Author Topic: Chapter 16  (Read 5217 times)

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Chapter 16
« on: April 08, 2022, 02:00:58 AM »
Chapter 16

Sevvas patch had been the belly of the beast for years now. It housed the Lord Ascendant’s manor, the Council meeting chamber inside the Spire, the courtyard for public audiences, the Aquunite temple grounds, and the military training academy. It was even adjacent to the multi-colored wreckage of the old Crystal Palace

That made it pretty much the perfect target.

Arico sat back on his heels behind the low wall, peering up at the lanterns twinkling from the upper floors of the Spire. Somewhere in there, the Lord Ascendant and his cronies spent their days plotting the oppression and manipulation of tens of thousands of innocent people. It’d be simpler if he had the option of just killing them, but hopefully they could do this without such a slaughter becoming necessary. Sabra sat next to him, surprisingly quiet.

Arico still wasn’t sure he’d done the right thing by inviting Sabra to join him on this mission. True, the Hauld would have probably offered the option as well, but Arico had hoped that Sabra would take some time to think about it before accepting. Apparently Sabra hadn’t needed any. He didn’t think Sabra would betray him, not intentionally. It was more a question of whether or not he could follow orders. Which was the main reason Arico had asked him to join this mission. This was just a preparatory mission, of low importance despite their target location. If Sabra had any issues, this was a good opportunity to find out.

It was just after dusk, and the nighttime patrols had begun in earnest. Arico navigated himself and Sabra to the edge of Sevvas patch and they took cover behind a wall near the threads. Thankfully Alzhi had given him their routes and times. They should be able to slip in and out undetected.

“Now,” Arico said quietly, and they both rose and stepped over the low wall. Well, Sabra did anyway—Arico had to climb a little. Fortunately Sevvas wasn’t heavily populated. It was mostly used for official business between the Sustained Houses, and then only during the day. It was still well guarded, though.

They both stayed as low as possible while making their way south for a few minutes, and then ducked underneath one of the short bridges while they waited for the next patrol to pass. Once upon a time the Waters had flowed through Sevvas patch, but now the bridges were just decorative, arching over dry stones.

Sabra leaned towards him. “Sabra doesn’t understand. If we need the crate from inside, why not just tell bald man to get it for us?”

“Bald man? You mean Alzhi?” Sabra nodded, and Arico sighed in response. “It doesn’t work that way, Sabra. Alzhi has to pretend to be one of them. That means he has to follow their orders, and right now he’s been ordered to another patch. It’s up to us to get this job done. Remember they already know what I look like. It doesn’t matter if they see me, but you can’t let them see you. They can’t know that you’re working with me, at least not yet.”

It took a few seconds before he noticed Sabra was staring at him with a slight curl to his lips. “What’s so funny?”

Sabra’s smile widened. “Sabra just noticed. Little man’s eye does a twitchy thing when he’s nervous.” Arico gave him a brief glare, resisting the urge to contradict that. It was probably true.

Distant laughter rose up from the stadium to the south, and both of them looked that way briefly. “It’s a play, held in Sevvas’ courtyard,” Arico explained in an undertone. “That’s why we picked this time to raid this place. Daerik’s Vagabonds are very, very popular in Sustained territory. Most of the people in the patch will be down there right now watching them.” Sabra looked curious, almost enough to head down there and see what the play was like, but he shook his head and turned back towards the Manor. Arico breathed a sigh of relief.

They only had to wait a minute or so before the next patrol passed. Sabra started to move again, but Arico reached out an arm to stop him. “Wait!” He hastily pulled them both behind the hedge again, and out of sight.

A figure was approaching them from the west. Well, not them exactly. As they watched, whoever it was maneuvered their way under the nearby bridge and then walked right past their hedge on the way to the Manor.

It definitely wasn’t one of the guards. Not only did they have distinctive red and gold uniforms, but they had set routes. This stranger was slender, possibly a woman. She was wearing simple dark robes and obviously trying to avoid being seen by anyone up on the walls.

Giving Sabra a warning look, Arico decided to stay put until whoever it was gone as well. Still, he couldn’t resist looking out as the figure stepped under one of the lamps, and caught a glimpse of her face in the firelight.

His surprise must have shown because Sabra glanced his way. “Little man knows her?” He asked quietly.

“I’ve never met her,” Arico admitted, “but I do know her face. That’s Hazra Fisher.” From her route, he guessed she was headed to the north end of the Manor. There was a servant’s entrance there, he knew. But what was she doing coming in from the threads alone, and at this hour? She was a navigator of course, but as a woman she was barred from joining the Ascendant Guard.

“Fisher?” Sabra said harshly. “As in-”

“The Lord Ascendant’s daughter, yes,” Arico cut him off. “I don’t know what she’s doing out here all alone at night, but right now it doesn’t matter. We’ve got a job to do.”

Sabra gave him an incredulous look. “Doesn’t matter? Why not kill Fisher-woman, or take her hostage? Lord Ass-end would pay a lot for her!”

Despite the situation, Arico smiled at Sabra’s wording. His way of saying things wasn’t always easy to understand, but his intent came through clearly. “We’re not harming her, Sabra,” he answered firmly. “That’s the kind of thing the Council would do. We have to be better than that.”

Sabra’s yellow eyes glittered at him in the darkness. With a prickly sensation on the back of his neck, Arico suddenly realized that there was very little he could do to stop Sabra, if the giant chose to go after her.

“We have to show people that we’re not the same as our enemy, Sabra,” he urged quietly. “How we fight is the best way to do that. Sneaking in there and stealing cargo is fine with me, but we aren’t going to steal people. If we do, we’re no different than they are. And if we become just as bad as they are, why should we even bother fighting them at all?”

Eventually, Sabra nodded curtly. Perhaps he agreed, or maybe he just knew that she was too far away to catch by now. “How does little man know what Fisher-woman looks like, anyway?”

“I’ve watched this patch from the threads often enough,” Arico answered quietly. “I know the entire Council by sight, as well as the Lord Ascendant’s family. She’s not involved with them, usually. They don’t let women have any real power in Sustained patches.”

Sabra didn’t seem to have any more questions, so they got moving again before the patrolling guard could get back in sight. Briefly, Arico considered why she was out here so late. She wasn’t married, but tradition had her attached for life to the city’s Clarion. Arico had studied the previous versions of the Clarions, and this one looked like he was living up to the reputation. Unfortunately, that probably meant the Clarion would be killed before long—probably by one of the many powerful people he was bound to piss off. Arico hoped the movement would get rid of the Council before that happened.

Perhaps Hazra was having an affair with someone in another patch. She clearly knew where the guards were, and how to avoid the patrols. In addition, she had moved with silence and confidence in the darkness. Obviously she’d done this before.

Arico tried to focus on the mission. Their target was up ahead: a side entrance to the manor used for deliveries, mostly. It was protected by an iron portcullis, but it was only lightly guarded. According to Alzhi, the guards only showed up when deliveries were scheduled to arrive. Which could be at any time now; they had to hurry. Arico nodded at Sabra, who rubbed his hands together in excitement. Sauntering out in front of the gate, he grabbed the iron bars down at the bottom and began to lift.

At first it looked like he was straining for nothing. His arms bulged with effort, and his malformed face twisted even further. Before long, though, there was a grinding of iron on stone and the grate slowly rose.

Arico was a little curious to see how long Sabra could hold it, but didn’t want to press the issue. He quickly placed a forked metal rod under one end, propping the grate up. With a grunt, Sabra let go and the portcullis settled down.

Arico felt a bit overwhelmed. He stared at Sabra for a few moments, but got only a gruesome smirk in response. “What, did little man not believe the story about baby Sabra breaking the stone?”

“Not really, no. But then I never really believed in the Deathwatch Monster either, so what do I know?” Arico shook his head. “Come on. We may not have much time.”


“Ahh, but I know you want to!” M’abor said craftily to the crowd below. “You’re wondering if you can get away with it, aren’t you?”

The entire troupe was on stage; it was one of the few scenes where they could all be seen at once. M’abor stood behind Cynnik, projecting his lines as far as he could, considering he was supposed to be whispering in the story. That was a problem. M’abor had actually helped write this play, Cynnik’s Choice. He’d have to fix this logistical difficulty before the next performance.

Cynnik took a few tentative steps forward, and leaned in to kiss the leading lady, Wyren. As the script dictated, she seemed receptive at first, and then recoiled and slapped him hard. Wyren never pulled her punches. She claimed it would ruin her artistic integrity. As such, Cynnik had been forced to become something of a make-up artist himself, to hide the near-bruises she gave him almost every night on stage, and the hickeys she sometimes gave him as well. Despite her being five months pregnant and having to wear increasingly elaborate clothing to hide that fact, their love life seemed none the worse for wear.

Some of the crowd—those who hadn’t seen this recitation yet—gasped in surprise as Wyren drew herself up to her full, if lacking, height. “You may be some kind of champion on the Ona field, my lord, but your manners leave a lot to be desired!” With an admirably timed sniff of disdain, she spun on her heels and exited stage left.

It was nearing the end of the play, but some of the crowd started clapping a little early. The women, mostly. The curtains closed briefly, long enough for the stagehands to clear away most of the set before the next scene.

About half an hour later the curtains opened again, with all of them onstage facing the crowd. Cynnik was in the middle, with Wyren to his left and M’abor to his right. The other dozen or so spread out on either side of them for the bow, as the crowd applauded them all. M’abor drank it in as much as he could, but it was over before he knew it. Already the curtains had closed again, and the hands were out moving new set pieces into position.

M’abor sighed. All the city’s a stage, he told himself, and the show must go on.


The loading bay was mostly empty with a few carts against the walls here and there. When the morning came, people would be arriving with horses to load them up and roll them out of here. For now though, it was still quiet. They would have to wait until the crate they wanted was brought in. Arico stood next to Sabra on one side of the interior door.

“Little man looks troubled,” Sabra whispered to him.

Arico thought he’d been hiding his expressions. Perhaps it was something in his stance. Arico had gained a decent understanding of body language from being raised by Durhu, and he could tell that Sabra had similar skills. “I am,” he admitted. “I know we need that cargo, but I don’t want to kill anyone to get it.”

Sabra’s eyes narrowed in contempt. “No one here deserves little man’s worry. All Sustained deserve death.”

Now that was a dangerous attitude. Arico touched him on the shoulder to get his attention. “We can’t afford to think like that, Sabra! Maybe some of these people do deserve death, but just some. Not all of them are navigators, and not all navigators are bad either. The people coming to load up that cart, they’re just servants. They were trained and raised to obey the Sustained. In some ways they’re victims too.”

Sabra shook his head. “The Council uses that service to control and harm. Servants know this. That makes them just as bad.”

Arico tried to figure out how best to put it. “Sabra, we’re not just here to overthrow the Council. If we do beat them, we’ll have to replace them with something better. Something more worthy than they are. How we beat them will end up being just as important as if we do.” Sabra opened his mouth to respond, but the sound of footsteps cut him off. The guards were coming to load up the cart. With a faint noise of frustration, Sabra slipped through the inside door.

What was he doing? They were supposed to wait out here for the guards to show up! Arico bit back a few curses and followed as quietly as he could. He rounded the corner just in time to see the guard come into view. As the unfortunate guard’s eyes centered on Arico, Sabra struck.

The blow to the guard’s head was precise, almost like Endu’s skills opening people up. He collapsed immediately, and Sabra caught him before he hit the ground and dragged him out of sight. It had all happened almost completely silently, and based on the conversation around the corner, the others hadn’t heard it. Sabra put a finger to his lips and took up position again, waiting for the others. Knowing he had no choice now, Arico took a place opposite him.

There were two men this time. Sabra again waited for them to see Arico before he moved. Sidling up behind one of them, he wrapped his braid around the man’s neck with both hands and lifted him clear off the ground. At the same time Arico struck the other with an open hand, right in the throat. It wouldn’t be enough to crush his windpipe and kill him, but it was enough to silence him. While the poor man wheezed and grabbed at his throat, Arico seized his head and bounced it off the wall. He fell like a sack of grain, while Sabra still held onto his own struggling charge. It took the poor man another minute or so to pass out.

With a grimace, Arico dragged his guard back into the loading bay. Sabra took each of his two by a hand and followed. “What were you thinking?” Arico hissed at him as soon as they were back in relative safety. “You could have gotten us both killed!”

At first Sabra didn’t respond. With unsettling ease, he propped the three men against the wall and out of sight behind one of the carts. “Little man didn’t want them killed. Sabra was making sure they lived.”

Arico was tempted to throw up his hands in frustration. “That’s not what I meant. Why did you just leave like that, without telling me? If one of them had gotten away, we’d have the whole manor up in arms by now! How many people would have died then? Including us, of course!”

Sabra only gave him an uncomprehending look, and Arico let out a breath. So much for his earlier optimism about Sabra’s impulse control. “All right. We can discuss this later. Go and get the cargo out here while I set this up.”

As Sabra left, Arico carefully pulled the tinder twig from his pack and set it down inside the cart. Painstakingly spooling out a length of oil-soaked cloth underneath the cart, he connected the two. As he worked, he thought back over what Sabra had done. Or rather, the impressive way he’d done it. The results of a lifetime spent in near-constant combat, no doubt.


Arico spun around, the cloth temporarily forgotten. The gunshot had been close, just around the corner where Sabra had gone. The sound had been followed by a grunt of pain, and now by a repeated cracking noise. Arico dropped the cloth and ran around the corner, only to come to an abrupt stop on the other side. Sabra was there with another guard, smashing his head into the brick wall again and again. The spent gun was on the ground next to them, as was the crate Sabra had retrieved.

The guard was clearly dead; the back of his skull had caved in under the multiple impacts. As Arico watched, Sabra finally let go of him and turned around. Arico held his ground despite a powerful urge to step backwards.

Blood had spattered all over Sabra’s face and tunic. A gunshot wound on his left shoulder still oozed black blood of his own, which had gotten mixed into his braid. Despite all that Sabra seemed perfectly calm. Without a word he stooped to pick up the crate and slipped past Arico, back into the loading bay. He left behind a mess of a hallway, with blood and brain matter all over the wall and the ground.

Arico had seen his fair share of injuries during training. Once while practicing with swords he’d even cut Alzhi’s leg open to the bone by accident, but that was nothing compared to this. His stomach heaved, and he lurched after Sabra.

Arico cursed himself. For once his emotional detachment had failed him. It was just blood and gore back there—nothing he shouldn’t have been able to handle. But for some reason he couldn’t get that sight to leave his eyes.

Sabra seemed to sense that Arico was in no shape to think clearly. Reaching into the cart, he struck the tinder twig and left it on top of the oilcloth. The fire sprung up, sure to destroy the cart and any evidence of what they were stealing. “Come on,” he urged softly. “Guards are coming.”

Arico had a flashback of his earlier escape with Jaas. Minus the brained guard though. “What happened to keeping people alive?” he finally managed, as they approached the portcullis to squeeze under it again.

Sabra shrugged as he got down on all fours. “The guard saw Sabra. Little man said-”

“I know what I said!” Arico snapped. He took a deep breath, trying not to vomit. “Let’s… let’s just get out of here.”


The second play of the night was over, and it would be their last one here in Sevvas patch, at least for a while. M’abor laughed with the others as they made their way northwest. The sky was mostly overcast and the moonlight barely peeked its way through the clouds, but the moderately-sized crowd had no trouble finding their way. Sevvas was well lit at all times, which was one of the reasons M’abor liked performing here. Everything was so high-class!

This was the first time they’d been invited to the Lord Ascendant’s Manor, however. Daerik’s Vagabonds were well-known, having performed all over Sustained territory for years. Still, Lord Ascendant Fisher had little or no interest in the performing arts. His daughter the Lady Fisher was ill as well, which meant that their host for the evening would be the Lord Ascendant’s cousin, Lady Sahena Fisher from across town.

The crowd entered the foyer together, and then slowly trailed into the dining room in preparation for the party. M’abor stayed with the others in the foyer for a while, listening to them regale each other, and berate each other, over the previous performance. Cynnik and Wyren stood to one side, arms around each other. She whispered something in his ear, and he let out a belly laugh and nodded heartily.

They weren’t married, but made no secret that her child was his. Ordinarily that would have meant social stigma for both of them, and anyone who willingly associated with them, but Daerik’s Vagabonds had earned a somewhat rebellious reputation over the years. That and their rising popularity around town had ultimately led to them being here. Daerik had founded this group over forty years ago, and brought in most of them before his own death. Cynnik had inherited control, and had done his best to uphold his mentor’s ideals and thirst for excellence on stage.

Wyren actually had a guest room in the manor itself. Due to the dangers of navigating while pregnant, the Lord Ascendant had offered it to her as soon as she was sure she was carrying. She’d be stuck here in Sevvas for another few months as a result. If it was a cage, it was certainly a beautiful one, as M’abor was seeing for the first time now.

As for the other performers, Preno and Parno were twin brothers, particularly well-built. They usually played the muscle in the various productions, although more recently they had taken over intermissions as comic relief. Preno was the speaker, and Parno the performer in these comedic interludes. M’abor sighed. Sometimes the Vagabonds felt more like a circus act than a legitimate performing troupe, but he was grateful for them.

That reminded him. One of the secondary actresses named Ezzena had a particular diet she had to uphold, and M’abor seriously doubted the chefs inside were aware of her needs. Making his excuses, he departed the group and went for what he assumed was the direction of the kitchen.

He barely made it two steps into the next room before almost bumping into a guard. The man had moved right in front of him, expressionless, and stood blocking his path. “Excuse me,” M’abor said, discomfited, and tried to make his way around the man. The guard extended his arms down, again blocking M’abor’s path.

“Back in there,” he said tonelessly, indicating the foyer with a jerk of his chin.

“I have to talk to the chef,” M’abor protested. “It’s important!”

“Get back in the foyer,” the guard repeated, his voice noticeably more turbulent now. “Stunties don’t belong here.”

M’abor felt a sick wave rising in his gut. He was Cynnik’s right hand! He’d entertained and inspired people all over the damn city! For years now! But in the end, he was just a dwarf to them. Squaring his shoulders and trying to maintain at least some dignity, M’abor started to turn around when a hand landed on his shoulder from behind.

“Is there a problem here?” Cynnik’s calm, measured voice spoke over his head. M’abor stole a glance behind him and saw Wyren standing there too, a confused expression on her face. The rest of the troupe was gathering as well, whispering to each other in the other room.

“The dwarf isn’t allowed inside,” the guard said once more. His voice had calmed, though. Apparently he was acutely aware of how popular the Vagabonds were, and that he was talking to their leader.

“I see,” Cynnik said softly. “And who exactly made that determination?”

“I did.” The guard said stubbornly. “As the current watch commander, I have decided that the dwarf represents a threat to the safety of the partygoers. As such, he will stay here, where I can keep an eye on him.”

“A threat?” Wyren said disbelievingly. “Him??”

M’abor might have disagreed with her just for his own ego’s sake, but she was right. He couldn’t think of anyone less threatening than himself, except perhaps a child. Cynnik kept the guard’s gaze for a few seconds, and then turned to look at the others. Their expression was uniform. Confusion had mutated into anger and determination. “Very well then,” he said in that same measured voice. “Kindly inform Lady Sahena that we’ll be on our way. Thank her for the generous invitation while you’re at it.” He turned away, his hand still on M’abor’s shoulder, and led the group back towards the Manor’s entrance.

M’abor couldn’t help himself. He looked back to see the guard staring open-mouthed after them. “Wait! What are you doing?” The guard sputtered out.

Cynnik slowed his pace and turned again. “Since you’re clearly not aware, I’ll explain it to you. Daerik selected each and every one of us. He saw something in us: something not all of us could see in ourselves. He taught us, and loved us, and treated us as equals—both to each other and to him! And if one of us isn’t welcome in there, then none of us are.” The entire troupe nodded and made noises of agreement behind him.

This kind of confrontation had happened before, though never with this much on the line. Still, M’abor had never quite gotten used to the feeling. They were his family. And he was theirs. To these people, he wasn’t a dwarf at all. He was a person, and he was their person!

Apparently the guard was starting to realize just how grave his error had been. His face a slightly paler shade, he summoned another guard to take his place while he went in back, presumably to talk to Lady Sahena. Two minutes later the entire troupe was seated and eating, alongside the rest of the guests.


The soft tik noise against the window jolted the Clarion awake. Not that he’d been that deeply under, just dozing off a bit. As usual he had a fit of coughing just after waking up. They seemed to be getting worse and worse; he’d have to see the manor’s physicians when he got the chance. Wiping his mouth, he got up and made his way over to the window. Just within sight on the ground outside the manor, a dark-clad shape waved up at him.

The Clarion moved over to the bookshelf on the wall and pulled a bunch of them out of the way onto the floor. Behind where they’d been, he reached back into the wall and grabbed hold of a rope. The secret hiding space was necessary—maids cleaned this room often, and if they found anything out of the ordinary it would no doubt reach the Lord Ascendant’s ears in a matter of minutes. Opening the window, he rolled the knotted rope down to the ground and braced himself. His consort weighed less than he did, but a lot of that was muscle.

Sure enough, holding onto his end wasn’t easy. The rope tightened as she started climbing. It was a good thing this was a rare event. She would have returned the easy way—via the servants’ north door—but that was impossible right now. Manor guards were all over that area and she wouldn’t be able to get in without being noticed.

Briefly he wondered which woman he was pulling up here. Most likely the less pleasant one.

Hazra finally made it up to the threshold, and slipped in while letting go of the rope. The Clarion was careful not to fall back as the pressure on the rope vanished. Strangely though, she slumped to the floor and just sat there, breathing heavily.

Her bag fell to the floor next to her, and the skull mask rolled out of it. The Clarion hastily snatched it up and stuffed it back in the bag. If a servant were to open the door and see her, the armor would be hard enough to explain. The mask, nigh impossible. Sometimes, he could hardly believe it himself. He was consort to Heartbane. The legendary assassin.

She hadn’t lost consciousness, but he could tell she was in pain. Gingerly helping her remove her armor, he caught sight of several bruises on her arms. And then he saw the gash on her back. It was deep, almost cutting into her spine, and he bit his lip as he examined it.

He would have offered her sympathy, but experience had taught him that she didn’t want any. The last thing Heartbane wanted was a shoulder to cry on. What she would want would be stitches. He rose again and returned to the bookshelf hiding place to retrieve his needle and catgut for sewing. As well as some strong spirits to cleanse the wound. The moment he was in reach, she grabbed the bottle from his hand and took a long swig.

“Get to it,” she said harshly, handing the bottle back and lying down on her stomach.

This wasn’t the first time his consort had returned to their bedchamber in this kind of state. She was Heartbane right now, not Hazra. The killer, not the lover. The Clarion couldn’t help but find it ironic. Neither he nor any of the other Clarion initiates were celibate. He was currently in bed with a beautiful, topless, heavily breathing woman, and all he was doing was stitching up her wounds. If his old comrades could see him now, most would be torn between admiration and confusion.

Hazra hadn’t always been this way. When they’d first met she’d been a vibrant soul. Nervous, of course, upon meeting the man she was to spend the rest of her life with. He’d felt some trepidation himself, despite his training. But from almost the first moment, he knew he’d loved her. She was wonderful in so many ways he couldn’t even describe them all.

Even from the start there had been problems. His training was one of them. He’d been raised to be the calm, still pond next to the raging Waters nearby. He was to be the quiet, composed, rational being in a city gone mad. That calm had served him well in the Council chambers, or in individual negotiations with the various Councilors in private. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what Hazra needed. She was passion and fire. The kind of person who flared brightly in people’s memory, and burned out quickly too. She needed someone more like her. More able to be an equal to her. He’d tried to accommodate her, to be more compatible. Maybe if he’d been better at it, he wouldn’t be stitching up a mass murderer right now.

Other than his service to the Council, the Clarion knew that his only real value to his ‘adoptive’ family was to further the line. He had no family of his own to interfere with the Lord Ascendant’s plans. That meant any children he had with Hazra would be Fisher children only, tying up any inheritance concerns with a nice, neat bow. Children were the real purpose of this union, and the real downfall. For despite months and months of trying, they’d consistently failed to conceive.

Hazra had kept a brave face over that time. Even her closest friends wouldn’t have been able to tell how disappointed she was, nor how frustrated. He could tell, though. The Clarion had watched as her joy had slowly faded away, replaced by a dour resignation. Her spontaneous nature had no place in a world without children of their own. Still, he knew that the real disappointment she felt was in herself. After all the pressure her father, the Lord Ascendant, had put on her to have children and to further the line, it wasn’t much of a surprise.

Then, lo and behold, a miracle! A pregnancy, when all hope had nearly faded! For nearly two months the old Hazra had been back, singing to herself as she arranged a room for the baby. Laughing and joking with her friends again. Two months before she’d lost the baby.

The loss was devastating to her, but she insisted that they keep trying. Upon the second loss, though…

The results had been predictable to everyone else. But again, the Clarion had seen something else entirely. Hazra had given birth after all. Not to a baby, but to another version of herself. At first he hadn’t even noticed. He’d thought she was just mourning, and mourned along with her. Before long though it became clear that now there were two Hazras.

The first one eventually recovered. Before long she was telling jokes again, playing the occasional prank. She regained her interest in the House as well, advising him on how to increase his standing and influence with the Council. Not that either of them could make much headway there—her father cast a very long shadow.

But now he had a second consort as well. A hard, emotionless woman who gave him the chills. At first they didn’t even seem to be aware of each other. Eventually, when the second woman took a name, everything started to change for him.

Once as part of what was supposed to be a romantic surprise, the Clarion had waited for her in secret, and from his hiding place, saw her covered in blood and carrying a dripping dagger. That was when he’d found out who she really was, and what she’d done as Heartbane. She told him about the people she’d killed, and about how she’d enjoyed it. The thrill, the risk, the power.

Of course he’d been stunned. Hazra, a killer? It seemed ludicrous to even consider, but she was in earnest. The other Hazra started showing up more often after that. Once she’d even made an appearance during sex. Now that had been a disturbing experience.

Since finding out the truth, the Clarion had been constantly worried about what might happen if Hazra were to become pregnant again. He could handle Heartbane popping up at random, but what effect would that have on their children? Not that there was much chance of that, anymore.

Even so, none of what she had done really mattered. Hazra, Heartbane, whoever she was, he still loved her. Not wisely, for sure, but well. She could have drowned Patchwork in blood and he would still love her—still support her. If she had to kill to keep her sanity—such as it was—then so be it!

So here they were. The Clarion silently stitched her back wound shut while she gritted her teeth and gave the occasional hiss of pain. “So, why were there guards at the north door?” She asked suddenly. Probably to help distract herself.

“There was a break-in at the Spire just a few minutes ago,” he said softly. “Someone got into the loading bay and destroyed a shipment of your father’s sparkpowder. One guard was killed, from what I heard.”

“Really.” She craned her neck to look at him. “That’s reckless. Sabotage, you think? Tanner’s had a bee up his ass about our family running the Laentana for years now. Maybe he finally decided to do something about it.”

The Clarion chuckled. Whatever else he could say about Heartbane, she certainly didn’t moderate her words. Maybe it was an assassin thing. “Probably.” He pulled the final thread and cut it. “All set.”

Heartbane rose and moved over to the mirror to look at her back. “Not bad,” she complimented, craning her neck.

She would never love him like her other self did, but at least she respected how useful he could be. Whether he was covering for her with Hazra’s lady friends, or distracting the guards so she could come home in secret, or patching up her wounds. The only stitches he’d done before becoming her consort had been in battle, trying to save the lives of wounded soldiers. “What happened to you out there, anyway?” He asked, trying to distract himself from that thought.

She gave him a sharp look. It was clear he wasn’t her equal, and she didn’t like being questioned. She was the real power here, and the Clarion was just her support system. Her look faded quickly, though. Heartbane knew that even a killer of her caliber needed such a support system.

“They were waiting for me,” she admitted grumpily, turning away again. Professional pride was one of the few emotions she ever showed, and hers had obviously been wounded tonight. “They must have known I’d come after him, so they set a trap for me. It was nothing serious.”

Bracing himself, the Clarion darted his hand to her back. She flinched away in pain, and in an instant had a dagger at his throat. “Don’t touch me!”

Carefully, he spread his hands, palms out. “Nothing serious? That cut was a hair’s breadth from your spine, my love. If your spine gets cut, so does hers, and neither of us wants that.”

It had taken months of observation, but he was quite certain that Hazra was unaware of her other self. Heartbane had adopted a somewhat protective attitude over her, but Hazra knew nothing of it all. How that was possible was anyone’s guess. The Clarion could hardly ask anyone about it, after all.

After all this observation, the Clarion was also sure she wouldn’t hesitate to cut his throat if she believed him to be a real threat. If it came to that she would just sit there, dispassionately watching as he bled to death on their own bed. But he did have a point, and he could see her reaching the same conclusion as she sheathed the dagger again. “Very well.”

With a sigh, she laid down on the bed. The Clarion followed suit, keeping eye contact with her. “But you dealt with it?”

“Damn right I did,” she said proudly. “Five men, plus that little Forester spy. You should have seen me out there!”

“Perhaps one day I will,” he said with a weary smile, patiently waiting for his Hazra to come home.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 04:16:27 AM by Daen »