back to homepage        back to writing

Oh, the hands that will hold you home

posted on Archive Of Our Own on the 11th of november 2021.
24,890 words.

Teen And Up Audiences

Archive Warning:
No Archive Warnings Apply


Мор. Утопия | Pathologic

Artemiy Burakh | Artemy Burakh/Daniel Dankovskiy | Daniil Dankovsky

Artemiy Burakh | Artemy Burakh, Daniel Dankovskiy | Daniil Dankovsky, a little bit of Lara for the soul :)

Additional Tags:
Post-Diurnal Ending (Pathologic)
The Relationship Is Not Established Per Say But Pretend For Me That They've Bantered Off-Screen
Fanfiction Where I Ask Of You To Make Up Their Relationship In Your Head
I'm Just Picking Up Where I Mentally Left Off
Men Sending Each Other Letters
Men Going To Each Other's Houses
Developing Relationship
First Kiss
Budding Love
Tasteful Fade-to-Black
Cello Player Dankovsky
i've also given him a mama if you must know
i spent time in my astrology app to make sure i wasn't bullshitting. i'm COMMITTED to this thing
I Have Very Specific Ideas On How The Earth Manifests Herself And You Will Read Them With Your Eyes
video game: (offers me endings where sacrifice is mandatory and a crucial part of the narrative)
me: but it makes me sad :-( (proceeds to spend months on making stuff up so it hurts less)
am NOT coping and crying i am NOT coping and crying i am NOT coping
Ignoring Meta-Narrative Because I Like To Think About Towns That Are Just Like That: Fucked Up
you cannot separate pathologic from its meta elements. but here? i’m doing it and i’ll do it again.
putting lotsa kisses in here. they deserve it. trust me i’m a professional (repressed romantic)
omg i’m SO sorry for making them tender towards each other (does it again) omg i’m SO sorry (does it


And when all is said and done, when there’s no more blood to wash your hands of, who do you still need to look in the eye? Who will look at you?
When you’ve taken the flame of magic and put it out with your own fingers, whose home can you walk into, head tall?
Diurnal ending (a choice of love, like any other) and what’s in the silence that follows.

(added informative notes at the beginning about the deeply self-indulging nature of this work where i ask you to pretend i’m simply picking up where i’ve left off.)


ok. listen to me. the short story is that I really, really wanted to (re)write an end, mostly. i have so many more thoughts about them that i wish to write (and i will, and i am) but i wanted to get this out as fast as i could before it ate me inside. it stands on its own, and if (when [fingers crossed]) i ever truly really fully write everything i hold behind this finale in a fic, i will make sure they’re bonded.
but for now… i really wanted to focus on this. can you imagine they’ve had some back and forth. they’ve had some macabre banter and jokes. they’ve stitched each other up maybe once each. they’ve come really close to touching noses but were interrupted by gunshots outside. they’ve watched over each other as they slept in the Stillwater bed. they’ve come close to acknowledging the Something Else before… events cut them off. can you do that for me… are you receiving the vibes… (taps your ankle with my very shiny gentleman shoe). if you are here, if you clicked on this, i know you have it in your heart to imagine it all, for me.
i try to keep the events and phrases Pathologic 2-exclusive but, as I see Pathologic Classid HD and Pathologic 2 as a whole, as a holistic animal, as sides of a twin coin which i like to play head and tail with, it is very possible sentences and actions have seeped from P1 into it. just hold tight and go with the vibes.
thank you for your heart, and enjoy.

[chapter 1]    chapter 2    chapter 3    chapter 4


     The bullet went straight through the flank — the shell, spat from the metal beak of the army’s cannon, tore through the Tower with the deafening breaking of its spine and its ribs. The Architect let out a sharp, salient scream as if the projectile had gone through his own. He contorted horribly, as if possessed, and his legs buckled under him. The brother took a hold of him before he hit the ground, trying to keep him upright. The Architect let himself go limp and heavy with the weight of a dead man and he started to sob. He flailed his arms to try to climb out of the grip — failed. He squirmed and jerked and spun around like a restless animal and a shoulder hit his brother square in the nose; he felt three drops of blood prick him in the neck and he went still, agitated by whimpers and howls. The Haruspex stood as the Tower crumbled on her stem, bending and arching like her skeleton was nothing but a paper garland. Blood bubbled and poured out. The Architect wailed and cried, and said “thank you”, and cried again, and said “thank you” once more. The spear rose from the ground like the pinhole of the sun climbs above the horizon, and the Tower went tumbling down. She collapsed and lost herself in the river that ran red as if her legs had given out under her, and the Architect’s gave out under him.

The Haruspex stood, then stepped forward. He cradled in his palm a pool of blood that he brought to his lips, then took an audible sip, as if drinking hot tea. He brought forward an empty bottle, then another, then another. He filled them. He filled them all and some more.


     The snakeskin coat appeared in the dim light of the doorway, the sun was setting. The brewery chimed sweetly.

    “Your panacea,” a voice asked, “will you have enough hands to distribute it to everyone?” And then, without waiting for a reply: “Do you want the help of mine?”


        The Architect’s shoulder dug frankly into his flank as they rounded a corner not far from his loft. 


The Haruspex heard the unmistakable crinkle of papers and found them, rolled and wrapped, being shoved in his arms. 

    “What are…?”

    “Blueprints. The blueprints. Of… doesn’t matter anymore. You know.” His voice was thick and wooly. His lips moved in bizarre ways as he stumbled through his sentences, bumping into his words like against walls. “The Bachelor… leaves with the train. Give those to him. Give them to him.”

    “What can he… do with those?”

    “Nothing. It’s nothing but a keepsake.”

    “Are you sure? You must’ve spent so much time on those.”

    “Useless now. They’re useless now. I’m not— we’re not rebuilding her. No way.”

The Architect shoved his papers into Burakh’s hands a bit more forcefully.

    “Give them to him. I don’t trust myself with them. I don’t know… no— I do know what I am capable of if they stay with me. He can frame them and put them on his walls if he so wishes. Anything he does… is better than anything I could do in this town.”


With one last insistent push against him, the Haruspex took hold of the blueprints. He tucked them under his arm and, as he began his way home to put them somewhere safe, he could see the Architect stumble on his feet, hold himself against the walls. Burakh thought he would see him phase through one. Maybe merge with the red bricks, maybe be swallowed whole. The youngest Stamatin disappeared from his view. Burakh thought he heard a distinct, harrowing cry, and hurried home. 

He slipped the papers under his pillows — as far from his alambic and his brewery as he could, as if the charcoal and the ink could… somehow… poison the waters. Taint the blessed herbs, blacken the leaves and the roots, turn the water red. 

If the miracles of the Earth truly had sunk beneath the mud at the bottom of the Gorkhon, buried alongside the corpse of the tower, surely these papers would only be papers now. Ink and charcoal laid flat on pages peppered by fingerprints and nothing more.


    The Broken Heart was silent but not still, night was heavy over its roof. It was crawling with barflies — and a few reptiles. The Bachelor barely lifted his gaze to meet him when he approached their table. Yulia was kicking her leg draped over her other knee. She seemed to be growing impatient. The oldest Stamatin… looked five years older. He watched the Haruspex approach with an insectoid side-glance, head unnaturally tilted to the side. The little brother had stopped caring. He was lying down on the worn couch, knees brought to his chest. His hair was wet, the barest hint of red. He had tried to swim in the Gorkhon. The Haruspex could smell it on him.  

    “Can I… talk to him?” the Haruspex asked Andrey, who kept his snide stare on him. Any more animosity and he thought the Stamatin would bite him.

    “Ask him yourself.”

Burakh crouched, a hand on the arm of the couch.

    “Architect,” he called. “Peter.” The man’s head rose from the couch, marked deeply by sorrow — and by the creases and bumps of the leather. “I’m sorry. The choice has been made.” (He marked a pause.) “I’m sorry.”

    “It had to be done.” His voice was strained, deep, rough, grating his grief thinly against the rock of a boiling, burning anger. “It had to be done, didn’t it? It’s what you said, isn’t it? Miracles are incompatible with life?”

The Haruspex didn’t remember saying such a thing. 

    “She… should have never existed in the first place. I know this. And I'm never forgiving you.”

The Haruspex breathed deeply.

    “I’m not asking for forgiveness.”

    “Good. I don’t think I have any for you.”

    “I understand.”

    “You’ve… killed my daughter. You’ve taken her from me… then again… you’ve given me another… This is what this is about, isn’t it? Balance…”

    “How is she? Grace, I mean,” The Haruspex hurried himself to hop on the subject. “Where is she?”

    “Home,” the Architect replied in a breath, and his interlocutor felt a wave of comfort wash over him at the word. Home . Little Grace had a home… “She insisted she wanted to draw… something.”

His voice drifted off, and the Haruspex took it as his clue to let him sober up. Standing on his heels, he heard the Architect throw up an ugly sob that had the small attendance lean in, worried, a split second before he seemed to fall asleep. The Bachelor gestured to the brother to turn him on his side, were he to be so drunk that he risked throwing up.

The Haruspex walked to his colleague, who finally raised eyes to him. 

    “Emshen.” he spoke. His voice was thick and heavy with liquor, and yet Burakh felt… a twinge of pride, almost, hearing him try. Quite a first. He weighed his reply in his mouth.

    “Erdem.” Then, immediately: “Oynon.”

    “Did I say it right? Emshen?”

Burakh considered telling him that it was actually pronounced as if one swallowed his vowels, or couldn’t open his mouth; then, seeing how the Bachelor swallowed his vowels and struggled to open his mouth, alcohol having wiped his usual smirk off his face, Burakh realized that he was doing just what mechanically worked, but wouldn’t be able to put any more heart or thought in it. 

    “Well,” the Bachelor spilled out, word half-bitten into with how twyrine loosened his jaw, “this is it, I guess.”

    “It’s just the beginning, oynon.”

And they spoke. And Burakh thought about crouching again, but decided against it, instead putting a hand on the back of the chair and leaning in. Yulia had walked up to the barkeeper, the Architect fallen asleep. 

    “What are you going to do now?”

The Haruspex felt another sentence brew under his tongue, a bit bitter: “Who will you look in the face?”—but he then saw the Bachelor was looking at him. Pricking two holes through his face with the pins of his eyes. In a surprising, almost shocking overpour of honesty, Dankovsky replied: 

    “I’m going to pack all that grief in my suitcase and take the train back home.” His mouth was wooden, his tongue fleece. Burakh could see how his head rolled from shoulder to shoulder as he struggled to keep it straight. “Home to… nothing much. Thanatica…” His voice tore up with a saddened croak. Burakh wasn’t going to push for more information on it, and promptly kept going: 

    “You could stay. Empty houses are not rare here. We could get you all set up.”

The Bachelor’s mouth contorted as his throat closed up in the attempt at a laugh. Each part of his face seemed to move in its own direction, his expression unraveling in many threads he could not grasp.

    “I appreciate the invitation, Burakh, but I think this town would drive me mad.”

    “Your loss!” Burakh joked, hoping to lighten up the mood — but his voice fell flat and his mouth didn’t quirk quite right and he understood. He did understand.

The “ ... and it may already have ” was not said, but thought so loud Burakh felt like he could hear it.

The Haruspex left the Broken Heart. 


He walked to the cemetery and sat by his father’s grave. The soil was dry, packed, uncomfortable under him. 

Facing the past, just like facing the future, was a way of love, he had been told. He couldn’t make a bad choice, he had been told. Any choice he would make would be a way of love, he had been told. Well, it felt more like plain murder now.

Not a bell tolled in the cemetery. Quiescence and death reigned, mirroring off each other like lovers he had brought together. Here’s a connection he could still make, he bitterly laughed. Worry not that the bell rings, he had once been told, worry that it falls silent. He didn’t have it in him to worry anymore. He bore the guilt on shoulders that hurt. On a spine bent and stretched thin like a rope.


He got back to the lair.

The blueprints were still here, hadn’t budged, hadn’t moved back to the Architect’s loft to haunt him. The water of the last batch of panacea, still brewing, was clear. The papers were just papers. The miracles were gone.


    The train kept still on its tracks, patient like a faithful mule. Burakh stayed back as he watched the red hive of the departing army, disappearing dot after dot into wagons like ewes settling into the sheepfold. Eventually, a few more shadows congregated around the rusty snake of the slithering train. He could discern the Inquisitor, head low and heavy as if hanged already; the General, stride stern and strong as if he wished to leave even more of his mark on the Earth still. Then, just as they, too, slipped through the open wagon doors: a snakeskin coat by the tracks. Burakh kicked himself into a run and approached the railway.

    “Oynon!” he called, and Dankovsky turned to him promptly.

They stood face to face, the Bachelor towering him from the wagon step, in a nervous silence. Burakh found himself suddenly embarrassed. 

    “The Stamatin… Peter,” he began, “he wanted me to give you this.” The blueprints left his hold to find Dankovsky’s, who almost reverently pulled them to his chest. “He says he doesn’t trust himself with them. Says whatever you do with them is better than anything he could do in this town.”

Burakh watched as Dankovsky folded them carefully, putting them away in his bag after having thoroughly rearranged his possessions to make room. His eyes darted to Burakh’s hand when he started rummaging through his pocket. 
The Haruspex’s wrist felt stiff, unnaturally tense as he brought out a cotton pouch that fit in his palm. Was it that weird? That goddamn intense? It truly wasn’t, Burakh kept chastising himself, and he lodged his offering in the hollow of the palm that Dankovsky cautiously brought forward. Dankovsky weighted it in his palm. Curled his gloved fingers around the white muslin with an apparent delicacy, a tactful restraint. 

    “... I remember you saying you couldn’t sleep, you had headaches. I had these herbs around,” Burakh said, and that was a lie: he had picked them in the morning. “You need to let them dry and then steep in hot water until fragrant. They act as a relaxant. Help with migraines, headaches… neck strain. With sleeplessness.” He shifted on his heels, balancing his discomfort on restless legs. “It’s not much, but… Hopefully it’ll help until you sleep better on your own.”

And at that, Dankovsky closed his fist on the pouch and slowly drew his arm to his chest, slipping the herbs in the pocket closest to his heart — Burakh noticed that, noticed it like that. Dankovsky found the look on Burakh’s face and held it firmly.

    “Would you care to visit me?” he asked, taking Burakh by great surprise. “At the Capital.” 
Burakh’s mouth fell open and closed like a baffled fish before he spoke: “It would be my pleasure.”
    “I’ll find a place for you to stay,” Dankovsky continued, pulling from a pocket a folded piece of yellowed paper. “If needed, I’ll make some room at my place.”

With that, he handed Burakh the note. Working out the pleats, Artemy found an address, spelled in pristine, if slightly leaning-to-the-left in a hurry, cursive. 

    “You had plans to give this to me before you even asked,” Burakh both inquired and stated, voice barely above a breath. 

He thought of meeting the Bachelor’s gaze but could only reach his mouth, that he saw twitch. It struggled to put on the hint of a smile. The corners pushed against exhaustion and grief, making a crooked grimace bent with the forbearing of Atlas resigned to hold the weight of the world. Burakh looked away. 
Still, his voice sounded just a hint of merry under its thick coat of sorrow as he replied: 

    “Of course I had.”

Eyes finding Dankovsky’s, Burakh slipped the paper in his pocket with care. He found the Bachelor’s offered hand. He shook it. 
    “Goodbye, Oynon.”
    “Goodbye, Burakh. Live well.”

They stayed still. Eyes on each other, hand in each other’s. The locomotive spat out her familiar, dreaded whistle, and voices rose from the station. 
Goodbye,” they both mouthed again, and Burakh felt himself be sharply pulled forward. Then, he felt a hurried, bold kiss be lodged dead-set in the middle of his cheek, where it was slightly hollowed. 
Dankovsky pulled back as quickly as he had pulled Burakh in, their handshake dissolved; the train pulled itself forward with the might and force of an ox.
Daniil waved goodbye and Artemy waved back.

    “Come see me,” he could read on the Bachelor’s lips as the roar of metal and steam dragged the wagons southbound. 
    “I will,” he spoke back, before promptly putting a hand on his cheek. 

It burned. It didn’t hurt, it burned. The same starved, ravenous burn he’d gotten so used to in the pit of his stomach. It ate at his face, carving him in then out. 
He let himself lean into this hunger. He let it swallow him — for a brief, thoughtless instant. He promptly snapped out of it, shaking his head as if it could chase the craving out. It didn’t, really, but the cold wind that followed after the train that disappeared already into the evening fog brushed his face with an almost tender hand, and he felt better.

    He went home — a home empty. He hadn't pushed the door open in days. The building shook and sighed, heavily and almost with relief, when he walked in. Murky followed on his heels, looking for  a corner, a nook, a cranny to try to pry open with her little hands. Burakh stood by the door that led to his father’s bedroom — once led? still led? He couldn’t tell, he couldn’t decide. What was he to do? To light candles by the threshold, to forever keep the door shut in silent remembrance? To bring herbs, to bring offerings? He had never grieved — never grieved like a man, always grieved like a boy, with the infantile lightness in the chest of seeing the dead everywhere. Now, grief sunk him down. He didn’t feel more anchored to the earth by the way sorrow weighted his lungs, he just felt like he bent, slowly, a branch carrying fruits too heavy, to the unbearable point of almost-breaking. Isidor was to be reborn as clay, as blades of herbs—and if even these miraculous processes had vanished, he was to feed all the insects and creatures of the soil that would survive the catastrophe. He was. That didn’t make him any less dead. That didn’t make Artemy any less sad. 

The sorrow came in a wave when night set. A groundswell that swallowed the house in its cold, dark mouth. Burakh had cleaned some sheets and pillows for the kids, had set them in their beds — they shared a room tonight, maybe they wouldn’t soon. They were all going to have to learn. To learn and to live. 
Sorrow came in a wave and broke down the walls of Burakh’s throat and lungs, bursting through him, drowning him swiftly. He choked, he tried to choke it out. He was nothing but water. Nothing but tears. The streetlights followed his stumbling silhouette as he ran outside, so as to not add the weight of his anguish to the house he felt was already sinking into the mud. He was back at dawn. The pink of the shy morning sun kissed the sky above the fires of Shekhen, lit in the distance.


    (This, Burakh didn’t know, but the waning smell of herbs that followed the train west did, and as such, it should be written: the Bachelor had traveled in silence, his feet together, his head the pale statue carried by the plinth of his spine, his hands growing cold. When he arrived, the grey underbelly of the sky split itself on the spires of the churches, the steeples and the roofs, on the peaks of the tallest trees, and it rained. He walked home with foggy eyes, with soundless steps, and didn’t lock the door behind him. He put down the bag. He shrugged off his coat. He sat in the great silence and dark of the building breathing around him, deaf to his mourning. He waited a day for Death to scythe him. It didn’t. 
It didn’t, and so: he made sure the stove was put out, he cut off the water supply, he opened the curtains. He made again his already-made bed, he adjusted his notes and letters on his desk, he put atop his pen flat (made sure it didn’t roll off before looking away). He put in a bag undergarments, a shirt and a pair of pants, and he left. He did lock the door, this time. 

This, Burakh didn’t know, but the eyes of the leaves that Dankovsky still carried near his heart saw it all, if they could still see: he weaved path, by foot, by tram, by horsecar (on the lower deck), like a black-cloaked ghost through the streets, and he knocked on his mother’s door. She came running from downstairs and she stood, a full head smaller, in front of him. She brought her hands to his face, she recognized his traits under his wuthering gaze; she touched his cheeks and his neck gently, she adjusted the cravat on his throat. He felt himself fall gracelessly but he didn’t hit the ground: his spine bent like wheat under the weight of the wind and his head found her shoulder. He didn’t utter a word, his knees buckled only once and he thought she couldn’t have noticed that. She ushered him in. 

He climbed the stairs, he found the bed he had long overgrown, and he laid himself down. His mother walked in. She covered him with the heaviest blanket that was in the house, and she shut the door behind her.

This, Burakh didn’t know, but the herbs that didn’t wilt for as long as the Bachelor slept did: he waited. He waited for a day, for two, for three, for a week. He didn’t move. His mom walked past the door, never opening it. She laid by the threshold nazuk and milk and, finding them untouched, laid halva and tea. Her steps filled the rooms and climbed the walls. They didn’t wake him up.

His first words were “mom, I think I have failed”. She rushed to him, her bad leg beating the floors like the trois coups. He wasn’t sure she understood (he wasn’t sure he even spoke), but she reached out a tiny hand to hold one of his — he wasn’t feverish at all — and her first words were “did you?” And then, squeezing his palm: “I don’t think you did.”

He waited eight, nine, ten days. When on the twelfth, Death hadn’t knocked on his mother’s door in the way he had, he got up. He walked to the kitchen and ate the lahmajun laid out like offerings, drank the black tea poured as libation. He washed his face and washed his hair and didn’t sob but came quite close. He hugged his mother tight and slipped through the door with his bag under an arm. 
He started the woodstove first thing when he got home, he pulled the curtains to keep the warmth, and he scurried to his desk for pen and paper.

This, Burakh didn’t know, but you do now.)


    September went. October came. Burakh picked herbs; he dried petals here, plucked leaves there. The workshop was alit with fierce, swirling fragrances. The herbs that Burakh hadn’t picked wilted and died. The heady scent of September twyre was sweeped off the earth by the biting autumn winds, and soon he steppe smelled only of cold.
The train brought a letter.

    “Esteemed colleague,

The last flowers of the Capital’s parks having wilted, I was reminded of the pungent herbs of your town. I regret having never taken the time, in the few days I spent by your side, to learn about their intricate properties. I do remember you hung them in bouquets in your workshop and home, and I have found myself daydreaming about their scent. 
I wish you could tell me more about them over a cup of tea.

May your days be simple and uneventful,
your friend,
Bachelor Daniil Dankovsky.”

Burakh didn’t recall ever giving the Bachelor an address to write to: in an almost feverish second, he grabbed the enveloppe. Ah… Well, he could guess the couriers, picking up letters and packages from the coming trains, would find where to reach “Artemy Isidorovich Burakh, Burakh’s Home, Town-on-Gorkhon”. Burakh’s home, that was his.
Burakh read the lines — read and re-read again. They were not as slanted as they were when they spelled out the Bachelor’s address; he knew because he kept the note folded by the books at his bedside, and he re-read that too.
He was not enough of an idiot to miss the bold invitation the letter offered, but he was enough of a coward to never go. He pulled out quill, ink and paper, and he tried to write back. He stared, still and silent, at the blank page. And stared again, and again, and again, everytime he came back to it. He read the words, never his own. Observed the curves, curls, the hills and cliffs of the Bachelor’s handwriting as if they would tell him something new. All they told him for sure was that he was a bit of a coward, and a bit obsessive. 

    Burakh had tried the candles at the door, the herbs and the libations. His father’s room was silent and still. He… didn’t know what he was expecting. Maybe he still had in him the gut-pulling feeling of Grace’s miracle. Maybe he expected to hear his voice again. To guess his shape in the doorway, his phantom walking the halls. He was nowhere, ever, to be seen. 
Burakh cleaned the threshold. He swept the floors clean of the kernels and spikes of brown twyrine and white whip, of the leaves that had dried and buried themselves in the scars of the wood. A pang of guilt bit him sharply: all these herbs he could have used for medicine… His father wouldn’t be too proud.
But then again, his father wouldn’t be many things besides dead. And even if he was reborn as clay, as blades of herbs, if he was feeding the insects and creatures of the soil, he wasn’t any less dead. Grace could talk to the dead. Burakh could only talk to the living — and that was enough work. 
Come on, Burakh. Grow some heart in your guts. Or… vice-versa.

    October went and November came. The cold slithered beneath the grass and ate the soil from the inside, hardening it from within. Burakh offered Lara to help with fetching firewood and she told him she had already gotten ready while he was busy. In return, she offered sticks and logs for his alambic. He accepted, thanking her for her grace. 

    “You look distracted.”
    “... I do?”
    “Yes. Like you are waiting for something. Like you are waiting to find it within you to do something.”
    “Do we have telepaths in this town on top of mistresses and prophetesses?” he joked — he tried to joke, shifting nervously as she seemed to peer into and straight through him.
    “I do not need special abilities to see how you look around, Cub,” she retorted, “how you watch out for something beyond the hill.”
    “Nothing you need to worry about.”
    “You still haven’t replied to your letter,” she noted, picking up just the right rock under which Burakh had tried to hide. “Are you waiting for another one? Are you waiting to see if they will be mad that you didn’t reply?”

Burakh didn’t speak. He collected himself. He tried to pull out of Lara’s grasp the pieces she had torn out of his shielding coat, his stubborn silence. She didn’t give them back easily and her intense blue stare bore through him. “Hey, I’m the one who’s authorized to get people to ‘open up’ out here,” he wanted to joke. He didn’t. He balanced his weight from one foot to the other, and she understood — or at least, understood something.

    “Whoever that is,” she spoke, “they could at least use a ‘I’m sorry for leaving you in silence, I just didn’t find my way with words. I hope you’re doing well.’ Something simple. Something short.”
    “I know, Gravel. I do know. I’m just afraid I won’t... be able to keep it short.”
Lara observed him. She seemed pleased with this honesty, as she adjusted her skirt to be able to make a step forward. 

    “Afraid you won’t be able to stay succinct? Afraid you’ll spill?”
    “Afraid I won’t be capable of shutting the hell up,” Burakh acquiesced. “Afraid I’ll say some… really, really stupid things.”

He didn’t tell her what kind of stupid things. 

The train brought a letter.

     “Dear Burakh,

The cold has at last bitten into the Capital with hungry sharp teeth. I am starting to miss my walks through the steppe and the dry yellow grass. 
I hope you can stay warm as the winter comes. I haven’t seen a fireplace in your workshop, but I’d imagine your brewery and alambic suffice to bring you at least a little warmth. This sweater Ms. Ravel knitted for you looks pretty snug as well.

The University of Medicine has accepted me as a professor — a miracle, dear Burakh, as I was certain my past ventures would have gotten me blacklisted from such a position. I think my most recent published writings have brought upon me the attention of people who had before thought of me as a mad savant and a necromancer. (oh, this I have forgotten to mention. I have written a book, dear Burakh, something short but important to me. I started to understand the Architect as I stayed awake until the lights of dawn had engulfed the entire city, writing page after page until I couldn’t re-read my own writing. I felt almost possessed as I related these twelve faithful days. It wasn’t a glamorous fight to partake in, but it does make for a fantastic, and quite instructive, tale. I have two copies that haven’t left my apartment.)  

The amphitheatre from which I am to give my lectures is quite cold, but it does bring back fond memories of my own years as a student. I am forever saddened that yours were cut so short by this senseless war, and I wish you would have gotten the chance to drink and laugh with fellow classmates rather than fear for your life, out there, under the rains of bullets. What a strange feeling it is, to be standing under all these eyes, so hungry for knowledge.

May your days be warm,
your friend,
Daniil Dankovsky.”

The Bachelor has made himself verbose, Burakh thought, and suddenly felt embarrassed and ashamed he hadn’t answered him by fear of being this way himself. This restrained overflow, contained through composed lines and perfectly-shaped letters, made Burakh feel he could just… reach out. He liked reading Dankovsky, he realized, he really did. There was something in the way the Bachelor shepherded the wild sheep of his running thoughts, guiding them in the page, which put in Burakh’s mind the idea that he, too, could let his own run amok.
And yet. And yet. He read, re-read, let himself glide across the page like a leaf in the wind — and didn’t write back.
Guilt ate him from the inside out, starting with the tight knot of his intestines, as he thought about Dankovsky waiting, waiting, waiting. Fear struck him in the chest as he imagined the Bachelor giving up on writing. Maybe thinking the letters never got to him. Maybe thinking he never read them. Thinking his words were forever sealed in paper, lost. Burakh tried to make himself write and failed every time.

    Burakh felt like he had mourned. He went outside where the wind blew, blew him almost off his feet. He laid in the grass. The blades bent under his weight. The cold hard ground suffered barely a dent when his head fell, heavy. 
“Can you talk to me?” he asked. 
There was not a whisper. There was not a rumble, not a murmur. His heart sank. It sank through him, it hit the earth where his spine met it. It beat, hopeful and growing worried, and was not replied. Burakh stood up. A great hole in the shape of him scarred the grass and seemed to stare back. He walked away under the bite of the cold. Walked, then ran. The winds seemed after him like hellhounds.

    November went and December came.
The train dragged its wheels against the frost-bitten rails and, pushing forward against the mordant winds like a brave horse, brought a letter.

    “My dear Burakh, 

By the present letter, I wish to invite you to the Capital. I am to give a lecture at the University of Medicine, the subject of which is dear to my heart — as dear, perhaps, as your presence in the crowd. 
Would you meet me in the Grand Amphitheatre at seven in the evening on Friday, February the Fifth? I cannot leave the school this day as I must prepare my speech, and as such I will not be able to meet you at the train station (I have insisted my lecture be on a Friday. I have heard, from the Kains, feverish to invite me again, that Vlad the Younger has set a new train schedule; with one departing for the Capital in the early hours of Friday, and one arriving to town quite late just the day after. They have told me this allows for the children to have at least a basic education, boarding in schools here for a week before going home for another. I think I have seen a few near the galeries marchandes. I was told some of the townsfolk also take part in these trips to see what the city has to offer, if only for seven days at a time. You must pardon me, my dear Burakh, but I am less excited to see them than I am to see the children. You have seen… what they think of me in the scars they’ve left on my shoulder and flank. I do not blame them, I truly do not, but you must understand I would still tense at their sight.)

Oh Burakh, I have lost the thread of my thoughts… It is getting late. I would run out of ink trying to re-write myself. Allow me to continue:
I will not be able to meet you at the train station but I have slipped a map in this envelope. Moreover, most adults of this city will be able to point you to the University were you to get lost — it has its reputation. I know many inns and hostels where you could spend your night, and will pay for your stay. However, if you… do not mind the mess… you are equally welcome to stay at my place. I will accompany you to the train station on Saturday and arrange your departure. 
I hope this letter finds you in time. If you are certain you cannot come, I implore you to tell me as soon as you know. I will move the lecture date. It is important to me that you be here. 
I wish to see your face among my students — I wish to see your face.

May your winter be mild,
your friend,

Oh, how he re-read this. How he did. He read and re-read these last few lines until he almost forgot about the map; prying in the envelope, he found a formal invitation. 
It had been printed on textured, eggshell-colored paper — the Bachelor liked his solemnities. The plan was straightforward, with named roads and numbered buildings. The text, printed in a few different fonts, announced “UNIVERSITY OF MEDICINE”; then city, day, year. “Bachelor Dankovsky, Esteemed Professor of Anatomy, Thanatology, and General Medicine, has the honor of inviting…” There, in Dankovsky’s writing — a formal, punctilious cursive: Burakh, Artemy. He was proper and precise with the curves and the lines; ceremonial, almost. He took… great care in spelling the menkhu’s name. The realization sent something up Burakh’s spine; not a shiver: he wasn’t cold, he wasn’t afraid. A chill, rather. A thrill. Oh, he shouldn’t think about this. “... to his lecture at Seven in the Evening on Friday, February the Fifth, in the Grand Amphitheatre.” Burakh skimmed the rest: acknowledgements to professors, students, advice and requests.
He spotted, small, graphite having been smudged, in the corner of the page: “please, be there.”
Burakh folded the letter and the invitation — he was meticulous and careful, more than usual. This was secret. This was personal. This was… precious.

    December went and January came. The train brought nothing. Twenty kilometers of the railway had been chawed and gnawed by mean frostbite, the bolts and joints contorted and bent by the temperatures. When the snow started to melt, the town’s men were sent to mend. They met the cityfolk midway and worked shoulder to shoulder. 

    Burakh walked through the melting snow that clung to him like an insistent child. The fires of Shekhen burned still, golden dots below the grey coat of the sky that hung low. He stood alone and cold where the steppe met him in the same way. He heard nothing, not even the caress of the wind against what was left of the frost.
He brought a blade to his palm and slit the meaty mound of the pad of his thumb in a straight, swift line. Pain ran through his arm and he inhaled sharply before pressing his fingertips to the lips of the wound. The cold almost cauterized the cut right away, but he managed to squeeze out of the flesh four drops that splattered one atop the other on the silver glaze covering the earth. 
He thought — he thought he heard a whisper. He listened keenly. Nothing. Not even the song of the frost or the distant whispers of embers. The earth didn’t drink him, kept its lips sealed shut—like a cut stitched tight. He didn’t dare to speak. He didn’t dare and kept his mouth closed as his entrails twisted meanly — he was not going to be replied to. The wind rose from the snow and climbed up his spine like a snake. A sudden chill gnawed harshly at his wound and he brought it to his mouth. Even his own blood tasted cold. He tasted like a sour pomegranate, like a blade having been buried in the clay. He hurried home, where Murky insisted on picking the specks of frost from the lips of the cut.

    January went and February came. The morning was biting and bright when Burakh hopped on the Friday dawn train, a messenger bag at the flank, wishing to look more… like he fit. He had left his usual tunic, with its belts and buckles, with the kids at Lara’s home (promising he wouldn’t be long and wouldn’t be mad if they got stains on it as he left them in her care); opting for a long brown coat over his blue sweater. He couldn’t button the thing at the front, having forgotten to sew a few things in place, and was starting to regret having dressed himself up like this. The cold weaved through the holes of the meshing, burying itself even under his undershirt. He decided he had to bear it: he buried his mind in the leather-bound botany tome he had brought and didn’t get bored for the ten hours of the trip. 

It was dark when he stepped foot in the Capital — dark, but not night yet. The crowd seemed to carry his weight out of the train then out of the station as hundreds moved in one singular organism, a centipede in its hurry to get a move on, borrowing his legs for a few steps. He found himself standing, the colossal beast of the train station, crowned by a clock the size of a house, behind him, in the middle of the street. He dodged a carriage, then two, felt the brush of a horse’s muzzle at his nape both times. 
The city was slowly donning its celestial blue coat, cobalt sweeping through the streets like the cold late-winter air. Then, a golden dot here, a golden dot there: Burakh followed the silhouette of the lamplighter as they weaved from street to street. He opened his bag and, with care, with attention, pulled out the invitation. He had learned, reading and re-reading it evening after evening, the intricacies of the plan, didn’t even need to see it to remember — and thankfully so, as it was too dark to read where he stood. He folded the paper, adjusted bag on shoulder, and was on his way, hands buried deep in the pockets of his coat.



next chapter

back to homepage        back to writing