And The Dogs Came Running 5.1

If Dzhate wanted to play strange games, it was well enough that Ana brought strange company to back her up. Korel had seemingly decided to be a man for the day, and he had proved decent enough in a fight for Ana to want him around in case things went sour. Besides the back up, there was the matter of appeasement. 

Where, when, who, what, why and then how, thought Ana, If I’m right with the order, I have an answer. The only problem is that the answer might piss her off.

So, Ana went to find the best cheap meat in town. The hot sun beat down on the dock workers as they hauled up the whale. It was possessed of an abyssal darkness – so much so that the heat grew and grew on its black skin and seemed to rise up in visible waves through the air. Its jaw hung open over the side of the dock to reveal its bizarre teeth. For such a ferocious thing, they seemed almost out of place – a plethora of bony spines that faintly resembled hairs in their fineness. The whale’s body was pockmarked with the many gouges of the harpoons, bleeding back into the sea that birthed it. 

They had already begun the long process of butchering the thing. The process was more akin to deconstructing a whole house from the outside in than any conventional butchery. First went the flensing of the outermost flesh and the blubber. They had arranged a station at the dock to quickly begin the process of rendering out the blubber for the oil. The air had filled with the scent of the fatty stuff being melted down and used for the oil. Those scraps too small to be valuable for their trade were being sold off by the dozen – with a beast of this size, even the scraps came in droves. Even the tongue was so large that the butchery of it was providing a meal for three or four people. And after the fatty blubber there was even more meat, and sweetbreads for the taking. Ana produced a few silver coins for the stuff, and walked with her bloodied package all the way towards the outskirts of Blackwood once more, to Dzhate’s hideaway.

“So,” said Korel, “You said she’s sixteen?”

“Give or take a year or two. It was dark, but between her voice and her size…” 

“I see,” said Korel, seeming skeptical, “I’ve heard her name before, but it’s sort of odd to think that she’s that young. You’re sure you saw right? Maybe she’s just short.”

“No, no. I’m sure.”

“But she’s intellectual?”

“Very much so. Educated,” said Ana as they approached the house, “Too educated. She clearly thinks highly of herself, thinks that she’s smart. She is smart, I mean. And apparently dangerous. She’s clearly trying to give that impression.”

“Do you buy it?”

Ana looked around, before shrugging. 

“Sure. Why not?”

She didn’t actually. If she had sussed things out like Dzhate had asked, something more was going on here than sheer brute force. 

Ana walked up to the door first, and knocked.

Dzhate was the one who answered, looking a little more bedraggled than before. Her hair was clearly unwashed and her face greasy with sweat, and she blinked blearily at the light from the doorway even though it was a little past noon. Ana smiled. 


“Greetings,” she said tiredly, “I see you’ve returned. And you’ve brought a bodyguard. Don’t worry. My friends and compatriots aren’t here right now. Come in.”

She gestured dramatically for them to enter into the darkened doorway. The occult graffiti was still blanketing the house. As they followed Dzhate down the corridors, it became increasingly clear to Ana what she had done. The whole place was rigged as a focus. Making a larger structure into a focus was always a difficult task, even when working from the ground up. Post facto, that problem was doubled – the original intent of the creators of the house could often interfere with the intent of a sorcerer, not to mention the constant layering of small modifications made by those living in it. This work, though, was extremely careful – oil paint and dyes were layered over each other in complicated seals and sigils. On one door, an abstract set of gears and keyholes. Some kind of locking mechanism or ward, by Ana’s estimate. There was a hint of some kind of trap hidden behind a dresser. 

She shifted her gaze to the table as they entered the kitchen, and Ana set down her package.

“Fresh whale. Right from the harbor,” said Ana.

Dzhate cocked her head.

“I gave you a test. Not an ask for a bribe.”

“It’s a gift. A show of goodwill.”

“Why do you need to show me goodwill? I was under the impression that you might be my intellectual equal.”

She turned from Ana to start a fire. Korel gave her a pained look and mouthed some words. Ana gave a forced smile back. Unspoken, a thought was shared. 

Yes, she always talks like that.

“Well, you’re making me a guest in your home. I thought it was at least prudent to give you a good meal in return.”

Dzhate swiftly assembled a fire with a practiced hand – an almost clinical one, like she had learned it from a book and spent a great deal of time memorizing the process. She snapped a flint and steel over the tinders, and soon it came to life in a blaze of fire. 

“Now,” she said, ignoring Ana’s explanation, “Sit. You have an answer for me, I presume.”

Ana sat, and Korel followed. 

“I do think so.”

“Then give it.”

She idly picked up the package of blubber and whale meat, and slowly began to distribute its contents onto the table. 

“You said that there’s an order of operations here. In order to understand your methods and your means, I needed to understand other basics.”

Dzhate gave no response, seemingly engrossed with arranging the meat, before producing a knife to cut it with.

“So, I went through it. Firstly, where. Your environment.”

This was one of the first things they taught about interrogation and investigation. Location and timing could be as important to the crime as the means of the crime. Opportunity and attitude were as much a product of the natural inner life as they were of the environment, and so to properly locate a criminal or properly determine their reasoning, it could become a game of discovering their background. Luckily, Ana had lived in Blackwood for long enough now to recognize that it wasn’t that different from the places that she grew up in. 

“Firstly, locale. You’re from Blackwood.”

“Mm? You are sure of that?”

“You’re at least from Kallin. Your accent says that much.” 

Dzhate shrugged.

“Alright, fair play. I am from Kallin. But how is that relevant to our little game here?”

“It’s a matter of opportunity. Blackwood and its surroundings are a hub for all sorts of unsavory activity.”

“Is it unsavory?”

“I mean, I find spying on people distasteful, yes,” said Ana.

“You can taste their eyes on you?”

Ana looked at Korel briefly in confusion, trying to find her footing.

“I mean- no. It’s a figure of speech.”

“It is a stupid phrase,” said Dzhate, “You can taste no such thing. There are better ways of putting it.”

“Well, you have a palate for certain tasks,” said Ana, playing along, “Don’t you?”
“I suppose.” 

“Then you must have a taste for them. They reach your palate,” reasoned Ana.

Dzhate smiled – a sly thing that made her teeth glow in the firelight.

“And thus spying is distasteful to your palate. Alright, I’m starting to see your point a little more. Do continue.”

“Well, there’s no shortage of orphans here, right? Many your age.”

“Mm-hm. You think I’m one of them?”

“No,” said Ana, thinking back to her childhood, “That, or you were taken in early. You don’t have their attitude. You’re refined and careful in a way many wouldn’t be. But you’re their age. Which means that if you were living around Blackwood, you would have talked with them.”

“Certainly stands to reason,” said Dzhate as she further butchered the whale into smaller pieces. 

“I was an orphan back in my day. So, I saw a lot of people go down bad roads. Usually it’d start with something small. It’s not a sin to steal to eat, after all. Scripture makes that clear, Charity and Justice-”

“Are you religious?” Asked Dzhate.

“Yes,” said Ana, “But I wouldn’t wholly hold it against you if you weren’t. I was a hellion-child myself. I barely knew how to read until I was ten, and so most of my instruction of Scripture was passed down by street priests and the ones in the poorhouses. At any rate, it’s easy to pass onto the wrong side of the civil law in that kind of crowd. And that’s by design.”

“By whose design?”

“The vampires. Don’t tell me you don’t know your history?”

“I do. Elaborate on how it relates,” said Dzhate snappily. There was something kind of strained interest behind her words that equally intrigued and annoyed Ana. She was keeping her face neutral, but Ana’s gut said that she had struck on something that she wasn’t fully aware of, and in doing so had undermined her intelligence – her sense of control. At the same time, she was too fixated on knowledge to give up the chance for Ana to explain it. She wanted to be told it, but was too arrogant to admit she didn’t know the whole shape of it.

“Not all of those archives are available to the public, of course, but I was in a job that gave me some access to that. You’re familiar with the idea of a worm.”

“Of course I am. I am a Kolet, no?”

“Well, are you familiar with the legal aspects of them? What precedent they laid upon?”

She was silent for a moment.

“Of course I am. You’re dancing around with your questions. Makes me wonder if you actually know any of these things.”

“Of course,” said Ana, trying to curry a little more favor out of her, “Well, there was a period about… oh, it would be around a century and a half ago, I think. Things were changing. The first missionaries were arriving, and the first hints of democratic sentiments. The College of Dragons hadn’t fully foreseen these developments, and so they tried to institute reforms that would give them more control, and more food, more space to produce vampires.”

“So they wanted more worms, and more criminals who could be fed upon.”

“Exactly. Which is why they made abortion a crime, and put abandoned children ‘under the protection of the state.’ Of course, people would inevitably have unwanted children and abandon them, and they have food – or they would have an abortion, and if any such evidence was found, they had criminals to feed on.”

Hence, Metremte, thought Ana, Of the nobility.

Dzhate had stopped butchering the whale briefly, examining her knife. 

“A whole generation of unwanted children, most funneled into slums like Blackwood. That doesn’t disappear overnight. Even with the revolution. Many of them grow up poor, illiterate and unable to improve their position – and many unable to take care of children of their own. So they abandon their children to be wards of the new state. They cycle repeats. If you’re from here, and you’re not an orphan, you’re liable to be one of the first generations to start to claw out of the cycle.” 

“I see,” said Dzhate, “And what does that tell you about me?”

“Nothing and everything,” said Ana, “Trusting on that sort of observation alone to make a total assessment of a person is a folly.”

“I’d agree.”

“At the same time, it’s very odd to see a person so young involved with such a criminal enterprise.”

“Also true,” said Dzhate coldly.

“So, we have why and when,” said Ana, “Kallin, generations after the revolution. The next question to answer is the what. What led you to this?”

Korel seemed engrossed in the conversation – not participating, but clearly following along.

“This is part of why I brought the gift. You clearly think highly of yourself.”

“And you think this will offend me?”

“I think it will make you uncomfortable. You’ve made a controlled way of life for yourself. You’re monitoring people, brokering information, and I’m certain you have some ambitions of your own that I wouldn’t want to denigrate. But I think that wherever you’ve been is rougher than you’re willing to admit.”

Dzhate was quiet. She stared to the window, and the late afternoon light.

“I don’t doubt that you’re as dangerous as people have told me, or that you have told me, or that you don’t have a great command of the people around you. Quite the opposite. I feel certain you had to do that to survive.”

Ana tried not to hold her breath for the girl’s reaction. Even in her best estimation of how this was going to go, she didn’t think that this sort of honesty would go over well.

“So, I take it you learned the trade from someone. Someone close to you – mentor or parent – was involved in this. You were under their thumb for a long time, learning from them. And either they died and you inherited their enterprise-”

The girl twitched. She set down the knife, and gave Ana a piercing glare. It wasn’t a confirmation, but it was something.

“-or you needed independence from them, and you made your own.”

Korel interrupted suddenly.

“Or she could have done it all alone,” said Korel, “But that doesn’t seem as likely to me. No, you got your tongue from somewhere.”

Suddenly, Dzhate seemed very small – but no less threatening. Like a cornered animal, she had shrunk into her chair. Ana felt an inkling of herself in the girl – the way she acted when she was surrounded by people bigger than her, presuming things about her. There was something angry beneath her eyes that had emerged from Korel’s comment in particular. She had no small portion of pride in her, and implying that she had inherited her position had clearly barbed her. Earning it was important to her. She wasn’t giving a response, though. She knew that would only make her seem weaker.

“That’s your what. And how – I think I know exactly how, because I was the same.”

It was time to get her out of the corner now. She had pressed her enough. She was only a girl, after all. Treating her like a hardened suspect was probably in some respects the correct action, by the book, but she was also unique. Besides, this wasn’t a closed interrogation room, but Dzhate’s territory. If Ana really offended her, she risked losing her as an ally. 

“You’re a savant sorcerer. You probably noticed when a trusted tool went to havoc in your hands, right?”

Ana remembered how it had happened to her. Before the savant had manifested, she had been working in a butcher’s shop. It didn’t pay as well as the other jobs, but every month she could get a pick of some of the better meat and have it to supplement her meals, and that was a boon when half of your time was spent in an orphanage. Watered-down porridge and lobster could only take you so far before you felt like a bullet might taste better. 

As much as she hated to admit it, she did actually like the lobster when she could sneak some butter in with it, but that was a rare occurrence.

One day, while working on a carcass, she picked up her usual knife, and fell into her usual routine. Cutting joints from a few pigs was often a long and arduous affair. That day, she had talked with a few of the nastier boys at the orphanage, and so she ended up venting her frustrations on the carcasses. As she sliced them, it seemed that she was only going faster and faster through the work. It was on the last carcass that she truly realized what was happening – a glowing firefly of azure mana emerged from the cleaver’s hilt, and when she pushed down, the cleaver sharpened further and further until even the bone seemed like butter. 

She nearly cut the last carcass in two, smiling like a madwoman the whole way. 

“Am I wrong? Or is the graffiti all for nothing?”

“You are correct,” said Dzhate quietly.

“You established your surveillance through the use of sorcery,” said Ana, “No small feat, but once you had the ball rolling, it became a small matter to establish a network of favors, blackmail and debts to weave around you.”

“Why?” Asked Korel, chiming in helpfully, “Why not just subsistence?”

“Well, for one, she clearly has ambitions to learn! I wouldn’t hold her from that on account of her upbringing, but the world would. Poor girls don’t get books or schooling. But better to ask why I’m here.”

“I assume you already have an answer prepared for that,” said Korel.

“That I do, Korel,” said Ana, “I’m here because you’re bored, Dzhate. You’ve surrounded yourself with people who owe you things. But they don’t engage with you in any discussion that interests you, and while you could force them, you’d rather have an equal. People your age around here aren’t interested in what you’re interested in. That’s what you want out of me. Someone to talk to on even terms.”

Dzhate was very quiet, and then she slumped forward. She didn’t meet Ana’s eyes, or Korel’s.

“I would also like someone to play cards with,” said Dzhate.

Her tone was trying to keep itself neutral, but Ana knew it all too well. It was the voice of someone trying to keep herself from appearing lonely.

“Well, you could have just asked,” said Ana as kindly as possible. Dzhate didn’t seem to have any more snappy responses left in her. There was a long, awkward silence as the situation sunk in.

“Uh, well, do I pass your test?”

“I feel bad for putting you through it now,” said Dzhate.

“I feel rude for putting the screws to you,” said Ana, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s just that you intrigued me,” added Dzhate, “I recognized you from Terete’s little arena, and you’re not from around here. I don’t have real leverage on you besides brute force, and that’s not my forte.”

Ana nodded, trying to be supportive in spite of the extremely odd situation. 

“You’ve built a lot here. And your work on this house – it’s not just good refining, it’s a good piece of art. You’ve got a hand for it.”

She suddenly felt like one of the old Inquisitors that taught her the principles of refining, how some of the younger ones would try to compliment even the shoddiest, most ill-thought-out and strangest constructions. This, though, was genuine. As she looked around the room, she only noticed more and more of the girl’s art. It was fragmentary, syncretic in nature. Old, pre-revolutionary methods mixed with more modern symbols, haphazardly interconnected in her sigilwork. Here, the glyph of a scales, for St. Gelon, carved over the door. There, an interconnected mix of old Kolet runes and what seemed to be Mnari-style carvings on the mantle over the fire. 


“Absolutely,” added on Korel, “I do some sorcery on the side as well. I approach it with a more scientific angle, but-”

“It’s both,” interrupted Dzhate, suddenly excited, “It is the science of art, and art of science. The meeting and alchemy of materials in conjunction with the alchemy of symbols, in conjunction with the alchemy of the intent behind all those things. A great work.”

Ana nodded along. She was clearly working deeper in theory than Ana had gone. In principle it made sense. As much as you could apply language to make new foci, you could also apply substances to make new language with which to make foci. Such symbolism often eluded Ana when it came to making new paradigms. She stuck to the book more often with that – the limitations ironically made an easier space for her to be creative with. 

That theory matched up with their surroundings as well. She wasn’t just trying out different languages and paradigms of refining for fun. It was a deep investment to her. Something she needed someone to connect with over.

“Your great work,” offered Ana.

“Yes, one of them. I want to write a book on it one day.”

“And your… unsavory behavior will fund this?”

She smiled slyly again.

“Everyone has to have dessert sometime, no?”

Korel shrugged and leaned back, chuckling.

“Alright, I like it. Merya was right. You do have ambitions of your own.”

“Exactly!” Said Dzhate, “Everyone around here is so caught up in their day-to-day drudgery. I want more. I want to leave something behind, at the very least.” 

She looked around for a moment, seemingly caught by the paranoia of her own design. The firelight flickered in tune with the window, and the oil paints glowed – for a moment, Ana swore that all of the circles in the painted symbols could have been eyes and ears.

“I am not content to be the peasants and politicians and fools all that my ancestors were. I intend to change this city for the better, for good.”

Ana nodded. 

“You’re a big picture person, I take it. I can respect that. A little.”

She still wanted to stay on the right side of things, but this girl clearly needed help, even if she couldn’t ask for it. 

“Cards, then? That’s your vice?” Asked Ana, “What do you play?”

“I’ve actually come up with a few games of my own,” said Dzhate, “I like games. But first – my promise to you. Knowledge! And then we can eat your gift to me.”

She said ‘knowledge’ like she was offering up a drink. In just a short few moments, she had gone from insecure to totally back within control, happily playing her word games. She ushered them down the hall and to a carefully demarcated circle on the floor. She stamped her foot heavily, and azure mana popped up from the boards as she channeled herself through it. The boards made a sudden wrenching noise as they molded themselves open like wet clay. Korel looked at Ana again with bemusement at the melodramatic display. Ana scowled in response. The girl was clearly in her element here; she didn’t want to take that away. 

Inside, a small ladder led downward. Dzhate quickly produced a long match to see by, lighting a candle as she went as she entered into the hidden basement. Her face was the only thing visible down there before they entered after her

“Revolutionaries put caches like this all over the city,” she explained as, “And this house was built on one.”

Sure enough, the basement had little wooden stone walls, weathered but quite intact after the years. ALong them were shelves and what were clearly stands for spears and muskets, now repurposed as bookshelves. A slit had been included for ventilation and even a little oven for heating that clearly connected back up to the fireplace upstairs. A safehouse within a safehouse.

It was a small library. Dozens of books on sorcery; more on philosophy and history. Ana quickly recognized the pattern here. Most of the philosophies were on power, the correct use of rule. The histories were mostly biographies – if not of kings and generals, of famous sorcerers of every variety, chirurgeons, Sondi sword-saints, ancient innovators of the craft and the process. She was trying to emulate her heroes. Off to one side, almost totally neglected, was a ratty heap of clothes, a cot, and a blanket.

“How did you even find this place?” Asked Ana.

“Oh,” said Dzhate, “The same way bats would.”

Ana thought on that for a moment.


“You have much to learn,” she said, “Help yourself. And then, cards.”

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