“Nice shot!” I say as Jenny’s gun smoke thins in the wet air.
The falling skies make a steady rushing that seems to pool in my ears. The rustle of a hundred raven wings ascends into the night. A few wounded or dying animals croon among the carnage.
Jenny lowers her weapon. No distant shouting. No tank shots. No screams. Jenny’s eyes turn down, her face falls, and she sets her gun by her sister’s ear to curl pale arms stained dark around the staring face in her lap.
Amid the dead dogs and monkeys, Sylvia’s splayed legs make an awkward scar. Her hand lays wrist up on the back of a still animal.
Jenny rocks and murmurs as I crawl toward them, but even when I stop an arm’s length away I can’t hear what she’s saying, if it’s words at all.
Sylvia’s chest isn’t moving. The light was full on her, and I saw how much life it burnt away. More than she had. More than anyone else I’ve seen. She came with us into the light, her and Maya, but unlike Jenny and I, I don’t think Sylvia has ever had the Heros, or felt the baptism of its power. She somehow channeled the living power of the city of Bangkok, fed it into the being that was Agafya, fed it through us.
Jenny weeps. Her body shakes and her hands curl in her sister’s tangled hair.
I search, but see only ways to break the still body, and nothing deeper or real.
“Look, Jenny, look for her memory. Speak to her, if she can hear, maybe you can remind her.”
Jenny turns from her sister’s face, her eyes searching. Red fire under-lights the shredded clouds beyond the shrine walls, and it makes the tears on her cheeks and the starburst scar in her forehead shine gold.
“A-a book, my face. Oh Sylvia I’m here.”
Sylvia’s hands twitch, but its Maya’s eyes that open.
“Give her back!” Jenny croaks with a throat too raw.
But the half-lidded eyes are vacant, staring into the sky, and though a slow breath moves in the body, no other light joins it.
“I fade,” the spirit whispers a faint chime, almost inaudible even in the quiet. “She’s paper, burning in my heat. I will go. She will remain.” Maya’s face melts like rainbow paint, blurring into Sylvia’s flesh and spreading in rivulets down her spine. Her lips part with words I understand but do not know: “Oh mother, you said forever, but why did it have to be so long?”
The spirit goes, and a colored fire spreads through Sylvia’s body.
Jenny’s eyes dart, following the torrents of anima. Her words are an almost unconscious whispered litany: “Waving wheat, papa’s hands, my-my face, a window? A- a carriage, a wooden box with her inside it, a prison cell, a book, a knife, field of paints no flowers, a campfire, a cage, a a pressed leaf, a a a too many things, a lock of hair….”
She looks up at me and tears stream from her white eyes. “Fighting and guns and enemies. Her life is a war. There’s too much. I can’t see it all.”
It almost sounds like an apology. I take her hand, but the body between us moves.
Breath fills Sylvia. Her staring eyes blink, then focus on Jenny.
She lifts cracked hands to cup the freckled face, smearing the dirt and grime there. Sylvia’s mouth opens, but before she can speak, Jenny bends to layer kisses over her. Shining tears splash on Sylvia’s face, and are joined there by her own. The two of them linger, foreheads pressed together. Something glimmers between them which ripples in the dark, despite the mars.
I sit back and air enters my lungs. How long since I took a breath?
Outside the shrine’s gate I hear the cries of working men and the rumble of engines. Voices issue orders in loud whispers and running feet move in groups.
I don’t want to say it, but I have to: “We should move. Did you hear those soldier’s voices in that? I don’t really know what they think happened but I also don’t want to find out.”
Jenny nods and Sylvia’s hands uncurl from embracing her.
Sylvia speaks, thin with exhaustion. “Maya?”
It’s Jenny who answers: “She dissolved into you. I think she gave herself to protect you.”
Sylva pauses, sitting, and her face turns away from both of us. In the curl of her shoulders and the stillness of her hands I read a terrible and sudden guilt. A shout from outside stirs her to speak again: “Others? Pensri? Papkao? Tunsir? Kai?”
Jenny answers: “We don’t know. They might have made it out the back door.”
“I thought I heard their voices, but they’re not here now,” I add.
Sylvia slowly gathers her feet under her. She stares for a moment at my offered hand warily, as if wondering what I intend to do with it.
“I’m offering to help you up,” I say.
She stands on her own and Jenny slides under her arm, wrapping hands around her waist.
I pluck the little colt from the mud and offer it to Jenny handle first. She takes it with a grateful nod. Sylvia turns to look beyond the shrine’s walls. Her jacket has been torn open down the back from collar to seat and the body underneath bears a matching scar. Jenny gently tugs the cloth closed and wraps her arm across it, but Sylvia doesn’t seem to notice.
I am naked. Very naked. Jenny’s underwear survived, which is not fair, but I guess she never went full kalagni. Bully for her. I tear a flag from the temple wall to wear like a towel.
“This way.” Sylvia’s voice is a thin breeze. “If anyone lived, I know where they will go.”
The green door to Garland’s club opens on a room almost pitch black, and smelling of blood.
Sylvia doesn’t hesitate to enter, dragging Jenny with her. I try to edge in ahead of them, searching the dark for movement. Sylvia’s hand on my elbow stops me.
‘Nai,’ she says. ‘It’s us.’
‘Close the door,’ a voice answers from the dark.
Jenny does, and then a match flares, illuminating a bandaged hand and half of Tellerhorn’s bespectacled face.
His eyes dart among us. He nods his welcome.
“Hello,” the singsong greeting still manages to sound cheery, even when it’s clearly spoken over pain.
With the match he lights a little lamp, and as the yellow light blooms, I see the benches of the fighting club are spread with bodies. One is surely the huge bulk of Drydus. The rest are smaller, but one among them seems to catch fire as the candlelight gleams from burnished bronze.
“Hello.” My cheek muscles are almost too tired to smile. “You made it.”
“Not yet,” Tellerhorn answers. “But it looks more likely each minute. Who’s with you?”
Jenny lowers her sister onto an empty bench and Tellerhorn kneels in front of them, studying their faces.
The circles under Sylvia’s eyes are cold extensions of the room’s shadow. “Where’s Nai?” she whispers.
The doctor frowns and glances at me. “Your kickboxer friend? He was… he came to the temple. We wouldn’t have made it out without him, I’ll be honest.”
“Wren?” The giant mutters, and his hand searches the air near him.
“I’m here,” she answers, stepping past Tellerhorn to move to the German’s shoulder.
As his paw engulfs her hand, a tension leaves him. His slow breath rattles.
“Lost anozer eye,” he whispers. “Splinters. Schrapnell. Shtupid. But ve got a few out. Nai kam mit Die Opferbereitschaft. Nai came and fought for us. We remember him. Turi, Pensri, Vinh and Mahnin remember him. Zey are here because he came. You vill take care of zem?”
“No,” Sylvia answers, and the silence after stretches out like a sea.
A truck rumbles past outside, and we all shift as a distant booming announces the fall of something heavy, or a small explosion. Tellerhorn blows out the light, and in the dark we listen as a group of male voices walks past the door but doesn’t pause. A pigeon coos in the eves.
“I’m leaving, Drydus.” Sylvia’s voice is the faintest of whispers, but with no other sound it’s still clear. “As I meant to do before. The diamond’s gone. It’s over now. You’ll have to take care of each-other. This was my fault. They must remember my mistakes-”
“Shhh,” Drydus stops her. “Jenny?”
Jenny stirs next to me, and her surprised question sounds a little too loud: “You knew my name?”
“Yah, I am big not dumb. You vill care of her yes? She vill get into trouble. She alvays gets into trouble.”
Jenny’s eyes shine as they glance at me. “We’ll take care of her.”
“Wait,” I say, “where’s Nai? Why isn’t he here?”
“He’s dead,” Sylvia says, quietly in the dark.
“He was magnificent,” Tellerhorn adds. “Did you know him well?”
“No,” I admit, with my heart sinking as if into tar. “No I didn’t.”
“Ve remember him,” Drydus declares.
“We remember him,” Sylvia repeats in a whisper that resounds in the yawning and endless dark.
Somewhere in the thatched eves of the room, a pigeon coos. Jenny’s shoulder bumps against mine and then sticks there, leaning against me even though her eyes are on Sylvia. The drip of water from the eaves may as well be tears.
“Ve remember too many,” the German’s words rise, lifted by a wave of grief.
“Come with me to England.” Tellerhorn offers. “We broke one of these things because we didn’t know what we were doing-”
“You vere lucky,” Drydus rumbles. “Lucky your men found madness. Could have found vorse.”
“I wish you had come sooner to steal our diamond. Then maybe more of the men would have lived. But I would make all the same choices again, if I knew only what I knew then.” Tellerhorn’s glasses glint in the dark and his shadow leans forward. “We’re the most powerful country in the world, and now we know of these things, it is beyond my authority to stop the search for them. Come with me. We will do more harm in our ignorance, if you do not show us knowledge.”
A crow scratches among the thatch while a distant engine coughs, the pigeon coos again, and a patter of late raindrops fall from the open ceiling over the fighting ring. The doctor relights the lamp. Sometime in the dark, he found a roll of cloth which turns out to be a couple of heavy officer’s raincoats like the one Brass left. He gives them to Jenny and I. She accepts better of the two with a shiver and a grateful nod, and then tries to bury her shoulder in mine.
“We’ve also got very good doctors,” Tellerhorn adds, as the yellow light makes his shadow dance. “Not magic mind you, but top notch. And I’ve got a truck coming, and a plane waiting on the runway. You’ll be very well fed, and the Thai royal guard will not shoot, stab or blow you up.”
“Yah,” the German pinches his nose. “I vill come. Is vat Maya say for me. The others, no. They hav each their own way.”
“That sounds nice,” I say.
Tellerhorn turns to me with a worried half-frown. “Yes, Mark, actually… I wanted to ask. It’s alright if you say no, but I was wondering, you speak Thai, right? And you can see into the past somewhat?” He doesn’t wait for me to answer, letting the questions simply demonstrate that he knew these things about me. “I thought I might suggest to you that you follow Agafya’s path, to go back the way he came and find out where he came from. I think it might be very important.”
“No, Doctor. I’m going home.”
“Yes, well, that’s… that’s completely understandable.”
Sylvia stands and glances over her shoulder at Jenny and I. The candlelight plays with the shadow of her torn coat on her tan skin and the pale scar down her back.
“Come,” she says, and starts toward the back of the room, where the light doesn’t reach.
“But he has an airplane.” Jenny points at Tellerhorn.
“Yes, come.” Sylvia pauses at the door to the training room, barely a shadow in the dark.
“Can we rest until morning?” I ask. “You can barely walk.”
“No.” She turns to speak over her shoulder. “If Maya is gone, than her power fades from the world, and the ways she made will soon follow her.”
Jenny and I share a glance. I shrug and we help each-other up.
“Where are you going?” Tellerhorn hisses.
“Home,” says Sylvia from the dark.