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Coir shuddered. He would not give himself over to help in the creation of other plagues. Nor would he live on the charity of the Ahmi priests. So he became a scavenger and thief, and slipped through the city by night. When he did come into contact with people, his Zaminder stripes cursed him, as if he carried the plague himself.
The plague that Ordinal Clan had ordered, perhaps from the very house Coir now watched. With that thought, Coir left his warm perch on the dryer and slipped back out into the rain. Creeping along the outer walls of Ordinal House, he found a window with breached semiperm and climbed over the wet stone sill to land crouched in a dark room.
He walked through the shadow and depth of the room. It opened to another room, and that one to another. Winding among sentinel sofas, chairs, and tables, he listened for any sound of life.
A sound other than the hush of the rain reached him, a clicking. Coir froze and peered through the shadows. The clicking came closer and he could just see a white form, low to the ground, passing across the tiled floor in the next room. An animal. It stopped and looked at Coir. Dark eyes reflected what little light there was; a curl of lip showed him a glint of fang. Dog--the word drifted up out of the hours of civstory Coir had kived along with everyone else as a child.
The dog swung its gaze from Coir and continued on its way, out of sight and hearing. Coir wondered at it a bit, a thing he'd never seen. Then the wonder faded: just another indulgence of the clans, another affectation of their power and wealth, perhaps discarded when the house was abandoned, perhaps a visiting scavenger like Coir.
Two more rooms. The house was a maze. All was shadowed and empty of life and then--a pool of light spilling through an archway stopped him. He heard a rustling of cloth and a low murmur of speech.
For a moment, Coir couldn't move, a shudder weakening his limbs. With a slow, deep breath, he continued on, stepping into the light and into view of the room's occupant.
A heavily-fleshed nobleman in rich robes somewhat rumpled and stained paced behind a long desk. Coir knew the man's name: Soutine, Administrator Printep of Ordinal clan.
Here, indeed, was the man who'd caused the plague to be created and set upon Zaminder.
The Administrator was on link, the lozenge in his ear. A tumble of discarded heat packets and food leavings littered the gleaming desk, along with stacks of kive cubes.
Soutine stared at Coir and Coir stared at Soutine.
Coir grasped after the words he'd wanted to say, the question he'd burned to ask, but all the words blew from his mind in a sudden, scouring rage.
Moving ahead of thought, he seized a heavy formal chair. The wood was smooth and dense in his hands as he swung it up, rushing at the Administrator Printep with an inarticulate yell.
A hard poke in the shoulder pushed him back--shot, he realized. Then he was falling, the chair crashing down beside him. Coir blinked, registering the pain a moment later.
Soft footsteps on carpet as Soutine came around the desk. He held a small weapon. An inlay by his right eye, a stylized metallic butterfly, twitched as he stared down at Coir.
Coir found his question, breathed it, begged it. "Why?"
"Zaminder scum," Soutine said, and trained the weapon on him. His arm trembled.
Then Coir heard a strange low grumble.
An arc of white flashed by Soutine's face. His arm flailed and the weapon's shot went wild, shattering a light sconce.
Coir stared up at Soutine as the noble stood swaying, his mouth open, another mouth gaping red beneath. Blood. It dawned only slowly on Coir that the man's throat was torn out. Soutine sank and then toppled, the weapon tumbling from his hand. Blood soaked into the carpet's Ordinal Clan sigil markings.
The animal--the dog--Coir had seen earlier stood on the other side of Soutine. Blood dripped from the scruffy white fur of its muzzle. Blood smell clogged the air.
Slowly, with a hand to his hurt shoulder, Coir shifted up and slid back, crab-like, until a wall stopped him.
There was revenge, Ordinal Clan blood soaking into the carpet. Maybe now, too, his own death. With no answer to his question, no meaning to any of it.
The animal stepped around Soutine, licking its muzzle clean as it came. It approached Coir unthreateningly, sat by him. Coir met a dark, intelligent glance and the need in it gripped him as nothing had for a long, hollow time. It unmoored and then re-anchored him, binding him to the moment in a forgotten, familiar, way. With a shock, Coir recognized intimacy, such as he had grown unaccustomed to.
The dog--male, Coir observed--would be only knee-height were Coir standing. The fur stood out like angry sea froth in tufts about pointy ears, the white of it so white it seemed to fizz against the air. The dark eyes had a cast of purple. A curl of lip showed Coir a pointy fang. Black claws studded the dainty paws. The dog panted slightly, small face sniffing the air, sniffing Coir.
Then the ears pricked and the dog growled low and soft. Fine hair stood up in a ripple all across Coir's flesh. The echo of voices and footsteps from the front of the house reached him a moment later.
In the time it took Coir to turn his head toward the noise, the dog had gone.
He looked at the body of Soutine and realized he needed to be gone as well. His shoulder throbbed, but there was no wound or blood--a concussion energy weapon, the little gun. It lay by the Administrator's hand. The shot would have killed Coir had Soutine's aim been true.
The sound of people in the house grew closer. Take the weapon? Coir climbed to his feet without it. He listened, then slipped back the way he'd come, towards the side window.
He rounded a corner just as Soutine's visitors came through a door opposite him. Standing frozen, blood and breath thumping in his chest, he listened to be sure they hadn't heard or seen him. Their steps continued on. He found the window with the breached semiperm and levered himself over the sill.
Back to the laundry of the other house for his pack and clothes and then back out into the blowing rain. He moved quickly down the street, turned down an alley where the rain sluiced river-like.
Coming out of the alley, he nearly walked into the noble he'd seen earlier. She stood with her small party under the great yellow umbrella. Coir backed a step, considered running back into the alley.
"You are Zaminder," the noblewoman said. "We mean you no harm."
"Zaminder is dead," Coir said. Clothes plastered, hair dripping water, blinkering him, he imagined he looked like the wraith he was.
Indeed, both the kivist and the umbrella bearer averted their gazes from him.
The noble, though, watched him with no aversion, no flinch. Her eyes measured him against matters of which he had no inkling. She regarded him from such a distant place Coir could no more interpret her motives than change the markings on his skin.