“Christabel, please stay here." William entreated. "You don’t want to get into this.”
"No, I don't." she agreed heartily, folding her arms as he kicked open the door. "Don't start anything..." she called after him.
Having laid her head against the rest, Susan opened her eyes when darkness proved too encouraging to the images from Gideon's telephone, looking once more to Bede with the aid of the mirror.
"He thinks you knew about Rana." she told him presently, the remark reflected back at her by the windscreen and sounding slightly more accusatory than she had intended. He looked down at his legs.
"I can only apologise... I had no idea that she... I mean, that you..."
"Just... never mind." she sighed, passing the pendant at her neck through her fingers and staring up at the portico into which William had disappeared. Certain subtle alterations to Bede's expression were relayed by the mirror; his features possessed a curious cast, intensively familiar and yet estranged, its difference from his remaining kin as small as those between her own two hands. She glanced back at him. "Can you hear them?"
"How bad is it?"
He surprised her by allowing the impetus that troubled them both to remove him from the vehicle. Susan dragged herself out after him and they climbed the steps together, Bede pausing beneath the fanlight to consult her.
“I can assure you that this is likely to be neither attractive nor prolonged, so perhaps you'd prefer to stay inside.... I'll send him back for you.”
She nodded, and he made his way alone across the steppe of black and white tessellation flooring the enormous formal hall. It confronted her with naked and remorseless scale in lieu of furnishings; she looked up into the chandelier, its alien, lead-crystal galaxy chiming softly in the midst of the ivory vault with the breeze that had accompanied her inside. Walking forward, she aligned herself with its nadir so that the tear-shaped terminal would have crashed into her forehead had it fallen from its chain, its arrangements' occult perspective filling her stomach with a swooping, silver-hued nausea, her eyes with clades of artful stars that were replacement at least for the broken, streaming horrors of the hahdri. Wandering on, she found the rear doors opened to another glowing stone terrace and a plain, elongate acre of new-mown meadow that immersed her in its ponded ether, the colossal tulip trees on either side casting off their canopies of clear, untroubled gold where they depended over the field. A table and chairs had been set at the edge of the drift and Susan found their almost abstract remove immediately familiar.
In William’s first language the sound of anger was as fluent and uninhibited as the emotion itself, his voice relating grievance with the speed and address that his hands might have conveyed a more tangible offensive. Bede sat at the table with his back to the trees beside the target of his invective, the latter standing before the chair she had vacated. The stranger enjoyed the same stature as her accuser, the same lengthy composition, though still more elegantly made and as luminously indifferent as if she had been wrought of relict ice. She wore a fall of loose black hair, sleekly reflective like blackened plate, and a tunic dress of Japanese red; the colour gained such drenched, electric intensity beside the bare skin of her arm that the contrast shifted Susan’s eyes to the objects on the table, a black phone and a tumulus of knuckle bones, from which a soft gilt had been worn away.
William seemed to see nothing in her but the genesis of his objections. The stranger replied, apparently unmoved, the words glittering in her voice like the hueless crystal of the chandelier, the conflict escalating until its incisive syllables prompted Susan to press her hands to her ears, drawing William’s gaze and returning him to English.
“Nyāti... you have known me my whole life... you know Rana better than I do! She is a violent fucking lunatic... she's the worst shit that's ever come down on us... what did you think she was going to do? Talk it over?"
Despite the fervent nature of his objection it was Susan’s stare that turned Nyāti around.
“What is this?” she inquired, after a cursorial inspection. She imparted scorn with eyes of spotless yellow, set too far distant from each other in a face so full of harrowing, animal extremity that Susan wondered how discretion or apparel or even secluded privilege could have protected her; beside her, William represented drift from the ideal that she embodied to such a daunting degree of perfection. She wore no jewel, no superfluous token of the distinction that was more native to her flesh than even the black totems begun at the base of her throat, their tattooed figures disappearing beneath her dress. “Your companion animal, I presume? Avi'ashān has also acquired one... he would keep it in his sleeve if it would fit, but it does not. If I had told you of Rana, you would have run from her.” she said finally.
"Kali'niyah.... I've earned the right to run from her!”
“This entitlement of yours... is it license to disavow any of us? Your brother, for instance, should he challenge you too persistently? Or does it only repudiate inconvenient spouses once you’ve expended their last atom of regard? Help me grasp the intricacies of your argument.”
William laughed bitterly.
“If this was a fucking argument I would have won by now.”
"Your failings are not my concern, Sachiin. Or they would not be, if you did not leave them standing on my lawn.” Nyāti drew her chair and sat back down. "We have nothing, if not each other." Bede looked as though he might address them, but William leapt on the visible impulse.
“Now you want to talk? Too fucking late. Just sit there like a little bitch.”
Nyāti glanced up at his remark, visibly offended.
“I have never cared for that term.”
“It would piss me off too if I had to wake up to it every fucking day.”
“I object to the notion that Avi'ashān has been overly deferential... on the contrary. He's busied himself with the kind of indiscriminate promiscuity of which you might be proud."
"So now he's my bitch..."
"Do not presume to stand and speak to me. You may sit, or you may leave."
When Susan refused the seat he offered her, William dropped into the chair before their hostess and leant heavily on his elbow, the posture claiming almost half the table top and defeating the deference she had sought to exact.
"If my brother gets hold of Rana he will kill her all over again."
"I could accuse Kala'amātya of many things, but he appears at least to have learned from his own unfortunate experimentation. I regret you could not absorb the lesson yourself."
Susan and William looked to one another ruefully.
"Ny, I think I should stop you right there..."
"I'm certain you would like nothing more." she snapped, the two recommencing their unintelligible arraignment until Susan lifted her own voice to surmount it.
“Just stop gobbing at each other!” she exclaimed. “Whatever this is, really... I don't care..." William opened his mouth and she silenced him with a gesture. "But Edward's not as sorted as you think he is, believe me. And if you knew about Rana and didn't say anything, for god's sake... were you being evil or stupid? She's a nutter!" She lit one of William's cigarettes, drawing deeply as she rubbed at the bruise on her forehead. "We had a right to know she was here."
"I myself have a right to privacy and anonymity, as do Avi'ashān and Kala'amātya." Nyāti assured her.
"If Rana hadn't tried to take her arm off, you'd still have your fucking privacy." William hissed. "But thank you for forcing my hand. Christabel..." he called, leaning back in his chair toward her as she walked away, muttering to herself.
"I've had enough rubbish for one night. I'll be out in the car.”
"I want you to hear this."
"William, I told you, I really do not care..."
“I'm perfectly aware that your discretion has gone the way of most things you’re entrusted with.” muttered Nyāti.
“I just want you to hear it from me. Yes, I've jumped Susan in, and yes, I've told her everything, pretty much. Every time something drops into my head, boom, out it comes in triple X detail... sha'a'inii'tra. It feels... stupéfiant, incroyable... and no, I’m not sorry. She's already picking up the language and yesterday, I touched my eyeball with my tongue right in front of her.” He smiled at Susan, who reciprocated faintly; Nyāti too gazed at her, his anecdote bleaching her stare until its inhumanity became a nauseous, almost chemical imposition.
"Why not douse yourself in kerosine and declare yourself the messiah?" she suggested blackly. His expression altered slowly from the smile that Susan understood into something more subtly articulate, though still guileless as it was directed at his adversary, remaining brilliantly persuasive.
"Il kama sai'inae..." he sighed. "I am so happy, Nyāti... and I am still your favourite, so be happy for me. I promise not to tell anyone."
Nyāti's reply seemed so measured that Susan almost forgot to take offence, even when the latter looked back at her as though she were completely insensible
"She seems such a childish gesture, Sachiin... like a bad tattoo. When you’ve forgotten her name and she’s ceased even to decompose, witless girl number twenty-six will stand there, baffled by my hostility while you carp in this same manner. And what can she expect from you? Eighteen months of your undying devotion, until someone drags her into a van, if she doesn't go to the authorities of her own accord. And who could blame her? If she devoted her last breath to you, you would still belong to us." She watched his attention extend across the park toward the house and through its empty fastness. “I can only add that in your need to disseminate this wonder, you neglected to inform your brother.”
Susan's arms fell from their folded guard.
"I'm glad we've not been introduced, because I've just got horrible bitch stuck in my head now." she told William, tossing a hand at their hostess; he rose from the table and murmured a distracted reply. "Lovely to meet you..." she called over her shoulder, scowling questioningly at him as he walked her back toward the bank of moon-white steps and Anakim columns, a breeze raining spent leaves from the trees onto the turf as they strode past. "What?" Susan demanded, the inquiry echoing about them in the enormous hall as she struggled to keep pace. They sat down together in the car before he replied, pausing in engaging the ignition wires to hand her the phone from his pocket.
"If anything happens, don't go home... call Auberjonois..." William advised gravely, speaking as though they might be overheard; she looked up at the sound of a vehicle coming at speed toward them along the birch-girt way, black and lampless as it took shape between the pale boles, whispering profanities as she recognized it.
She threw herself across the console and stamped his foot down on the accelerator with her own. Their undercarriage collided with the lowest step and sparked as it dragged free, the Jaguar forcing the incoming sedan from the curve of the drive and pelting it with gravel as they sped past.
Out in the park, Bede rose to intercept their latest guest; Edward's aspect was dragged closer to Nyāti's by unexpurgated wrath, his anger bearing him across the lawn like something she had summoned from an underworld.
"Avi'ashān." she called, recalling the latter's attention. “When you told of Sachiin’s indiscretion, you neglected to detail your own, which astonishes me less than his fidelity to you, given the circumstances. I renounce you, with Kala'amātya as my witness.” Edward sat down in his vacated chair. “Enjoy your liberty.” she added. Bede looked back at her in the wordlessness that remained to him, then departed in accordance with her will.
“I'd repudiate Sachiin, but I would rather beat him with a tyre iron.” Edward told her, voice full of vicious qualities as he pushed a hand back over his hair; he gazed at her with unmodified intent. "Rana." he said simply, forcing it on them both.
"She barely knows the sound of her own name. But doubtless, you will serve her now as you once did."
"As she did de Marchand."
“Your witch is dead, and the dead require nothing more from us, which is why we cherish them so unreasonably." Nyāti informed him. "Sachiin claims full disclosure to this girl. Given your own history of calculated transgression, I find your failure to perceive his difficult to accept.”
“We don’t answer to each other.”
"And now we must all enjoy the exhilarating fruit of this laissez-faire approach. If he is not forced to watch her die on the side of a road, she will have succeeded only in enduring long enough to be abandoned. Kala'amātya...” she sighed. “You live still with your own loss... keep him from the same, while there is time. There is nothing he would not forgive you.”
He looked into the trees behind her.
“Forgiveness is far more complex than it appears from a distance.”
“Will he forgive himself when someone is beating everything she knows from her?” His own experience laid out all she had described, bringing the elements forth like votaries to the god of possibility, faceless and infinite and bitterly familiar. She drew the gilded bones into her hand and turned it over, letting them spill back onto the table in a new arrangement. “One day he will be grateful to you for taking her death from his shoulders. If it were not for the times, I would say that it falls to your honour.” If Edward did not feign deference, he at least received her arguments with something resembling stoicism. “You are bai'issātva, and death is your gift... to those who fall to you, and those that survive them.”
“They are never grateful.” he observed. “He’ll hate the both of us, and have no one. So sit there and ask me to kill her.” The words turned like a hidden blade, drawn unseen in the shadow of her argument; he watched her recall them from elsewhere, satisfied that they had served him.
“It is the lesser evil.” she asserted. "But, do as you please. You know nothing else."
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
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