Up from Beneath

It’s been a bone dry year, to the point where she can’t quite remember what a pain in the ass rain is and sleeping’s hard without the white noise to cover everything up. There’s the bay, of course, but the breakwater’s ten miles out and won’t drown anything except sailors. Months and months of sunny days, and everyone alternately laughing and irritated, phantom limbs gone withered and dry.

Markfeet’s spent the better part of it below ground, though, so she’s kept hold of her proper Albion pallor, her and the magicians who barely notice the weather when it’s terrible and not at all when it’s good. Albion’s been plagued, if that’s the word, with a throng of returning dead come trooping up out of the sea, faces and flesh eaten away by bottomfeeders and nothing to say who they were or what they want.¬†They’re not violent, which is some kind of a relief, and they don’t rot any more than they already have, which in this endless April is all kinds, but they’re uncanny and messy and persistently dead so they’ve been dropped in her lap to figure out.

They’re not getting anywhere. Forensics is biting nails and even her¬†University contacts are getting a little wild around the eyes. Every so often some enterprising pack of hooligans goes wading into the crowd with machetes and flamethrowers, but for every one they kill another comes oozing out of the blue, blue water to take its passive, unresisting place.

Everyone tries to take it in stride, but she knows how these things boil over. It’s all laughs now, but people weren’t built to take such an endless regard; sooner or later the weather will break.

Living Water

Early in her second year as a lay student with the alchemists, and six months before she drops out for the first time.

“How can you not believe in something, and you a mathematician?” They’re smoking shitty cigarettes over shitty beers in a windowless students’ bar and arguing about faith. Markfeet is five years older than the journeymen and has nearly a decade on her fellow apprentices, so none of it is especially revelatory.

“How d’you mean?”

“Y’put your hand on the wellspring of the world, man! You’ve been hip deep in the machinery of life, how can you see all that spinning work and not believe?”

She’d learned the basics from watching the hoodoo work in her days fighting back and forth across Maplewood, and of course from working with Forensics, so that puts her up on a lot of the tiny chicks she hangs with, but all of that’s practical knowledge, not theory.

“Hell, I believe in plenty. I believe there’s a rule and an order to life, and that it’s only time and hard work that keeps us from knowin’ it. Don’t know as I need to follow a creed to believe in that. Don’t know as what I’d do with that sort of believin’.”

She’s more interested in the how than the why, and that’s maybe the difference between the real scholastics and her, but it’s all smoke and endless conversation to her. Her throat burns with tobacco and her stomach aches with weak beer. She dreams of blood in the streets and the clean logic of murder.

Lay Your Hand Upon Leviathan

It’s been a long, dark, sodden winter, and it’s February that puts the cap on it all with going on 30 straight days of rain. Markfeet can’t remember the last time she saw the sun; all of Albion quivers pallid and shadowless from the clifftops to the harbor. The bay is an endless pimply sprawl of lead that bleeds out into an equally leaden sky.

Her city speaks in whispers, in the same running, liquid consonants as the water that drips, drips, drips off the eaves and runs down the street. The aides down at the University have gone on strike, barricaded themselves in their shared offices and shuttered the labs. There’s blood waiting to spill there, she can almost smell it, a dull rusted thread under the omnipresent tang of mildew. The aides seemed resigned to whatever comes, flat hopeless faces dumb and stolid in solidarity.

The harbor guard has fished three bodies out of the docks in the last week and a fourth one this morning, puffy and bloodless and bruised. All older, fifties or sixties, and with the scarred hands and stained lips of silversmith’s assistants. Markfeet stares down at the latest, back shredded by barnacles, and curses the rain that keeps windows shuttered and eyes down.

A Release of Pressure

“Didn’t think there were any of you left,” Markfeet says. “Not since Rozgavarivat burned, anyway.”

The patter wheezes somewhere deep in its hood. “Ffewer than we were, certainly,” it says, melancholy. “People mostly stay with their ffamilies these days. Can’t say as I blame them, either. But we still see one or two applicants a year, and more if it’s a bad winter.”

Markfeet grunts and watches Forensics beaver away, his ass rising and falling beside the body with the complacent diligence of a gardener weeding. The patter on the floor lies in the pool of her robes, lips and tongue gnawed nearly away.

The patter keeps its head turned away; in embarrassment, Markfeet thinks. “Was she a friend of yours?”

Another ambiguous noise from under the hood. “No. We… do not have ffriends. Or enemies.”

“Well, somebody must have hated her,” snaps Markfeet. “Hated her enough to kill her and wreck up her face like that.”

“Oh, someone did, certainly,” it says, and pulls the hood away from the moist ruin of its mouth, teeth red-stained and busy at lips and cheek. “But she’s beyond your justice now, I think.”

Autodidact

The word given form.

Sundown makes her own spells, pulled screaming and bloody from the red meat of her body; view of tendon, sick white glimpse of living bone. The breath of empire, hot in her throat.

Her supplicants are dying from inexpressible rages. She takes the print of the boot on their face and shapes her words sharper than swords. Poison to pour in the cochlear ear. She finds demons and gods in trash cans, overpasses, rusted-out train tracks. The amniotic tang of decaying iron in a steel-gray puddle.

“I need a man killed,” one says, and she smiles. “I need everyone killed, dead in their beds.”

“Stand on this space,” she tells one. “Hold the hot wax close to your hair. Dig the sigils out of your flesh.” White tracks like bird marks. “Work your fingers deep in the wound.”

Downhill the universities throw parties, grow monsters; trade goes roaring in and out at the docks. There is a saying, popular in the dives: soft power is a hard ruler.

Sundown gnaws her way back.