“Who are you?” I demand, bending to pick up Levi’s sword. He rises slowly and stands beside me.

The giantess raises an eyebrow, tipping her head forward. Male or female, the creature is stunning — high cheekbones, flawless skin, bright eyes … and that hair. “You want to have this conversation right here, hon?” she asks.

I glance around, getting my bearings. We’ve made it to Eastlake Avenue, just above Lake Union. From here it’s the I5 overpass or the University Bridge. “You got somewhere better in mind?”

She turns and starts walking, Franny bouncing along behind her. “Only if you have a little faith in your fellow man. I can’t wait around answering questions.”

I exchange a glance with Levi. “What about the car?”

“It’s not going anywhere, sweet sinners,” the newcomer calls back to us. “There’s no route to the north end of the lake. Not a bridge or overpass in the city is clear of cars.”

“How does she know where we’re going?” Levi asks in a low voice, his eyes still bright from the fight-or-flight adrenaline dump. 

Low laughter rumbles out of the retreating figure.

“Faith,” I grunt, walking over to retrieve my knife. “We can’t keep going like this. Not until you get some rest.” 

The light is almost gone, and in her somber attire she’s quickly fading into the shadows.

“Come on,” I say, trying for a more comfortable grip on the sword.

I retrieve Levi’s backpack from the car, slinging it over my shoulder, and we start after her. I wonder for the dozenth time what else he’s carrying around with him, but we don’t have time for show-and-tell.

Levi’s moving slow, and it takes us forever to catch up with her. She’s taken a side street down to the lake level, and we follow her onto a dock between two houses built on pilings. The planks creak under our feet, and in the light of the full moon I catch the gleam of a hipbone protruding from the little strip of beach.  

At the end of the doc waits an empty rowboat. Franny hops in, wiggling all over with excitement, and our guide steps in and takes a seat.

“All souls onboard.”

“Where are we—”

She reaches for the dock like she’s about to push off.

“Okay!” I snap. A boat’s gotta be safer than walking the streets after dark.

“You take the bow,” says Levi, stepping around me. “I’ll row.”

“Don’t be an idiot,” I grumble. “You’re wasted.”

“Work with physics, hon,” our guide interrupts. “You take the bow. Your healer friend can have the second seat, and I’ll row us home from the stern.”

Healer friend? This is getting really freaky, but we do as we’re told because what choice do we have, and I’m almost sure I see shadows moving around the water’s edge, back by the first house. Franny sits up and barks once, then jumps to her feet.

No sooner have our backsides hit the benches than the boat glides away from the dock.

“Too close,” our guide says, and I shoot a glance over my shoulder at the sound of pounding feet. Half a dozen flesh-eaters bawl at us, hurling objects from the end of the dock. Levi gives a shout of surprise as a brick lands right between his feet. But the boards hold.

"Thank you, Mary," mutters our guide.

“Can they follow?” I ask.

“Not where we’re going. Not yet.” She has a long, practiced stroke and the boat glides smoothly through the water. 

“I’m Mila,” I say, hoping maybe I’ll get more information if I offer some. “This is Levi.”

“Teresa,” she replies, teeth gleaming in the moonlight. “Congratulations on being alive, sinners. God help us all.”

The surface of the lake reflects starlight and the rising moon, but the shoreline is cloaked in darkness. It’s because of this that our eyes are drawn to the higgledy-piggledy island at its center. This is some kind of post-FOM structure, for sure, and as we draw closer it hits me: houseboats. There were houseboat communities along the lakeshore, made famous decades ago by Sleepless. A dozen or more houseboats have been relocated to the center of the lake, encircled by a system of docks and at least as many boats. Lights blaze on the dock we’re approaching, and excited murmurs travel across the water. 

There are more than two-dozen people waiting on that dock.  

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