Authors: Lili St. Crow
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Fairy Tales & Folklore, #General, #Paranormal, #Family, #Stepfamilies, #Adaptations, #Love & Romance, #Fantasy & Magic
Lili St. Crow
An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Nameless: A Tale of Beauty and Madness
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group
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Copyright © 2013 Lili St. Crow
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For all of us.
F ALL THE CARS IN
AVEN TO FALL BEFORE,
I chose Enrico Vultusino’s long black limousine.
The Dead Harvest had been dry for once, but Mithrus Eve had brought a cargo of snow, a white Mithrusmas for New Haven after all. There was the alley, close and dark and foul. The reason that I ran, I know, was a rat with a loathsome plated tail and beady little eyes. For years I remembered nothing before the rat, which was probably a mercy.
Fierce fiery cold, and the car’s tires squeaking as they crushed the swiftly-thickening carpet of white. The headlamps made everything a blare of blank cold brilliance, like the light dying people are supposed to see at the end of a stone tunnel. The brakes were grabby that night—I’ve been told the story so many times I can repeat it almost word for word.
If you don’t mind waiting while my tongue stumbles over it, I guess.
Chauncey was driving Papa Vultusino home from the traditional Seven and Elders meeting, watching the snow clot the wipers on the bulletproof windshield, thinking of nothing more than staying on the road and getting everyone home safe. He saw a flicker; the instinct of two decades of driving in New Haven rose under his skin and he jammed on the brakes, hoping the tire treads were deep and the snow thin enough to give him some traction. The limo slewed sideways and the small shape toppled, lay curled in a ball under an awkward slice of headlamp glow.
There was a splash—Vultusino had dropped a glass of whiskey and calf. Thankfully, it hadn’t broken. “Chauncey?” His voice floated from the backseat through the open pane of more bulletproof glass, down because Chauncey liked the smell of Papa’s cigars.
Chauncey blinked, restrained the urge to rub his eyes like a waking dreamer. “There’s a kid in the road. Not smoking, so it’s not a faust. Doesn’t look like a Twist either.”
Another sound—a click. Trigger Vane, sitting next to his employer, had pulled a nine-millimeter Stryker from its holster. His other hand touched the hilt of a wood-bladed dagger—good against fausts and some Twists, but not against minotaurs.
Nothing but running is good against minotaurs. And even that may not work.
Taut and ready, Trig’s chin tilted up. “Sir?”
Papa’s salt-and-pepper mane nodded. “Take a look.”
So it was Trigger, his lean lanky frame in a violently plaid, orange-yellow sportcoat and baggy chinos, the gun in his hand, who bore down on me, each step squeak-crunching in the snow. He glanced around—it wasn’t unheard of for an ambush to happen, even on such a hallowed day as this—but saw nothing. He stood for a few moments, gazing down on a child, her hair a messy tangle of deep blackness.
She appeared fully human. So thin bones were working out of her pallid skin, and she shivered like a trapped rabbit. Bright red striped her trembling legs, wasted muscles twitching as if she thought she was still running.
Around him, the town remained Mithrus Eve silent, snow whirling down. This was the industrial section, slumping buildings full of heavy machinery and poverty, slaughterhouses, Twisthouses, and desperation. A train newly arrived from the Waste chugged in the distance, its lonely whistle struggling through the deadness of falling flakes.
And somewhere, there were dogs, muffled as they bayed with frantic excitement.
It was the child’s bare feet, filthy and bleeding, that convinced Trigger this was no decoy, no ambush. Not many would attack the Family, and their internecine rivalries were not redhot-smoking as they had been in some other years. All was calm, the Seven were in accord, and New Haven was tranquil enough.
He stood, stolid, for what seemed a long time. Thinking quickly wasn’t Trig’s strong suit unless there were bullets involved, or violence. He preferred to chew anything else over thoroughly before he made up his mind.
The child wore a thin faded-white cotton dress far too small for her; her legs were covered with welts and burns, fresh slices welling with hot blood. She was so bruised and thin, he often remarked, that he wondered if she’d just dropped dead in the road. But her breath made a small frosty cloud over her face. Panting lightly, and likely to be dead of cold or shock before long.
He paced back to the car. “It’s human,” he murmured through the back window, dropping the words into Papa Vultusino’s waiting silence. “Barefoot. Beat up pretty bad.” He paused. “A little girl.”
Papa blinked. What he was thinking in that moment nobody has ever ventured to explain or guess. “Bring.” His accent, the ghost of another language that haunts Family wherever they settle, thickened the word.
So Trigger returned to the little girl in the snow. He bent to pick her up, and she nestled limp in his arms. He carried her to the limousine and managed to fold himself up inside the warmth of the car. His large capable hands could have held the girl still if she’d struggled, but she didn’t.
They might have taken me to the hospital immediately; a police report could have been filed. But none of them liked the police, though the Seven owned the law in New Haven. The Family remembers other countries where the police were the enemy; they don’t ever forget an enemy.
That’s one thing “Family” means.
Papa Vultusino examined the shivering little girl, who stared wildly, blank-faced and trembling. Eyes as blue as her hair was black, and her skin so cold and oddly translucent, as if she had never seen the sun. The wounds on her legs were vicious, some of them still seeping thin crimson and others oozing.
Even that trace of red was dangerous. Another of the Family might have wanted it, fresh and hot even if its vessel was weak and perhaps infected.
But Enrico Vultusino did not Borrow from children. Not like some of the Stregare, whose favorite vessels are those smallest and most fragile. No, he was the Vultusino, the head of a proud Family, and weak prey did not interest him.
Or perhaps it was something else, moving through his old, canny, labyrinthine brain.
Finally, Papa stirred. “What’s your name, little girl?”
I remember leather and spilled liquor and copper, whiskey-calf if the story is told correctly. For almost as long as I can remember that has been the aroma of safety for me. That, and Papa’s bay-rum aftershave, as he peered at me through his wire-rim reading glasses. “Little girl, piccola, what is your name?”
I began to cry. Why isn’t exactly clear to me, unless it was the stinging of heat in my hands and feet and the throb of cuts and welts returning to shivering life. Big tears splashed on my refuse-caked dress, but I made no sound. I had learned to cry quietly, wherever I’d been, and years later someone told me that Papa Vultusino’s mortal wife had wept like that before she died, tears and silence and nothing else.
“Pour her a drink?” Trigger suggested. It was not sarcasm—he simply didn’t know what else to do. A jolt of liquor to fix shock was the best idea he could come up with.
Papa made a small snorting sound. He withdrew inside himself, his stillness becoming a living thing in the limo’s interior.
Trigger waited. The little girl smelled of rubbish and abuse, but underneath, Trig once said, there was a heavy spice. Like incense, clove-caramel smoke, a drugging aroma.
He did not recognize it until much later.
“Stevens.” The name was also softly accented, and Papa’s mouth moved slightly. His consigliere would be standing, stiff and tall, in the house on Haven Hill’s quiet dimness, hearing the Vultusino’s voice. “Meet me at Harborview. We’ll be there soon.”
Chauncey, however, waited until Papa returned fully to himself. He knew better than to anticipate.
Papa lapsed into silence, staring at the girl shivering on Trigger’s lap. The snow came down in thumb-sized flakes, spinning lazily in thick curtains. The dogs bayed and yapped, their voices muffled but still urgent, knifing the blanket of soft white.
He finally spoke again, the tone of a man accustomed to command. “What’s your name, bambina? Where do you live? Where is your momma, your papa?”
The little girl shook her head. When she tried to speak, she only made a small sound, like a bird caught in a net. And the tears welling in her blue eyes kept splashing onto her dress, dewing the thin material. Her knees were knobs, crusted with scabs. Some of the marks were cigarette burns, raw and ugly.
Outside the window, snow fell over the empty warehouses. This was not a part of town for children. Now that it was dusk the smoking, demon-infested fausts and Twisted hulks of minotaurs would be creeping forth to hunt. The regular Twists, too—those of them who lived by violence, anyway. There might even be Family hunting tonight, those who preferred their Borrowing hot and from a struggling victim.
The little girl raised a trembling, tiny hand as she flinched to ward off an invisible blow—even her fingers were bruised—and Papa saw something else. Trigger saw it too, and hissed out through his teeth.
Familiar deep marks on the child’s wrists, red and weeping. Handcuffs.
The train sounded its long lonely whistle again, perhaps in relief at having crossed the Waste safely, and the girl shivered, blanching. The dogs’ full-throated cries faded in the distance.
They had found other prey, perhaps. A minotaur—but who would be so foolish as to hunt one of
“How old are you, bambina? Do you know?” Papa’s tone was carefully, softly kind, and her shivering eased a little.
Gravely, the child held up one hand, wincing as if it hurt. She spread her fingers wide, concentrating, her face a mask of effort. Then she lifted the other hand, one finger up.
“Six years old. Well, bambina, we will take care of you.” Papa nodded. “Chauncey?”
“Turn around; take us to Harborview.” Papa turned inward again, into whatever dark thoughts occupied the freshly voted leader of the Seven. “Stevens will let Evelyn know.”
“Yessir.” Chauncey knew better than to think his wife would take offense. It was Mithrus Eve—but working for Papa meant that no day was safe from a favor called in, or a sudden emergency. The little girl lay in Trigger’s lap, something hard digging into her side—the butt of the wooden dagger, smooth and dark. If it was uncomfortable to have a filthy, wet child shivering on him, Trigger’s lined gaunt face gave no indication.
Enrico Vultusino, a fresh whiskey and calf in hand, watched the child as she fell into a light sleep, or shock. Eventually he moved as Chauncey turned the car up Harbor Hill. He set the drink carefully in a holder, and freed a few buttons. His suit jacket rustled as he leaned forward and tucked it around the girl, so she lay wrapped in cologne and expensive tailoring.
There was no human child reported missing in the wilderness of New Haven that night. While I lay in a private hospital room, fed by tubes and monitored by beeping machines and crackling watch-charms, under a steady glow of healcharming, Trigger stood guard in a chair by my bedside. Stevens and Papa conferred in low tones. Once it became apparent I was feral, things became easier. A human magistrate was rousted, papers signed, and I’m sure money changed hands, as it always does in New Haven. By the time the sun rose, I was legally if not the property then at least under the protection of Enrico Vultusino, who left early that morning with Stevens and Chauncey. Trigger Vane stayed, and when I was brought to the house on the hill two weeks later, it was Trig who rode beside me in the big black car, staring out the window. I still had not spoken.
Whatever had happened to me before the alley I could not or would not remember, and I seemed to have forgotten how to talk—if I had ever learned. A hired psychologist came while I was in the hospital, a human woman with long blonde hair—and I cowered away from her into the bed, making a small whimpering sound.
I never saw her again.
The snow lasted two months, shrouding New Haven in white and making traffic difficult. But the snowplows and the drags ran night and day, and by the time winter raised its icy back higher and New Haven crouched submissive under its grip, I was safely in the house on the Hill, settled into my new life.
Papa named me Camille. It was his dead mortal wife’s name. And so I was rescued from the snow, on Mithrus Eve, by the man they called “the Vulture,” one of the living Seven of the Families.