Taegan dreamed again of ghosts. He stood on a beach, faraway in a land that was like his home, but this place had been overgrown with a thicket of reeds and flowers that reached far out into the water of the sea. The water was still and cool around his feet. It was late twilight, and a darkening blue sky stretched overhead, lit only by the soft flickering of fireflies.

Taegan moved deeper into the water, pushing through frail strands of grass that grew up out of the sea and fluttered silently in the slight breeze. As he made his way through the grass, he stepped into a clearing where the water made a calm pool surrounded by the thicket, and in the clearing there floated a small hollow boat, lit with candles. It was the sort of boat they used for funerals, but no one was there except for Taegan. He stood staring at the funeral boat, and the dim light the candles cast moved fluidly on the surface of the water.

The body of a small girl lay in the hull of the boat, her hands upon her heart. Her face was pale in the candlelight and her long black hair fell down over the sides of the boat into the water, moving slowly in the current like the tall grass that surrounded them. Taegan stepped closer as the water swirled about his legs.

A sound like wind chimes traced the silence. The girl's face was still and childishly perfect, like that of a sleeping creature, but Taegan knew she was not asleep.

He reached out a quivering hand, spoke her name in disbelief. "Freya..."

The little girl lay sweetly poised among the candles, soft lights playing on her skin as the flames trembled and the fireflies glowed and disappeared and the stars slowly blinked and emerged in the cool blue globe of sky. As Taegan moved closer the boat seemed to drift further and further away until it left the clearing, the reeds parting and making a narrow avenue for the funeral boat as it sailed silently out of reach and soon became only a calm light in the distance, far away from the shallow pool where Taegan now stood alone with tears welling in his eyes.

And when Taegan awoke, they had reached land. He could hear the water churning outside the hull as the ocean waves roared and crashed against some obtrusive mountain or highland, and the Leviathan rocked and pitched tumultuously as though preparing to dash her monstrous bulk against a sharp protruding reef. Taegan steadied himself and blinked his surroundings into the focus of his pale blue eyes. He was alone in the galley-alone, save for the pitiable form of his dog, crouched and whining in a corner. Salt's once magnificent coat was dull and matted, his muscles wasted and weary from starvation and his wolfish body sinking into madness. As Taegan reached out a cautious hand, the dog made no move to attack, and softly Taegan stroked the space between Salt's ears. He wondered what had possessed the shipmaster to keep the dog alive. Was this also some form of torture, meant to deteriorate Taegan's hope of ever returning home? Salt whined meekly under Taegan's hand, and though the boy had often spoken to the animal he could no longer find calming words to give. Rose had probably been feeding Salt in secret, the same way she had offered her silent, furtive help to Taegan. But she was dead now.

Taegan rose and searched the ashes of the galley fire for edible scraps, listening intently in case he should hear his master's footsteps. There was nothing in the fire and he did not dare search elsewhere.

The shipmaster came in to fetch him. Taegan remained on his knees.

"We've landed," the actor said simply.

He was no longer Dubois; he was the old doctor, and Taegan hated and feared that visage the most of all the shipmaster's guises.

"You will come with me. You are not to speak. Is that understood?"

Taegan nodded, staring at the floor.

"Answer me."


"Answer me!"

"Yes, master."

The doctor made no signs of pleasure but a calm, controlling rhythm dominated his voice. "Assist Cook with the cargo. Do not make any move to run. You remember what I told you, do you not?" He raised the hem of his coat, exposing the cold smooth handle of the pistol.


As Taegan moved to get up, the shipmaster followed Taegan's body with eagerly hateful eyes, wanting strongly to hit the boy. But he only watched. There were things to do. There was work to be done. And there would be time...time enough later, for that.

Taegan had only to watch the burly cook at work to know what he was to do. The crates stacked high in the hold-the wooden crates that held the bodies-were being unloaded. As he came out on deck moments later, muscles braced against the coffin on his back, he took in the strange sight of land towering high above them. The Leviathan had dropped anchor in a strange, nearly hidden port, hardly anything but a single pier jutting out like the enormous boulders that lined the cliff side. The cliffs themselves were colossal, rising above him far out of sight, and there seemed to be no way of scaling them. But Taegan wondered where else their destination could possibly be, for there was no sign of a settlement anywhere near the pier: only the monolithic boulders and the crashing, spewing water.

Then, as they moved the coffins painstakingly from ship to pier, Taegan saw where they were going. Set into the stone of the cliff side, dug deep into the rock so as to conceal itself from the world, was a steeply rising stair. It crept up the side of the cliff like a deep scar from a puncture wound, disappearing in the mist above them. The sight of it filled Taegan with a hollow sense of dread.

He stood for a moment in the thrashing wind, holding the tangled hair from his eyes with one hand. The pier seemed to rock and sway among the spraying, cataclysmic waves. It was a rickety, skeletal thing, forced up from the deep water on spidery legs, and Taegan feared that it might be torn from its foundations at any moment. He felt the shipmaster's hand clench him roughly by the shirt, and he followed dutifully up the pier and toward the hidden staircase.

It was a frightening climb to the top. With every gust of salty sea wind Taegan found himself clinging desperately to the cliff wall, afraid that he might be thrown from the steep stairs and cast down into the violent peaks of water below. But above him the shipmaster climbed skillfully and relentlessly, and Taegan was made to neglect his fears and follow in unchallenged obedience.

As they reached the top of the cliff it dizzied Taegan to glance downward. The steps seemed to wind forever below him in a drastically vertical zigzag, like a scrawling line written into the stone by some unseen hand. A thick fog lying heavily over the cliffs now hid the ocean from them, the snaking pier and the carefully stacked crates and the patient figure of the cook long gone from view. Taegan could only scarcely make out the topmost yardarm of the Leviathan, moving slowly in the drift with a spectral pallor. Everything was ghastly and dreamlike in the mist, and Taegan hoped fervently that he would not have to open the crates waiting down on the dock far beneath them.

"We're here." The actor stood like a gray statue in the fog, an untraceable smile hinting at the corners of his mouth. Taegan mounted the last step and leaned forward to rest his hands on his knees, breathing in quiet, heavy gasps. When he dared to look up he was faced with a strange and unfamiliar sight.

Across a misted plain, atop a sloping staircase of its own, a fantastic gray mansion sat in cold dominion over the cliffs. Taegan wondered if the massive house belonged to the shipmaster, but his silent thoughts were soon interrupted and forgotten.

"Remember you are not to speak," the actor said with a steely glance in Taegan's direction. "Even if you are questioned. Stay behind me, and do not come into the house."

"Yes, master." Taegan willed the words on his tongue not to reveal the humiliation that he tasted so profoundly, but it was pointless. Master. The word was servile and shameful, something below humility even for Taegan. Taegan-who once loved to offer service more than anything-now loathed the very idea of humility. Rendering service to the one who had spent his heart and soul and left only a bruised body to contain the emptiness-it had destroyed him. He was only a shell of some former being, another Taegan far away who knew nothing of pain or sacrifice.

The stairs that led to the mansion were steep, but much more manageable than the winding flight that scaled the cliff wall. As they climbed heavenward in silence, Taegan was aware of a strange feeling gripping him and then falling away to the pits of his being, a feeling of ascension through the maddening gray fog, a feeling of always rising, ever growing nearer to a destination that could never be reached. He arrived at the top of the steps, staring up at the looming gray door of the mansion. The wind seemed to pick up again and the mist cleared away, revealing marble columns that bolted upward to the cracked stone gargoyles that leaned out over the edge of the fixture, gazing at the faraway sea with cold, lifeless eyes.

Taegan watched as the actor took hold of the brass knocker and beat it twice against the extravagant door. The sound seemed to echo somewhere within the depths of the mansion, and presently there was the sound of a latch working and coming undone. Finally the door opened to reveal a tall man wearing a luxurious robe, who regarded them tiredly.

"May I help you with something?" the man asked after a moment. He was studying the shipmaster with stormy gray eyes.

"Why, my dear Dr. Solomon, are you saying that you still do not recognize me, after all these years?"

The man in the robe paused. He ran a hand through the tangled mess of light hair atop his head, and taking a glass monocle from his pocket he held it to his left eye and gasped.

"Ferguson...is that you?"

The shipmaster laughed tastelessly. "You may call me Doctor Ferguson, now. We are one of the same, old friend."

Rubbing his eyepiece with a cloth, the man called Solomon blinked in subtle astonishment. "No, no. I do not pretend to call myself a doctor; you and I both know that well. I am only a scientist, and a poor one at that. But I pray you have had more success than I, in these long months?"

"Your little invention served me well," the actor said, drawing the long black pistol from his coat and holding it out by the barrel. "The cargo is down at the pier; I left Cook to wait with it. Have you anything to show me for my trouble?"

The scientist paused, then spread his hands disarmingly. "You might as well come in and see," he said, and suddenly laughed. "Only seven months since I saw you last, and still you can fool me with your disguises. I shall never grow used to you, Ferguson."

Stepping inside, the actor bowed appreciatively. "You ought to know by now, I am never the same person twice."

As Ferguson entered, Solomon reached out to grasp the door's ornate handle and caught sight of Taegan. "And what have we here?" the scientist asked curiously.

Remembering the shipmaster's threats, Taegan stood silently, forbidding his eyes to meet those of the scientist.

"What's your name, boy?"

Taegan remained still, glancing at the shipmaster nervously.

"An unfortunate piece of luggage I came upon on land," Ferguson said offhandedly, meeting Taegan's eyes with a look of silent admonition. "He hasn't a name."

"Is he mute?"

"Oh, no," Ferguson muttered with humorous contempt. "He is quite talkative."

"Bring him in," the scientist beckoned, turning to Ferguson. "I should like to have a look at him in the light."

The scientist was almost smiling, hopeful, and Ferguson stood inside the doorway with a hesitant look on his face that seemed to screen an intense hatred for both Taegan and the man he called Dr. Solomon. Taegan stood immobile and fearful, uncertain of which orders to follow, until finally the shipmaster took him by the shoulder and shoved him toward the open door.

Taegan found himself in a rich, warm room, filled with the odor of a roaring fire and adorned with wine-red tapestries. In the still air he wished that he could fall asleep, for he hadn't felt so comfortable since he had left home.

Dr. Solomon shut the door against the whining sea wind and turned to look at Taegan's bleak form.

"Yes..." the scientist said softly, examining the lean, developed muscles that obscured Taegan's sunken abdomen. "He's a fine little job for your line of work, though I am surprised at you, Ferguson..."

Taegan did not know what the man meant, and he tensed when he felt fingers lifting his chin. He stared fearfully into Dr. Solomon's gray eyes until the scientist smiled and broke into a sputtering sort of laugh.

"Young, isn't he?" the scientist asked, glancing behind him at Ferguson.

The shipmaster spoke quietly, and Taegan could sense the anger beneath his calm voice. "If you are so interested in him, I might sell him to you."

Taegan's eyes dropped to the floor again, and he stood rigidly as Dr. Solomon ran his hand along his body and over each limb, moving in a slow and intentional way that made Taegan uneasy.

"No..." The scientist's hand lingered on Taegan's narrow and unshaven face, where traces of a soft light beard were beginning to show on his jaw line. "No, I could not put a price on a human body. Not a living one, anyway." He glanced at Ferguson meaningfully. "That's your business."

Ferguson met the scientist's gaze. "Let us return to business, then, shall we?"

Dr. Solomon frowned, taking his hand from Taegan's face.

"Of course."

Taegan watched the men from the corners of his lowered eyes. The way the shipmaster was speaking indicated dangerous undertones to Taegan, but Dr. Solomon's demeanor seemed to reveal the same silent animosity underneath a mask of charming courtesy. Their voices grew softer and more secretive as they discussed something that Taegan did not catch, and slowly the boy lost interest as exhaustion overtook him. He was nearly asleep on his feet when he came awake with a start, hearing a sudden jolt of volume in the shipmaster's voice.

"How long?" Ferguson demanded shrilly. Taegan recognized the tone from the times his master had screamed at him in revulsion, the times when he was often beaten, and he flinched involuntarily.

The scientist said something soft and unintelligible.

"I did not come here to be insulted," the shipmaster interrupted. "Nor do I operate to serve your every whim, Doctor. I am a man of my own practice, as you are of yours."

"I need more time."

"Years." Ferguson laughed unpleasantly, beginning to pace the room. "Years upon years, I have waited. I shan't have much longer to wait, Solomon. The day is late."

There was a heavy pause, and Taegan could imagine the weight of the shipmaster's eyes on the scientist. But Dr. Solomon only sighed and began calmly to busy himself with something on a square table.

"It can't be rushed, I'm afraid," the scientist said mildly. "There is too much of a risk involved. I expect the specimens you've brought me will certainly speed my research; however, you must be patient, Ferguson. I never made any promise of my own success. So I must ask you to be patient...or grow comfortable with your mortality."

Silence ensued, and Taegan wondered at the restfulness in the scientist's voice. Did he know the danger that the shipmaster posed? He seemed suddenly to be fearless in Taegan's eyes, fearless to the point of absurdity.

But the man called Ferguson said nothing. In a moment Taegan was jerked hastily toward the door, and the shipmaster called over his shoulder, "I will send up the cargo."

"Very well. Take good care, my friend."

There was a note of wearied sadness in the scientist's sterile farewell. Taegan knew that his master's anger had not receded, and he dreaded the journey to the pier. They climbed down in silence, bludgeoned by the wind.

The cook stood waiting like a ghost beside the coffins on the water-weathered planks.

"Cook," the shipmaster addressed him solemnly. "See to it that the boy carries his weight. I shall retire."

And he disappeared into a shroud of mist, pacing slowly toward the anchored ship. Taegan watched him with mounting confusion until the cook struck him near his jaw. Pain pulsed in his neck and the notch in his ear, and Taegan moved submissively to lift one end of a crate while Cook lifted the other. His legs were heavy and his breath was fatigued from the climb, but he forced his strength to endure as they made their way toward the winding staircase with the coffin on their shoulders.

Taegan's mind screamed with chaotic thoughts while underneath him the sea slowly fell away and vanished under clouds of gray fog. The shipmaster's silence left him puzzled and full of fear. His identity seemed lost in a thousand names and voices and faces, and Taegan wondered which of them were true. The shipmaster; the great actor; Dubois, the gentleman; the doctor, Ferguson. He had a plethora of identities at his disposal to kill and to revive, to open or to shut, but who was he? Who, or what, was the Master?

The scientist's words had somehow cast all of these various forms into shadow. Taegan had glimpsed the man beneath the actor, a man capable of frailty and even of death, a man even merely human; The day is late. And what had the scientist meant about mortality?

When they finished with the cargo, a few red rays of sunlight were glancing through the mist, and as the waves crashed at the base of the cliff the explosions sent bright red droplets into the air. Taegan stood on the deck of the Leviathan, staring up at the imposing gray cliffs and thinking of the mansion that loomed over their surface. Beneath him the sea boiled and thrashed, never resting. And Taegan wondered silently what was to become of his life.

It would be a long time before he had any sure idea.