As the shepherd boy was falling into a deep and much needed slumber on one end of the Sway, the woodsman was coming awake with a start on the other.
     He lay there for a time, eyes wide and lungs stilled, but the disturbance in the valley refused to come to him. What was more, since he could remember nothing about the disturbance, he had no idea if he should be scared or simply annoyed. He knew only that Zeph was snoozing warmly on his chest and that he’d been in one of those deep and dreamless sleeps that only come to him on the hill. Then he’d heard something abnormal in the Sway.
     He was aware of this last part because his ears were used to the normal sounds of the valley, the excited yips of coyotes, the whickering wings of a night swift, the never-ending cries of the cricket and cicada. On those occasions when he was drawn from his slumber into the waking world, it was due to a sound that didn’t belong, like a screeching hawk in the meadows of the Shun or the scrabbling of claws in the blackness of— 
     There it was again, down in the valley. Something pushing through the reeds.
     Jaysh knew it could have been anything milling around down there, but in his mind’s eye he saw the crushed cow from the circle of matted grass. He’d not given the dead cow a single thought since leaving the kill zone, but now there it was in his mind: the twisted legs, the broken neck, the mug-sized holes gouged in its side. Had the fear of the unknown spawned the ugly image…or was his intuition trying to tell him something?
     Deciding that he wasn’t going to lie there in the open and wait to find out, the woodsman cocked his head to the fence line and loosed his senses on the night, instantly aware of the dew on his feet, the grass at his neck, and the constant eee-eee of the crickets.
     Overhead, something fluttered erratically through the night and Jaysh was fairly certain it was a bat; it had that zigzagging flight pattern that only bats seemed to favor. But at any rate, as the creature continued on into the night, the woodsman was left peering at the sky and watching as the darkness began to swell and swirl and morph from one image to the next. Most of these were nonsensical and meaningless, the designs of mad men on a bad day, but one of them—the last one, in fact—was one that Jaysh recognized.
     It was the dead cow.
     And it was staring at him.
     Ah’right, he thought, reaching to the right and, again, being careful not to disturb the cat-thing on his chest. He was padding the grass for his gear—the pack in general and the bow in particular—but for some reason his pack was not there.
     He stopped groping the ground and folded an arm beneath the cat-thing, cradling her to his chest as he prepared to sit erect—Only the cat-thing wasn’t there. 
     Jaysh shot up like the arm of a catapult, scanning the terrain for anything lumpy or round, but finding only the flat sides of limestone and pointed tips of granite. Once again, his Zeph was gone.
     He spun to the west, the part of the Hill decorated with statues and sculptures, and ran his eyes along the dark shapes that rose from the ground. Some had their hands stretched to glory, others had them locked in supplication at their chests, but only one had its hands hanging uselessly at its sides. 
     Jaysh didn’t know why the shadow set up camp among the statues—if it were trying to blend into its environment, if it tried conversing with them after Jaysh fell asleep—but for whatever reason that was where it went when the woodsman prepared for slumber.  
     But fer how long? Jaysh wondered. Once’t I’m asleep, how long til that thing comes over to throw my gear an’ scare my Zeph?  
     Before he could answer the question, the sound of rustling grass wafted to his ears and hHe dropped to his knees, padding the ground and moving in a steadily growing arc as he followed his apoplectic hands. When he finally struck leather, a jolt of relief traveled through his body. He plucked up the pack and tore at the bindings, digging through pouches and eventually yanking free his skinning knife. He’d have preferred to shoot at this thing from afar, but since beggars couldn’t be choosers, the skinning knife would have to do.
     He peeled it from the sheath and hurried to the other side of the path, moving to an assortment of large stones that had been stacked together in such a way as to resemble a tool shed or outhouse. He slipped behind it and pressed his back to the cold hard wall.
     Outside on the slope, the rustling grasses had given way to footfalls, several pairs of footfalls, like a whole herd of midnight killers. Shortly after that, the footfalls left the soft soil of the pasture and entered the hard pack of the trail, changing from muffled thumps to sharp clopping. They might have been hooves, but Jaysh couldn’t tell. Right after they met the trail, they moved to the stone arch in the crisscrossing fence and stopped.
     Then there was a pause, a series creaking noises—like the groan of old leather—and a single pair of footfalls continued through the archway.
     Jaysh squatted down and peaked around the shed. He saw the outline of something like a man passing beneath the arch, something standing upright and walking on its hind legs. Of course, whether or not that made it a man reminded to be seen. Proof against this supposition was the way it came stumbling through the slabs and bouncing off the pillars.
     Jaysh’s first impression was of an invalid or cripple or perhaps a violent criminal who’d been injured during his escape from the dungeons. But the longer he watch, the more he thought about ugling possession, like some poor soul who’d wandered too close to the Bottoms and was now infected by one of the speaking mists. Because anyone with a disability or injury would have displayed their handicap in a consistent pattern.
     The creature before him, however, was exhibiting any number physical ailments. Its arms would work, and then they wouldn’t. Its legs appeared fine, and then went numb. If there was any pattern at all, it was the man-thing’s use of the stones. Without fail, the creature kept at least one hand on the slabs at all time, leaning from one rock to the next and never letting go of his current stone until the next was firmly in its grasp. It did this until it had lurched halfway down the interior trail and came to a rock in the queue that rose only to its knees.
     The man-thing’s head lolled forward and it stared down at the missing crutch, apparently stumped as to where it should place its other hand.
     From the shadows of his cover, Jaysh held his breath. This couldn’t have happened at a more inconvenient position along the trail, for directly in front of the smaller stone was the woodsman’s bedroll.
     An’ if’n it spies that… 
     Tottering wildly and losing its balance, the man-thing knelt beside a smaller stone and seemed to be inspecting something, not the bedding on the ground, but the little rock itself. Even now, Jaysh could see the wobbling outline of the man-thing’s arm as it reached out to touch the stunted slab, sliding its fingers around the crest and then halfway down its length.
     The creature’s arm made to backtrack along the stone and  then stopped. Its head rolled to the right and, as much as it could, fixed on something in the lawn. It stared for a moment, then plucked the item from the grass and hobbled to its feet.
     With its quavering head panning the geometry of the hill, it said, “Jaaaaysh.” Then, holding up the floppy item from the lawn, it added, “I have…have your shoe.”
     Leaning around the shed, Jaysh frowned at the man-thing, or more accurately at the sound of its voice. As the shock of hearing his name wore off and the panic of being discovered abated, he thought the voice sounded familiar. It was indecisive—and perhaps unaccustomed to making human speech—but it was a voice he’d heard before. And wasn’t there something familiar about its stench? The stink of soured fruits and the stale reek of smoke, as if a whole tavern full of—
     His mind raced back to the previous evening, to the moment right before parting ways with his dear old friend and walking to the hill. He remembered the three little words that the person had spoken—On the Hill—and the mischievous hum that followed, the hum that haunted Jaysh even now.
     Jaysh stepped from behind the shed, knife in hand.
     “Jaaaaaysh,” the man-thing cooed, “there’s my…oldest and…and dearest friend.” It held up the object in its hand. “I think I have your…uh…,” he looked at the item to jog his memory, “…shoe.”
     Without moving, Jaysh said, “I tol’ yeh bout comin here.”  
     “Yes, yes, I…I know,” Iman said, staggering forward, “but I have a story.” He tripped, fell against a massive grooved pillar, and hugged it like a lover. “It’s about this…um…about something to do with the…something you needed to…,” his head fell against the pillar with a wet cracking sound and he said, “Blue Hole! It’s about Blue Hole.”        
     A pang of disappointment traveled Jaysh’s body. Blue Hole was, indeed, the place where Swim Day would be celebrated and, although he wouldn’t have told Iman this for all the vine in the world, he was not surprised his dear old friend had deduced the location. With the Leresh gone and the Mela poisoned, there weren’t that many options available, not unless he wanted to use one of the ponds in the Sway and submerge his face in cow urine and horse crap.
     “Yeh ain’t goin’,” Jaysh said.
     “It’s fish day, right?”
     “Swim Day,” Jaysh corrected, “an’ yeh ain’t goin’.”
     Iman pried his head from the column. “Yes, swim day. I…I knew it was something to do with the, um…the splashing and the…uh…,” his expression brightened suddenly. “See, I heard this—this fish tale at the…the place… the council! Yes, the council. Anyway, I heard it and I said to myself, ‘Iman, old boy…Jaysh is doing something in the water tomorrow and …and he really needs to hear this.’”
     Jaysh folded his arms. “So’s yeh went lookin fer me at the Wound?
     “The Nest,” Iman corrected, referring to an establishment on the East side known as Sira’s Nest. “Someone was stabbed in the Wound. It was a mess—but anyhow—Hey, did I tell you the council was very, very impressed with your work at the…um…,” he pointed south, “…down in the…uh…,” he waggled a finger, “…down where the cow was…,” he waggled a bit longer, then let his arm fall against the column. “Very impressed,” he said. “They just loved it.”
     “Iman,” Jaysh said, levelly, “yeh ain’t goin’.”
     Iman stood there clinging to the column for a moment, then began to chuckle. “Jaysh—old friend—as…as much fun as it might be to go with you to the hole,” he stopped chuckling and drew a breath, “I can’t. I have this thing over at the, uh…that place…,” he pursued his lips, “…Oh, what’s it called…place with all the—Westpost!” he announced. “Westpost! I am going to Westpost.” His smile softened. “So there, does that make you happy?”
     Actually, it did. Jaysh had forgotten about the captain’s job in the Western Sway and the realization of which made him feel a lot better.
     “What’s the story?” Jaysh said, stomping to where his gear had been scattered.
     “Okay,” Iman said, “picture this: I’m in the castle—with the royal advisers, mind you—and they’re all listening to these whining complaints and trying to pretend like they care and there’s this…this fishing person in front of me and he’s like…pouring out his heart about this…this boat, and you know the council doesn’t care. You know they want to hear my report…the report about the missing cattle and whether or not the killer is…,” he paused, looking over at the woodsman, “…oh, and by the way, Jaysh, the council was very…,” he closed his eyes for a moment, “…very impressed with your work. No, really. Serit couldn’t get enough and Mums, she went on and on, Godfry too, and later, when I was at the Nest, I saw Gariel, and she just—”
     Jaysh stopped padding the ground and glared at him.
     “—Okay, okay,” Iman said. “Anyway…anyway, I was…I was there at the council meeting, just waiting to give my report, and there’s this…fishering fellow ahead of me and he was wrapping up his report, going on and on about his boat, and his livelihood, and his family, and…to tell the truth I really wasn’t paying attention. I was still polishing my report, you know…running it over in my head, making sure I got everything in, you know, about the circle and the cow and the lack of prints and whether or not to tell them I drew my sword…does it make me look prepared…or like a nervous-Nelly?
     “But anyhow, I’m thinking these thoughts and I’m not paying any, uh…any attention—but then, all of a sudden, I hear this man ahead of me, this local fisher person or whatever he is, I hear him tell the council that he’s out fishing in Blue Hole, up on the northern rim I guess, and he says—get this, Jaysh—he says something comes up out of the water and eats his boat.
     Jaysh looked up. “In Blue Hole?
     “Oh, yes! In Blue Hole! I swear to all that’s holy! This man, he tells Serit and Reets and…and the whole council that this thing devours his boat, says he was out there in the water, avoiding the orange slicks, and something crashes up through the planks, sinking him right where he sat, pretty as you please. He says it was, um…was another of those…oh, what’re they called—water imps! Yes, it was an imp. And a big one.”
     Jaysh lowered his gaze. “I guess it was,” he said, feeling around for his arrows. Having retrieved the contents for his pack, he was now searching the grass for the contents of his quiver.
     “It killed his partner,” Iman continued, as if that were important, “or they can’t find him. I guess it knocked the other guy into the water and he, uh…he swam to shore. It shook him up—he looked shook up,” he added. “Said he spent most of the day with his…um…his family. Said he didn’t want to go to the council, but his wife made him. I guess she told him the community needed to know, so they’d stay out of the water. And she wanted a new boat.”
     Sliding the last of his arrows in the quiver, Jaysh stood. He was only one shoe away from starting Swim Day, but all of a sudden that didn’t seem to matter.
     “She didn’t get her boat,” Iman said, trying to sound helpful.
     Jaysh moved to the small stone where Iman had found the first moccasin, then made a halfhearted glance at the ground, looking around until he spied something on the other side of the path, something that turned out to be his moccasin. He snatched it up, pried it on, and turned to the captain.
     “Yeh had many’a them…,” Jaysh began, trailing off as he realized that Iman had somehow disengaged himself from the column, followed him along the path, and was now crouched down again in front of the little stone. “Yeh had a lot’a them reports? Bout the swimin imps?”
     Iman reached out a finger and, once again, ran it along the crest of the diminutive rock. Only, up close like this, Jaysh could see it wasn’t a featureless stone at all. Like the decorations on the western end of the hill, this stone had been chiseled to resemble a person.
     Admittedly, it was much smaller than the adult-sized statues on the west end, but otherwise it looked the same. It had the same flowing robes, which looked like a bed sheet with a hole cut in the middle and slipped over the figure’s head. It had the strand of twine tied around the waist and allowing the figure’s arms to protrude from the garment. And of course it had the same fluffy pair of wings sticking out from the back.
     “To tell the truth,” Iman said, stroking the left wing, “that was the first report I’d heard.”
     Watching Iman’s fingertips trace the feathers, Jaysh said, “But yeh think it ain’t safe?”
     “Oh, maybe,” Iman said, now moving his finger along the name chiseled at the seraph’s base, “but it is Swim Day, you know. You pretty much have to go.” He brushed at imaginary dust on the little angel’s finely-hewn hair, then lifted his eyes to the woodsman. “Or you could…I don’t know…put it on hold.”
     Without taking his eyes from the cherub, Jaysh said, “Yeh mean call it off?
     “No, no, not call it off,” Iman said, coming to his feet and brushing at his knees, “just put it off a little, delay it until conditions are better for you. You could…you could keep track of all the Swim Days you miss and then, uh…have them later, you know, write them down somewhe—”
     “I cain’t write.”
     “—or, um…or keep track of them in your head, either way, right?”
     “I guess,” the woodsman said, shoulders lifting weakly. “I could whittle a notch in a piece of wood; keep track of 'em like that.”
     “Well, there you go,” Iman said, reaching out and putting an arm around the other man’s shoulders. “Now about that Westpost job.”
     Shrinking from Iman’s grasp, Jaysh said, “What about it?”
     “Well, it’s just…you know, yesterday, it seemed like your scouting didn’t, uh…didn’t go so well, so I was wondering if you’d like to come with me? Come out to Westpost and do some real tracking, you know. None of that deer and bunny stuff.”
     Jaysh remembered what Iman had told him yesterday before they parted ways, remembered the monster to which he had alluded and how it had apparently maimed or killed one of Jashandar’s finest. He thought about that for awhile, then said, “I guess that’d work.”
     “Sure it would,” Iman said, moving his arm behind him.
     Sidestepping the captain’s arm, Jaysh said, “Yeh ain’t usin’ my name, are yeh?”
    “Oh, no. No, no, no. No names,” Iman said, putting a hand to his heart. “Officer’s word.”
     Jaysh stared at the hand. “It’s the other’un.”
     Iman looked down, then switched hands.
     Apparently unsatisfied with the pledge, Jaysh said, “Yeh ‘member what happened las’ time.”
     “Yes, I know, I know. That’s why we won’t use names this time. You’ll be, uh…the private! Right. Private something-or-another. And I’ll be…I’ll be the captain. Okay? Does that work?”
     Jaysh rubbed his beard. He had no doubt that he could make it work. It was his dear old friend he was worried about. Iman had a mind like a humming bird, always flitting from one blossoming idea to the next, so there was no guarantee he’d remember this one when the time came to make good.
     On the other hand, if Jaysh didn’t go, what was he going to do?
     “Ah’right,” he said, “that works.”
     “Good, good,” Iman said, laying a hand to Jaysh’s shoulder and driving him through the gate. “They’re just out here,” he added, guiding the woodsman to the two horses tethered at the fence, a beautiful roan named Quinlin—which Iman insisted on calling Winner—and the other a large bay named Shiloh.
     Iman untied his steed and mounted. 
     Jaysh shoved his foot in the stirrup, prepared to mount, then stopped. “We gona be back by dusk?” he asked, looking up at his dear old friend.
     Iman swallowed. “I, uh…I don’t have a problem with that,” he said. “If I interrogate and—and you track then, uh…then sure, why not? We should finish by dusk,” he said, “dusk or midnight.”
     Jaysh pulled his foot from the stirrup.
     “Okay, Dusk! Dusk it is!