When I awaken, I am alone. Faint voices drift down the staircase. I stand and stretch, my wingtips nearly brushing the room's walls, and look out the window. It is almost dark, the glow of sunset beginning to fade off the land's edge, and my right eye still sees as if I were holding a piece of blue-green glass in front of it. The left is almost back to normal. Almost.
This time I take the stairs.
Two wooden chairs face each other just to the left of the stairway, one placed against an outside wall, the other against the base of the light. John sits in one of them; in the other sits a male otter, perhaps four years older than I. His clothes are simple, light blue pants and vest over a white tunic--colors of the ministry. I don't remember which sect they represent, although I know it is neither Garanelt's nor Achoren's predominant one.
The priest looks up when I enter, rises to his feet. The hesitation before extending his hand is very slight. "You must be Revar," he says, his voice assured but quiet. "From what John tells me you've been doing good things for him."
I fold my arms across my chest without shaking his hand. "I haven't done very much for him at all."
He drops the hand after a moment, looking more amused than offended. "I think you've done more than you're aware of." He sits back down.
"Have I disturbed you?"
John looks up at me and smiles uneasily. "No, no." He sighs, turning away and staring at a point somewhere past the wall. "It isn't anything... you don't already know, ma'am. I just don't... understand...." His voice falters to a whisper.
"Whatever happened back then isn't your fault, John. Remember that." John nods; after a moment the priest continues. "We all have our burdens. Marilyn's was heavier than most. But you know she wasn't a criminal."
Depends on how you define criminal. As long as you don't think breaking the law has anything to do with it, no, she wasn't.
"She was a good person," John says. "But... I still don't see how she could be what... she was."
"We may never learn the reasons for it." The priest shifts in his seat, the only sign of discomfort he has shown so far.
"I'm worried that I'll never see her again."
Of course you'll never see her again. She's dead.
"I'm sure you will--"
I can't listen to this. "I'll be downstairs," I say, trying to keep my voice from being too hard, and drop back down the stairwell.
Perhaps I am being too harsh, but for-- What hurts him the most is believing that because Marilyn wasn't really a "good person" he won't see her again in the afterlife. This is what the Church of the Creator wants its followers to believe about their loved ones?
The moon reflects brightly off the rippling sea. I do not know how long I stand, watching it, before I hear the priest come up behind me.
"Thank you," he says.
I don't turn around. "For what?"
"Being there for him."
"I thought that was what you had come by for."
"It is. But you've probably helped more than I have."
"I set out to prove his wife innocent and ended up confirming her guilt. All I've helped do is ruin the time he has left." I sit on the ground, folding my wings around my knees. "It's a shitty way to pay back someone for saving your life."
"He would have learned the truth on his own. Without your presence, it would have been more painful."
I glance up at him. "Truth. You lied to him in there, didn't you?"
He kneels beside me. "How do you mean?"
"You told him that Marilyn would be there in your 'freedom.' But she won't be. Sinners don't get to collect on salvation, do they? They just go around another time."
"That depends on who you ask."
I laugh. "Wonderful. An objective worldview you have to interpret subjectively."
He smiles. "At least we believe you get another chance. There are a few sects that believe you only get one; if you fail, you receive eternal damnation."
"I thought the idea of a punishing Creator ran counter to your teachings."
We lapse into silence.
"If you were in my position," the priest suddenly says, "would you have told John any different?"
"I wouldn't be in your position."
The otter raises his eyebrows, but says nothing, instead turning out toward the sea. "Tell me. Whose counsel do you take?"
"Just my own."
"It's very easy to go astray on that road."
"Perhaps." My claws find a small stone; I toss it into the water, watching it skip three times before sinking. "But at least I do my own travelling."
"I don't follow you."
"People talk about religions as narrow paths, difficult journeys. But that's not the way it is. Religions are carriages. People choose them so they can ride through life."
"Trading freedom for security." He rocks back off his knees, coming to rest cross-legged beside me. "A dim view of religion, don't you think?"
"An accurate one."
"For some people, perhaps."
"But not for you." I unfold my wings and turn to regard him. "Then you tell me. Why do you ride the carriage?"
"Because if I walk, I'll never get to where I should be." He smiles cryptically. "There's far less security than you think. Anyone who finds faith completely comfortable is missing something."
"There's a lot of people who would find that statement blasphemous."
The otter shrugs. "I follow my religion simply because I believe it's the truth."
"You don't know it's the truth?"
"If I told you I did, would it convince you of anything?"
"Well, then." He spreads his hands.
"Have you ever killed anyone, priest?"
He blinks and shakes his head. "Have you?"
Darkness falls around us as the moon hides behind passing clouds. "The first time I killed someone I was twelve years old.
"I had left home two weeks before, sick of everything my family stood for--slow death by stagnation. I didn't want to avoid other races, to live by hiding in trees and preying on farm animals. And the occasional farmer." The otter makes a slight gulping noise.
"I hadn't fed on blood since I left home. I didn't understand why eating 'normal' food wouldn't help me; after two weeks I was eating ravenously and starving to death. By the time I realized I needed blood again it was too late to leave the city. I was too weak to fly.
"I was sleeping in an alleyway. That morning I stayed up past sunrise and grabbed a human child as he walked past, probably on his way to school. He was smaller than I was, a few years younger." I close my eyes. "Sometimes I still see the boy's terrified expression as I wrench back his head and sink my teeth into his throat.
"Then the blood stopped flowing into my mouth. I pulled back and he was as white as chalk, his blue eyes frozen open, and I realized I had bled him dry. I was still thirsty."
I open my eyes again, controlling my breathing carefully. "That's the truth I believe, priest. Once I tasted that child's blood, he was already dead. I couldn't have stopped if I had wanted to. And you know something else? Bats have a preference for sapient prey. If I always acted according to nature, I'd go for the farmer instead of the farm animal every time.
"If I believed in your Creator, I'd hate him for making us the way he did. I'd blame him for the death of that child."
When I finish, the priest is looking at me with an expression that might be fear, or might be pity. Or both.
But when he finally speaks his voice is flatly neutral. "I don't believe blaming yourself is a better answer."
"I don't blame myself anymore. Perhaps I did for a while." The moon comes back into view, and my mood passes abruptly; I stand and flex my wings.
"Why sapient?" he asks after a moment.
"Because you're a perfect meal. You have so much blood that, as long as I feed regularly, I can use you without killing you. And you're easier to catch and hold than a wild animal half your size. It's something we just have to accept." I smile humorlessly.
The otter gazes out over the water, then shifts his position, looking uncomfortable. "A city seems like a dangerous home for you."
"I've tried the alternative."
I laugh. "Chasing fairy tales isn't my calling. And besides, I prefer struggling in a place like this." In legends, Leanthra is the home of the vampire bats. I am surprised the old tales are still told; we try to pointedly ignore them, as they do very little toward encouraging tolerance. What appeal the myths hold for us is not shared by other races. But then, I imagine tales of farm life hold much less charm if you happen to be a cow.
"All right, then. If you've accepted what you are, why so bitter?"
"The last priest I talked with, a long time ago, told me we were all paying for sins the first mortals committed at the beginning of time. Do you believe that?"
"In a sense."
"Then there would be no reason for hope except in your particular notion of life after death. Even I'm not that bitter." I walk into the lighthouse to check on John before leaving.
He smiles as I enter, looking slightly more cheerful. "I'm sorry I'm not much of a companion, ma'am." He shakes his head, indeed looking genuinely apologetic.
"Just worry about your light, John. And getting some rest tomorrow."
The bear eyes me. "You're sure you don't want to stay here?"
"Is this an invitation?" I say, flashing my best seductress smile (only passable at best, unless the target finds fangs attractive).
John starts and looks flustered, beginning to stutter.
"It's all right." I pat him on the arm. "I'm just teasing you. I have some work to do before sleeping. And you know I'm a night person."
He bites his lower lip. "What are you doing?"
"I'm not finished investigating what you've dragged me into. You've made me into a detective, you know."
"I don't rightly know what more needs to be found," he says, sighing.
"Marilyn's fence. The records she kept, that might be the key to breaking up the rest of the pirate ring."
"A reason for her being a...." He looks away. "You know."
Other than pure greed? "Maybe." And maybe it's true, too. There are many unanswered questions. Good woman or not, Marilyn Brown was playing a complex game with her life. "If I can, I will find out."
"Thank you." John heaves a great sigh.
I hug John, pressing myself into his great warm bulk, almost having to climb up him to plant a kiss on his nose before leaving.
I fly back to my hostel room, gathering my belongings and checking out; now that Wortham knows its location, it's no longer safe.
Another five minutes to check into a different hostel in a different part of town, and I'm free to fly to the Guard station. If I am to work with them, I'm going to damn well get their cooperation. The clerk at the front desk, however, does not see things my way.
"I can't give you those records," he repeats.
"You have to give me something, dammit!"
The small squirrel pushes his glasses back up his muzzle. "I really suggest you leave the investigating to us."
"You were the ones who suggested I help you."
"I have no record of civilian assistance on this case."
"Maybe the officer hasn't finished cutting all the red tape yet."
"What was the officer's name again?"
"I don't know." I drum my claws on the counter. "He was a stoat. He was the one who went out to the lighthouse earlier today."
"Mmm-hmmm." He frowns and riffles papers. "And why was your assistance required?"
"Maybe you need someone whose idea of undercover surveillance isn't standing at attention in a black suit instead of a red uniform."
This earns me a disapproving glance through the glasses.
"Can I talk to the investigating officer?"
"He's not on duty right now."
Of course not. "What about the former investigating officer?"
"The stoat probably hadn't entered your academy ten years ago. Who was investigating the pirates then?"
"I can't confirm that we were investigating any piracy then, ma'am."
"You already have, you idiot!" I snap, sinking both sets of claws deep into the wooden countertop. He tries not to glance down at the gashes I am making, but his eyes keep flicking back and forth between them and his precious papers. "Have you talked with the guy who was doing his job--or if he was like you, not doing it--ten years ago?"
"If there was someone investigating it then, all his reports would be on file now."
"So the answer is no."
"I didn't say that."
"Would you give me his name?"
Riffle, riffle, riffle. "I can't do that."
I rake my claws across the counter, gouging half-inch deep lines into its surface. He pushes his glasses up again and steps back, muttering something under his breath. "Are you sure?" I inquire sweetly.
"Your actions could be construed as threatening, ma'am," he sputters.
"I can't confirm I was threatening you. Sir." Smile. I can read your eyes: you're afraid to call my bluff. Knowing I couldn't get away doesn't mean anything to you; you're too frightened about how much I can do before getting caught. Yes, study what my claws are doing to your counter a bit more. Think about how hard wood is compared to, say, your body.
He clears his throat loudly. "The officer in question is retired."
"That's nice. Could you give me the retired gentleman's name?"
Riffle, riffle, riffle.
Leaning toward him over the counter, I smile broadly, flashing many teeth as possible. "What time do you get off work today?" Yes, stare at my fangs. Am I close to triggering your flight reflex yet?
"Why do you ask?"
"Just say I find squirrels..." I clench the fist that rests on the counter and pull upward, then drop finger-sized chunks of wood across the papers. "...cute."
The clerk stares at me, shaking the papers out and setting them down on the counter. "That's very flattering," he squeaks. "Hold on." He bolts to a desk on the far side of the room and speaks with a short, fat human woman.
When he returns, he makes a show of cleaning his glasses, as if to prove my presence is not the least worrisome. "Captain Monthril confirms," he finally begins, "that I don't have the authority to give you any of these records."
Idiot! "I don't want the damn records!" I realize I am screaming loud enough that other Guards are looking over at us, but I'm too angry to calm down. "I want the name of the man who investigated the pirates ten years ago!"
The clerk has retreated back five feet. "Why?"
"Because maybe he's the one Guard in history who's had a fucking clue, you pathetic bucktoothed moron! Keep your damn papers and just TELL ME WHO HE IS!"
The fat woman has walked up to the counter now; the clerk is hiding behind her. "I don't think I like your attitude," she says softly.
"That's because it's not a very nice one," I growl. "You people have forced me to do this. Give me enough access to let me start."
"Then come back during business hours and ask for Michael Barden. He's the officer assigned to the case. Without his authorization, we can't help you."
"Dammit, I need--"
She turns away. "If you leave now, we won't charge you for the desk."
Assholes. A small fox tries to say something pleasant to me as I storm past him; I pick him up with one hand and throw him into a chair. No one else comes within ten feet of me as I stomp out of the station.
I don't know what time it is, but the bars have got to still be open. I head back to the bar I was at a day ago. Or a few days ago, perhaps. I'm less surprised at my loss of time sense than at the fact that it simply doesn't matter to me anymore.
Unlike my last visit, the bar is almost deserted. A few humans are half-melted into the shadows around the walls; the bartender is the elderly fat human I saw on my first visit, before I had met John. Before I had gotten myself involved with all this. --Friendship be damned, but I wish I had never seen that old bear. I could just crawl back into my bottle and feed on other drunks until....
"What'll it be?" the fat man says, turning toward me. He grips a cigar tiredly in his right hand, regarding me unconcernedly from half-lidded brown eyes.
He nods and sticks the cigar back in his mouth, then ducks down to get a glass and bottle. "Have I seen you in here before?"
"Once before. You weren't here on my last visit." I watch him as he moves. I've never really liked humans; they're too soft, too weak. And by a cruel trick of fate, they have absolutely delicious blood. Perhaps I don't normally like humans because, of all sapient species, they're the ones bats are most likely to look at and think prey.
"We don't get many bats in here," he says, straightening up and pouring my drink.
If this is the setup line for a bad joke, there's going to be one less fat human in the world. "There probably aren't that many bats in Raneadhros."
He nods. "Counting yourself, I believe that makes six. More than most cities."
"Six," I repeat. "You've counted?"
"Not officially. Everyone seems to wander through here at least once, that's all."
"In a city of over a million beings, I doubt many of them have come to this bar."
"Of course not. You run into the one who hasn't, send him my way." He blows an intricate purple smoke ring and regards me seriously for a moment, then waddles over to the far end of the bar.
I'm halfway finished with my drink when he comes back. "Anything else?"
"Tell me where Marilyn Brown kept her records. Tell me what's so goddamn important about them that the Guard needs a convict's help to get them, and pirates are ready to kill to get them first."
"John Brown's wife?"
What? I look up, focusing on him for the first time since he returned. He wears the same, immovably bored expression I've always seen him with. "Yes. You know him?"
He shrugs. "Not really. You interested in talking about this?"
"To a bartender?"
"It's what I pay myself to do." He blows another smoke ring.
What the hell. I outline the entire story. "So here I am, trying to solve a ten-year-old mystery before I get thrown back in jail after someone died getting me out last time."
The bartender purses his lips and lets out a long breath. "Ten years ago I wasn't running a bar."
"Were you a pirate?"
"No. A wizard." He raises his eyebrows and smiles slightly.
"Good for you." A less likely wizard I'll probably never meet. I drain my glass and push it toward him.
As he refills it, he says, "You're a fairly angry young woman."
"Wouldn't you be?"
"I'd be upset, yes. But when I got through it, my anger would pass. Will yours?"
I stare into the glass. "I don't know."
He nods, then shrugs. "What you need to do is find someone who can lead you to the records."
"The Guard who was doing this ten years ago--he's my only shot at that. I think everybody else is dead."
"From what you said there are a hell of a lot of live people looking for these records. See if any of them are doing more than quacking in the dark." Another smoke ring, and he wanders off again.
"I know you," a voice says from behind me.
"Soup," I say without turning around.
"Turtle," he corrects me, bouncing into the chair by my side.
I finish my drink and slam it on the counter. "Take care that it doesn't change." I get up to leave.
"Wait a minute," he says. "I remember what I was trying to tell you. See, I've never actually seen the guy, I've just heard about him third-hand. I mean, he's been in this bar, but not when I've been here, and it was only mentioned to me and I don't really remember the name."
"That's nice." I start walking toward the door.
"There's someone looking for you," he calls, bouncing toward me. "Say, are you in a bad mood?"
"Yes," I say. "Who is it?"
"I don't remember the name. Did you practice a lot with a mirror to get that scowl?"
"Doesn't sound right. Is that a first name? Try first names."
"Shit," I mutter. How many people do I have first names of in this city? "John. Cayne. Michael."
"Michael," he says, nodding sharply. "Michael is looking for you, and--"
"The damned stoat can wait until morning." I gather my cloak around me and step outside, shutting the door on the reptile's puzzled face.
Should I go back to the lighthouse? For all I know someone's trying to kill John even as I walk down this stained, near-deserted street.
I don't want to go back. I want to fly to a different city and forget all of this.
That thought keeps echoing in my mind as I fly back toward Weryse Point.
As I walk up to the lighthouse, I hear noises from downstairs, even though John is surely up in the top tending the light; the front door is wide open. This is becoming tiresome.
Of course, I see him before he sees me. It's the fox who was here yesterday, sitting on the bed, his back toward me; he doesn't appear to be doing anything except... sitting. I can hear John's breathing from upstairs, smell his cherished onion rings being fried. For the moment, he is safe.
Marn. That's your name. What the hell are you doing here, Marn? Ah. The desk has been opened; a picture has been moved from the wall. He's trying to conduct a thorough, unimpeded search of the premises. Let's see if I can impede him a bit.
As quietly as I can, I walk in the room and sit on the edge of the bed, carefully, slowly, not making a noise, not jarring the fox at all.
"Fuckin' Wortham," he is muttering under his breath. "Fuckin' bear doesn't know anything. There's nothing that's fuckin' here." There is an odd smell coming from him, not just sweat and misery but... something else. Perfume? No, but something that smells strong and cleanly pleasant.
Marn sighs and drums his hands on his knees, then turns around, scanning the room. Just as his eyes meet mine, before he has a chance to react to my presence by doing anything more than sucking in his breath, I lean forward and say, very brightly, "Boo!"
I cut it off abruptly by clapping a hand over his mouth, pushing him back down on the bed and straddling him. "If you scream, I'll kill you," I say, locking eyes with him. "I might kill you anyway. But if you scream I'm going to kill you slowly. Understand?"
He nods, and I remove the hand. "Now," I continue. "You're looking for Marilyn Brown's records."
"Yes," he gets out, beginning to shake violently.
"Don't wet your pants again, tough guy." I start frisking him with one hand, tossing aside two knives, a switchblade and the ever-popular boot dagger. "I'm going to let you up now. If you run for the door, or make a move toward a weapon, or do anything I find objectionable at all, I'm going to grab your stomach with one hand and pull up. Do you know what that'll do to you?"
I nod. "Don't make me do that, Marn. Cleanup is hell." I let go of him and sit on the bed. He makes no move to sit up. Well, that's fine with me.
"All right. Cayne Wortham sent you."
I watch his eyes; he's calculating whether he can disable me before I can really gut him. And whether I'm really enough of a bitch to do it. Perhaps not so much of a yoyo after all; more's the pity. If he's not incompetent, it makes him a threat. "Why does Wortham think the records are here?"
"I don't know. Because of the bear, I think."
"But you don't think the bear knows anything."
He shakes his head.
"You know that he didn't become the lighthouse operator until after his wife's death?"
The fox looks blank.
"That means she never lived here. How could she have hidden the records here?"
"I don't know."
"I don't ask." He rolls over. "They're going to kill me."
"Because you can't find anything?"
"Because I gave you Cayne's name."
"He's worried about me, is he?"
"He wants you dead."
I narrow my eyes. "So you were going to get back into his good graces by killing me."
"No!" he says, backing away from me on the bed.
"You're a hell of a sorry excuse for a pirate. You're supposed to fight to the death. When I grabbed you, you should have hit me. You should have pulled out one of those weapons and stabbed me."
"I didn't think I was fast enough."
"You're not. You know what your problem is? You're scared of dying. A sense of self-preservation is good. But you have a genuine fear of death.
"Let me tell you something, Marn. If you walk out that door, you're not going to last until morning. You were hoping I'd be here sleeping and you could bury a knife in my back.
"But you made the ultimate mistake for a thug. You got caught. So you have three choices. Try and kill me now, leave with nothing and get killed by Wortham, or help me."
He sits up on the bed, staring at me and breathing heavily. "What do you want?"
"The same as you. I want to know where the records are."
"I told you I don't know."
"Well, tell me everything you do know."
I spring forward, my teeth in his face. "Look, stupid," I hiss, "the only chance you have is talking and then praying to whatever gods you believe in that your pirate ring gets put out of commission before they get to you. With my help, your chances are just piss-poor. Without it you'll have a knife in your gut by sunrise." The peculiar smell is stronger up close.
"But I don't know anything," he says, his expression horrified. He looks down at his chest, then back up at me. "It has something to do with George."
"Who the hell is George?"
"Her fence. The guy she worked for."
"Wortham's predecessor. What happened to him?"
"I don't know. I swear to God I don't."
I nod. "All right. You're going to spend the night with me," I say, standing up and pulling him to his feet.
"It's the only way I'm going to keep you safe." I gather up his weapons and take him by one hand, yanking him through the door. "Remember, dear, try anything and you'll be spilling your guts in a much more literal sense."
When we are outside I toss all his weapons into the water. He makes a soft moaning noise as they sink, looking back wistfully at them until the lighthouse is out of sight.
When we are in the room, I lock it and walk over to my bag. There's a rope in here somewhere--
I hear his charge before he reaches me, almost leaping out of the way. Almost. He slams me into the wall, and the few colors I have left in my right eye go black momentarily.
Before I turn around he slams into me again, crushing me against the wall. Oh, you're a stupid, arrogant bat sometimes. You already knew he was thinking about killing you from behind, and you turned your back on him. Claws and teeth don't mean very much when
someone keeps smashing your
face into a wall.
The next blow is in the small of my back, and I feel the wall slide up past my nose as I fall to the floor, my entire rib cage feeling flat as a parchment.
He flips me over and gets both hands around my neck. I can see his face as he starts to strangle me; he's still more scared than I am. This is good. It makes him a very bad assassin. Maybe I won't have to kill him--although part of me wants to do it now more than ever.
Suddenly I know what the smell is. If I had enough breath, I'd laugh.
Of course, as his hands tighten around my neck, he's already made his mistake. If he had had the sense to just stomp up and down on my chest a few times, I'd be dead. My hollow rib bones would have splintered through my lungs. I rest my hands on his arms and try to catch my breath to regain strength.
You're not going to catch your breath, idiot. He's strangling you. Oh, right. I grip his arms and force them apart, not nearly as easily as I should be able to; it takes almost all my remaining strength to pull up, forward and smash his head into the wall.
I stand up, my breath coming in great, ragged gasps; Marn moans and manages to get to his knees, holding his head in his hands. Oh, come off it, you crybaby. It isn't even bleeding.
By the time he stands up, my breathing is almost normal. I grab his neck in one hand, his left thigh in the other, and lift him over my head. "One chance is all you get, little boy." I turn and hurl him into the far wall. He meets it with a pleasant crunching noise.
I finish catching my breath, then walk toward my bag and get the rope out. When I roll him over and bind his arms and legs, he is still too weak to resist. His nose is bleeding; by morning, most of his front will have bruises visible through his fur. I didn't throw him hard enough to cause any internal damage. I don't think.
I prop him up on one side of the thin mattress, back against the wall, and sit facing him. "You know," I tell him conversationally, "the first time we met, I was thinking about ripping out your throat. Just digging in one claw right here--" I tap the side of his neck-- "and pulling across slowly. The last thing you'd see would be me drinking from a foot-high fountain of your blood."
Marn starts whining as the image forms in his mind. It's a bit graphic even for my taste, but the more he thinks of me as a virtually immortal demoness, the more control I'll have over him.
"All right," I say, "Get two things straight. One, it's probably not wise for you to do things like trying to kill me. It just encourages me to come up with creative ways of torturing you to death. And honestly, I don't like thinking about those things. It's a part of me that I'm not fond of."
I make a quick move toward his neck with one claw; he pulls away, screaming, but I only pull off the necklace he is wearing under his shirt. "And two, I already told you. I'm a vampire bat. Not a vampire." I pull off one of the garlic cloves and pop it into my mouth, tossing the rest into his lap.
"I want you to help me go looking for those records to try and bust up your ring, not preserve it, and for that I need to know that even if you won't protect my back, you won't stab it."
"I won't," he whispers.
I pick up another clove of garlic and pop it into my mouth, chewing loudly. "I'm still very angry at you, Marn. If I don't kill you...." I pick up another clove of garlic and bite into it. "Sine I can't seem to convince you that helping me is the ethically correct course of action, I'm going to have to rely on mortal terror."
"You're not gonna kill me?"
Placing my claws on his shoulders, I sit in his lap, throwing the garlic onto the floor, and touch my nose to his. "I never said that, did I?"
"I asked you a question," I say gently, spearing my thumb claws into his shoulder.
"No," he yelps.
"There's nobody on either side of us. You can scream as loud as you like without waking up anyone," I assure him. I'm not really sure this is true, but considering the noise we were making a few minutes ago, if there was someone to wake up we'd have done it already. "What are you gonna do?" he says, squirming down away from me.
I laugh. "You're not just afraid of death. You're afraid of pain."
He gulps and shrinks in on himself, his eyes widening even further.
"Tomorrow, we're going to visit the Guard, and then we're going to find out who George is. Even if you have to take me to Wortham and I have to beat it out of him.
"But I'm not going to go to sleep just yet. Garlic makes me... thirsty." I bare my teeth and trace my nose slowly across his mouth down toward his neck.
He begins screaming long before my fangs sink into his flesh.
I barely puncture the surface, letting little more than a trickle into my mouth, but from the noise he makes you'd think I really had ripped his throat out.
Long ago bats supposedly picked unfortunates as their personal parlors, carrying them off and drinking from them each night until the victim died of blood loss or starvation. I've always found the idea horrific, one of the many cruelties ascribed to bats I hope is mere legend. But as I lick the last drops from his fur, I hope it's a legend he's thinking about right now.
"You do have nice blood, Marn," I say, climbing off his lap and stretching out on the mattress near him. He is sobbing loudly.
When I turn out the light and lock my wings around me, preparing for sleep, he is still sobbing. Should I feel guilty about what I'm doing to him? After what he's tried to do to me?
I don't think so. But perhaps the fact that I still do is, after all, a good sign.
"So how long are you going to be staying with me?"
"Until you throw me out." I grinned weakly. Wezip laughed, shaking his head.
Jack's friend, another fox, was an interesting sort. Although as far as I could tell, he spent most of his waking hours in this pub.
"So," he continued, "tomorrow'll be your first full day in Raneadhros. What do you plan to do with it?"
"I don't know, really. Take my portfolio over to Greene Galleries. Then go looking for a job."
"Maybe you can get somethin' that involves art."
"Please, don't say 'printing.'"
Jack cleared his throat. "I don't suppose you've seen a vampire bat around here, have you?"
Wezip's eyes widened, and he looked across me at the other fox. "No. Should I have?"
The human bartender looked up when he spoke. "There was one in here last night."
"Really?" I leaned forward, the nervousness about going to Greene tomorrow forgotten. "Female?"
He nodded. "Don't ask me for a description, though. Only time she's been in here, and she spent it all in a booth in the corner."
"Did you get her name?"
That earned me a sarcastic look. "I'm a bartender, son, not a social register."
"What are you going to say to her if you find her?"
"Well." I took a drink. "I'm going to say... I'm...." I dropped my head on the counter. "I don't have the slightest idea."
"If you don't mind me asking," Wezip said suddenly, "what the hell are you two going on about?"
"The bat in question is a woman I met and... fell in love with. Although we weren't lovers."
"Right," Wezip said.
"Anyway, she was put in jail wrongly--"
"She didn't do it?"
"Oh, yes, she did."
The fox raised his eyebrows, then nodded uncertainly.
"And she was dying. They weren't feeding her blood. Well, the upshot of all this is I saved her life, but she thinks I died in the process."
"That's what the bandage is from?"
"Oh. Yes." I reached up and pulled it off, flinching a little as fur stuck to the adhesive. "How's it look?"
"Not too bad," Jack said. "Although people will notice it."
"So she thinks she killed you." Wezip looked thoughtful.
As we sat there, a mouse stomped up to the bar. I'd never seen a mouse that could really stomp before, especially a female one, but then again I'd never seen a mouse five inches taller than I was, either.
She looked over at me as I gaped, and I turned away hurriedly.
"That's Murr," Wezip said. "Best built mouse in Ranea."
"Watch it, fox," she said, her voice startlingly low, but not unpleasant.
"I'd rather watch you."
The bartender had already set a drink in front of her. "God." She took a huge swig. "One of the docks collapsed an hour ago."
"Anyone hurt?" the barkeep said.
"Damned if I know. And Wezip, I'm keeping track of where your hand is. Mind you do the same."
"So what am I going to say to Revar if--when--I find her?" I suddenly said to Jack. Murr gazed at me, eyebrows raised.
"Story of lost love," Wezip said. "Very tragic. But, we hope, with a happy ending."
Evidently he had moved his hand somewhere Murr didn't like; the next instant she had his arm out flat on the counter. "Ow!" Wezip said.
"If you do that again, dear, the happy ending will be the barbarian mouse making a fox-tooth necklace," she said, letting him go.
"She likes me," Wezip said, rubbing his arm.
Murr closed her eyes and sighed, then looked at me inquiringly. "So what is your tragic story?"
I took a deep breath and started over again.