The gloves are one long piece that loops up and over the shoulder and down again to their traitor hands to blunt their claws. They’re tied on with a complicated knot that hangs low between the shoulder blades. It had been a lock, at first, but that made things worse, rather than better; they picked at the gloves until the tips wore away. As it was, the patters couldn’t reach the knots on their own, but they didn’t need authority to peel off the gloves, only affection and trust, and none of them had that.

None of them except two.

They meet at night. There’s no hierarchy in the cloister, no guards to hiss them back to safer rest, but even so they want privacy. One old, one young, like all patters they do not make eye contact, do not look at each other. They sit on the rim of the dry fountain, all nerves, and take turns loosening the knot, tugging the thick leather off their arms. Their arms are wrinkled and odorous and untouched by the sun.

Their hands twist and rise toward their faces, towards the ravaged skin of their cheeks, the ragged scars of their ears, the straggling clumps of their hair. The young one catches the old one’s hands; the old one catches the young one’s hands. They sit, quivering, tense, fingers curved as tight as talons, in the moonlight, on the fountain’s edge, among the weeds, thus, for hours, until the sun begins to rise.

They retie the knots and depart, without faces, without names, bonded together in blood deeper than bone.

House of Wolves

Edge of Cowtown.

Horny and temporarily flush from the Vanness thing, Markfeet knocks on the door. Grill snaps open and a pair of bloodshot eyes glare down at her from underneath an overgrown unibrow. “You a cop?”

She stares back, outraged. “Do I look like a fucking cop?

The eyes huff a laugh and the door swings wide. Railthin woman with thick black hair on her arms and a star tattoo on the web between her thumb and forefinger. “Upstairs,” she says, so upstairs Markfeet goes, after paying her the fifty bucks.

Afterwards, she lays back, a little raw, a little bloody, smokes a joint and watches him wash himself, face, hands, feet, mouth at the little tap. He hums tunelessly. Shakes himself dry, pricks his ears at her curiously. “Sure,” Markfeet says, “we got plenty of time. Make yourself comfortable.”

He grins and lies down next to her, suddenly much hairier, a comfortable, friendly warmth next to her legs. Markfeet stretches luxuriously and curls around him.

An Eye Without A Tongue

White-faced and clammy, Markfeet bites down on her lip, clenches her toes, digs fingernails into her palms to stay silent. She can barely breathe in the heavy veil, barely move in the thick purple robe. Do nothing, say nothing, they had laid on her like a curse. You are here as an observer and nothing more.

The trappings are bullshit, she knows, designed to impress the rubes, but the blood is real enough. There’s a kid tied to a chair under the only electric light in the room, and each of the academy graduates takes turns cutting their arms and throwing the free-flowing blood into the kid’s face. His eyes are rolled back in his head, whether from drugs or deprivation or frenzy, she couldn’t say, but there’s a palpable charge in the air, lightning before a storm.

Getting jumped out was bloodier, but less fraught, and she’s already regretting her choice. One gang for another, it had seemed at the time, but she loathes her fellow trainees, loathes the blue code of silence they pressed into her lips, despises the thick smell of blood and the veil. This time next year, she thinks, half-dread, half excitement, and winces as another splash of blood hits the kid right in the eyes.

His eyes flicker but do not blink. The line sways forward.

Counting Bridges in Königsberg

for Isabel

Gangly, mathematical Sheila walks to clear her head, not fast or well, but persistently, a determined awkward shuffle that covers any amount of ground eventually. She’s got a map in her rooms of the city with each road she’s walked traced in red; it’s a dead heat whether she’ll span the city or finish her dissertation first.

There are three main forks of the river in Albion, tumbledown Albion at the bottom of the cliffs where the underground river ate the chalk to nothing to get itself more room for its wedding to the winedark sea, and the Student’s Quarter lies on a vague shape of land between two forks, too broad to be called an island. She pauses at the top of the Terpene Bridge and looks south; Green territory that way is flagged by bundles of rosemary, sage, and cannabis that hang from the wrought iron gates that block each doorway.

She could be feared—going into town is always a risk, the students are not best beloved—but she is awkward and innocuous and ragged and no one has bothered her yet. She fills her lungs with the moist air of the river, the oppressive heat of the summer, squints east at the sea, west at the cliffs, names the seventy-two Lords of Hell and the thirteen planets that rule them, and descends.

Pay What Is Due

Someone’s gorgeous son has had his throat slit, and Markfeet glowers down at his body in disapproval.

“Cause of death seems relatively straightforward,” Forensics notes dryly, and she grunts. Blood has soaked through the mattress and pooled on the pine planks of the floor. That was how he’d been found: blood dripping from the ceiling into the apartment below.

“Real quiet feller,” says the landlord. “Kept himself to himself. Paid on time, very nice and tidy.”

“He have any regular visitors? Friends, lovers, priest or lawyers?”

Landlord sucks his teeth. “Nooooo, no one I ever met. Did his own cleaning, even. Lived like a monk, far as I saw. Seemed like a waste? Figured he was a poet or one of those Attic fellers. Sworn to what’s her name, the sickle one. Celibate, or— whsht—you know. Castrato.”

Markfeets hikes her eyebrows, looks over at Forensics who has started stripping the corpse. Forensics shakes his head, no. “If he was, he hadn’t found time yet. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t though; lots of ’em don’t go under the knife these days.”