Writing > Threads Part 1

Chapter 35


Chapter 35

Berilo stood in silence next to his son’s body. It had been hours now, since they’d brought Tenlor back from his botched ambush. Still he stood there facing the corpse, but seeing nothing. Rota had been there when they’d first brought Tenlor’s body in, with their four-year-old daughter Tela at her knee. She hadn’t stayed long, upon seeing the mess they’d made of her husband’s face. She was a delicate soul, his daughter-in-law. Just like his granddaughter.

Then his Councilors had dropped by, one after another whispering their condolences and extolling his son’s many virtues. Not that a one of them meant any of it. Lies spewed forth from them as easily as breathing. One after another they had faltered at his silence, and gone back to their plots and schemes.

Berilo had once relished all that machination. Outmaneuvering people in the Council chambers and in life itself had been a great source of joy for him. Almost as much joy as holding his infant son for the first time.

One of Tenlor’s bodyguards had survived, and told Berilo everything. A woman—one of the rebels—had tampered with his gun to kill him. They couldn’t beat his son in a fair fight, so they cheated to do it. Berilo’s hands tightened on the coffin’s edge.

It was a ceremonial coffin only; tradition demanded that Tenlor be threaded tomorrow in a public funeral, just as with all honored Sustained dead. There the High Penet—or rather, his replacement—would praise Tenlor to the Sustained people, saying all sorts of good things about him. There he would lie to the people, and most would believe him. Only a few would know better. The Lord Ascendant was no fool. He knew his son had had many faults. Impatience, arrogance, and a lack of subtlety among others. Still, they had killed him. They had killed his son!

Tasaos Miller was Tenlor’s second-in-command for the Ascendants. He’d already taken over, promising swift retribution, but Berilo already knew revenge would be a small comfort. Nothing would bring his son back.

Tenlor’s body was on display in the viewing room on the north end of the manor. The cloudy and stormy sky outside reflected the mood perfectly. A sky that was dark and turbulent, promising devastation but being unable to cause it. Just like Berilo right now.

As the sun dipped its way past the clouds and below the city wall, the foot traffic in the room slowly subsided. Berilo remained, studying his son’s face. The staff had done a good job covering the damage, such as it was. Berilo imagined they must have a wide selection of methods on how to make corpses presentable to audiences before their threading. With a prickly sensation on the back of his neck, Berilo realized he was all alone in the viewing room. Even the servants were gone from their usual places by the door, which was now closed.

There was a whisper of movement to his left, and Berilo straightened up before turning in that direction. There, not ten spans away, was a short figure wearing leather armor and a skull mask, and carrying a pair of daggers.


Berilo ignored him at first, turning back to the coffin. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the figure start, as if surprised by his lack of response. Berilo supposed he would feel the same, any other time, but right now, he just didn’t care.

“What do you want?” He asked tiredly, not bothering to turn again.

In answer, Heartbane tossed one of his daggers over. It was slow incoming, and Berilo’s old knife-fighting instincts kicked in, plucking it right out of the air. He turned it over and over in one hand. It was perfectly balanced.

“You’ve never shown any interest in fair play before,” he commented slowly. “But then, I suppose you’ve already taken precautions. I take it calling for my guards would be a useless gesture?”

Heartbane nodded, and then raised the knife, beckoning with his other hand. Berilo sighed. “If you think that waiting until my son’s funeral to attack me would somehow lessen my will to survive, think again. I’m perfectly willing to gut you before going back to my grief.” He hefted his new-found dagger, and finally turned to face the assassin again.

In a blur of motion, Heartbane jumped at him. Berilo spun away from the attack, catching the edge of Heartbane’s dagger with his own before putting some distance between them again. Briefly, he wished he was wearing a cloak. They could be surprisingly useful in close quarters like this.

After evaluating his attacker briefly, Berilo charged in this time. He held his dagger close to his center of gravity, putting not just the force of his arm behind the attack but his entire weight as well. Heartbane dodged as well, but not entirely. He caught some of the blow as he moved away, emitting a grunt of pain.

He spun even as he dodged, pivoting on one foot and sweeping with the other leg. The kick wasn’t that forceful, but Berilo was already off balance from his charge, and he fell backwards onto the ground. Heartbane was on him in an instant, dagger driving forcefully towards his chest. Berilo barely managed to bring his own up in time to deflect it. The blades caught each other, grinding audibly against one another.

It was clear he was the stronger of the two. Heartbane kept on disengaging whenever they got in close, but then the assassin was significantly faster. This time though, Heartbane didn’t jump away. He swung his head forward into Berilo’s face, just above his nose. The mask was made of metal, dazing him, and in another moment Berilo’s dagger had been wrenched from his grasp and Heartbane’s blade was already touching his chest.

But it went no further. He just held Berilo there on the ground for a moment, before slowly standing up and taking a step back.

Acutely aware of just how close he’d come to death, Berilo stood as well. He retrieved the dagger, but didn’t hold it up again. For whatever reason, Heartbane seemed unwilling to kill him. “Sparing me was a mistake, you know. I’m sure whoever hired you will be quite displeased.”

“No one hired me,” a woman’s voice answered, and Heartbane pulled off the mask. It was Hazra. Berilo’s jaw dropped, and he took a step back on instinct. A woman? And Hazra??

Surprise and shock had cut through his grief like one of those knives. It couldn’t be. His own, sweet, useless daughter? But the face was unmistakable. Now that he looked at her, the build was just about right. Her heels were gone, replaced by leather flats. Her breasts had been concealed as well by the tight armor, to hide her identity and to keep from getting in her way. It was her. Slowly, painfully, he forced his mind to accept this new reality.

“ … how?” It was the only word he could manage, given the circumstances. Even his rage and grief had been temporarily put aside, replaced by sheer surprise and confusion.

“It’s a long story, father,” she said calmly, sheathing her dagger. She reached out for the other. When he didn’t move, she sighed and took it from his hand, sheathing it as well. “I’d hoped you would figure it out yourself. I left clues for you over the years. Little tidbits you could pick up on and connect back to me. I wanted you to eventually discover the truth and give me the credit I deserve, but it’s only recently I realized that day would never come.”

Berilo resisted the urge to cough from sheer shock. It was still so unbelievable! His daughter? The same girl whose nurses had all commented on her happiness and easygoing nature? The same child who had fallen asleep dreaming of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing?

“And rightly so,” he finally responded harshly, finding his voice again. “You’re my daughter, not some common killer! You have no business risking your life like this!”

“You’re right,” Hazra said with the ghost of a smile on her lips. “I am no common killer. I’m the best at what I do! Tell me you didn’t think so, before you found out it was me! Tell me I’m not famous across the entire city for what I do!”

Berilo was taken aback. Again. Hazra never spoke like this! Between her visits to the shrine to speak with her mother, and the time spent with the various noblewomen in her circle of friends, he’d never heard a single harsh or prideful word out of her. But he did have to admit she was right. Heartbane, the killer… was one of his most potent weapons.

Not anymore. “No,” he said sternly. “I don’t know who taught you, or when. I don’t know where you got that armor, or those daggers, or that mask. And I don’t care. As of yesterday, you are my only child, and you will not continue with these… crazed excursions of yours!”

Her smile widened, and she gave a brief chuckle. “And how do you propose to stop me? Would you have me arrested?” She asked derisively. “The Clarion would never allow you to lock me up, not without cause. If you told him the truth, would he believe you? Would anyone? By the Multitude, that’s why I had to attack you in the first place! You would never have believed I was Heartbane, not unless we’d fought first! And even if you did somehow manage to imprison me, I’ve got people all over the manor! You’d never be able to hold me for long.”

Hazra shook her head slowly. “No, father. I’ve been killing for years without your approval, and I’m not going to stop now.”

It was an unfamiliar, and very uncomfortable feeling, being out of control like this. Berilo kept his eyes on his murderous daughter, as he took a seat to rest his legs. That fight, brief as it had been, had taken a lot out of him. “If… you didn’t want me to stop you, then why tell me at all?”

Hazra pulled a pack out from underneath one of the chairs, not answering at first. She removed a pale blue dress from inside, and slipped it on over her leather armor. She pulled out a pair of long-toed shoes as well, replacing her flats. Then she put the mask, daggers and shoes back in it. To a casual observer, she was herself again. “I want you to name me your heir.”

Berilo had thought nothing could surprise him at this point. He was wrong. Before he could speak, she was already explaining. “Think about it, father. You’re an old man. Even if you took another wife today, and got to work right away, there’d be only a slim chance you could produce another male heir. Little Tela is only four years old, too! It’ll be more than a decade before she can give you any great-grandchildren, and even then there’s no guarantee that any of them would be male.”

He shook his head sternly. “So you think you should lead instead? You would never be able to maintain a Sustained house! You don’t have the political skills, the patience, or the cunning. You’d bring the Fishers to ruin in a matter of days!”

“Just like I don’t have the skills to be one of the city’s most effective assassins?” She countered evenly. “What’s the alternative? Uncle Rondo? He’s fine as an administrator back in Nassa patch, but he doesn’t have your daring, or your determination. I inherited both!”

She sat next to him, her leather creaking slightly under the dress, and put her arm around his shoulders. “Tenlor is gone, father,” she said sadly, looking up at his casket. “In just a few hours, he’ll be going into the threads for the last time. I’m your best hope at keeping House Fisher in power, and you know it. Name me heir, and I’ll do just that!”

Tenlor’s death rushed back through him like a foul wind. Briefly dispelled by the fight, and the surprise, the fog of grief was rising again. “The Council would never accept having a woman as a head of House,” he explained darkly. “Forget about losing the Ascendancy, we wouldn’t even have a Council seat anymore!”

“Then I’ll just have to convince them, won’t I?” She said with a grim smile. “I wouldn’t have to go after them directly. Trust me, I know more subtle ways of getting people to see things my way.”

Abruptly, Hazra changed the subject. “Do you remember the masquerade ball you held in this room four years ago, to celebrate Tela’s birth?” Her eyes swept the room slowly, as if seeing all the guests dancing in and around each other again. “Your mask was scaled like a fish, of course, to represent our House. Do you remember mine?”

Berilo sighed. It had been only a few months after Hazra’s first miscarriage, and he’d wondered if she would make any kind of appearance at the ball. “I remember.”

“Mine was a swan,” she said softly. “The artisans made three masks for me, and I liked the swan best. That was where I first saw the skull mask. At first I found it hideous and frightening, but it’s grown on me over the past few years.

“I had Terres Huun make a metal one that was more durable. You felt that one yourself,” she added, looking at his forehead with a smirk. “She arranged for the armor and the daggers as well. But my trainer, he’s someone special. I don’t want him to get in trouble, so I won’t tell you who he is. Not just yet, anyway.”

Her eyes weren’t looking at him or Tenlor anymore; they seemed lost in the past. “My first kill was… messy. I surprised a stra’tchi laborer in Yeggin patch. I figured no one would go looking for him, and I was right.” She smiled at the memory. “He got in a few good hits, too, before I finally put a sword through his eye. I threaded the body, and my clothes, too. I couldn’t bring them back to the manor with that much blood on them. Oh, that was before I learned how to use daggers. Before I was good enough to always hit true.”

Despite himself, Berilo listened with interest. It was very strange, hearing stories of blood and death from someone other than Tenlor, but it felt good as well. Suddenly he realized what she was doing. By putting herself in Tenlor’s place, if only metaphorically, she was easing herself into the position of heir, as well!

He shrugged her arm off and stood up, walking back to the casket. “I’m sorry, Hazra,” he said over his shoulder, unwilling to look at her while he said this. “I understand why you fight and kill—only too well in fact. I’m even willing to let you continue, provided you let me know where you go, and check in with me regularly. But that’s the extent of my leniency.”

She was quiet. Then, softly, he could make out the sound of her armor moving again. Part of him—some animal instinct deep in his mind—was afraid she might attack again, but now he knew she was too smart for that. Even if whatever insane part of her mind that had become a killer did take over, killing him would do her no good, and she knew it.

“I overheard the report on what happened in Atsekka patch,” she whispered, suddenly at his side. “I know how Tenlor died. How that woman tricked him with his own gun.

“I’ve learned how to hold myself back, over the years. How to kill carefully and precisely. To avoid collateral damage and innocent targets. Do this for me, father, and I’ll make it right. I won’t hold back anymore. Name me heir, and I will kill all of them for you. Every rebel—every dwarf in the Enclave—every sympathizer, in every patch! I’ll even kill the Harbinger for you too, unless you still want her alive.”

She gazed down at her brother’s body. “You know that I can do it. Let me do this for you. Let me prove that I’m ready!”

Tenlor’s eyes were closed, but even so he seemed to stare up at Berilo. All decisions made by the Lord Ascendant were complicated. He’d been balancing hundreds of issues with each call he’d made as the Lord of the city. But this call was easy. This one was… pure. It was revenge, plain and simple. Slowly, tentatively, he wrapped his fingers around hers, and nodded.


Jaas and Chanul stood next to the fire, sharing a look of concern between them. Arico gave them a comforting smile. “Trust me. This should have been done years ago. I would have done it yesterday, if it hadn’t been for the meeting with the stra’tchi leaders.”

“But there’s no need for it, Arico!” Chanul insisted. “It might make you more personable to the stra’tchi, but it could cause problems with the-” he cut off abruptly. “It could cause problems later on,” he corrected himself, sounding embarrassed. It seemed he’d almost forgotten Jaas was there, and that she didn’t know everything about Arico’s past.

Jaas gave him a curious look, but Arico went on anyway, trying to distract her. “It’s the best way to honor the memory of Tellek patch, along with Satya, hundreds of dwarves, and everyone else the Council has murdered,” he reminded them grimly. “Besides, I’ve been straddling two lives for far too long. It has to end.”

Arico silently rolled up his left sleeve and nodded to Chanul. Reluctantly, his dwarven brother reached towards the fire, lifted the branding iron in the shape of Tellek’s patch symbol, and pressed it against his arm.


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