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Dove In The Forest

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Now there is only one vampire in all of Dry Fall and the night is less quiet than it was before when there were too many possible silences in the dark where a vampire might be. Since they have turned away from the Scar and back into the Gentleman's Sea the Brucolac has managed Dry Fall alone. He does not come out by day and he moves with great secrecy by night but his orders are constant and neatly transmitted and Dry Fall is assessed and repaired as efficiently as any of the other ridings. Sometimes a Dry Fall work crew will even appear at a particularly urgent area in another riding of the city, even though the Brucolac no longer attends council meetings and does not reply the messages sent to him.

Once, in a green-and-ochre twilight, Uther Doul walks through the spiderweb rigging and bridges to the deck of the moonship Uroc where the silence of the Brucolac hangs heaviest in all the spaces of the drifting city. It is colder now and the sea-birds that they shoot down are heavier and better eating, flesh plumped white with fat and plumage thickened with winter down. Through the crisp air Doul moves with that quiet grey grace as unique to him as the white bullet-shape of his head and the quilt-pattern of his coat and the sword at his belt. In this aspect he will never become native to this shifting creaking archipelago of woodwork and canvas strung together with so much hemp and tentative alliances. But something changes once he steps off the bridge that leads to the deck of the Uroc and moves across it. The Uroc and Doul are separate parts of the city that were once not a part of the city; this is true of every other ship in Armada, and of many other persons. But there is a thread between Doul and the Uroc that is a part of another city and now Doul moves through the Uroc as though following this thread along the lightless corridors and moonstruck berths. Thus at the end of his walk he finds the third part of Armada that was once part of High Cromlech, and moves to greet him.

"I am not receiving visitors," the Brucolac says.

"I am not visiting," Doul replies. "How are you healing?"

"Slow." In the dark there is the long and slow hiss, the soft wet sliding of a serpentine tongue. "Everything is slow. The city is moving too slow. Time passes too slow. All is slowing down."

"You have not gone out of here," Doul says, "you would not know."

"How would you know where I have not gone?"

"Your own riding says they have not seen you since we turned around."

"Since I was cut down," the Brucolac says.

"The council meets like mice since you were cut down," Doul tells him. "The Lover does not wish to rule much longer. There is a chief among the engineers who will most likely take his place in another year. Maybe sooner."

The Brucolac seems to pay no interest in Doul's words; even the ghostly freggios across his face have taken on the attitude of a dance macabre, interrupted and now waiting, frozen. Something flickers like dry bat's wings at the edges of the room and a storm of moonlight pours in, flat-striped with narrow bars of shadow. Doul looks the Brucolac in the face and sees that new skin has closed over the worst of his sun-blisters and now even the ridges of scar tissue are smoothing away across the fine sharp features. But where it was pure cold ash-white before the Brucolac's skin is now dappled like marble as though curls of smoke have left their dark and ghostly imprints across his face as they swirled through him. Doul puts his fingertips to them and traces the pattern of them from jaw to cheekbone before the Brucolac strikes his hand away. There is for a moment a thin bitter splatter in the air between them; then the Brucolac's tongue unfurls from his mouth, reaching down to his hand where the sharp fingernails are dark with blood.

The gash in Doul's forearm drips intermittently onto the wood of the floor. Doul looks at him and flexes his fingers so that the wound bleeds faster and wastes itself more vigorously on the dry boards. He does not hold out his arm. Eventually the Brucolac flicks the shutters again, the pale and colourless light floods out of the cabin, and then the Brucolac glides in his awful weighted silence across the floor to Doul and takes his wrist and a mouthful of his blood all in the same smooth motion.

Doul lets him drink for almost half a minute and then his other hand that he has raised very naturally and casually and laid like a kiss on the Brucolac's shoulder moves to close like a noose around the Brucolac's long soft throat. The Brucolac chokes and retches a slick drooling mess of hot blood and bile in Doul's face while his hands claw at Doul's grip around his throat but Doul does not slacken his hold and also has not removed the thick padded gauntlet he wears on that hand. After the rasping of the Brucolac's breath dies away into a furious but fading wheezing like the wingbeats of a dying moth, the sound of ripping leather goes on for only a while.

When he is still Doul lowers him to the floor and strips him just enough to be able to take him the way he had when he first opened his wrist for the Brucolac in the attics of one of the abandoned mansions in what had become the ghettos of High Cromlech, when he had stood in the half-light through the rotted shutters at the windows looking at the Brucolac's narrow head and its symbiotic mass of tangled red-and-black hair bent over his offered hand. It is as though they have not moved a step from that decaying room and it is the sound of its wooden joints that he hears complaining around them as their bodies move upon it and it is the Brucolac's constant fear of being found by true thanatii that makes him so silent in his fury and it is the first and last moment of true and direct and mutual contact in both of their lives. Then the back of the Brucolac's skull jerks back and catches Doul on the side of his face and the ridge of his nose. Something wet and sinuous comes sliding over his cheek like a drugged snake, flat and warm and fork-tipped, coursing drunkenly across his face and lapping at the dark dribble leaking down his nose and lips and chin and brushing like a cat at corners of his mouth. When Doul finally accepts the tines of the Brucolac's tongue into his mouth he has to sink his teeth into it to stop it from choking him.

The Brucolac hisses, open-mouthed, and wood splinters under the press of his fingernails. This is the only noise he makes until his spine seems to uncoil like a great sharp spring and arches upward into Doul's belly and sternum like a blow. What he says then is wholly unprintable even though the words are garbled and illegible, shrieked and sibilated. Doul barely catches the sound of his name trailing a hideous stream of invectives, like the sting on the end of a scorpion's tail.

He leaves as quietly and naturally as he has come; if he followed the thread between himself and the Brucolac into the Uroc, now he follows the thread between himself and Armada out. The gash in his forearm he binds on his way out and the rip in his sleeve faces inward. Thus he leaves Dry Fall riding as he walked into it.

Two weeks later he walks past the Uroc and then stops when he sees the Brucolac sitting thirty feet above its main deck, up in the tangles of alien rigging that make the moonship's outline so different from those of her sister ships. The Brucolac also sees him but remains where he is. They do not call out to each other. Doul steps up to the bridge that will take him on board the Uroc; the Brucolac's tongue moves lazily through the air. Doul stops walking in the middle of the bridge. The Brucolac stands up, steps off the rigging, disappears. Something glides, flickering, through space in a manner impossibly slow and impossibly cold. When he lands Doul should see his face full in the moonlight and the warm orange glow of the torches that form Dry Fall's conjoined flotilla of streetlamps.

The Brucolac materializes with his back to Armada and his face looking out to the open sea. Under the full moon all the crests of the waves dance fabulously like a million silver fish curvetting stupidly on the surface of the water. Engorged and swollen with light the Uroc rolls heavily in the water and strains at her moorings, her multitude of misshapen sails shivering taut and bright. But she stays where she is, tied to the rest of the city, and the Brucolac makes no move to cut the ropes that hold her there, yet. Doul watches the Brucolac walk away with that great mass of hair curling ponderously like blood through water in the wake of long legs that strike the wood of the ship's deck without sound,

 

savage and impenetrable, black and russet,

and then even that is gone and he is left entirely alone on that thin line between the Uroc and the rest of Armada. He shifts his weight on the planks. The water goes on and on all around them without bottom or edge, yet in all this fathomless abundance of space and separation the deck of the Uroc is not even three steps away.

 

May 2005, Kuala Lumpur

(Fangirl trivia vaguely disguised as author's note: '...savage and impenetrable ... black and russet' is taken from one of the Weaver's speeches in PSS, which Mieville in turn took from Max Ernst's description of his painting 'Forest And Dove'.)