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.”

The Body is a Feudal State

“Dig deep,” she hisses at Markfeet. “You gotta get it all out.”

Markfeet’s sweating and cold, the tips of her fingers and ears numb with tension. It went bad, this one, real bad. Hoodoo was out with the twitches and half the gang was sunk in the river running below Maplewood, the lucky ones floating face down. Her arms are red with blood to the elbow, most of it sticky and drying with Tip’s blood a bright new flag laid on top of it.

“Damn it, focus, you sorry son of a bitch,” Tip snaps, and Markfeet tries, she tries hard, but her eyes are bedeviled something fierce, she has to keep shaking her head to make the world a place of things and not ideas. She bites her canker sores hard, until her mouth floods with blood and lemon; the bullet pops out at last.

“Shit,” she says, and Tip goes ash-white when he sees it, a real mean piece of work, chuckling malevolently with a full charge of meaning. “You’re gonna lose an arm, fasure.”

Tip kicks out, sends her flying backward into the bricks, overturns the place like a hurricane. “Fuck! Fuck!” The world goes senseless for a long second and Tip is gone when it settles down again, the bullet gone with her.

Transitioning

Fog, and weeks of fog. Mold and moss digs furry fingers into every nook and crevice, and the greasy face of the Sailor’s Quarter goes piebald with crusted salt summoned from the slate grey pucker of the bay. Markfeet is cold to the core of her, no matter what fires she builds or drinks she swallows; she swaddles herself in colorless, bulky sweaters, festoons herself with charms against the dusk. No matter — her fingers still ache, bloodless and so stiff she can hardly hold flame to her cigarette. Forensics has to do it for her, her face moony and foolish in the red light of the match.

“So? What did you learn?”

Forensics flinches. “Not much, alas. Vegetarian. A drinker, to judge by the liver, but not a smoker, going by the lungs. Brain raddled with worms, but–” she holds up a hand to forestall Markfeet’s next, obvious question– “years old. Probably got exposed during the last skirmish.”

“Sailor, then?”

“Hard to say. Could’ve been an islander, or maybe just unlucky. Worked with his hands, sure enough; see the calluses? That says sailor, right enough, only his feet are soft as lambskin.”

“Maybe they were new-grown?”

Forensics purses her lips. “Y-e-e-e-es,” she drawls. “that could have been it. Hard to tell in this weather, but they do seem pale, don’t they? We’ll get you a list of backalleys that could have put them together for him; maybe they’ll know something.”

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.