The white silk mon of her grandsire’s house glowed against the black sleeve of the hitatare he had given the girl to wear. She lay awake beneath the saddle cloth, the older woman still sleeping with her back to them.
“I am happy she did not live.” she told him without looking up. “Girls are never welcome.”
“My mother would have given her two sons twice over for a daughter.” he replied. Kala'amātya sat against the wall beside her and brushed the yellow dust from his hands. “I have read the scroll. Tokogawa says that you are to be left in this place to serve the monks. Your aunt was to have returned to Honshu with your bearers, but it seems that she is destined to remain here with you. Your grandfather has abdicated in favour of your uncle... Hidetada has decreed that no foreigner may enter Honshu, so I am no more welcome than you.” Though she did not reply, the slow, pained sound of her breathing underscored sentiments born in loss, and prospects as colourless and unremitting as the day outside.
“You are the cause of this.” she murmured. "You are salted ground... a desolator, and I was warned of you."
He gazed at her unheeding form without replying, then left her side to take up his belongings before returning to the girl once more, sliding the odachi from his shoulders and laying them on the boards beside her. If her gaze perceived the curving weapons, their scabbards lavished with glowing, semiprecious colour in the cloisson feathers of fighting birds, hilts bound with dark shagreen, they did not move her.
“Stay here until you are well.” he told her, bending low so that his advice could remain confidential. “But do not live your life in this place. Go south, to court... the odachi will make a dowery, should you wish to find a husband, or go to the north, buy slaves and horses, and a good bow.” She withdrew beneath the striped cover, tears sliding over her pale face.
"Do not counsel me, yōkai." Suki replied, wiping at her eyes beneath the blanket.
The rain slowed as he rode out under the temple gates alone, starting along the narrow trail that led toward the dark heart of the mountains.
“He rode back through China, the Kyzylkum, Poland and then Germany with Paris in mind, but er... never made it that far. It happens to the best of us.” William concluded, glancing at Susan, who watched the fire. She reached across to partake of his cigarette.
“I told you not to let me smoke.” she scolded. "What happens to the best of you?"
“Girl trouble. Helaine de Marchand... countess, bas bleu... sociopath... hardcore witch queen with a thing for sullen white meat. You know how you run into those one or two people in your life, who you don’t need to explain anything to? They just dig you and all your evil ways, basically because they’re as fucked up as you are, if not more? And you just go at each other because you’ve both been so starved of any kind of affection or... er, comment dit-on cela en anglais? What’s that thing, when you sympathize with someone, but it doesn’t start with S?”
“Yeah... you know, when you finally strike some sort of empathy and you get sucked into one another's hideous shit and things just spiral horribly downward in an endless smoking tailspin...?”
Susan shook her head.
“Not really, no.”
“Well, Helaine was that, for Kala'amātya. He went from forty-below with teflon-styles attachment issues, to total obsession with her. It did not end well.”
"Now your brother's really going to kill me." she observed.
"What he doesn't know you know can't hurt him."
"Until he knows." she murmured, lying back down. "I don't want to talk about that anyway." She inched over the gleaming silver compound and kissed the hollow where his neck began, already certain of its effect; she watched it cause him to draw breath as the sensation darkened the colour of his eyes. "I probably should have asked you this before I slept with you, but... you can't actually do anything... strange, can you?"
"You mean do I have powers?"
"Not powers... I mean extra... different... abilities..."
"Just say powers."
"Shut up. I mean like... if you bit someone, hard, would it start to digest them? Can you burrow into the ground really quickly? If you fell out of a plane, would you actually die?" He shrugged. "If I cut your head off, would that be fatal?"
“Someone did cut my head off once. At the battle of… well, the fall of Bukhara, really. This fucking huge Iranian came along and whacked it right off. Whomp, phutt.” She flicked his ear in disgust but he refused to qualify the claim. "I only have ghetto powers, Christabel. All I can do is... see in the dark... remember account numbers... take a good beating... get it up forty eight times in twenty four hours, especially in winter. And hold my breath for an hour and twenty six minutes. I can't play the fucking harp or get away with cravats or envenom randoms."
"It feels more like two hours." Susan smiled, somewhat obliquely. He picked up her right leg, bending to grasp her thigh with his teeth and murmuring an ode to its tender qualities as he sucked the frail skin behind her knee while she writhed and exclaimed at the almost insupportable sensation. It was through the fingers she pressed to her eyes that she perceived the staring of a white face, painted by the glow of the flames and floating between enclosing fur and dark, abundant hair; Petrouchka's thirsting intent held Susan still, until she was reminded of the spectacle they offered and pulled the cloth beneath her arms. The vampyre's mouth opened in the dark shape of a smile as she walked around the flames, its colours gleaming in her gaze like two swamp fires.
“Darlink...” she told William. “I am thinking... you are still owing me five thousand American dollars.” He looked at her blankly. “I know. How I can forget such things?”
“I thought you gave that to me out of the kindness of your heart.”
"Pozhaljsta... there is no kindness in my heart.”
“Do you know how many arseholes I’m going to have to kick the shit out of to get that kind of money?” he sighed, watching the visitor lean her elbows against the floor span. “One.” he smiled to both womens' frowns, using the dawamesk plate to preserve his modesty while passing Susan her alienated clothing.
“Is good that you can laugh still under crushing weight of guilt.” Petrouchka remarked.
“You pull me out of an important meeting to tell me you're broke?”
“I don't like to have nothing, Sachiin... she know this name?" He nodded. "Good. I sell what things I have, but still, it run away like water. You don't think it will happen with you, but this Bailiss in Prague, he finish us, I tell you..." she asserted while he knotted the ikat at his waist and began to groan as though her familiar insistences would prove fatal; Petrouchka pressed on with her complaint, turning toward Susan. “And if he tell one thing to you, be sure to make him tell it all."
"About that..." he interjected. "I haven't actually told Kala'amātya that Christabel's in as yet, so zatk'nis when he's around."
Petrouchka inspected what remained of her pale fingernails.
“You talk to Auberjonois? He come here, soon.”
“He won’t.” he muttered. She glanced at Susan again; her warm, plush skin glowed in the firelight, replete with all the delectable qualities the vampyre cherished, the latter’s cheeks drawn in by the action of her tongue.
“You have met this wolf, Auberjonois? You must meet. If I could love, I would love wolf. They are so rough and dirty. Quelle sauvage." William glanced back at her with a private smile that matched her own, the vampyre expressing a purring little laugh at the intimate exchange. “And what have Sachiin told you? That he have these scar from falling on to rose bush?” she chuckled. “You know what he do for all this time? Fighting, for money... then waste money, whoring... then more fighting, to pay whore.” In cataloguing his depravity Petrouchka seemed to discover more of her regard for him, and turned a smile that might have been fond if it were not for the intolerable irony leant to it by the condition of her face. “Alas for old, old days. Gideon will come... we should see each other, while we are still here to see.”
“Yeah well, Rana’s here to see. And no, I don’t know how or why, so don’t ask... just watch your back.”
“No! Horrid woman! Suka! Stupid, crazy mule! Do you know the worst thing of these people? Is not what they do, but what they make us do. Think of your brother.” It was the fervid energy of the vampyre's denunciation that led William to study her more closely; satisfied of something, he interrupted, sliding down from the castle toward the fire.
“Who was it and where are they now?” he sighed, as though she had already confessed, using her language to keep the charge from Susan's ears. Petrouchka shrugged and touched her collar again, following suit.
“I think was criminal. Knocking on door, oh please, I must be using your telephone...” she related, pleased to have been of service to the household. “I put in Kala'amātya's car. No mess. Is good there, do you think?”
"Nyet." he muttered. Susan picked up the plate, frowning at their exclusive discourse while William dumped a bucket of water over the fire. "Do we, or do we not have a fucking security guard?"
"I don't see him." Petrouchka offered.
"Fall in, Belyaev. This fucking hole's not going to dig itself." he called over his shoulder, the dark cloth and the design upon his back muting his white shape into crypsis amid the gloom beneath the trees.
While William and his houseguest disappeared into the garage in pursuit of their secretive task, Susan took her plate into the kitchen, shouldering the door that opened into the darkness she expected and a figure she did not. It stood motionless in the midst of the chequered linoleum with its arms by its sides, face smeared to disquieting anonymity by the night-blind spot in her gaze. Slowly she reached back for the light switch, waving her hand at the unseen wall, then dropped the plate already half-forgotten in her grasp. Lilian's eyes flickered a deep, stained black in fractured inverse with the blinking florescence overhead; she did not flinch at the shards of porcelain that struck her bare feet, but stood at the heart of a shapeless volume that twisted and condensed around her, as though required by the light to return substance to her shape. The crash brought William and Petrouchka from the garage so expeditiously that it redoubled Susan's start, and she knelt quickly to collect the fragments from the floor, loath to look again at Lilian.
The vampyre paused as though struck by the same force. Susan glanced up from the creature's polished little shoes as she advanced slowly, naysaying uncertainty wrestling with some obscure and baffling delight that seemed to raise her almost from the ground. Her arms extended, then retracted to her breast, where they trembled and came together beneath her mouth.
“Non...” she breathed, still staring wildly, looking to William when he moved too late to warn her. “Helaine... ce n’est pas vrai! Where have you been?” Seizing the blonde woman's hands, the vampyre brought them to her dead cheeks and kissed them as though she were a lost sister. Lilian's gaze fell to the stranger's features, studying their bittersweet arrangement amid the smiling graveyard pallor.
“Je ne sais pas.” she murmured.
Pink-stained tears welled deeply in Petrouchka's eyes though Lilian's remained blankly pale and utterly remote. The sight of them seemed finally to overcome the vampyre, to refract the unguarded effusion and she stepped back, her lost hands like white stars as they reached to close her collar against her throat, then fled the room. William caught Susan's arm, retreating with her into the hallway.
"What's wrong with her?" she hissed, wide-eyed in the darkness. He lifted his hands to his head and leant against the wall, grasped by the same obscure distress.
"This cannot be happening..." He leant back on the panelling for a moment as though requiring support. "Christabel... you didn't see this, and don't say anything to Frost... go and find Belyaev..." She opened her mouth to object. "Do you want to go in there and talk to her?" he whispered, gesturing to the kitchen. The proposition dropped her hands from her hips and Susan set off quickly in pursuit of the less onerous task, leaving him to steel himself to face the other.
Lilian stood before the refrigerator, its interior light blurring her outline and conspiring with her indifference to his presence. He leant against the counter, waiting and watching her amid an almost pensive apprehension. When she looked to him it was as though in laconic reply, a glance offered over her shoulder that contained neither surprise nor reproach.
"Laissez-moi." she said briefly. He could not bring himself to do so and she looked at him again, and William granted her request rather than hear it repeated.
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce.