The wolves were bothering her. They hung on her mind. She had gone back the next morning, just to see. Two females, the largest yearling and the smallest, had wandered away from the den, perhaps to hunt. The fenrir had caught them, surprising them from above. Injured the first, followed the second back to the den, killed it and the rest of the pack. The corpses lay there, already crawling with flies in the hot summer morning. It would be maggots soon, swarming over mouths and gaping wounds.
It had been three days, punctuated only by Sofia’s snoring and the daily drama of living with an angry alcoholic.
(Eyes slamming open, heart beating fast, the sound of small, quiet footsteps loud in her ears. The curtain to the small room rustled in the dark, and Senbast’s small, dusty scent wafted in.
Dovilė released the cold grip of the pistol and sat up, sliding her hand out from under the lumpy pillow . The boy’s fear was rank, calling back the sour taste of her own, aching like an old wound long healed.
A moment of ragged music, uncoordinated. It jerked to a halt, started again in a different place, a different song.
“Come in.” Dovilė whispered.
The curtain brushed open.
“Can I… sleep here?” The quiet hope of the displaced.)
She’d told the others about the fenrir, of course. Where there was one, there would be others. But the others didn’t come. A missing, looming, silent pack. The hills remained quiet, and free of both scat and track. Dovilė searched methodically, carefully. She had already been on first name terms with every blade of grass on the damn mountains. Now she felt as though she knew their favorite foods, their embarrassing moments and the horrible stories about their grandchildren.
No sign. Another uneventful patrol, with nothing more exciting than a handful of rabbits, a few startled ground birds and what appeared to be a, now dead, neamen gopher. The air hung heavy, thick around face and hands and shoulders. Dovilė wanted a drink, a cigarette, and some quiet time, maybe to watch the storm roll in over the evening stars. Someone would be awake to take the watch from her. And if they weren’t now, they would be soon.
Something moved. A dark shape slipped up the hill toward the aerie, feet making silences in the grass.
(The smallest crunch. The wind, perhaps, shifting old leaves. But the breeze slept. Everything around him held its breath, the stillness giving him away. Above her head a night bird called, three sharp cries like someone knocking on glass, and a long warble. There was a stifled rustle in the undergrowth, something small and round looking for a meal. But around him, the world was silent. He was a fool, wearing his black and outlined in the moonlight beneath the shadows of the old and tired trees.
Another crunch, a glance behind, like the ghosts of the dead would be chasing him. One foot came down, carefully avoiding the slender shoots and the old leaf litter. Heel, roll on the side, hard in those heavy boots, weight to the toe, lift. A rhythm, silencing the world around it.
The memory was an old, faded picture, viewed through dusty glass. The world had become so much sharper just a few years later. But she remembered tasting the steel in her mouth, and the holy surrender she had felt as she let him creep, loud as only a silent man can be, past her watch.)
Dovilė sank slowly into stillness, following casually. It was only a moment later that the warm scent floated down, and the pattern of movement registered in her eyes. It was Maureen. Dovilė followed anyway. The girl had been on edge for weeks, and the aerie was a good a place as any to take a last look around.
The argument with the damned flying horses was amusing and Dovilė watched Sofia’s approach with curiosity. By the time the conversation was done she was no long curious, although she was somewhat concerned. Still, Sofia could handle herself, and she would take care of Moe.
Dovilė shifted slightly, getting smaller so that she would be less visible from the air. Her wolf tags clinked, almost silently, against her hand as she shifted her weight. How had they come loose? They were normally tucked tightly under her shirt.
Her mind went flat.
(They were Svantovit’s tags, after all. The grimy yellow light had glinted off them as they hung, gently swinging, in hands calloused but thin. The wolves were emblazoned on them, black on silver, snarling teeth almost glowing. She hadn’t taken them. He placed them on the table, sending an overly loud clink around the oddly full kitchen. A kitchen full of gods.)
That’s just superstition, some part of her whispered. An old part.
Svantovit knew you would say that.
The girls were mounting. Dovilė crouched lower and crawled down the hill, stilling as the horse took off. In a few moments they were no longer overhead, the heavy sound of wings moving off in the other direction.
She was going to have to take one of those damn things, wasn’t she?
She nearly let them go. But the sudden, thick smell of fenrir came back to her, strong as the smell of summer grass, heavy before the storm. Dovilė rose to a crouch, scrambled down the hill and opened the homestead door.
(Silently, even though she’d been meaning fix that for about a year now. But it had been so useful! Still, no more of that.)
She passed through the piano room like a shadow, but a new ghost amongst the broken spars caught her eye. Mark stood there, contemplating the graveyard with the same studied examination he gave everything. Pale light glinted down, throwing darkness.
“Hey.” Dovilė said, very quietly. Even so, the sound rolled around the room before it died. Sound got everywhere, in this house.
(“There’ll be no privacy!” Moe had shouted, youth and anger and despair boiling over.
“That’s kind of the the point, Moe.” Angela had growled, the anger stirring below like the barely noticed shifting of weeds under the water. Sofia had looked back down, and trundled the earth into place.)
Mark looked up, face invisible in the darkness.
“Need favor. You busy?”
Mark shrugged. She could hear the cloth rustling, just slightly.
“Watch house for me. I follow Sofia, Moe.”
Mark moved closer, into the starlight drifting in from the carefully crafted crystal skylight. He put a question on his face, a quite pointed one.
“I don’t know. Why you think I follow?”
Mark nodded and slipped silently past her, merging into the dark.
Dovilė turned, slipping across the hall and into the kitchen as silently as she knew how. Every foot step made tiny thumps on the compacted clay tiles. In her ears they echoed loudly. The kitchen was also moonlit, cast in blue shadows and white light. Dovilė moved to one of the wooden counters, where the sugar jar stood, in all the glory a pot with a mis-matched lid and chipped glaze could.
(There had been one not unlike it at home, always empty. The glaze was chipped and cracked, stained brown from cigarette smoke and dirty fingers. Once it had been white, with roses and vines clustering around the handles and the lid. An old gift, from a cousin who had gotten a trip to Germany for doubling production over their quota.)
Movement, a dark shape slipping out of the shadows near the wall and walking out onto the counter. Dovilė lowered her shoulders and returned her rifle to her back. She nodded in greeting to the cat, removing the lid on the jar with a careful clink. The cat came up to her hands, sand colored fur dark grey in the moonlight, black ears like streaks of tar. Golden hieroglyphs floated above its head, glimmering in the dark.
(“Hieroglyphs!” Amanda had said, throwing up her arms. “For the millionth time, hieroglyphs!”
“Damn symbol-things,” Dovilė said, pushing a stack of tattered notebooks, full of Amanda’s theorizing and brainstorming, out of the way so that she could sit. Amanda was trying to sort them, figure out which ones they could burn and which ones she really ought to keep.
Amanda looked at her helplessly. “Didn’t you learn ANYTHING in school?”
Dovilė suppressed a grin, teasing. “Can write you essay about Lenin.”
The girl had laughed.)
Dovilė grunted, slipping sugar into her pockets. “I am following girls. Senbast sleeping?”
The cat looked at her. Dovilė wasn’t good at cats. Was that surprise? Disdain?
Another symbol floated above his head. At least this one she recognized. “Yes.”
She replaced the lid with another faint clink and a nod, slipping out of the kitchen as quietly as she had come. The cat was following, the whisper of his pads on the tile hidden by the impact of her boots. He flicked ahead, passing just moments in front of Dovilė’s step. She stumbled slightly, a step and half out of the way to avoid slamming her foot into the cat’s ribs.
(“Dovilė!” Sasha’s mouth, wide open with shock. “You kicked her?”
“Her? The cat is a girl?”)
Dovilė felt her jaw twitch. That had been unexpectedly painful. She muttered a curse under her breath, the cat’s twitching ears flicking backward towards her.
In a moment they were outside, the smell of grass pressed down by the heavy stillness. The cat stopped next to Mark, both of them in a pool of shadow gathering at the base of the mountain.
Dovilė gave them a nod and strode up the hill. She had sugar, what else had Susan said about horses? Stay calm, move slowly, follow them to water?
No, that last one must have been someone else.
(Wind whipping, the machine roar of the helicopter drowning out every other noise. An incredibly young man, probably about her age at the time, now that she thought about it, laughing madly. He’d been from Ukraine, and for some strange reason his first live drop ever had been a crash in Saudi Arabia.
“The Empty Quarter!” He’d been shouting. “That’s what they call it! Nothing but sand and rock!”
And horses, apparently. Horses that knew the way to water.
He’d died the next week, the roar turning into a blossom of fire. The suppressing rounds from the hovering helicopter hadn’t been enough to chase away one last Mujahideen with a stinger.)
The pegasi snorted as she approached. Three there now, Susan’s yellow brown one, Brendan’s brown and speckled one, and Angela’s splashy one. Oh, and Lance’s which everyone insisted was blue but clearly wasn’t. It was Angela’s she wanted, of course. Who else would have the fastest one?
Now, what was it called? Some element.
Dovilė stepped carefully around a gopher hole, a normal one, and crested the hill. She spotted the splashy one, its head down, dozing in the moonlight. Dovilė took a deep, slow breath and moved over carefully.
“Mercury?” She tried. No response. Of course.
“Gyvsidabris? Rtut?” Damn, what was the word?
“Quicksilver!” Yes, that was it. She’d gotten an ear twitch.
Dovilė moved closer. The horse-pidgeon looked up at her, and then moved a few steps away and started to eat. Dovilė sighed and pulled sugar out of her pocket.