88888

Back to Boneville. The trip had been long, and now the adventure was over. The other bones slinked away, off to live with themselves in whatever way they could. In all probability, only T. Bone felt no remorse. Annie, legs sore and cramped from the long walk, hobbled down the narrow street to the brownstone where she had her flat. She knew the bills had piled up, the dust bunnies had regrouped under the furniture, and she wasn't sure, but there might even be some month-old dirty dishes growing fungus in the sink.

She looked up at the low, rundown tenement and sighed, "Back to the daily grind."

As she stared at the building, she caught a flicker of white against the blue sky, as if something had moved on the roof.

She went to the side of the building and climbed the fire escape. It creaked under her feet and the rail got brown rust on her palms. With each step, her heart beat a little faster. At last, she came to the rooftop. Her hair, still loose, blew in the gentle summer breeze and her pale skin baked under the high sun.

He was there, standing in the middle of the roof, feathers gleaming white and quivering in the breeze, as spectacular as she always knew he would be.

The Stork.

The Stork gazed at her with wise, liquid eyes of bright sky-blue. In his long and regal beak, he held a dangling bundle as white as his feathers.

Annie pointed to herself with a questioning expression.

The Stork gave a single nod.

Trembling, Annie walked onto the roof. Her knees shook. Her breath came fast. When she reached him, she genuflected as she had been taught and held out her hands to receive the gift. The Stork, towering over her, lifted his head and set the bundle in her open arms.

A small, doe-eyed bone boy gazed at her. He cooed, and a tiny little mouth appeared under his mound-like nose.

Annie smiled. "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," she recited. Then she looked into the Stork's eyes. "He looks like his father."

The Stork gave Annie a small wink, turned, spread wide his wings, and took off into the air, wheeling high overhead and swooping toward the gleaming Big Bum-Smack Mountains, back to wherever he went when not delivering infants.

Annie looked down into the bundle again and her grin widened. The baby giggled. Well, Annie thought, things would certainly have to change around here if there was to be a baby. The apartment needed cleaned, and Annie needed to go shopping, and she'd better call her mother, though she could put that off. Oh dear, what would Mother think--darling little Annie with a baby and not even married?

Of course everyone would know who the father was. When Annie saw that the baby was a boy, he was Fone, Junior, and that settled that.

She walked back to the fire escape, rocking the baby in her arms.

And the universe tilted just a little off center.

Epilogue

Taneal's prophecies had stopped at the death of the new Locust and she had regained her health. Now, dressed in a long white robe, her hair scrupulously covered by a veil, Taneal moved through the sanctuary.

It had been her life's dream and it was now complete. She had saved the offerings to her shrines until at last she was able to renovate and consecrate the Temple of the Dragons that Tarsil had desecrated.

Tarsil had been afraid to destroy the building itself. It was ancient, hewn of enormous blocks of stone, and legend had it the dragons themselves had built it. Tarsil had hauled out the reliefs and statues and broken them in the streets. He had smashed the ancient altar, and he had bricked up the catacombs. The building he left desolate but standing, and he had not carried out his threat to strew the bones of the catacombs' hallowed dead on the sacred threshold.

Adrian was a grown man now. He had a wife, seven children, and a good job in the Merchant Guild. Taneal smiled. She was happy for him, though such pleasures could never be her own. She was high priestess of the temple, and she had dedicated herself to the dragons.

Taneal had decorated the restored temple with her own artwork. Dragons of all shapes and sizes adorned the sanctuary. The Great Red Dragon hovered in relief like a vigilant guardian over the entrance. Vangar of the dry wastes lay stretched out under the northern windows, and Balsaad of the rivers lay entwined under the southern arch. Twisting above the new blood altar was a sculpture that had required three years and a team of workmen: it was Mim, the queen, and at the statue's base was a tiny wheel of locusts, memory of Mim's madness.

In the temple's columned portico stood a series of reliefs depicting the Harvestars who one after another had guarded the Dreaming alongside the dragons until their line ended. Many worshippers and pilgrims stopped at these carvings on their way into the sanctuary and ran their hands over the depictions. There was Ven, the first of the Harvestars and the wisest. There was Queen Hyacinth, the bravest. Many other queens stood on the walls as well, of lesser or greater note, until the line came to Queen Rose the Warrior, standing regally with a gigantic attack-sword in hand and a bloodied rat creature at her feet. After her stood Queen Lunaria the Kind, who in the sculpture tended vines as a sign of her peacefulness and love of nature. After her stood another sculpture, different from the others. Its rendering was fuller and the features of its face were more exact, as if known to the sculptor. In this queen's arms was a small creature with a melon-like nose and bulbous feet. The queen's face tilted toward him as if they were about to kiss.

"Who is this?" a pilgrim might ask the high priestess.

Taneal would smile and turn to the enquirer as she ran her own fingers over the stone. "They were our saviors," she would say, "but they unmade their work with their own hands and by their forbidden love brought ruin on the House of Harvestar. This is Queen Thorn, the last of the Harvestars."

"And in her arms?"

"That is her consort," Taneal would reply. "He is the Fone Bone. A kind soul. A brave soul. He should have been known as Fone Bone Locust-slayer, but after his victory, he chose an ignoble path. In history now, and in the future when history turns to myth, he will be known as Fone Bone the Deceiver, Fone Bone the Infanticide...

"...and Fone Bone the Oathbreaker."

Finis

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.