Seymour closed his eyes and let his chin sink to his chest. He sighed, lids drifting open again, and his vision locked on an object floating lazily toward him on the river. It took him a while, though, to recognize it for what it was. A corpse, face-down, wearing a grey dress, long hair spread out on the water. On its back, the raven.
“Well, fuck,” said Seymour to himself. He removed his cloak and his boots and dove into the filthy river. The current was slow, and with his fingers and toes spread for best use of the webbing, he made swift progress. As he drew up to the body, the raven flapped away and landed on the nearest dock post.
The merman sank below the surface and reemerged beneath the corpse in such a way as to drape it over his shoulder, and he swam to shore. He set it down in the dirt and regarded its blank, staring face for the first time.
“This is my fault, isn’t it, Roz?” His mouth tasted like the Murkintir. He spat into the river. “It’s always my fault. I suppose it’s no wonder that I haven’t any friends. They all fucking die! I’m sorry you knew me. I’m not a good person. I’m sorry, Rosalind! I’m sorry. I’m sorry…”
Tears rolling down his face, he stumbled backwards and turned his gaze upon the raven.
“What do you want from me?”
The raven croaked. He lunged at it, hand outstretched, intent upon snapping its neck in his grip, but it skipped out of reach.
“What do you want? Are you trying to tell me something?”
There was a brief pause, and then the raven opened its beak. “Yesss, Seymour.”
The bird lifted its left foot and pointed it toward the river. Seymour looked where it was indicating. The Murkintir had turned scarlet with blood. Skeletal remains bobbed sporadically in the flow.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He looked back, but the raven was gone. In its place was an unearthly woman garbed in gauzy white rags. Her skin was porcelain white and too flawless to convey life. Her long, black hair hovered languidly in a nonexistent breeze, her lips were the reddest red that Seymour had ever seen, and her blue eyes glowed like lamps. She had no pupils. When she smiled, fangs protruded from her pale gums.
“Whence does it flow, Seymour? Might it carry the blood of an heir and a whore? Or—the blood of two nobles, spilt to settle a score?”
“Why, what do you mean? Why so obscene? After all, I’m the queen of this realm In-Between. But there’s no need to fear: You aren’t on your own. Hardly anyone here walks the Between alone.”
Seymour tried to stammer out a coherent question, but his brain seemed to have gotten disconnected from his mouth and all he could manage was, “Who?”
“Six shall go,” she sang. “Three men, three not. All in masks of falsehood wrought. You’re sure to meet along the way. They’ll love you true, come what may.”
“Yesss. But it is a rose—beware the thorns. Not every demon wears hatred and horns.”