Sing, Muse. Sing rage.
I am not a Muse, but I could sing you a song of rage. My origin is rage, rage and helplessness. I began as the sort of thing no one pays attention to, that everyone dismisses, just another girl, and there are too many who are my sisters in this.
Before, I never had rage for myself. Growing up, girls are told that we shouldn’t, that we should be good girls, not bitches. Be quiet, be ladylike. Don’t talk back. Don’t take up too much space. Good girls don’t raise their voices. Good girls don’t rage.
I am not a good girl.
I used to be. It almost killed me.
I’m different now. If you took my picture, you’d see one of the goth girls, pale skin held together with battered boots and eyeliner. Too much attitude for her own good, and nothing you need to concern yourself with. You probably wouldn’t even notice the way they shadows twist and heap themselves around me, the dream of wings.
But I’m not even human, not anymore. I’m an Erinye, a Fury. One of the Kindly Ones. And when I am that, when I am most fully myself, I am winged and snake-haired. I am a tear, an absence, a rip in the universe’s threads.
I am rage.
If only the story had never been told.
Falling in love with Jason had never been Medea’s desire. She had not schooled herself in sorcery, made the sacrifices necessary to gain that knowledge, so as to lose herself to a man. That particular fate was in none of the auspices she read for herself.
But fates can be overridden by goddesses, and golden Jason was well-beloved of Hera and so like the snap of a finger, the sorceress was herself ensorcelled.
At first, what Jason asked of Medea was cleverness. Help in the theft of the Golden Fleece from Medea’s father, a man who never had appreciated his daughter’s gifts. A thing she might have done even without the interference of the goddess, even without the words Jason spoke to her when they moved together in the dark. It was a pleasure to outwit a father who never expected intelligence from a daughter.
But then. But then. The next task Jason required. Her brother’s blood wet and sticky on her hands, and her knife in her brother’s flesh, and between the weak places in his joints and across his throat so that he would stop—all gods and goddesses, stop—crying out her name and begging her for mercy. Jason stood next to her on the deck of the Argo, laughing as she consigned the pieces of her brother’s body to the salt-dark sea. Laughing at the confusion of Medea’s father, as he sailed his own boat in pursuit of the pieces of his dead son, rather than of the man standing next to his still living daughter.
Medea loved her brother, and it had not mattered. That love had not been enough to save either of them. She had committed the gravest of wrongs. She had spilled the blood of her family. She looked at her hands, still gloved in red, and swore vengeance.
The first time I fully became a Fury, everything about it was strange. Medea had warned me about some of what would happen—I would feel a call, a pulling beneath my skin. I would hear the voice of the lost, murdered woman, crying out for vengeance. I wouldn’t be able to ignore it, and I wouldn’t want to. I’d be guided to where I needed to go.
I’d asked—what about the police? Shouldn’t they be called? Wouldn’t they wonder why I was there?
No. They wouldn’t notice me. I would always be there before they were. And if the police, the laws, the courts were enough, I wouldn’t be necessary anyway. If you have justice, you don’t need vengeance.
Would it always be a dead woman? I asked. That wasn’t quite how I remembered the stories, dim pieces of mythology resurrected from school.
The stories, Medea told me, were both more and less true than they appeared to be. And other Furies had other duties. This one, here, was mine.
Then there were the parts Medea didn’t tell me about. The feeling of wings ripping through my skin and into the air. Of snakes crawling inside my flesh. Of the way my heart would feel when it ceased to beat and became heavy, became a scale to weigh the sins of others.
That first time, I nearly vomited when I saw the body. I knew there was going to be a body. I had braced myself for it. I wouldn’t have been called, my office would not have been invoked if a woman hadn’t been killed, but seeing her was still awful. Beyond awful.
Then there was the next thing I had to do, which was worse.
I knelt down next to her, and I knew what her name was. Ashleigh McAllister. “I’m sorry, Ashleigh,” I said, and touched my fingers to her blood. “I’m sorry.”
Then I brought my fingers to my mouth.
“The truth is in the blood,” Medea had told me. “Of life, and of death. No one can hide from what is written there, and you need that truth. Your dead need you to know it.”
With the taste of the blood, I could hear a great bell ring, and it was as if I stood inside it. The air around me compressed and then exploded outward. Bronze-feathered wings unfolded themselves from my back, and my hair coiled and hissed.
I was no longer a woman. I was a storm with skin. I was unnameable vengeance.
I knew who had killed her. I knew his name.
My vision ran red, and my head was full of the tolling of bells, and he had run but his beating heart was a lodestone and my blood was full of magnets.
He was not difficult to find.
I held out my hands and in them was a mirror and I stood before him and I showed him his reflection. I do not know what he saw, except that it was true, and that the terror of the vision was enough to stop his craven heart. Even had it not been, my hand, clutching it outside of his chest, would.
The mirror disappeared. The wings folded themselves into my back, the snakes of my hair slithered away, disappearing into the shadows and cracks, the between spaces. I said her name once more: Ashleigh McAllister.
I do not ever speak his.
That was the first time. I am accustomed to it now, the bronze wings, the world gone red, the great tolling of a bell I have never seen, one that is silenced only when vengeance has been paid.
Accustomed to it, not used to it. I will never be used to hearing that another woman is dead, murdered at the hands of a monster.
Medea was waiting for me at the diner, and I sighed with happiness when I spotted her through the neon-lit glass.
She smiled, red lipstick and glamour, when I walked in the door. “Kaira! The fries are hot and the burger is bloody, so eat up, dear.” She had done something to the food while she waited, because my fries were still hot even though her own plate was half-empty, and they tasted better than they had any right to. I nodded my thanks around a mouth full of burger, and ate until the snakes quieted beneath my skin.
We meet at least once a week. Often here—the food in its natural, unmagically enhanced state isn’t astounding, but Medea likes the egg creams. But it’s the seeing her that matters, not the food. “I want to be sure you have someone to talk to if you need it,” Medea had said when she suggested the meetings.
I must have looked surprised, because she continued. “Just because what you do is right, doesn’t mean it’s easy.”
“What I do doesn’t bother me,” I said. “I’d kill them twice if I could.”
Medea put her hand on mine. “It’s not that part that will wear on you. It’s the fact that, if you’re there at all, you’re already too late. Your office is not one of prevention.”
She had been right. So, we met. Diner food. Burgers and fries with salt enough to conjure tears. Or elegant bars for Sidecars and Manhattans. She never asked how I was, if I was coping, and I never told, because I knew I could. I was the monster now. Of course I could cope. But we met, and those meetings were my safety net.
“I have honey for you,” Medea said, and took a jar from her purse. She keeps a hive of bees on her rooftop. She had kept that same hive since it stood outside the Oracle at Delphi, next to an omphalos stone honeycombed with carved bees, the tiny labyrinth of the hive. She uses the bees in her divinations, and gives the honey to her friends.
The honey is the red gold color of liquid flame, and there is no more delicious honey on earth.
“Kaira, if you dream after you eat the honey—”
“I will tell you.” She always asks. I would tell her, if there were ever anything to tell. There never is. “For now, tell me about this new guy you’ve been seeing.”
Medea’s smile is like a cat stretching, slow and sure of its beauty. She set gloves on the table, knit so fine they must be cashmere, and deep gold like the late afternoon sun. “He gave me these.”
It was dark when I left the diner, night fallen over the city, though it was a loud and neon-lit darkness. The lights from the buildings, from the cars, shine so much that it is almost impossible to see stars here. Still, bright as it is, there is something about the night that makes the air seem colder, that makes me feel more alone, than the same walk would have done under even a grey-skied day. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and hunched in to myself as I walked.
When I got home, I changed into bird-printed flannel pajamas, and made a cup of tea. The tea was mostly an excuse to have some of Medea’s honey in a manner that isn’t just eating it straight from the jar, though I’m glad of the warmth in my hands as I hold the mug. The honey tastes like the late summer sky, gold and flame and migrating butterflies. Of bees on the wing, and feathers, bright and almost bronze.
It was Medea who made me what I am. I was very nearly one of the dead girls. There was a man, who at first seemed kind, who treated me as if I were some precious thing. He seemed so good, and I felt as if I didn’t deserve him. I tried to, though, and when he told me I failed, I tried harder. I thought he loved me, until the day I knew he didn’t.
There isn’t much about my story that makes it unique to me. Anyone outside of it could have read the warning signs, and predicted the end. Yet, as I was living in it, I couldn’t see my danger, and couldn’t see my way out. My disaster felt horribly unique, and I felt alone in it. It was as if I lived inside of a great clock, constantly counting down, and I was powerless to stop it from reaching the zero point.
And so it did.
He said he had seen me with another man, smiling and flirting, and pressing myself against him like a whore. I had already learned that truth didn’t matter, that any attempt to deny or explain would have been seen as more lies. I thought it was just going to be another beating, but he had a gun.
Terror. Pain. Blood. Not death.
Instead, I got Medea, and a choice.
I chose yes.
I don’t know where he is now. I will never ask her.
There are other Furies, of course. There always are—women remade from sorrow and anger, from the wrongs they have endured. There has always been the need for vengeance. Very near an eternity of it, a constantly renewing cycle.
I finished the tea, and crawled into bed.
I dream of the dying of the bees. I see them confused and lost outside a hive that still hums, but is slowly starving. They no longer recognize themselves, and cannot find their way home. I dream of other deaths as well: Birds fall from the sky, feathered contrails unspiralling in their wake. A tattered carpet of butterflies, trampled on the street. Bats, unmade velvet shadows.
I see hands holding scissors ice-bright, cutting threads that are already unraveling.
Then there is nothing, and nothing, and nothing. The dream ends, and I cannot wake. I cannot move, and I cannot breathe, and my entire world has gone grey and heavy.
Finally, the dream spits me out, and I heave myself up in bed, shaking and sweating, the sheets tangling my legs like snakes. I tap the dream out on the screen of my phone so that I can email it to Medea now, before I forget something. But even once I’m finished, I stay in bed until the shaking stops, and my legs can hold my weight. Only then do I stumble to the shower, to wash the stench of my own fear from my body.
I don’t dream, not since becoming a Fury. I am a skeleton of impossibilities, on which a body made from other people’s dreams is hung—there are no extra pieces of magic for me to burn off in something so casual as sleep. This was something that should never have happened.
And so Medea took every kind and soft thing that remained in her heart, and turned it to fury, turned it to vengeance, gave it the hardness of bronze, the voice of a great bell tolling. She still loved Jason, because she had to. The goddess so decreed, and that was a force Medea could not escape. But love is protean and love is cruel, and love looks at hate and sees its mirror-twin.
The Argo came to shore to find that a great wrong had been done—Jason’s father slain by his own family, his throne stolen, and held against Jason, who by law should have inherited it. The kin-slayer, the usurper, was too strong for Jason to stand against him. And so the goddess again moved Medea’s heart, and made her turn her hand to sorcery.
It was a dire thing, what Medea did. She laid hold of a ram, an ancient, noble beast, and slit its throat. She cut it small, and placed it in a cauldron, a dread device whose only purpose was the resurrection of the dead. And so, a lamb, bright with the strength of youth, emerged.
The usurper saw this thing that Medea had done, and saw a way to rule forever. And so Medea gave her knife to the man’s daughters, and taught them the herbs they must use, and the words they must say. But she did not give them her cauldron, and so the usurper’s death was final, cut to pieces and stewed in a pot, and family blood coated their hands.
Jason saw what had been done on his behalf, and he was pleased. He called it just.
If you’re looking for a wizard in New York City, the easiest place to find one is the Hungarian pastry shop near the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Like the more mundane customers, they go there to drink small cups of strong espresso, and savor rich slices of Sacher torte.
They also go there to play chess. Chess lends itself fairly easily to use in sympathetic magic, which means that it can be played for reasons that are about more than simply the pieces being moved about the board. There are days when I walk in, and I can feel the great scales weighing their balances. There are days when a game is simply two friends sitting across a table, trading pawns and gossip.
I arrived to see Medea tip over the white king. “Checkmate.”
The white-haired man with the eyepatch sitting across from her shook his head. “I thought I had you. Again tomorrow?”
“For stakes higher than coffee and a pastry?” Her smile, an outstretched hand holding a golden apple.
“Perhaps. I’ll consult the runes.” He leaned over to kiss her cheek, and gave a slight bow as I slid into his vacated seat. “Kind lady, if you would let me get your coffee and pastry as well?”
Offers like that were a thing that happened, when people recognized what I was, a marker of gratitude or respect given to the office I filled. My refusal would have been as much of an insult as someone not offering, so I nodded. “Thank you. One of the almond ones, please.”
While he was at the counter, I asked, “Is that Odin?”
“That is one of the names he uses, yes.”
When he leaned down to set the cups and plates on the table, I heard the distant clang of swords, and smelled the cold winter resin of the world tree. The shadows he cast reshaped themselves into runes written on bone. He winked at me before he turned to go.
Medea and I drank coffee, and ate pastries, and I fidgeted the chess pieces around the board.
“You can’t move the knight like that,” she said.
“I didn’t realize we were playing.”
“We’re not. Still. There are rules.” She set the knight back on his square. “I don’t know why you dreamt, Kaira.”
“Should I worry?” The dream had been horrifically unpleasant, but I had been around Medea and magic long enough now to know that unpleasant by itself was not necessarily cause for alarm.
“Perhaps. It may have been a blip. A stray piece of magic that collected in the honey. That honey, and those bees, it’s certainly possible.
“It may have been some leftover bits of your own past, rising up to haunt you, more a memory than a dream. You said at the end you felt paralyzed, and trapped.”
I nodded. It made sense, her explanation, or at least I wanted it to. Wanting mattered, with magic.
“But if it is something other, there is not enough for me to say what. Omens require context.”
“Threes,” I said. “Things like this, if they have meaning, they happen in threes.”
“That is the customary way of it. That doesn’t mean I want you to wait to tell me about anything—anything, Kaira—that seems strange to you.”
I sipped at my coffee, then winced and set it back down. It had gone cold and sludgy at the bottom. “I will,” I said.
A woman came in the door, regal-looking, and with a snake’s tale that swept out from under her skirts. A melusine. “I think your next game is here, so I should probably go.”
Medea looked over my shoulder, and nodded at the melusine. “Take care, Kaira.”
“I will.” I didn’t tell Medea to take care—the thought never occurred to me. She was Medea, after all. She had always taken care of herself.
I was fidgety, full of too much energy, static electricity running through my veins. Medea may not have thought it was time to worry, but I couldn’t convince myself it wasn’t. So I walked home, instead of taking the subway, looking for strangeness, for the thing out of the ordinary, for the sideways glance that would set the snakes to hissing beneath my skin.
There are echoes of strangeness and wonder everywhere in New York—a different god worshipped on every street, and the gods themselves dwelling in penthouses and alleys and in subway tunnels no one alive remembers. There are wizards and magics and feral cats who grant wishes and a glass-topped counter at a department store staffed only by women named Vasilisa.
There are a thousand words for dream spoken here, and as many ways of making them come true.
I stopped when I saw her. An older woman, cloud-white hair pulled back into a low bun, exposing bones fine as a bird’s. She wore a coat that was an explosion of pink, and the late morning sun flashed and scattered off the knitting needles in her hands.
I bought two cups of coffee from the cart at the edge of the park, and walked over to where the woman sat. “I wasn’t sure how you took your coffee, so I grabbed some cream and sugar packets. They’re in my pocket if you’d like.”
“I like my coffee best when it’s had with a friend. Will you sit down with me?”
“I’m sorry, have we met?” She did look familiar to me, though my brain fogged when I tried to place her exactly.
“It’s possible. I meet a lot of people. But even if we haven’t, anyone who buys me a cup of coffee can call herself my friend.” She set the cup down, and picked up her knitting again.
“What are you making?” The yarn she was using was a beautiful night sky blue, flecked with grey.
“I never know, not exactly. Not ’til it’s finished, and the last thread cut.”
“You don’t need a pattern?” What was in her hands looked complicated, full of twists and texture changes. There were places that layered over each other like a tapestry’s weave.
“My hands know what they need to be doing.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
“It does look that way, doesn’t it?” She set the knitting down and looked at me. “You tell your friend to listen to the bees, and the dreams of the winged. You tell her to take care, before she is stolen away from herself. You take care, too. Something is coming, and there’s a knot in the thread.”
Her words were like winter across my skin. “Can you tell me anything else?”
“I can tell you thank you for the coffee, and the company. You come sit with me any time. But now, you go talk to your friend.”
I did. Medea seemed calm, unworried, as if she were simply collecting interesting data. Still, a voice in my head marked: two.
After, Medea wondered why it was that she had stayed. The goddess’ compulsion on her grew weaker as there were no new tasks to perform for Jason’s advancement. Perhaps she could have run. Perhaps somewhere there would have been a safe place where her name did not echo off the walls, where her deeds had not outstripped her feet, where she could have lived quietly, with her sorceries and her bees. Perhaps.
But she stayed, and she let herself believe Jason when he said he loved her. She cast her own sorceries upon herself until she believed she loved him, too. They had a marriage. They had children. She made herself believe.
For a while, it even worked.
Omens and strangenesses aside, I was still a Fury, and sadly few days passed where I didn’t have call to be reminded of it. The girl shot because she looked at the wrong boy. A woman savaged because someone decided she had no right to call herself woman. Another woman stabbed to death because she didn’t smile when a man on the subway told her to. They are not the only ones. They are never the only ones.
I am vengeance, I am furious. I am heartbroken.
I repeat their names to myself in litanies, light candles to mark their passing, and understand the desire to scorch the earth and salt the ashes.
There is nothing I can do to stop this progress, no warning I can give. I do not have a power that will let me unfurl my wings and fly these women to safety.
The hidden meaning of vengeance is too late.
Whatever omens that were being counted, I didn’t want to be the thing that marked three, so even as I watched with one eye for any potentially important sign, I tried very hard not to encourage one to show up. I didn’t spoon Medea’s honey into my tea. I didn’t stop by the Hungarian pastry shop to see the wizards play chess. I made sure not to order my take out lo mein from the restaurant in Chinatown that had true fortunes in its cookies. I canceled drinks with Medea, twice.
She called me on it, when I tried to get out of dinner a third time. “You are a harbinger, Kaira. If there is a doom that will fall, it will fall whether or not you and I have martinis. And if there are omens gathering around you, better that we hear them when they speak.”
So I went, and things were good. Worry about ill-fated omens coming in threes aside, Medea was my friend, and I had missed her. For the space of a meal and a conversation, I was able to believe that whatever dire clock was ticking had paused its countdown at two.
“And things are good with the new guy?” I asked, buttoning my coat. I never could keep his name in my head.
“Hmm? Yes, he’s lovely. Shit.” She held out her hand. Her nail had pierced the threads of the golden gloves he gave her, and her finger stuck out through the unraveled end.
“He gave those to you, didn’t he?”
“Yes. So sweet. Well, at least it’s just the end—I can fix them.” She tugged the gloves off, dropped them in her purse.
I opened the door of the restaurant, and froze. “Medea.”
The sidewalk was covered with dead birds.
After the birds—and not just the expected pigeons of the city, but an entire aviary’s worth of magpies and cardinals, goldfinches and kestrels, the bronze feathers of a Fury scattered among them—I figured it didn’t matter anymore, that the omens were done, that whatever fate was going to fall had fallen, so I stirred Medea’s honey into my tea that night.
I dreamt again, but if they were omens, I didn’t know how to read them. Feathers of bronze, like my own, falling from the sky to litter the ground. Ships in the harbor, all with black sails raised. Running, always running, through a knot of walls somehow too high to fly over, the panic of a monster’s hot breath on my neck.
That’s not quite true. I did know how to read them. I just didn’t want to.
New York lends itself to mysteries, to hidden places and secret clubs. To bakeries full of wizards, yes, but also to a tree in Central Park where the phoenix makes its nest, fragrant with cinnamon and amber. To a church where the ghosts of the saints walk forth from their reliquaries once a day and sing matins. To a room in a museum where twelve women slip each night into a grand ball and dance until their shoes are tattered. It is a city practiced in keeping secrets.
Even better at keeping secrets is Medea.
If you don’t know that it’s there, you will walk past Medea’s building. You will not see its silhouette against the sky when you look up, nor will it obstruct your view when you look out of your own window. You will never stumble against her lion-carved door, nor will you hear the hum of the hive in her rooftop garden.
If you do know the building is there, the lion on the door presses himself, purring, beneath your hand for a scratch, and once he has received it, the door opens to admit you.
The inside of Medea’s house changes according to her mood. Today it was mirrored walls and marble floors, purples and velvets and twining glass statues, all shadows and reflections. I walked up a staircase that spun, Nautilus-like, to the roof.
Medea was waiting in the garden, which bloomed always, regardless of time or weather. She had poured glasses of wine the color of tears. Below us, I could hear the constant ring of bells begging for seasonal generosity from passersby. Up here, the air was fragrant with all the blossoms of summer.
“My bees are unwell,” she said. “And I am worried for them. After so many years together, I had begun to think they were eternal. Now, I fear that they are not.”
“Are they dying?” I remembered a dream I had never had, small velvety bodies, fallen to the ground, wings stilled.
“No, but they stray from their hive, from the paths that they know, and when I ask them of futures, they tell only one, over and over.
“A future that is unreadable. All I know is that it ends, and the ending is out of its proper time.” She drank, and half the glass was gone. “The wind is blowing from the wrong direction. I am blind, Kaira. The only time I can see is this one. Something is wrong, or has been wrong, or will be wrong, and the truth is obscured. It has been long and long since I have been this blind.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “Have a drink with me. We can toast and pretend things are normal, and then if we wish hard enough, maybe they will be.”
“Does magic work like that?”
“If we wish hard enough.” She poured more wine. “Sometimes.”
Medea had explained magic to me, as she remade me into what I am.
“Some people think of it like a recipe,” she said. “Where if you mix all the ingredients in the right order, you’ll get the result you’re looking for.”
“Is it?” My interest was casual, but if she kept talking, then I could think about something other than how much what she was doing hurt.
“You need those things, yes. But there’s more.” Her hands stopped moving. “How badly do you want this?”
Worse even than the pain was the knowledge that without it, without the movements of Medea’s hands that burned trails of hollow fire along my bones, I was nothing. Dead. Erased. Unmade by someone who a year from now wouldn’t even think of me, who in five years would no longer remember my name.
“Very,” I said.
Her work continued. “That is the other necessary thing for magic. Will. Desire. Wanting something so badly you bend the path of your fate around it.
“It is,” she continued,” the most necessary thing. Focused desire can transform nearly anything.”
I nearly bumped into Odin when I walked into the Hungarian pastry shop. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was preoccupied. And hungry.”
“I won’t keep you then, but…Medea, is she well?” He stood half in light, the shadows covering his sacrificed eye.
I don’t like to talk about Medea with other people who know what she is. Wizards, at their hearts, are creatures made of power, and the games they play are glass castle balancing acts designed to maintain their own, and steal—very elegantly and artistically—from others.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry,” he said. I was sure he did, but I let him have his politeness.
“It is only that I have some skill in the interpretation of omens. Yet when I roll the bones, and speak her name, they show blank, as if a veil has been drawn across her. We are more friends than we are rivals, she and I, and so I worry for her.”
“She is as well as can be,” I part-answered, making no mention of my own growing worry, “and I will tell her that you asked.”
“Then please also tell her I have missed her, and our games,” he said.
“Can anyone play?” I asked. “I mean, if I played chess with you—”
“It would be a game of chess.”
“Could I make it more?”
“Being what you are, you could. But I would advise such a thing only if you had no other choice. You would be likely to lose, and the consequences for such a loss would not be light, even for you.”
“And for you?” I asked. “What would the consequences be if you lost?”
“Dire, as well. Anything that doesn’t hurt to lose isn’t worth wagering.”
The next morning, I woke up and the shadows were wrong.
If you sleep in a place for long enough, you get used to the way the light falls at certain times of day. You know if you’ve woken up early, or in the full, hungover light of noon. You know if it’s overcast, or if snow has fallen, sometimes even before you open your eyes. That morning, it was as if I had woken up in a new bed. The shadows were wrong.
I felt seasick, sideways when I looked out the window. The proportions, the spaces between the buildings, the place where the street corner was—all of them were altered. Not natural disaster wrong, not Godzilla stomps through the city wrong, but off. Shifted. As if someone had taken ahold of a piece of the ground and pulled it like a blanket that has one corner trapped underneath something heavy.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed it. The MTA had all the subway lines listed as delayed, and the conversation of cab horns was even louder than usual. I didn’t get lost as I walked through the city, but I think I could have, if I hadn’t been concentrating. The streets were all there, were still in their expected order, but distances were variously stretched and condensed, corners and crossings in unexpected places.
Things appear peaceful in the eye of a storm. The only thing visible is the calm, not the winds howling around the edges, not the floods just about to open up.
It is the same in the heart of a labyrinth—everything seems open, the twisting walls that were just navigated with such difficulty no more than a fence.
It is the same in the heart of a story, when you do not yet realize that you’re being put in the path of an ending.
The problem was, Medea thought later, that when Hera forced her into falling in love with Jason, so that he could benefit from her power, the goddess had neglected to make that falling reciprocal. Maybe she assumed that Medea would need no help in attracting whatever man she so desired. More likely, the goddess simply hadn’t seen the point. You don’t need to be in love with someone to use them. Actually, it helps if you’re not.
And so, and so.
They marry. They have children. They make a life. It is perhaps not the life Medea had envisioned for herself, but it is an acceptable one.
Jason brings home a new girl. A princess. Younger than Medea. Pretty. Not a sorceress. Not threatening. Biddable and beddable.
Fine. Not like Jason’s eye hasn’t wandered before. He has his life, and Medea has hers, and they’ve made things work in a rather tidy fashion. They are civil, friends even. There’s no need to upset things.
Except this time Jason tells Medea that he’s going to marry the girl. And that she is to take their children and go, far away, out of the country. He wants a fresh start. He has to look to his future. He needs a wife, not a witch.
She asks him if he’s really breaking his vows, abandoning his children. He says he’s sure she understands. She tells him she does, better than he thinks.
The gods do not look kindly upon oath-breakers. Nor do those who remain, holding the broken pieces.
The buildings and streets moved again, drawing themselves tighter, closer together. One block, on the Upper East Side, was now closed off almost completely—only one way in, everything else a dead end.
This wasn’t even the strangest thing about that marked off corner of New York. The strangest thing was that if you walked into it, it would be Tuesday. Always. Usually late morning, though sometimes an entire Tuesday would pass. A previous Tuesday, one where you already knew how things were supposed to play out, and not always the same one. Multiples of them, layered over one another, always happening, never in the right order, and no guarantee that if you went there with someone else that your Tuesdays would be the same.
Easy enough to walk in and out, should you decide you wished to experience time as it usually ran, unless of course you were unfortunate enough to live there.
There was more: All of the candles at St. Patrick’s spontaneously lit, and could not be extinguished. Nor did they gutter themselves. They simply burned, holy smoke floating towards the heavens.
A man bought a carton of eggs, every one of which had double yolks. Every ball of yarn in the city unrolled itself. All of the city’s gargoyles spontaneously leapt from their buildings and took to the sky, flocking together in a great murmuration.
It’s not that no one noticed these things—everyone did, both supernatural and mundane. But of those who might know why any of it was happening, those with gifts for interpreting signs and omens, none were speculating as to cause. It was too much strangeness, spread out over too much of the city. In each case, there was a hole in the divination, a shadow, a missing piece. Something large made hidden. Some ending untold.
I dragged myself home, exhausted. Three deaths, three calls for vengeance. The most I had ever had in one day. It felt as if my wings hadn’t quite settled back into my skin, as if they were still poised to open, and pull me into the sky after one more man who thought the only choice that mattered was his.
I drew myself a bath, scalding hot, and poured rosemary oil into the water. Not because I needed to remember the women. I knew their names, knew their faces without notebook or photograph. I was their monument.
But because I needed to remember anything else besides blood and the taste of their deaths in my mouth, besides the weight in my hands of an unlying mirror, and an unbeating heart, besides what it meant to be created of people’s unanswered prayers.
I made myself the child’s comfort of hot milk, and stirred honey into it. Medea told me once that it had been common to bring honey when going to an oracle, so that they would give you sweet speech. The tradition was one of the reasons for the hives at Delphi. I drank, and all I could taste in the future was bitterness.
Even then, I couldn’t sleep. Exhaustion burned in my joints, and still my thoughts would not settle. I went out into the night, stalking down street after street.
Too many names, too many dead. Sing rage.
Walking the last mile to home, I heard the footsteps behind me. Not fast, not chasing. Steady. Deliberate. They sounded like hoofbeats, but there were two, not four. I felt watched, stalked, and wanted to run, but running makes you prey, and I wouldn’t be that. So I walked, the sounds of my boots almost as echoing as whatever it was I would not turn around to look at. There are times when seeing what something is does not make it better.
Then the footsteps stopped. Started again, and grew faster. Running now. Closer. I could feel the weight of it behind me, the animal scent.
I walked home, listening to the echoes of my own steps as I did. I didn’t sleep that night.
A voice scraping the sky, crying out for vengeance. For the thing that had been done to her to be made to matter. And so I went, to the place where her body had been left, and I knelt by her side, and I spoke her name—Lydia Jones—so that it might be remembered. I dragged my fingers through her blood, and brought them to my mouth.
There was no answering name, no revelation of her killer. My wings remained heavy on my back, my blood did not orient itself along the lines of an unseen compass. I tried again, but there was nothing more than the sourness of her blood in my mouth.
I had pulled out my phone to call Medea, and find out what might be wrong when I heard the police sirens. I stepped out of the window so as to avoid complications. But that, too, was wrong—the sirens, the police. We weren’t called to the same places.
Even as I flew, I still heard her voice. Lydia Jones. Her death was mine, and so should have been her vengeance. There was nothing that would let me give it to her.
I flew across the city to the garden on Medea’s rooftop. Whatever wrongness had infected the city had now made its way here. Flowers were drooping, leaves edged with brown, or fallen altogether. In one corner, snow fell, just as it did in city’s the other, less magical, skies.
The paths were littered with the bodies of bees.
The voice in my head, the voice of Lydia Jones, reminding me that she was unavenged, continued, drowning out everything else. I stumbled through the door and into Medea’s apartment. Fell to the floor, and then stayed there, retching.
“Kaira! What is it?”
I tried to answer, but hunched, and coughed, and then brought up the thing that was blocking my throat. A bronze feather, just like my own, spattered with blood. Medea’s hands pressed against my temples, and then, blessedly, everything went quiet.
I opened my eyes to Medea’s ceiling, and carefully sat up. I could breathe, and it was silent. I heard no voices calling on me for vengeance.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Better than I did, thank you.” My voice was rough, the inside of my throat ravaged from the feather’s passage.
I explained. Her expression grew more and more concerned as she listened. “Am I broken somehow?” I asked.
“No. It’s not you. It’s someone else, someone powerful, shielding the identity of the killer.”
“Why would someone do that?” I asked.
“Because death is powerful. And the power in death can be collected, can be used.” Her hands fisted in her lap, knuckles bone white.
“Someone killed her with magic?”
“Or for magic, yes.”
“Do you know why?” A city moving, and prophecies obscured.
“For nothing good.” She dropped her head into her hands, and pinched the bridge of her nose. “The blood on the feather you coughed up wasn’t yours. It was hers. It gives me something to work with.”
“Work with how?”
“If there are traces of whatever magic was used to hide her death, I may be able to read them in the blood. Even knowing what kind of spell was done will help.”
“Then what?” I asked. Lydia’s voice no longer rang through my head, but the weight of her death still hung in the scale of my heart. I had a responsibility to her, a vow unfulfilled.
“Then I do what I’ve always done,” Medea said. “What is necessary.”
This is what it means to be remade: There is pain, because there is no change without sacrifice. There is a knife that carves you to your bones, and then carves into your very marrow, disjointing your past and your present. There is fire, that burns all of what you were to ash. You are gone. You are undone.
Then: There is glory, there is resurrection, there is transcendence. Out of absence, you are made. Out of things cast away as worthless, you are proven.
There is the realization of purpose. Such a great transformation does not come without reason, so you accept the weight that is given you to carry.
I had survived all of those things. I had agreed to my own remaking, into the shape I wore now. I had taken a new life for myself, and a new name with it.
I was the thing that came after. But I was also a storm and a sword and the hissing of truth in the darkness. I spilled the blood that sated the starving restless dead.
The death of Lydia Jones altered that. I had become used to seeing vengeance as something that did not have limits or rules—I was the rule, the thing that made sure the debt was paid.
But I was alive when I should have been dead, a thing made from rage and injustice into wings and fury. Every rule has its breaking.
Vengeance. From the Latin, vindicare. First definition: “to set free.” But also from the Old French vengier: to take revenge.
Before those words, there was Medea.
Medea looked into her sorceries, and the heavy bronze thing which had become her heart in the wake of Jason’s abandonment of her and their children—children now, who all unfathered, had no future—and she made of herself an avatar of vengeance.
She took revenge. She set herself free.
There was an old woman washing her laundry in the reservoir in Central Park. The water ran, rust-colored, from the cloth and from her hands. “Something is coming,” she said. “Something dire. You must have a bloody heart, and vengeance in your marrow.”
“I do,” I told her. “I have those things.” They were what I had been made from, what sustained me.
“You must be certain,” she said, and it was not cloth she washed now, but armour, dented and stained.
“I am.” The clash and clang of the battlefield echoed around us.
“You must make of yourself a weapon. Hone your edges. You must stab at the heart and cut deep.” Bones, now, in her hands, and in the sky above us, the wail that foretold death. And then the woman was gone, and the sky was silent, and all that was left was a lake of blood, washed from a warrior’s stained clothes.
I heard the hoofbeats again as I walked home, following, following. I did not look back.
The city continued to reshape itself, drawing streets and buildings ever-tighter together, and to be a place of half-told fates and obscured omens. And so, Medea decided to throw a party. “Are you sure this is a good time?” I asked.
“It isn’t. Which is exactly why I’m doing it.”
“If we keep walking around like the world is ending, it will. If we celebrate, if we insist that there are things to celebrate, we fight back against the chaos. We make our own magic.”
“That makes a weird kind of sense,” I said.
“Good. I’ll see you Friday night.”
I arrived outside her building at the same time a small dacha on chicken legs ran up. The door opened, and out swept a woman in fur the pale almost-blue of ice. In her hand like a scepter, a pestle. Baba Yaga.
“Bird girl,” she said. “Get the door for me.”
In the elevator on the way up, Baba Yaga looked at me and said, “It’s too bad she found you first. You would have made an excellent Vasilisa.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Smart girl,” Baba Yaga said, and kissed me on each cheek. “If you ever change your mind about being a bird, you come see me.”
Medea did glamour—both sorcerous and non—better than anyone else I knew. Walking into her party, you would never guess that anything was wrong, or had ever been so, in the outside world. This wasn’t arrogant fiddling as Rome burned, this was choosing to dance barefoot in the flame of the phoenix’s nest.
It wasn’t only wizards gathered there. The Muses sang and played. A man did coin tricks with a small ball of sunlight. A woman transformed herself from ice sculpture to woman-shape and back again in a small pond.
I danced with Odin, and I saw him dance with the melusine as well. To see a melusine dancing is no small thing. Spider Anansi was in the corner with some harpies. They were having some sort of drinking contest, but Anansi had his calabash, and even though he was matching each harpy drink for drink, they were losing badly.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” Medea asked.
“I really am. It’s a terrific party. Who was the guy you were just dancing with?”
“I keep forgetting the two of you haven’t met yet. That’s Jax, the guy I’ve been seeing.”
I looked in the direction of her gaze. There was a sound in my head like the clanging of a bell, like thousands of feathers of bronze moving against each other, like snakes, hissing in my hair.
It was as if I had been called to vengeance, but that made no sense with Medea standing unharmed next to me. Still, rage filled my heart and the compass of my blood oriented. I looked at Jax, I saw an oath-breaker, saw his hands filthy with blood, saw a shadow over his golden brightness, and I shuddered as if a shadow had fallen, cold, on me as well. I clutched at the counter where I stood, holding on until my double vision settled back into one. Too much to drink, I told myself, and I set my glass down.
“Will you introduce us?” I asked.
She did, and he smiled, and was polite and charming. He was the textbook example of the good boyfriend, and I tried to silence the ringing in my head, to convince myself that I was overly cautious, that the excesses of the night and proximity to strong magic had made me see him as he was not.
And then we danced, and his hand slid to my ass, and over his shoulder Baba Yaga caught my eye and smirked.
“You know that Medea is my best friend, right?” I said.
His hand moved, and he smiled, all dimples and shiny teeth. “I’m so sorry. Clumsy me.”
“We all make mistakes,” I said. “So long as they’re not repeated.”
He was prevented from replying by the firework dragon that burst across the sky to chase its tail around the Empire State Building. Ever since Tolkien, you put a bunch of wizards together, and someone gets drunk and tries to out-Gandalf Gandalf.
Medea hugged me when I said my goodbyes. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“It was a fantastic party. Are you sure you don’t want me to call a cab for the harpies?”
“No, they’ll sleep it off in my trees, and go home when they feel better.
“I’m glad you got a chance to meet Jax.”
“He makes you happy?”
“He really does.”
“Then I’m glad I got the chance to meet him, too. Good night, Medea.”
Medea killed them. The princess that Jason had chosen as her replacement, and the girl’s father as well. Poison. A silken dress and a gold crown—more things that had been Medea’s that the girl was eager to claim as her own.
Her sons. Yes. She also killed her sons. Her sons that were Jason’s sons as well, the boys he had said must be taken from him, were his responsibility no more. The sons he would have abandoned to the fate of fatherless boys, slavery or worse.
Jason, she left alive.
He cried out to the gods for vengeance. But they stopped their ears to the cries of Jason Oath-Breaker, and left him to his fate.
The gods made Medea immortal. And so Medea used her sorceries once more, and made avatars of vengeance.
For a time, it seemed Medea’s party had worked. That the force of her will and the collected magical energy had been enough to press pause on the strangeness suffusing New York. The buildings and streets stayed where they were meant to be. No more flocks of birds fell flightless from the sky. No hoofbeats followed me home in the dark. And when I was called on to deliver vengeance, I could find the person at fault.
The body crashed to earth in Times Square. A man wearing wings, made so cleverly it was as if they had been taken from some enormous bird, and then attached to his body. The news said he jumped. The people who were there said he had been flying. Not gliding on air currents, not gently floating down from some higher perch, but truly flying, the wings beating themselves against the air.
They also said the feathers began to fall before he did, as if whatever had been holding them on to the bones of the wings had let go. Or had melted away.
Icarus had been the labyrinth-maker’s son.
“Your friend should have invited us,” the woman said. She still wore the same spectacularly pink coat, and her hands were still busy with knitting. The yarn today was a dull rust color, and the pattern simple.
“I’m sorry?” I set the cup of coffee next to her on the bench.
“To her party. No one ever invites us to parties, my sisters and me. They think we’re bad omens. You’d know a bit about that, wouldn’t you, dear, what with everyone calling you and your sisters Kindly Ones instead of speaking your proper title.”
“They do it to be polite,” I said.
“Hmmph. That’s what they’d have you believe. Names have power, girl, and anyone who calls you by a name they’ve chosen, rather than the one you’ve claimed for yourself is taking away your power. Kindly Ones.” She snorted.
“Are you bad omens, you and your sisters?”
“We are what we are. Unchanging. People like to have control, to feel as if what they are doing has power. We are reminders that it doesn’t, not always. That the final moment comes when it must. No one wants to hear the scissors when the thread is cut.” Her ball of yarn didn’t look any different to me than when I sat down, but now there was a stripe in what emerged from her needles, a dark bruise purple, the knitting ragged and gapped.
“Still,” she said. “It can help, sometimes, to see fates before they happen. Your friend, she reads omens, looks at signs. She knows. No one reads omens because they want to sit by as destiny washes over them. You read omens so you know the soft spots to dig your fingers into and pull them apart.
“There are times when we can help, when the omens are known. Unweave a piece of the pattern that doesn’t belong. Cut a thread that needs cutting. She should remember that.”
“I’ll tell her,” I said.
“Everything that happens happens because it must. But nothing is written until it is written.”
Listening, I felt as twisted and knotted as her threads.
“So you’re saying fate can be changed?”
“Look at yourself, girl. Are you dead and rotting at the hands of some no-good man? Or are you something you didn’t even know existed until you became it?
“A new weaving’s not something that’s easy, or done without consequence, but as I told you the last time, I don’t know what it is I’ve made until it’s finished. Things can change before they end.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll tell Medea.”
“Tell her soon,” she said, knitting yarn that was once again the rust color I had first seen. “And tell her next time, to invite us to her party. I do like to dance.”
I sat in the usual diner, waiting for Medea, and dragging my fries through ketchup, red runes on a cracked white plate.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. “I couldn’t find my gloves.”
“Don’t worry about it—I haven’t been here long.” I waited until after her food came, and then said, “I’m pretty sure I met one of the Fates. I’m supposed to tell you that she likes to dance, and the next time you have a party, you should invite them.
“Also, she asked me to give you a message: That if you ask, they might be able to help.”
Medea wiped her lips, leaving a smear of red at the corner of her mouth, and folded her napkin into precise quarters. “They want to help. Was she any more specific? Did she, for example, mention a cost?”
“No, but it’s pretty clear something is wrong, something massive. It’s the entire city, yes, but it’s also you, Medea. The bees, the honey. Maybe she means they can help put things back in order. Do you want me to ask?”
“But if they can help—”
“If there is something to be done,” Medea said, “I will be the one to do it. If there is help to be asked, I will ask it of myself, and if there is a debt, I will be the one to incur it. I will not use someone else to do the work that should be mine.”
“There is a difference,” I said, “between forcing someone else to bear your burden, and accepting help that is freely offered.”
“I know what it is to be used,” she said. “I can’t.”
“Did I use you, when you made me what I am? I couldn’t help myself then—do I owe you a debt?”
“That’s different,” she said, though she didn’t say how. “Please, Kaira. I can’t. I am doing what I can on my own. That has to be enough.”
This is the thing about debts: it’s only the small ones that we count. The truly meaningful ones—a life saved, for example—go unpaid.
The second time I was called to a death where the murderer had been hidden from my magic, I asked the dead girl to talk. Making the dead speak isn’t difficult, if you know what you’re doing. Like most magics, it can be done if you’re willing to bleed.
With the taste of her blood still in my mouth, I made a cut in the fleshy part of my palm, and pressed the wound to her mouth. You don’t need a lot—it’s the symbol that’s important.
“Maria Anne Rodgers,” I said. Blood and a name.
“Yes,” she answered. Her voice sounded delayed, as if it had traveled from far away.
“Do you know who did this to you?”
“Will you tell me their name, so that I may perform my office, and bring you peace?”
“I…” she broke off, choked. I could see her throat work, see panic in her eyes. “His name—” She coughed, and blood spattered her mouth and neck.
“I…he…” She coughed and choked again, her hand clawing at her throat. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s okay. I’ve got you now.” I sat with her, and held her hand until the blood wore off, and she was quiet again.
I was furious. It was worse, somehow, to take her voice along with her life. To silence her story so utterly. My hands curved into claws that longed for the shape of a murderer’s heart.
The unavenged deaths left me with a constant itch in my veins. Never mind that there was a magic preventing me from doing so, my magic told me my office was left undone, and I would have no peace while it remained so. My discomfort drove me out and away.
I couldn’t even articulate for what. Nothing so simple as clues—I wasn’t a detective with a pocket full of evidence bags. For portents. For twitches in the air. For shadows that didn’t match their surroundings. For the thread that I could pull, and unravel the veil that hid the answers.
I went to the part of the city that was stuck in a repeat loop of Tuesdays. As I crossed into it, the light dimmed, and the temperature dropped. Sounds were muffled, as if I had headphones on, but hadn’t turned up the music.
Then I saw myself. My self as I had been, before I became a Fury, before I gave myself a new name. Hollow-eyed and hunched, and walking like I was waiting for a blow to fall.
Near the end of things, I thought, but I couldn’t be sure—I hadn’t recognized how bad things were when I had been living them. I tell myself now that if I had, I would have asked for help, but that’s probably a lie. I see that girl now, and I am embarrassed to have been her, shamed, that I let someone else turn me into that shadow of a thing. We’re supposed to be strong, and it feels like failure to realize you’re not.
Strange to see the past, and barely understand how it happened. I couldn’t even reassure myself that I would live through it, because truly, I hadn’t.
Then the air skipped, the gap in a recording, and the day changed. Sunlight and birdsong. A woman on the corner, a drop spindle whirling below her hands, spinning out yarn. Creating it from the very air, it seemed, as I walked closer, as I saw no hunk of wool. Just the spindle, turning and turning and turning.
I heard a clock chime, and then keep chiming, not counting an hour, but ringing over and over. Then other clocks, all the time ever happening at once. The air was thick like honey as I tried to leave that small patch of stuck time. When I finally stepped through into the day that I had left, I felt as if I had been walking forever, and bent over, hands on my thighs, sucking in great gulps of air.
There is another way to speak to the dead. It is face to face, and so requires going to the place where they dwell. I still want to say live, when I think of them there.
I think I remember it sometimes, the Underworld, Hades and Persephone, and weeping at the singing of Orpheus. I know that’s impossible, even as I am having the memories. I was never there. Medea changed me before I could die, and the Furies haven’t lived in the Underworld for millenia. But I think I remember it, and there is a strange sort of comfort in feeling that I once had a place that was mine.
Because I sometimes think I remember the Underworld, it seems as if I should be able to find my way back. That a path should open up in front of my feet, that I should be able to walk down stairs to something that is labeled the 2 Train, and instead of swiping my metrocard, pulling one of the feathers from my wings to give to Charon and pay my passage.
I know the ways there from here, and I do not walk them, not yet. It’s not a trip lightly taken, and I need the name of the killer, yes, but there are perhaps other ways of getting it. I am still hoping Medea is one of those ways, that she is somehow using her magic in a way that I can’t see yet, and that things will be set right.
But I weigh the idea of it, like weighing scales. Because the bees are still dying, and so are the unavenged girls, and there is still something stalking me at night.
Walking home in the falling light of evening, I saw Jax, kissing a woman who was not Medea. They were across the street, so I used my phone to take a picture. Maybe I would show it to Medea, maybe not—it’s always a strange thing, telling your friend that her lover isn’t who she thinks he is. There is always the possibility that she already knows.
I walked across the street, and managed to bump into them. “Jax! How lovely to see you. Are you going to introduce me to your friend?” I turned to the woman next to him, her hand in his.
“Actually, no. We have somewhere to be.” As Jax pulled the woman past me, he murmured in my ear, “Don’t.”
I knew what he meant. Don’t tell Medea. Help him keep his secret. That was the moment that I knew for certain I would tell her. Fates can be changed, but there are some stories where we all know the ending.
And so Medea made the Erinyes, the Furies, the Kindly Ones. She used her sorceries, and she used her pain, and she used her betrayal, and she put these things together in the cauldron she had, the cauldron that would resurrect the dead. Because so were they all, all who became Furies, all who became vengeance embodied. First, they were dead.
Medea gave the Furies feathers of bronze. Bronze for the armor worn by men, for the cuirass that kept them safe, that shielded their hearts when they went into battle. Women were given no such shielding.
She took the venom of jealousy, the poison that is the subtlest of revenges, and gave them snakes that bit and hissed. She took iron scales, and made them into hearts, so that the Furies might weigh the wrongs that had been done.
Look kindly, men said, when they heard of these Furies, look kindly on our actions. Read our hearts, and see their truth, and may that truth move you to pity. Do not pursue us, you ladies snake-haired and bronze-feathered. Be kind. Be kind.
And the Furies looked at the men and said, perhaps. Were you?
New York shifted in its geography again, paths tightening, streets closing themselves off. Dead ends appeared, forcing people to retrace their steps. The city was becoming a labyrinth, twists and turns popping up where there once had been straight paths, designed not to hide the secret at the heart, but to funnel everything towards it.
Long and long ago, when labyrinths were made so as to hide secrets that weren’t metaphors—to hide the child who was a monster, or the inconvenient mistress, or the older son who could not be allowed to take the throne—they had keepers. Someone to make sure that no one who shouldn’t got in, or out.
If you were to visit the labyrinth, seek passage to its center, along with any other necessary bribes, you would bring honey with you, sweetness to ease your passage, a gift for the guardian.
A strange gift perhaps, but it was because of the bees, who made their hives as a labyrinth, with the queen at its heart. The honey was a proof that the paths were passable, that there was a way in and out.
There is no wisdom as to the appropriate offering to make to the secret at the labyrinth’s center. Perhaps you trade a secret for a secret. A balance. Perhaps you bring honey. Monsters can crave sweetness as well.
I stirred honey into my tea, and thought about what it meant to be a thing so terrible that an entire set of walls must be built to secret you away. Wondered, too, about what the secret was at the heart of the labyrinth that this city was becoming.
It was the kind of bar that looked like it had been designed for people to speak secrets in. Low lights that barely illuminated the deep corners, even when aided by candles that flickered on the tables, and in sconces on the walls. Dark wood, seats upholstered in burgundy leather, plush carpets on the floor, so as to silence even footsteps.
I set my drink down. “Medea, I need to tell you something. It’s important.”
“What is it?”
I pulled up the picture of Jax and the other woman on my phone, and handed it to her.
She set her hand on the screen, hiding the image, and closed her eyes. “I am twice a fool, and no one to blame but myself this time.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you.”
“It’s not your fault. I’m glad you did—better to know.”
And maybe it was, but it’s never an easy thing to be treated as if you don’t matter by someone you thought did.
We didn’t talk about it again—no need to salt the wound—but I sat with her, in the elegant silence of the bar, and I held tight when I hugged her as we left.
I didn’t recognize her voice, when I heard it crying out to me for vengeance, but I recognized the dead woman when I saw her. The woman I had seen Jax with. I closed my eyes against the ruin of her, and knelt at her side.
I couldn’t find the name of her murderer. I couldn’t find her name either. That one thing I always had was hidden here, too. Missing from her blood, stripped from her by magic. Missing from the rest of her apartment—no license, no cell phone, no errant bill tucked into a drawer. Nothing more than a body.
The wrongness of her death sounded in my head, and there was no way for me to silence it. My wings unfolded from my back, and the snakes of my hair hissed and twisted as I stood over the woman’s body, rage beating in my blood.
Blood-drenched, and tossed in a corner. One glove. Cashmere. Golden as the sun, with a snag in one finger. Medea’s. Easy to see the story as someone was trying to tell it. Easier still to see that I wasn’t the person meant to find the story—this was a crime scene, decorated for the police.
I picked up the glove, and went looking for a way to Hell.
It’s not on the schedule, but there is a ferry that departs Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal at 12:13 am. If you get on it, it will take you where you need to go. No matter how many others embark with you, you will not see them once you step on board, nor will you notice the ferry making other stops.
And so I found myself crossing Acheron, the river of woe. When you travel this way, you don’t pay your passage with a coin. Everyone’s cost is weighed differently. Even I pay.
Medea gave me a new life, but my past self died when I became Kaira. I remember her, as I am ferried across the dark and whispering waters of the river of woe. I regret her. I regret the things she never got to do. The wind dries the tears to salt on my face, but I pay them all the same.
The ferry, which at some point in the crossing has become a low black barge, bumps up against the shore. I step out, and the bones of the Acheron’s banks crackle whitely beneath my feet. Every breath here is thick in my lungs, the air a shroud around my skin. The Underworld is a place of the dead, not the living.
I reach over my shoulder and tug a feather from my wings, then use the sharp edges of the bronze to cut open a vein in the bend of my elbow. I need to bleed enough to make the dead speak.
My blood disappears onto the bones it falls on, leaving no trace, and it calls the dead to me. All three of them, the women whose deaths had hidden authors, walk forward, standing in front of me like Fates. “Can you tell me his name?”
Their mouths were red with blood, and unmoving, but I heard their speech all the same. They spoke as one: “He is the resourceless one. The false beloved, the betrayer.”
“His name,” I said.
“He is the golden one, the childless, the sorceress’ husband.” The words echoed in my head.
“He is Jason of Iolcus, he is Jax of New York. He looks for his own vengeance against the women who would give us ours. He would make of you a monster.”
That was fine. I already was.
“I will make sure that he pays for what he has done to you, for the time in the sun he took away from you. I promise you, will be your vengeance.” It was my office, yes, but here, it seemed important to speak the vow.
They nodded, then turned to go. “Wait,” I said. “One more question, please.”
The dead women paused. I looked at the third of them. “Can you tell me your name? I would remember it for you.” Speak it with the litany of all of my dead.
She stared, blank. Then shook her head. “It is a thing I no longer possess.”
I could have killed him just for that.
The wound in my elbow had closed up. Without blood to feed on, they could not speak to me, even here. The three women faded back into the shadows of the Underworld. I left my bronze feather on the bone-white shore—passage back—and I stepped into the barge. Somewhere in the crossing, it was a ferry again. Somewhere in the crossing, it was dawn, and when I disembarked, it was in New York.
I returned to discover that Medea’s building had disappeared.
At first I though it had simply moved. The city had rearranged itself again, drawn its secrets close, made crooked its paths. This time, I had gotten lost, missing a turn on the way there because it had shifted to the other side of the street. Maybe her building had, too.
I walked up the street where it had always been, and saw nothing. Back and forth I went, up and down each side of the street, turning in hopes that I would catch a glimpse of it, just out of the corner of my eye. Nothing. I even flew, hoping that I could find my way to her roof, and get in that way.
It was as if it had never been, erased from everywhere.
Then a small, half-rumbling meow from behind a dumpster. Not the feral cat I expected, but the lion that had been Medea’s door guard. He climbed out from his refuge, and head-butted hard against my hip. There was a notch gone from his ear, and a shallow cut along his flank.
“Wherever she is, she didn’t want to go, did she?” The rumble of his purr increased under my hands. “Let’s get you cleaned up, and then we can find her.”
After he was clean and bandaged, the lion seemed happiest sitting in my hallway, just on the inside of my front door, as if he were still on guard duty. I called Medea, but it went to voicemail. Emailed, too, just in case, but I wasn’t holding out hope for a reply.
She was gone. I had the word of the dead girls, her bloodstained glove, and the lion that had guarded her apartment as my hope to find her in a city that was turning itself into a labyrinth.
If you are going to look for a wizard in New York, go to the Hungarian pastry shop.
It should have been enough, Medea’s creation of bronze-winged vengeance. Who would do wrong, who would break oaths, spill the blood of family, of lovers, when such things existed, single-hearted pursuers of those who erred?
Perhaps, for a while, it was.
But then tragic tales were written, about Orestes, for example, who murdered his mother, Clytemnestra, because she murdered his father, Agamemnon. Family blood spilled twice. And so a judgment was made and the priority of vengeance was said to belong to the man—it was his death the gods (at least, the gods as voiced by the man who wrote the play) decreed to matter more.
Never mind that Agamemnon was the first to shed family blood when he slit the throat of his daughter, Iphigenia. She is forgotten in this calculus, a name breathed out upon the wind.
And so. And so.
Orestes’ story became the truth, at least as some saw it. They saw that there were deaths that mattered less, that there were deaths that did not require vengeance, no matter the oaths broken, no matter the family blood spilled.
The Furies were no longer a terror, no longer a deterrent. They were renamed the Venerable Ones, and said to be in charge of the city’s prosperity, and surely, if the city is prosperous, what matters what happens to a few forgotten women. There are always casualties of civilization. So say the men who write the histories.
Unkind, unkind, unkind.
In the Hungarian pastry shop, I sat at the chessboard, waiting. I had left Medea’s lion to guard my door. Not so much because I thought my space required a guardian, but because standing sentry seemed to make him happy.
There had been the corpses of birds, feathers tatty and muted, leading me there like the breadcrumbs of some broken fairy tale. On the chessboard, the black queen had been replaced by a queen bee, listlessly buzzing from square to square.
When Odin came in, he nodded at the empty chair across from me, and then brought over a plate of seven-layer cookies. “I love these,” he said. “They’re both garish and delicious. Here—I got enough to share.”
“They are good, thank you.” Politeness, ritual, matters. Very few rituals matter so much as that of sharing food. It’s an act of trust, and of fellowship, and so instead of asking questions, I shared a plate of ridiculously colored cookies, layers of sweetness alternating with fuchsia and kelly green.
Not until we had finished did I say why I had been waiting there. “I need a favor.”
“I thought as much,” Odin said.
“Medea is missing, and I want to find her.”
“Do you know,” he said, “that to get here, I had to walk down a street that has never existed before in this city? It was paved with marble. You could still see the imprints of cart wheels. I think it came from Thessaloniki. I don’t think anything in this city is where it’s supposed to be.”
“Her building is gone,” I said. “Not moved, not displaced. Gone.”
“Are you certain?” He paled, and his skin frosted over.
“The guardian of that space has been forcibly removed from his duties. I found him injured and cowering. Yes, I am certain.”
Leaves fell from the air, scattering across the chessboard. Odin’s runes. He danced his fingers through them, shook his head, and moved them again. Then the leaves browned, dried, disappeared. “I cannot see her,” he said. “All I see is a twisting knot of walls.”
“A labyrinth,” I said. “The labyrinth the city is turning into.” She was there, I thought. Taken by whoever, whatever had twisted the city into this new shape.
“I would ask you to see once more for me.” I pushed two pawns—one white, one black—to the center of the chessboard.
Odin shook his head, and my stomach twisted as if it were a pit of snakes. “You won’t help.”
“Look at the boards,” he said.
The black queen was missing from all of them.
“The Nornir long ago laid a wyrd upon me, that when the black queen disappeared, I was to offer assistance to the valkyrie who searched for her. I have sometimes been wrong in my interpretation of omens, but it seems this situation fulfills that fate.
“So. Tell me what you want to know, and if I can see it, it is yours.”
“I spoke to the slain, and they named their killer as Jason, who had once sailed the Argo. Can you tell me if the labyrinth is somehow his, if he has Medea now?” Can you tell me if she is alive, or if this will end in one more pool of blood for me to clean?
Not leaves this time, but a spill of bones across the chessboard. Odin read them with the eye that had been sacrificed to their creation. His voice was the wind in the branches of a tree: “You will find her at the heart of the labyrinth, and a golden thread will lead you there and away. Bring her back her mask, and bring her back to herself. Give honey to the monster.”
The runes were gone.
“Be bold,” Odin said, clasping my hand across the board. “And do not forget what you are as you walk.”
First, I set about finding someone who could give me a golden thread that would see me safely through a labyrinth. It was harder, this time, to find the knitting woman. I walked through the city, down streets that twisted where before they had been straight, over cobblestones and flagstones that had re-emerged from the graveyard of geography.
The subways were no longer running, after a section of track on the 3 had looped in on itself like the Ouroboros. That particular train was still running, in eternal circles. I don’t think they got the people off.
Eventually, I found her on the steps of the Met. Knitting, as she was always, something deep green, and delicate as lace.
“I need your help, please,” I said. “My friend, Medea, she’s missing. In a labyrinth. I need a golden thread to guide me through.”
“What makes you think I know of such things?”
“You’re knitting a labyrinth even now,” I said, watching it unspiral from her needles. “And I think you know a lot about threads.”
“Well, that I do. I’ll need something of hers,” she said.
“I have this.” I took the glove—golden wool, frayed end, bloodstained—and held it out to her.
She smiled. “That will do very well. Unravel it.”
So I tugged on the loose thread from where Medea’s nail had pierced the end of the finger. The thread unwound, and coiled in my lap, bent and kinked from having been bound up in the glove.
“The statues in the museum have gone walking,” she said. “Gotten down off their pedestals and plinths like they think they’re Hermione at the end of the play. Visiting the other exhibits. I’ve been sitting here because if they come out, I want to see them.”
“I kind of want to see that, myself.”
The glove continued to unravel, the pile of yarn in my lap bigger than I had guessed it would be. “If Medea had come to you for help, could you have stopped this?”
“We don’t deal in ifs, dear. People think that about us, but it isn’t so. You need an oracle, if you’re looking to know the ifs. No, we deal in will be, is, and has been, and all of those at once. Fate doesn’t mean control, it doesn’t mean that we take away your choices. It means what has been spoken—the story told, not the story still to be written. It cannot be a fate until it happens.”
The texture of the yarn changed—I had come to the spots where the dead woman’s blood was. I had to slow down, work carefully, and it flaked beneath my nails. I heard her voice, crying out to me, every time I touched it.
The wind picked up, and brought with it the sound of bagpipes, playing “Amazing Grace” as if it were a punk anthem. The Fate sitting next to me smiled. “Sometimes I don’t know what parts of this city are magic and what parts are simply wonderful. It’s the best thing about being here.”
“I’ve got it,” I said, and held up the pile of yarn.
“Good. Good. Now, I’m going to start it for you, but then what you’re going to do is roll it back up in a ball. Pass it here.”
She set down her knitting.
I looked around, expecting a crash of lightning, or a tree to split and fall, for some great indication that the world had been put on pause.
She shook her head. “That’s not quite how it works. It would be impractical at best, to say that some poor soul would die whenever I wanted to rest my hands or eat. The knitting helps the magic, but it’s not the only piece of it.” She handed me back the yarn, the center of it folded into and over itself like a heart, or a labyrinth.
I took it from her, and continued the pattern. When I had finished, there was a large coil of golden yarn, much larger than would have been necessary to knit a glove, or even a pair of them. Still: “The entire city is being turned into a labyrinth.”
“There’s enough there for you to find your way to where you need to go.”
“And it will guide me there?”
“It will. If your path is wrong, it will correct you.”
“When you go, bring honey, for the monster of the labyrinth.” The sun shifted drawing the shadows across her face like a skull.
“Bring her back her mask,” Odin had told me, the other necessary thing to bring Medea out of the labyrinth. So I went, golden thread tucked safely in my bag, into a world of perfumed air. Of glass-topped counters, holding vials of potions as precious as magic.
At one counter, all the women wore red, black, or white. They were all beautiful, and all named Vasilisa, and if you looked slantwise at the counter where it rested on the floor, you would see it stood on chicken feet.
“May I help you?” asked the Vasilisa—all in red, platinum white hair twisted and spired like a snow queen’s castle—as I walked up.
“I need a little magic,” I said.
“So many of us do,” she smiled. “A new color? Metallics are very now. Or a scent—this one has notes of honey.” She began setting things out on top of the counter, glass clinking quietly against glass.
“Thank you darling, but this girl is a personal client. I’ll see to her.” Baba Yaga, splendid in a sharp-shouldered jacket.
The Vasilisa nodded, and stepped away.
“It’s not for me,” I said. “It’s for Medea.”
“I suspected as much. About time something was done. Even my dacha is confused on these streets.” She set out a small mortar and pestle.
“I need to bring her a mask.”
“A lipstick, I think. I know her shade.” Baba Yaga cocked her head, a bird of prey. “What will you give me for it?”
“Three feathers. Mine.”
“Good.” The pestle began stirring, three turns clockwise, then one reverse. “But not enough.”
I hadn’t thought it would be. “The skin from one of the snakes of my hair, at its next shed.”
“Excellent.” Red appeared in the mortar, slick and wet as blood. “And?”
“My blood. Three drops.”
Baba Yaga clapped her hands once. “Done!” In place of mortar and pestle, a black case. An elegant bullet of perfect red lipstick, Medea’s shade.
She held out her hand. “Feathers now. The others when I ask.”
“I may not make it back.” I wanted all bargains cleared before I went.
She smiled, all teeth. “That won’t matter. What’s mine knows it’s mine.”
“Can I get you anything else?” Another Vasilisa, this one in close-fitting black. Baba Yaga was gone.
“No, thank you.”
“Have a beautiful day.”
Medea had thought she was creating monsters to fight monsters—women whose appearance was a reflection of the horrors done to them, women who had power to avenge the wrongs done. Instead, the monsters—the ones who were already there, the ones who wore the faces of men—became stronger.
There is no fate until a story is told, and theirs were the voices that told the story. Think about it this way: when you hear the name Medea, who do you think is the monster in the story? Do you remember that the gods themselves took her side?
I packed a bag, with the golden thread that would guide me through the labyrinth of the city to Medea, the lipstick, red as blood, that I had from Baba Yaga, and the last of the honey I had from Medea’s hive. Bees were falling from the sky, soft and delicate like snowflakes, as I stepped outside.
The lion padded along at my side, until we reached the place where Medea’s building should have been. This had been her home, he was her guard, so I thought that it would be the best place to mark the beginning of the labyrinth. I wound the yarn around the trunk of a yew tree, and the lion curled up in front of it.
I held the ball of yarn loosely in my hand, and began to walk. I came to a corner, and turned right. The yarn went tense in my hand—I would have had to drop it to continue in that direction. Once I turned around and headed left, it relaxed. That would be the way this worked, then.
I unmantled my wings as I walked, the bronze feathers ringing against each other like bells.
As I continued through the labyrinth, the city fell away. The buildings shifted, pieces of the past layering over each other in palimpsest. The streets beneath my feet cracked and aged. The sky darkened and purpled.
And it grew quiet. No noises of the crowd, no taxi horns, no percussion rumble of trains beneath my feet. As silent as I had ever heard, in this city, the sound of my boot heels echoing off the walls of buildings that might also have been the stones of a labyrinth.
I turned a corner, and there was the first of the labyrinth’s monsters.
The man who had once said he loved me, and then tried to kill me.
I froze. Bobbled the ball of yarn, and nearly dropped it. But even in my terror, the core of me remembered what I was. My wings beat the air. Snakes unfurled, hissing from my hair.
I was rage, I was vengeance, I was a storm with skin.
“And you are nothing,” I said.
I reached in to his chest, and pulled his heart out to show it to him.
He disappeared. An illusion of the labyrinth, even though he had been real enough that I had felt the heat of his blood on my hand, and choked on the cloying spice of his cologne. Not real. Not anymore.
I leaned against a wall to steady myself, then continued through the labyrinth. Another turn, and then another, down streets that I had walked countless times on my peregrinations through the city, but never in this order. Whispers broke through the walled silence. “Nothing.” “Useless.” “Freak.” “Go home.” “Go back.” “Lost.” “Lost.”
Over and over, a polyphony of despair spoken in women’s voices, and I knew—in the same way we know the truth when it comes to us in dreams—they were the voices of the women who had been killed, and had called on me for vengeance. I knew what I was, knew the limitations of my office, and yet, in the back of the drawer where my secrets lived, I felt I had failed them.
Their voices pressed against me as I walked. The ground beneath my feet turned to sucking mud. The air clutched at my wings, as if to shred the feathers from my back.
I wanted to sit down. To stop, just for a bit, and rest. I was exhausted, and everything was heavy, even the yarn in my hand.
I let it fall.
Cold and dark and lost and useless.
Just ahead of me, the golden ball of yarn. I stumbled towards it, craving the soft glow of its light. I cannot say how long I followed it, stumbling and shaking and even crawling, scraping my palms against the stones of the ground. It was light, and I needed light even more than I needed to rest.
Eventually, I turned a corner, down another passageway, and I could stand, and I could breathe, and the monstrous whispers were silent. I picked up the ball of golden thread, and thought of the woman in the splendid pink coat. “Thank you,” I said.
The amount of thread wound in my hand did not appear to be noticeably diminished by my progress through the labyrinth. I couldn’t tell how far I had come, but I no longer had the sense that I was walking through a city. The walls of the labyrinth were walls, not skyscrapers. Thick grey stone, and the only roof the stars.
I couldn’t tell how close I was to the center. All I could do was trust the thread to guide me, and hope that Medea was still there when I arrived.
Still there, and still alive.
The passages were getting shorter and tighter, and I hoped that meant I was traveling towards the labyrinth’s heart. I walked faster, as fast as I could go and still feel the correction of the thread when I made a wrong turn. Then I heard hoofbeats echoing behind me.
I broke into a run, caring more about what was ahead than what was behind.
I heard the beating of great wings, the poison hissing of snakes, the wind ringing through feathers of bronze and I heard these things in chorus.
I stopped. Spun. Saw myself.
There is a monster at the heart of every labyrinth.
We think of the word monster now as a stand-in for horror. For something so hideous, its very appearance strikes terror. Something so awful, it must be locked away. Hidden, so as not to frighten decent people.
That was not always what the word meant. To be a monster was to be a warning, a portent. To be something very like a Fate, or a Norn. A bean sidhe. That was what I saw, in the reflection of myself that stood before me, a thing of wings and snakes and shadows for eyes and a scale for a heart. I didn’t see horror—I saw fate.
Give honey to the monster at the heart of the labyrinth, sweetness so you will have sweet words as your fate. In the heart of this labyrinth, I would indeed be a monster. Being a monster is sometimes the necessary thing.
I would be a monster who would free her maker, and I would be a monster who was a portent of doom to those who said that a woman’s life meant little, and always less than a man’s. I would be the monster that I had been made into, and not just by Medea.
I ate the honey from the jar, sticky-sweet on my fingers and on my lips. Honey from the bees who were Medea’s oracles, through age upon age, who had made their own labyrinth in the hive at Delphi. Honey that could give dreams and speak fates.
I offered the jar to the other version of me, the mirror-monster stalking the labyrinth. She took the jar in her hands and she ate the honey, and the visions began.
Snapshot quick, the blinks of eyes, all the pieces of my life since I had died to my old self and become Kaira. The ones that I didn’t want to think about or remember, the ones that should never have been caught by the camera of my memory, the ones that reminded me that being a monster wasn’t enough.
Over and over, I heard a voice repeating: “The true meaning of vengeance is too late.” My voice. A reminder that I was always and only there after.
I saw again the dreams I had never had. Except that wasn’t true. I was a myth and I was a monster and I was a dream of a winged thing.
And I was a winged thing, and there was more than one way through a labyrinth.
In the stories, they call you Jason Resourceless. Not Odysseus Strategist or Herakles Club-Bearer or Orpheus Healer. Resourceless. Which is some bullshit.
Jason Resourceless, as if you, who captained the Argo, who claimed the Golden Fleece, are nothing.
You have the patronage of the goddess Hera herself. But when she sends you help, she sends it in the form of a woman, a sorceress. Medea. She’s pretty enough, you suppose. Not bad in bed. And she gives you what you need to steal the Golden Fleece—the ointment to protect you from fire-breathing oxen, and the means of defeating the knights that sprung from the dragon’s teeth, and the spell that would cause the guardian dragon to sleep. She may have told you what to do, but you were the one who actually did it. You are the hero.
You take Medea with you when you go, one more thing you steal from her father. It seems like a good idea at first. She’s useful. Hera keeps her on your side, where she should be. You get married, you have a couple of kids. Things seem fine.
Maybe you made some promises along the way. When Hera said she’d help you, you made a vow to her that you would love Medea forever. When you married Medea, you spoke vows to her, too. You meant them when you spoke them, and really, that should count for something.
But you have to think about your future, your legacy. A man’s life is nothing if his name is not sung after he dies, and you have no convenient promises of immortality like some. So you court a new girl, a princess. Creusa.
She’s easy, calming. Not jagged-edged and difficult like Medea. Creusa doesn’t want to practice sorcery, or help you rule or anything like that. She just wants to be yours, and isn’t a man entitled to a little comfort?
So you tell Medea. It’s over. Take the boys and go, somewhere far. You don’t want to see them anymore, but you’ll let them go, free and unencumbered. You have a new life now, and they will, too.
And your bitch of a wife spits in your face. She totally overreacts, whining about all of the things she’s done for you, saying that you made promises. As if that meant that things couldn’t change, as if you could never want something different.
You remind her you’re being more than generous—you could insist that she stay here, a slave to Creusa. You could insist that her brats become slaves, too, or sacrifices. They are yours, after all—you don’t have to allow them their freedom.
Medea doesn’t say anything. She just leaves the room. You hope she’s seen reason, and has gone to start packing.
Except no. She’s too stubborn to make this easy. Medea throws a temper tantrum, and kills Creusa, and her father. Then she kills your sons.
And somehow, everyone—even Hera!—decides this is your fault. They call you Jason Oathbreaker. Medea gets swept away in Helios’ chariot—literally riding off into the sunset—and you get left with the blame and the bodies.
Which winds up working out okay for you, when you decide to change the story.
You hear what Medea’s doing, with her Furies, and her vengeance, and her men are awful and justice is needed blah blah blah. At first, you ignore it. What she does is no concern of yours—even if she does make a big fuss about giving the Furies wings, because you murdered some of the Harpies in Thrace. You’re free of that bitch, and good riddance to her.
But then things change. The Furies don’t, but the way they are written about does. Even better, the new way, the new story, Orestes arguing his freedom from them, and finally some rules that take the men into account, that’s what people remember.
You decide you’re going to change the way you’re written about, too. You don’t want to be the bad guy anymore, and you shouldn’t have to be. All you did was change your mind.
You decide on your own vengeance.
All it will take is time.
And the right people to tell the story.
You learn magic. Foul, nasty actions that leave blood, and worse, on your hands. But you’ve learned to do the things yourself, and that’s better, that’s power, and it’s delicious. You change your appearance. You hide what you are.
You find Medea. She doesn’t even recognize you when you meet, and really, that’s wrong. After all she did, your image should be engraved on the inside of her eyelids, so that it is constantly before her.
But it makes things easier. Even when you give her gloves of golden fleece spun fine, she doesn’t recognize the reminder. So you make her fall in love with you, and this time, you don’t need a goddess to help. You use her own magics against her, and you laugh at your cleverness.
You build yourself a winding knot of walls. A fortress, guarded by monsters. You have to kill a few girls yourself to make things work out, but that’s nothing. Magic has its costs, and you learned long ago how to make someone else pay them.
At one point it seemed like there was a magic stronger than yours, but you fixed that, too. You did have to sacrifice your son, burning his wings from his body, but it is the duty of a child to be useful to his father, and you can always have more sons. You have your labyrinth now, and once you have Medea, it will have its monster.
You are not resourceless.
I take wing, feathers clawing at the air like talons, the taste of honey sweet in my mouth. I can see the open space at the heart of the labyrinth, even as the golden thread unspools in my hand.
At the heart of every labyrinth is a monster. This one looked like a man. Shiny teeth, expensive suit, good hair. Magazine cover handsome.
“You cheated,” he said. “You’re not supposed to fly through a labyrinth.”
“And you’re not supposed to murder women. Or kidnap them. So let’s call it a draw, shall we? Where’s Medea?”
“I don’t have to give her to you.”
Remember what you are, Odin had told me. So I did. I remembered all I was, not just my wings, but the poison snakes of my hair and the scale of my heart and the girl I was before I was Kaira, that I had not survived being. I remembered that I held a mirror, bronze as my feathers, that would show Jason what he truly was.
I remembered I had hands that could pluck out his heart, and show that to him as well.
“No,” I said. “You don’t. But I can take her from you.”
The buzzing began when I called the mirror. I stood in front of Jason, holding it, and I watched his face as he looked. Not the horror I expected, but the disappointment of a child who has learned that they are not the sun around which the world orbits.
He stood, transfixed by his image in the mirror, confronted by the truth of what he was. Oath-breaker. Resourceless. False. No goddess descended to save him from his fate.
In the distance, a hum. A great vibration. A labyrinthine path of bees, snaking their way through the air. A great golden thread that unspooled through the sky.
Medea’s bees, in search of their queen. A great swarm of them. Following the footprint pheromone, left by her path through the labyrinth—Jason, it seemed, had followed his own rules in this, and walked her to its center. They were the ones that found her, in the shadows cast by the labyrinths walls.
She looked like a shadow herself, pale and diminished. I knelt down by her, and gave her the lipstick from Baba Yaga. Painted lips and honeyed words. Women’s weapons. The blood red slick of her lips was sword and armour both.
I pulled Medea to her feet, and felt the magic that crackled along her skin. The bees spiraled around her, the queen at the heart of the hive.
Swarms are not usually dangerous or aggressive. Unless, of course, they perceive a threat.
Jason lunged at Medea, screaming.
The bees fell upon him like fury, stinging until he was swollen with poison.
I am what I am. I reached into his chest, and pulled out his heart.
This is what it is, to walk yourself out of a labyrinth. The stories are always about getting in. The path through and the monsters that you meet on the way. The secret that is hidden at its heart.
They don’t tell you how to get back out.
They don’t tell you that you will be exhausted, and that you will have to carry your friend, still half-drunk on strong magic, slung over your shoulders. They don’t tell you that the walls will turn into buildings as you pass them, that the paths beneath your feet will fade in and out of history as you walk on them. They don’t tell you that the bees will hum oracles in your blood, or that the golden thread you carried in will unravel itself as you walk.
And still. And yet.
Medea’s limp body weighed on me. Her hair tangled in the feathers of my wings, wings I didn’t trust to carry our weight, not with the backlash of magic as the city shifted around us. With Jason’s death, there was nothing to anchor the spells he had cast, and entropy is a powerful thing.
For the first time in weeks, I didn’t feel the itch of vengeance beneath my skin. My snakes were curled and quiet, and my heartbeat was my own, not the dread balance of a cosmic scale.
I was exhausted.
I kept walking, turned left down a corridor that might have been a street on the upper East Side. There were buildings there, and the chorus of the taxis, and the press of people, and the scents of the city—garbage in black plastic, and oil smeared across pavement, and a profusion of flowers in green buckets on the sidewalk.
The city skipped, the needle on the record missing a groove, and I stood on Medea’s street. Her building was there again, the lion pacing tight circles on her top step.
The door opened. Medea gasped as I carried her across her threshold. I helped her to her feet.
“The bees,” she said.
The inside of her house was dark and shadowed, curtains drawn and sheets draped like ghosts over the furniture, a layer of fine dust over everything. The elevator creaked and shuddered as we rode to the top floor, to the garden and the hive.
The hive hummed. Bees passed in and out of it, golden with pollen. Medea held out her hand, and one of the bees landed on it. It walked in what might have been a letter, or a rune, on her palm, and when it again took wing, Medea smiled.
From the top of the roof, I could see the city putting itself back in order. Streets shuddered and shifted, untangling themselves from their artificially drawn knots. The dragon’s heartbeat thrum of the subway vibrated beneath them.
Medea’s garden began to green. Spring in accelerated motion as stalks pushed themselves out of the earth and leaves uncurled from their buds. The air warmed.
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked Medea. She looked almost like herself again. There were still bruises under her eyes, and fingerprinted elsewhere on her skin. Her glamour was a painted on smile, and not something that surrounded her, but she looked better, stronger, here.
“I will be, yes,” she said. “I’m good at putting myself back together.”
I walked home through the streets of a city that I recognized again. For once, I thought. For once, I had been able to get there before. To not only be the vengeance that balanced the scales, after.
We tell ourselves the stories of what we would do—I could kill him for that, I could rip out his heart—when really, what we want is to untell that story that brought us to the ending where vengeance is the only option left.
The sunset that night was magnificent. A giant spill of gold. The fire-darting steeds of Helios ending their race. A ball of golden yarn in the darkness of a labyrinth.
The jar of honey was still in my bag, a few last sticky scrapings coating the walls. Sweetness for the monster. The detritus of the magic of small winged creatures that could see the future, and show a fate. I ate, and I slept, dreamless.