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Blind Shrike Page 28

"As long as someone's happy."

"Smell," said Spyder.

"Smell? That's a sense. Smell's not a part of your body you can lose."

"Excuse me, Nurse Ratched, but smell is a neurological response in the olfactory cortex in the temporal lobe. Therefore, `smell' is a part of your body."

"Fuck you and the Discovery Channel," said Lulu. "It's still a stupid answer. You don't want to give up your brain. Trust me on this. Without smell, you'd never get laid again. Sex is all about smell. Pheromones. All that invisible shit that let's you know who wants to ride you like a rocking horse and who just wants to cadge drinks." Lulu turned around in her saddle. "Am I right, Shrike? Guys are such idiots. They don't know dick about smell."

"She's right, Spyder. Sex is smell. Smell is sex."

"You're all against me," Spyder said. "Primo, you lost something the other day. You should be playing, too. What part of your body would you lose first if you had to lose something?"

"I don't think I'd like to lose anything more, thank you," said Primo.

Shrike said, "You don't want to play game this with Primo. He'll win."

"Why's that?" Spyder asked.

"Primo, what did you do with your severed arm?" Shrike asked.

"I ate it, ma'am."

From the desert floor rose the detritus of long dead cities. Spyder slowed as they rode among the ruins. He ran his fingers over broken pillars that curved up from the sand like the ribs of a fossilized giant. Spiral stairways curled into the empty sky. Faceless, wind-scarred statues stood watch over the wreckage of enigmatic machines of corroded brass gears and cracked mirrors, stained ivory, springs, sprockets and shattered quartz lenses.

"I've never seen anything like this before," he said. "It's beautiful."

"I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit," Count Non said.

"It's shit like that that most weeks made me cut Sunday school," said Spyder. "I got a beating for it, but I'll take that over brainwashing. Everything we do or try is corrupt? What are we supposed to do with our lives?"

"According to a number of prophets," said Non, "our true calling is a lifetime of worship and little more."

"Praise the lord and pass the ammunition," said Spyder. "Thanks, but no thanks."

"I agree."

"You've got quite a stack of biblical pickup lines, Count. You in the seminary or something?"

"I am the victim of a classical education. I learned at a young age that a good quote is a good way to appear smarter than you really are."

"`In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock,'" recited Spyder. "Welles says that in The Third Man. I remember it whenever life goes all abstract -expressionist."

"That's every other weekend for you, right?" said Lulu.

"Fuck you, Martha Stewart."

"I'd f**k Martha."

Along a high ridge to the east, desert nomads were salvaging junk from the sand. They had sheets of sand-scoured metal, ornate urns and statues piled on long sleds that they hauled, by hand, across the dunes.

"Should we stop and say Hi?" asked Lulu.

"Why?" asked Shrike.

"I don't know. So we don't seem like a**holes."

"This is their desert," said Count Non. "They're more likely to think we're thieves after their salvage than their new best friends."

"What about food and water? Maybe we could trade with them," Spyder said.

"We have enough food. And there's plenty of water in the desert," said Shrike. "Primo's taking us along a route with springs and wells, aren't you?"

"Give me a single leaf and I will tell you the shadows of the birds that have crossed it. Give me a stone and I will tell you what army has marched past and where the freshest water can be found," Primo said. "That's the earliest bit of wisdom the Gytrash learn in childhood."

The day was heating up quickly. The tracks of the nomads' sleds paralleled their trail for several miles, then cut to the east and disappeared. Spyder pulled off his leather jacket (causing shooting pains throughout his injured hand) and draped it over the saddle horn.

Shrike rode up beside him and offered him some of her water. Spyder drank and kissed her hand as he gave her back the canteen.

"Tell me more about Lucifer's playpen," she said.

A few yards ahead of them, Spyder could hear Lulu singing quietly, "I'm on the Highway to Hell…"

"Some cultures see Hell as a pit of torment. Others as a workhouse as big as the universe," Spyder said.

Thirty Seven

A Bad Good Night

"You sure you never see anything when you're not doing your blood magic?

I swear, sometimes your eyes lock on me and they're wild and wide. There's fireworks going off inside and bolts of lightning, like from a Tesla Coil."

Spyder and Shrike had just finished making love on a Persian carpet Shrike had manifested with her magic book behind a dune near their camp.

Shrike smiled. "It's funny to hear you say that. No one ever talks to me about my eyes. Even Ozymand didn't. Everyone thinks I'm sensitive about it or something."

"Maybe they're afraid to piss off a hard girl with a really big sword."

"You're not. That's why I like you, pony boy."

Spyder took a handful of sand and slowly dribbled it between Shrike's br**sts.

"You shit," she said, brushing herself off.

"If you ever get bored and decide to off me, my preference is being f**ked to death."

"Duly noted. And I won't let Primo eat you. Not all of you." Shrike's hand slid down Spyder's body and wrapped around his cock. "I wish I could see your face. I wish I could see you hard. You feel good inside me." Spyder kissed her and started to become hard again.

"What was that?" he asked, pulling away from her.

"What?"

"Listen."

They both lay quiet for a moment.

"It's the ruins," said Shrike. "Underground machines. Some of them have been humming on their own timetable for a thousand of years."

"Shit. I was afraid it was one of those balloons."

"Relax. Non's watching for them. Do you have any cigarettes left?"

"No. I wanted to trade for some in Berenice, but I decided to get mugged instead. We going to live through this, you think?"

"That's the plan. At least if we die in Hell, we'll be close to where we're going to end up."

"You can always find a little rainbow for me," said Spyder. "Does killing mean anything to you? I know its your job, but does it ever get to you?"

"It's not my dream job, but it's better than the alternatives. I'm not ready to be a beggar or a prostitute. When I was thrown out into the world all I knew had was a little magic and my skill with a sword. One day, I'll use it to win back my kingdom," said Shrike. She turned on her side facing Spyder. "I'm glad I don't see the faces of the people I've killed. But I'd rather die a fighter than a victim."

Spyder smoothed her dreads back from her face. "You are a fighter. A life-taker and a heartbreaker, and you don't need anyone. Certainly not someone like me. I can barely get my pants on to get to work in the morning. But when I look at you, I have this ridiculous desire to watch out for you."

Shrike nuzzled into Spyder's chest. "Sweet boy," she said.

From the other side of the dune someone cleared their throat.

"Who's that?" called Shrike, sitting up and grabbing her cane.

"Quiet," came Primo's low voice. It was the first time Spyder had heard him give anything like an order. "Something is about. Count Non would like you both to come back to camp."

"Tell him we'll be right there."

Spyder pulled on his pants and helped Shrike find her clothes. They left the carpet and ran back to camp.

"What's up?" Spyder asked. The others sat around a small fire, drinking the mint tea Lulu had bought in Berenice.

"Sit down and have some tea," said Count Non. "Don't look around. There's something out in the dunes."

"We heard machines earlier. From the ruins," said Spyder.

"This isn't machines or horses or even wolves looking for a quick meal."

"Men," said Shrike. "How many?"

"Eight, at least."

"Shit," said Spyder.

"Can you reach the Hornet?" asked the Count.

"It's right by my saddle, on the other side of the fire."

"Don't reach for it now. You'll fight with that and not the knife. The Hornet will give you some distance from your opponent. Smile. You and the Butcher Bird are relaxed and happy and in love."

"How can you be sure they're going to attack?" Spyder asked.

Lulu handed them cups of hot tea. Shrike blew on hers to cool it. "You send one or two men to spy," she said. "When you send eight or more, it's a raiding party."

"Is it those desert rats we saw earlier today? They didn't look like much," said Spyder.

"Anyone who can live in this open desert is going to be hard as stone and fierce as a demon," said Non.

"I'm boosting morale with cheap bravado," said Spyder. "On my planet, we refrain from telling people them how f**ked they are."

"My mistake."

"How are you doing, Lulu?" asked Spyder.

"I could use a fix. Or a drink."

"We need you bright-eyed and quick like a bunny right now."

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