The dock seems somehow colder than the wind, and pulling the cloak tighter offers no protection from damp wood and iron nails. I am dressed too lightly for the weather here; none of the dock workers or the tourists have their legs and arms exposed. Fur is little comfort against the chill.
I am sitting on the edge of the dock, facing out to sea. Ocean goes on forever, the horizon smoldering with dusk's embers. The dock is empty but for humans and seagulls, all of whom give me a wide berth; the most daring ones, a child and his mother, are on the opposite corner of the dock's end.
A hundred yards to my left a sailing ship, moored at another dock, prepares for a long journey. Would they be willing to accept another passenger? Even if they would, they might not take me. I tend to make people uncomfortable. I could try and make the trip myself, of course--just one leap. Would I tire before reaching land? ...If I did, perhaps it would be for the best.
The alcohol must be wearing off. Some more bourbon and my mood won't improve--it's been this way for a week and will only get worse--but I'll be less likely to notice it.
I want to kill something. Something small and cute.
Standing up, I stretch, then gather the cloak around me even more tightly, flipping the hood up as best I can--it was built for a human head, and I'll be damned if I'm going to bend my ears all to hell to make them fit. I walk about ten steps when a cracking noise, screams and splashes come from behind me.
The far corner of the dock isn't there anymore. The mother is on the broken edge, kneeling and wailing, but the child is nowhere to be seen. No, there he is, drifting past the dock. As more people point and yell, some racing back along the dock's length to go for ropes and life preservers, I see he is not drfiting. He is caught in an undertow.
By the time these idiots get back with a rope, he'll be far out of range. In fact, he already is. I walk back to the edge of the dock, staring; now the mother is next to me.
Well, there's nothing else to be done for it. "Stand back," I say to her, throwing off my cloak and leaping off the dock, wings outstretched. She may have screamed when she saw me, but it could have been my imagination. She was already screaming anyway.
I quickly glide toward the child. Can I grab him with my feet? Twenty feet away--maybe--grab--damn. I splash down gracelessly next to him. So much for a flawless rescue.
He is too surprised to react when I scoop him against me with one arm and start paddling back to the dock. After he has caught his breath, he looks up at me. "Are you a monster?" he asks in a small voice.
"A good monster," I reply seriously. I may be lying--at least about being good. I'm strong enough to fight the current, but just barely. The dock seems awfully far away.
"Why aren't you flying?"
"I can't," I say, taking a ragged breath and surging forward, "take off," another surge, "from water." The dock is closer and I'm getting very, very tired. "Hang on." Another surge and the dock is much closer now. There's a rope hanging from it. Swimming with wings hurts.
One more push--the rope is in front of me. "Grab it," I gasp. The child does so. Whoever is holding the other end immediately starts pulling it up.
"Wait for the monster," he yells up at the dock. The rope is too high above me; with a final effort I latch onto one of the dock's pilings, the claws of both hands digging deep into the barnacle-encrusted wood.
After an eternity of staring up at the dock, too weak to move, the rope starts coming back down in hesitant jerks. As I lean out from the pole, wondering if I have enough strength left to grasp it when it comes close, there is another crack, much softer--a wet tearing noise. Suddenly I am underwater.
I struggle back to the surface with energy I didn't know I had left, but by the time I take in a breath of air and cough up water the dock is receding rapidly. My claws are buried in a piece of rotting wood, a chunk of the piling barely as big as my hands. Now the people on the dock are pointing at me, still dancing around like idiots.
The wood makes a piss-poor float, but it's all I've got. I don't have the strength to fight to stay afloat, so I settle on fighting to stay awake. I bob under the surface again and come up spluttering. Something looms on the horizon. I hope it's very close. Water washes over me again, and this time the wood and I don't seem to be coming back up quickly enough.
There's something horribly unfair about this. I wanted to kill something cute, but no, I had to go and rescue something instead and... Being nice always did get me into trouble.
My, what a pretty fish that is.
Tea. Very strong tea.
I've never believed in an afterlife, but if there is one, serving tea after you wake from the dead would be a nice thing for the gods to do.
The smell of tea is all there is for a few seconds, or perhaps hours. Then it is joined by pain. A lot of pain. This confirms that I'm still alive in this world: I can feel all of my body, because all of it hurts.
Finally, there is yellow. The yellow is the air at first, then it is light in the air. Then it is light coming from a lantern somewhere, casting flickering shadows on the wooden ceiling I am staring at.
I'm on a bed, a sheet pulled up to my neck. I am lying on one of my wings. Next to me, to my left, is a small table, with the lantern on it. Beside the table is a chair. I think. If it's there, it is completely hidden by the bear sitting in it.
He's easily four times my size, brown fur shot through with grey, black eyes the same color as the buttons on his overcoat. He is holding out a cup of tea. "If you're strong enough to take it," he growls in what I hope is a friendly manner.
I tell one of my arms to move up and grab the mug's handle. It responds by sending shooting pains down my spine. "I'm not," I whisper after a moment. "Give me... a minute."
"I expect moving anything will hurt for a few weeks, ma'am," he says, smiling. "The rocks you washed up on have sunk ships in the past; it's only through the grace of God you're in as good condition as you are."
I look down at myself as best I can, shaking off the sheets gently. I can feel many more bruises than I see, but I've been cut in a dozen visible places--and there's a rip in my left wing, oozing pus. A hole. A fucking hole. "Don't believe in God," I whisper.
He laughs. "If you've ever considered changing your mind, ma'am, now would be a most excellent time. Looks like that needs cleaning again. Third time in the last few hours." He stands and lumbers over to a dresser on the other side of the room, returning with a damp cloth. He wipes the wing wound clean; whatever is on the cloth tingles sharply, but doesn't hurt. Or maybe I just can't notice the pain through all the other aches competing for my attention. "Sorry I haven't done more for you," he rumbles on, "but truth be known, I don't know a blessed thing about handling a wound like that."
"It's all right." As long as the pieces are held together, it will mend, and there's not a lot of blood in a wing to lose. I grit my teeth and reach for the tea, ignoring the pain. The taste is worth it. When I look up again, the bear is gone.
The room is small, a window over a desk opposite the bed. There are two doors, one presumably to a bathroom and the other leading outside, and a half-wall separating this office/bedroom from what I'm guessing is the kitchen. A narrow, steep stairway leads up. The sound of the ocean is close by.
The bear reappears from the kitchen carrying a steaming basket of fried something. He sets it down on the bedside table. "Onion rings?" he inquires.
I stare into the basket. Yes, they certainly are. I look back up at him and shake my head negatively.
"I almost live on these," he says, reaching into the basket. "I make them pretty good, if I do say so."
"How long have I been here?"
"Oh, I'd guess nine hours. It's about an hour past firstchime; I found you just after sunset."
"How far am I from Raneadhros?"
"You're still here, but you're a distance from the city proper. About five miles from the main docks."
So I drifted five miles? "Is this the lighthouse at Weryse Point?"
"That it is. I'm John, the lightkeeper."
I close my eyes. "Thank you, then, John."
"For what? Oh. Don't worry about it. I'm sure you would have done the same for me."
I nod weakly. Of course, I'd have ended up getting screwed by fate if I had saved him.
"Well, you should probably get some more rest. Except for that wing puncture, you've come through pretty much intact. Later today, I guess, we'll take you into town to get someone who knows what they're looking at to see you."
"I can't afford a doctor."
"Don't worry about that, either," he says, smiling. "You get paid more than you'd think to sit here and watch a light go 'round, and I'm not the sort who can find much to spend it on. You should just go back to sleep, uh...?" His eyebrows are raised inquiringly.
He nods approvingly. "You should go back to sleep for a bit, Revar." He heads toward the staircase, carrying his basket of onion rings.
A few steps up, he pauses and turns to face me. "Uh, may I ask you a stupid question, ma'am?"
"If you'd like."
"What the hell are you?"
"A vampire bat."
"Oh." He raises his eyebrows again, but makes no other comment before heading up the stairs. I pass into sleep before the sound of his steps fades away.
The doctor doesn't know much more about wing wounds than John, but is damned if he's going to admit it. His eyes are wide when John's speaking to him, and get slightly wider when he sees me. I'd smile disarmingly at him if I knew how.
"A bat, are you?" the doctor says, looking at the wing hole rather than my eyes.
"No, a fanged koala."
He smiles. "Right." His little fox tail is held like he's considering holding it between his legs and running out of the room. He looks back up at John for a second, his expression slipping as he tries to decide which one of us should make him more nervous: the bear is three times his size, but I've got fangs, claws and generally look predatory. I bet he doesn't do very well when he has to look at tigers.
"This doesn't look very serious," he mumbles for the second time, dabbing some cleanser on it. "It'd be a bad idea to bandage it."
"Yes," I agree, stifling the sarcastic retort that springs to mind. I shouldn't deliberately terrorize people, but when you can almost see a little sign floating over them saying "ABUSE ME" it's difficult not to.
"Well." He produces a smooth, black ball from a pocket and presses it against the hole. "This might sting a bit," he says as I suck in my breath sharply and frantically check to see if my wing is on fire. The ball is glowing purple, and little streaks of blue sparks criss-cross the wound. "This should repair most of the tissue damage. A scab should form in an hour or two, and as long as you let it alone it'll drop off in about two weeks." He removes the ball, and I watch the blue sparks grow less frequent and finally stop as he continues. "It'll probably be sore for the rest of the day, but you shouldn't notice it by morning."
"Hopefully I'll be asleep tomorrow morning." The hole is closed, with an unpleasant, ragged scar in its place. The fire is still there, although not as painful.
"Um." The fox looks hesitant. "Um. Yes. Are your eyes bothering you?"
"I'm not used to being up in bright daylight. I'm nocturnal." Moron.
"Right," he mumbles, pushing a forelock of hair back into place.
"I'll take care of the bill," John says, immediately attracting the fox's attention.
I look up from the wing when John rests his hand on my shoulder. That was fast--no, I must have been staring at the scar for the last five minutes.
"Are you going to be all right, ma'am?" he says in his gravelly voice.
I stand up, folding my wing back carefully. "I'll be fine."
"Oh." He fidgets, looking uncomfortable, and turns away, shuffling toward the door.
"When do you have to be back at the lighthouse?"
"Dusk. I reckon about four more hours."
Come on, you know you have the money--you have enough to last at least three more weeks. I walk over to him, reach up and take his hand, leading him out the door. "I'm going to take you to lunch." He looks surprised, then a little nervous. Is he looking at my fangs? "Buy you lunch, not have you for lunch," I say, tugging at him.
"Oh, that wasn't what I was thinkin'--I mean, you don't have to do--"
"You saved my life. Buying you a sandwich somewhere is hardly compensation as it is."
He sighs, shaking his head in apparent acquiescence. "You have a strong grip, ma'am."
"I have to be strong enough to hold things that don't want me that close."
"I suppose so." He frowned, then shook his head, smiling. "Well, as long as you don't bite friends."
Only strangers and enemies and someone I fell in love with.... When John's breath hisses out, I realize I've clenched my fist without remembering his hand was in it. "Sorry," I say curtly.
He nods, but watches me carefully. I change the subject. "Where should we eat?"
"Hmm." He scratches his head with his free hand. It occurs to me that when he was my age, this bear must have cut quite a dashing--and imposing--figure. Did he ever marry? No--he hasn't asked about my past, even though he must have just wondered about it. Don't pry into his. "The Baywater Inn is right nice. Quiet, good food."
And hopefully cheap. "Lead the way, then."
If a vampire bat and a tabby would have made an odd sight walking down a street hand-in-hand, a bat and a six-foot-six, three-foot wide bear in dress blues holding hands must be something to tell your children about over dinner. People in Raneadhros aren't as skitterish about me as I'm used to--perhaps they are more used to uncommon 'morphs. Or maybe, like John, they don't recognize me as a vampire. In any case, about half the people on the crowded streets John leads me down turn and watch us; we are probably responsible for a hundred missed appointments by the time we reach the restaurant.
The streets are narrower, the buildings taller and set closer together than they should be. The "Baywater Inn" is set in a brick storefront on the corner of a side street I don't recognize and a main street that I do. I was at a pub a few streets down from here last night. Or the night before that? Yes, the night before that. Last night I was drowning.
It is a nice restaurant. Each table is lit by a gas lantern hanging from the ceiling; I've always liked that more than standard glow crystals. A brightly lit rock stuck behind amber glass doesn't look like a flame. It looks like a brightly lit rock behind glass. The tables are dark cherry wood, varnished so many times that they have little to fear from spilled coffee. They might deflect a hand-axe.
A little ocelot waitress leads us to a table against the wall. She walks and smiles in a way that she probably thinks makes her look more attractive; she's been doing it for long enough that it's become automatic rather than mere affectation. How much of the rest of her is like that? I've met people who were all affectation--strip away everything they do to look more attractive, more intelligent, more witty, more consciously "different," and they'd be lost. They never see that the personality they've fabricated only succeeds at being mournfully pathetic.
After we sit down, she starts to recite the menu. Three seconds into it John stops her. "I'd like the glazed chicken breast, ma'am." The ocelot hasn't mentioned poultry dishes yet.
"Yes. With a dash of sour cream. And a cup of your cream of mushroom soup, if you still make it."
"Very good. And you?" She turns to me.
"Give me the rest of your menu."
"All right." She continues reciting.
"The garlic-fried vegetables, a basket of black bread, and some Red Orinthe tea. And a cup of cream of mushroom." The ocelot blinks confusedly, but makes no comment other than nodding and scurrying attractively off to the kitchen.
"Vegetarian?" John inquires.
"I haven't had much appetite for meat lately."
"Never could see living just on vegetables." The bear is nervously fidgeting with his hands on the tabletop. "Although I guess that's not what you live on."
"I like solid food, too."
"But... vegetables?" He looks mildly distressed, more about the idea of eating a vegetable than drinking blood.
"It'll be a nice change from alcohol." Blood and bourbon. This might be my first real meal since... since I came to Raneadhros? Surely I've eaten something solid in the last week.
Silence falls, an awkward haze settling around the table. I hear the voice of a unicorn at a bar a few nights ago, speaking into a silence just like this one: "A lull in conversation occurs every seven minutes."
"What?" John looks up at my chuckle.
"Nothing." He smiles and continues to fidget, now twiddling his thumbs clumsily. I am making him nervous, but I intuit it is not because of my species. "What's wrong, John?"
"Hm." He straightens an imaginary tie and drops his hands to his lap, looking directly at me with a conscious effort. "I'm sorry. It's just, well, ...hm." He lets his eyes follow his hands. "This is the first time I've been out in public with a woman for a long time."
"You're afraid people will talk about you and that scantily-clad flying fox?"
"No," he says quickly. "I suppose this really can't be called a date." He looks around, then at me, then down at the table again, laughing self-consciously. "I'm sorry, ma'am--"
"Every time you call me that I feel another hundred furs turn grey. Call me Revar. And don't apologize for me making you nervous."
"It's not you, it's me. I'm making me nervous." The waitress returns with our drinks and soup and John lapses into silence, starting to fidget again.
"Why?" I ask.
The bear looks across at me and cocks his head, looking confused.
"Because I'm a woman? I'm used to making people nervous because of being a vampire bat--not because of being female."
He lets out a long, rumbling sigh. When he starts to speak, his growl is modulated to a faint rumble. "When I used to come here with Marilyn we usually got the glazed chicken. She did, I mean. I would get the steak--always cooked medium well, coated with white peppercorns. She'd always chide me for being unimaginative, but I liked the steak." He chuckles, then his eyes grow distant. "I guess I've ordered this ten years too late."
"How long were you married?" I ask softly.
He looks surprised, then smiles sadly. Filling in the blanks didn't take a mindreader. "Twenty years."
He is silent until the dinner arrives, but begins to tell me about Marilyn as he eats.
She was a human. (I have trouble picturing a human woman, barely more than a head taller than myself, making love to the huge bear, but keep the images to myself.) Together they ran a fishing boat, a fairly successful business. In truth, much of his reminiscing bores me, but he speaks with a love that has not grown the least faded after ten years. It is depressingly romantic.
She died in a boating accident; he does not go into details. A half-year later he sold the boat. A few months after that, the lighthouse position became open, and he's been there ever since.
He is telling me he hopes she's happier where she is now, now that she is "free." I've never understood the attraction of most religions, and the one he is speaking of--the most popular one in all the Empire, albeit fragmented into various smaller and larger groups constantly squabbling over the true teachings of their "creator"--makes less sense to me than most. I nod politely.
"You really don't believe in God, do you?" he asks. "You don't believe in the Freedom."
One step beyond nice euphemisms for death: making death itself seem nicer than living. "I think we're already free, John."
He shakes his head. "I can't believe this life is all there is."
I take a sip of tea. "This life is enough," I say simply.
He finishes the last bite of his chicken. "I didn't mean to turn the conversation to an uncomfortable topic," he says, his tone apologetic.
"You didn't. Although you don't want to try and convert me."
He raises his eyebrows at the phrasing, but nods. Two years ago I met a self-appointed holy man who tried to save me from the "endless, hollow cycle of physical existence" I was doomed to unless I believed the way he did. He did teach me that the problem with those who know The Truth is that they refuse to take "no" for an answer, no matter how strongly worded. He had disappointingly thin blood.
"Have you been in Raneadhros long?"
Hmm? "No. A week."
"Come to visit, or are you planning to live here?"
"I'm really not sure." I smile. I really don't care. John's expression is expectant, waiting for me to continue. Dammit. I don't want to talk about this. "I... just had to move somewhere."
"Well, I reckon this is as good a somewhere as most others you can name. You choose Raneadhros just because it was the capital?"
I stir my tea with a claw. It has no sugar in it, though. "I came here because... because I told someone this would be the next place I went."
"Going to meet her here, then?"
"Him. And no." I drain the mug of tea quickly. "He's dead."
John watches me impassively from under his huge, bushy eyebrows. I look away; if I meet his eyes, I am afraid I will find pity there, and my reaction would be far harsher than the bear deserves. "If you want to talk, my ear might not be the most intellectual, but it's sympathetic," he harrumphs after a moment. I hear the sound of him lifting his own glass.
"There's not much to say." I am almost whispering, but I couldn't be louder if I tried.
"Solid black eyes and big sharp teeth don't make your face so odd that an old sailor can't tell you're lying, m... Revar."
But I don't want to talk about it, dammit. I draw my wings around me and remain silent.
"You're the first person I've talked about Marilyn to in a good five years. I don't rightly know that it gets easier with each telling, but each one helps me, I think. Stories are meant to be told."
"You sound like a writer."
He smiles. "Never really saw the point. People who treat storytelling as a business, they lose sight of the real reason for doing it. Sharing a part of you with people who want to listen."
I smile in spite of myself. "I don't have a story for this. I only knew Mika for a few months. He was a spotted tabby, about five-eight. We met when I..." Hmm. "It wasn't under ideal circumstances. I scared the hell out of him."
"You're not that intimidating."
Now that's something I don't get told often. "I was holding him on his knees, threatening to rip his throat out with my claws."
"Doesn't sound like a productive way of making friends, ma'am."
Poof! A hundred more grey furs. "Making friends wasn't the point," I snap.
"Then what happened?"
"I'm... not sure. He went looking for me, so I found him." I see Mika's apartment around me, smell of Garanelt coffee surrounding comfortable beanbags that I have to arrange my wings just so to sit in. "He was... easy to talk to. I don't talk very easily."
The bear nods. I'm not talking easily now. "We didn't have much in common. But there was--he had something, a spark he kept hidden. Sometimes I could get him to let it shine, and it was beautiful...."
Snippets of conversation echo back, floating in front of still images. His portrait of me. It made me look much prettier than I am. "We weren't lovers... but we weren't just friends."
"At risk of being religious, sounds like you were what some call 'soulmates,'" John says.
"Maybe." I look across at him, meeting his eyes for the first time since he dragged me into this conversation. "I did fall in love with him, though."
"Was he in love with you?"
He died because of it. I nod, not trusting my voice.
You don't... The bar fills with mist. Deep breath. "I killed him. I was... dying in a prison. They wouldn't give me blood. He rescued me and I killed him."
When the mist clears, John is still watching me silently, impassively. "Well?" I finally say.
"I'm waiting because you're not finished," he says softly.
Yes, I am.
"He knew you were dying?" I nod again. "He wanted you to take his blood, didn't he?"
"Does it matter? He didn't want me to kill him."
John looks down, sighing.
"We should probably go." I rise too quickly; John gets up and takes my hand. He insists on leaving the tip.
The walk back to the lighthouse is quiet, the only noise coming from passersby and whispers inside my skull. As we reach the waterfront, John asks me the question I've been avoiding since I've been here.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know."
"You don't sound like you care."
A flash of anger heats me. "I don't need a guardian angel."
"I'm not really qualified as one." He smiles, unoffended. The lighthouse is in view now, a long cobblestone path leading down the narrow, rocky point. "But the way I see it, you've got to do something. Lamenting the past doesn't change it." His voice is suddenly heavy, the weight of his own past--and his own inability to change it--close at hand.
"I've never thought much about the future before. I'll get by." The only times I did think about the future were in talks with Mika. He wanted to come with me to Raneadhros even before I knew I would be here. I wish we were sitting on the edge of a dock together, watching the setting sun.
There is something wrong with the lighthouse--
"We all have to think about the future." John is looking straight ahead as we amble on. "All you can do with the past is remember it."
"Are you the only lighthouse operator?"
He stops and looks at me quizzically.
"There's someone inside. Two people, I believe. I can't make out what they're saying from here." Go ahead, ask me how I can hear from this far away.
John doesn't; he straightens up and marches forward at double pace. "We'll see about this." I follow close behind; I don't know how good a fighter he is--when you fight, you quickly learn size isn't everything. Between us, though, two opponents would be in trouble.
When the bear throws open the door, one of the men is waiting for him. Sitting down on the bed, staring quietly at the door. The other man is going through the dresser. Both are human, and both are dressed in the red uniforms of the Ranean Guard.
"Mr. John Calbi Brown?" the seated guard says. John nods. The guard stands, producing a thin brown paper, likely an Affidavit of Reasonable Suspicion. They never leave the station without the appropriate paperwork. I already dislike him.
John takes the paper and reads it, then looks back at the guard, his face blank. Without looking at me, the guard says, "We'd like to talk to you privately, Mr. Brown."
The bear sighs and turns toward me, looking at me without really seeing. "Good luck," he says softly.
"You too." He leads me to the door; I still haven't attracted the attention of the guards, and would prefer to keep it that way. After the door shuts behind me, I walk to the front of the lighthouse and stand over the rocks. The sun continues to set, more quickly now.
The Guards' business is not my own; I turn my ears to the sea, listening to the faint sounds of gulls crying and, even more faintly, canvas slapping wood. The conversation continues behind me, not quite past the edge of my hearing. The tones belong mostly to the guard who had been seated, with occasional interjections by John.
I can't see the gull I've been tracking, but I know just where he is. I follow him with my ears as he moves down the shoreline, drifting lazily just beyond the docks. "And it's not true!" John yells, quite clearly, from inside the building.
The gull goes away, and all is quiet behind me. My ears swivel back; footsteps are receding on the cobblestone, and the bear is sobbing. The sun has touched the sea and the lighthouse remains dark.
Picking my way back along the point, I open the door. The Guards are far down the path, not looking back.
John sits on the edge of the bed, face down. The affidavit is crumpled in his hands, the ink on the signatures running where tears have splashed the paper. I cross the room and sit beside him, hands in my lap, wings folded around me.
It feels like many minutes before he is aware of my presence; he finally indicates it only by nodding. His eyes are red, sunk into a tear-streaked muzzle.
"We didn't say goodbye properly," I say.
He closes his eyes. "No," he whispers. "But... Revar. You should go. I need to start the light." He remains in place. "Don't worry about the Guard. They've just made... a mistake." I stay. After a few more seconds, he opens his eyes and looks at me, eyebrows raised.
"I'm waiting because you're not finished."
He smiles wanly, then looks back at the paper in his hands. "The Guard is investigating an old smuggling ring. Pirates. Most of the sailors knew about them.... Yesterday they caught one of them. He kept... very extensive records."
"They implicated you?"
"No." He heaves a huge sigh, ending in a sniffle, and hands the paper to me.
The affidavit is sketchy; it only has to outline the "Reasonable Suspicion" the Guard has that crucial evidence might be found on private property. Whoever they had caught had been a broker, selling the pirates' stolen goods, keeping records of buyers. He was high enough up to have several people ahead of him in the chain as scapegoats--the fence who actually handles the stolen goods, and a secondary broker who keeps the financial records, laundering the money along the way.
It gives no indication of who the fence is, or who the secondary broker is now. It does say who that broker was ten years ago: Marilyn Brown.
The Guard is after the records she kept; they seem to think they could lead them to the higher-ups. If the ones in business ten years ago are still around, which is doubtful. John is crying again. Bastards.
"What did you tell them?"
"That they're wrong." He looks down at me. "They must be. Marilyn didn't.... she was a good woman."
"Did they take anything?"
"Then they'll be back."
I stand up, heading toward the door. "A ten-year old lead is near worthless. They're chasing this because it's all they have to go on, and some politico has too much riding on this investigation to let it die without a fight. That means if you told them you didn't know anything, you were hiding something."
"You're not saying I should have told them she was a pirate!"
"Doesn't matter. Then you'd be an accessory."
He sinks back down on the bed, head bowed. "Then what can I do?"
"Right now, nothing. Go start the light." I open the door. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Thank you," he says without looking up.
"I haven't done anything yet," I snap, slamming the door behind me. Yes, you've just let yourself get involved in somebody else's problems again. But why not? You don't give a damn about your own.
A push, another, and I am airborne, soaring over the point toward the city. It is the first time I have flown in four days. All right: either Marilyn Brown was a pirate, hiding her life from her husband for two decades, or the Guard has managed to name the wrong person. The first is unlikely, but regardless of what I think of the Guard, mistakes of this magnitude happen very rarely. After all, from their point of view, my imprisonment wasn't a mistake.
The obvious solution is to talk to the source of the accusation. Unfortunately, the Guard has no reason to answer any of my questions, and they're not going to let me near the man they captured. Hmm. They'd also probably arrest me; after adding jailbreak to pending assault charges, I'm not going to be popular with them for the next five years or so.
I land near a seedy bar, some eight miles north of Weryse Point--in the area of most of the fishing businesses. The pirates who do the actual stealing either deal directly with the "second man" Marilyn was accused of being, or more likely a fence who does the dirty work for him. The second man would be difficult to find, but unless the fence only deals with his own, he is accessible. I have a long night ahead of me.
The bar is awful, even by my own lax standards. "Looking for a good time?" a high voice says near me; I ignore it as I make my way toward the door. It follows me. "I'm sure I can make it... worth your while."
Some say dressing sparsely is "asking" to be called a prostitute. It is not a mistake I readily forgive. I whirl on the speaker, who jumps back.
He is a mouse, no more than sixteen years old, dressed in an affluent child's vision of a gang outfit, and is stupidly standing at the entrance to a dark alley. As I move toward him, wings outstretched slightly, his escape is half cut off; he stares up at me with false bravado, believing I might accept his offer. I rest a hand on either side of him just above his head, wings outstretched. Now all his escape routes are gone. I watch his eyes widen as I decide what to do with him.
He is small and cute.
You should learn prudence, little mouse, and you should learn not to come back here for a few more years. He is pulling out a knife, but I would not kill him even in self-defense.
I grab his wrist easily as the knife moves toward me and squeeze it; he lets the knife drop and cries out. "I do have a few minutes free," I whisper as I move the hand over his mouth and gently tilt back his head. "I'm sure you can make it worth my while."
My other arm slips around his back, grasping his waist, and I lift him up to rest his head on my shoulder, his neck against my mouth. I hold him with embarrassing ease, shifting my grip just enough to cocoon his limbs in my wings.
He struggles, cutely and ineffectively, as I drink.
"So what does it feel like?"
It was the first thing Jack had said to me since we woke up this morning, the first morning of the trip. We had been in the carriage about a half-hour and the sun still hadn't finished rising.
"What does what feel like?" I asked, although I knew the answer.
"Being... Oh, hell." He laughed self-consciously. "Being bitten."
"Painful," I said.
"So all the romantic bother about vampires in the gothic stories is hooey," the fox said.
"I suppose. I'm not sure a vampire bat qualifies as a vampire in that way, though. For one thing, the stories always had the bites as two little pinpricks."
"Well, not all of 'em. I remember one that--" He turned around to study my neck bandage. "Never mind. When's that thing come off?"
"I could probably take it off now, but I'm hoping a little more fur will grow back."
"So everyone she bites gets a nice scar, eh?"
I couldn't help but laugh. "No, I think I'm just lucky. Most of the time she probably wouldn't have to chew to get through the skin."
"Oh." Jack turned away, swallowing slightly.
"If you're going to get ill, don't ask questions like that," I admonished him, turning to stare out my own window.
We were silent until the sun was well into the sky. Then, without turning around, I said, "Maybe there is something to that after all."
"Sex and death. In some way they're related."
"Sounds kind of morbid to me, mate."
"Maybe. But there's something that happens in intense sex, a rush that's not just physical. And it's there in hunting, too. And in being hunted. A moment predator and prey both share when they realize the end's already been written, that one's jaws are going to be fastened around the other's neck. It's not erotic, not exactly . But it's just as strong."
Jack just stared at me for a second, then shrugged. "I remember a song that compared love to a predator."
"I've heard it. One of the lines is, 'love is a vampire.'"
"'Drunk on your blood,'" Jack finished. "If you tell me that's 'your song,' mate, I'll be obliged to push you out of this carriage."
I laughed. "I'm not that morbid."
He shook his head. "I wonder sometimes, Mika. A lot of people might say you had a death wish."
"Dahlu told me that more than once. But what I was looking for had nothing to do with death." I looked over at him. "I was repaying her in the same coin."
The fox raised his eyebrows, sharpening his gaze, but said nothing.