Author Topic: Chapter 39  (Read 2064 times)

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Online Daen

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Chapter 39
« on: April 12, 2022, 01:42:36 AM »
Chapter 39

“So you didn’t choose this life at all, then!” Jaas exclaimed as he finished his story. “You were bred and intended for this, since… before you’d even been born!”

Arico stood up to get a drink, not really knowing how to respond to that. He’d been talking for hours, explaining everything to Endu and Jaas after having brought all of them back to the Enclave. Including his sister.

Hazra was still unconscious, in a secured room several levels below them. He shivered thinking about that. If the Lord Ascendant found out that she was here, he would no doubt kill everyone in the Enclave to get her back. Arico supposed he should start thinking of the man as just Berilo instead of Lord Ascendant, now. For years the terms had been interchangeable, but now that the secret was out, he would have to get into the habit of calling him by his name. Changing how he thought was the first step.

Back to the immediate threat: Hazra herself was far too dangerous to be left on her own, and her injuries had been severe, even life-threatening. Sabra was right in wanting her dead, given the threat she posed, and Arico had to recognize that. Despite that, something primal had gripped Arico back there in Ste’hetha patch, when he’d taken off that mask. Sure, she’d been trying to kill them all, but she was still his sister. Still his blood. For a single irrational moment he’d even wanted to attack Sabra for what he’d done.

Bringing her here had been the safest option. Here she could be contained if she woke up, and treated until she did. At least Arico hoped she could be contained. If some of the stories about the assassin were to be believed, Heartbane was something of an escape artist.

Once she was safely in custody, he’d faced Endu and Jaas. Sabra had been listening in as well at first, but the giant had gotten bored and left a while back. Both women had pressed him for details. Endu because of her obvious interest in anything that could give them the advantage in this war, and Jaas because of her insatiable curiosity. Neither seemed that aware of how painful it was to tell it. Not at first anyway.

Jaas’ observation stuck in his mind, though. He had chosen this life… eventually. He could have stayed with Nouma, in their comfortable life together, but he’d decided to abandon all that and come back into the fold. Despite his unfortunate bloodline, or perhaps because of it.

Until today, it had been a secret shared only by himself, Durhu, Aunt Toria, and the Hauld as well. According to everyone else Arico had always been just a refugee from Sustained territory, and nothing more. Not even Chanul or Alzhi had known. Now that the truth was out, and it was only a matter of time before whispers reached the Lord—Berilo—he reminded himself. Only a matter of time before Berilo heard.

It was inevitable that his true bloodline would become public knowledge eventually. The Hauld had planned on it. After they’d overthrown the Council and disbanded the Ascendants, Arico was supposed to present himself as a replacement. A governor of sorts who could bridge the gap between dwarves and humans. There was even talk of him taking a dwarven wife to solidify their alliance, though that was far from certain. Dwarven women had the right to choose, just as the stra’tchi did, and Arico didn’t think much of his chances. But his true family wasn’t supposed to be revealed this early! No, the Hauld wouldn’t be happy about this.

Arico was still cursing himself for having let it slip. Between all his own exhaustion, and the sudden attack, and Jaas’ injury, he hadn’t been thinking. He would have to explain all of that and hope the Hauld understood. Another painful part had been the ambush itself. Not for him, really; all he’d suffered was a few bruises and some cuts on his sword arm and right leg.

No, he was concerned because Jaas had avoided capture back there, by little more than a hair’s breadth. They both knew what that would have meant for her. She still hadn’t told him what had happened during her missing time with her mysterious allies, but it had to be something similar, because it was obviously still affecting her. He’d heard her voice tremble more than once as she and Endu peppered him with questions about his history. Her most recent question: why had his mother wanted him to be a freedom fighter in the first place?

Arico didn’t have an answer to that one. In truth, his mother hadn’t wanted that at all. All she’d wanted was a good life for her children, and she’d been cheated out of being part of that life! The Hauld had been the one insisting on a rebellion, even if it was for good reasons, and it had been he who had wanted Arico involved—Durhu had been opposed!

That was part of why Arico had started that other life in Sustained territory with Nouma in the first place. His ‘parents’ had been fighting tooth and nail, and what child wouldn’t want to leave that behind?

When Nouma had finally confronted him about his false name and history, it had put an end to his childish fantasy of having a normal life. Even so, it did feel good to get all of this off his chest. He was a Fisher by blood. Normalcy was just about the last thing he could expect from this life.

Almost reluctantly, Arico kept on thinking back to this business with his sister. He’d kept tabs on her from a distance, trying to learn more about her. Clearly he’d missed a lot of what she was up to. He had hoped one day to introduce himself to her and her Clarion consort. To be part of her life after the fighting was done. He’d even envisioned what that meeting would look like, and where. Hardly the same as the bloody and violent scene that had really happened.

There were still so many questions! Who had trained her? Why had she become Heartbane? Berilo probably knew what she was, but did anyone else? Up until now, nearly all of Heartbane’s victims had been Sustained nobles or servants of the various Houses. Did she kill people only for her father, or for herself as well? Only Hazra could answer those questions. Arico doubted she would be very forthcoming, but he had to reach out and try anyway. It was the brotherly thing to do.


Hazra drifted between light and darkness. The threads were only the beginning, passing over her and on into eternity. Dark shapes flitted in and out of sight, accompanied by soft voices. Her mother’s voice, she imagined.

Pulling her mind free of the flow of images, she tried to focus on one. The shapes cleared, and the voices sharpened as well. A little girl, chasing an older boy through a garden. “Give her back!”

The boy laughed, holding the purloined doll above his head. Gold-colored hair made of string cascaded down on top of his head as he kept the constructed captive out of reach of her would-be rescuer. “Tenlor, give her back right now! She’s mine!”

Hazra looked down at them, and could almost remember the indignation in her own voice. Then she was the little girl once more, jumping up and trying to get her precious… Itral. Yes, that was the name. It was the doll she had slept with every night, who was as real to her as anyone made of flesh and blood.

Tenlor darted away, with Hazra in hot pursuit. Her face reddening, she snatched up a small stone from the garden’s edge. When her brother came to a stop again, she threw it straight and true. The rounded pebble skipped right off Tenlor’s forehead, bounced off a nearby tree, and fell into the bushes. Stunned, Tenlor dropped the doll and put his hands to his head. A slight trickle of blood flowed between his fingers as he dashed away back to the manor.

In an instant Hazra had retrieved her doll, cradling it in her arms. Itral seemed unharmed, despite having been waved around like a butterfly net. Odjes knelt next to her in the garden and embraced her in turn, lifting her off the ground. “There, there. Everything will be all right now.”

Hazra pushed him away roughly, and was herself again, tall enough to look him in the eye. “Why did you bring me here?” She demanded harshly.

The garden wavered, plants becoming blurry again, and the sunlight flickered as she lost concentration on it. Odjes laughed lightly. “You brought me here. I’m just along for the ride, remember? Still, I haven’t seen this particular memory of yours in a very long time. Hazra the little lady,” he knelt at the garden path where the child Hazra was running up to the manor after her brother.

Her surprise faded quickly, replaced by embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Odjes. I just… well, you know I don’t like these trips into my past.”

Odjes nodded understandingly. “There must be some reason you came here, though. This was what? Twenty-seven years ago? The day you found out you had perfect aim?”

“I’d never tried to hit anyone or anything like that before. It came so naturally to me.” Hazra felt a little more at peace, now that she was remembering. Odjes hadn’t been there to embrace her in real life, but he had been there in her dreams that night. Just as unreal as her doll, perhaps, but even more comforting in his own way. She must be dreaming again, in the sha’haln. Or Odjes wouldn’t be here too.

“It wasn’t exactly ladylike of me,” she admitted, picking up the bloodstained rock, “but Tenlor never stole from me again, did he? I remember thinking later on about joining an Ona team. But then, that wouldn’t be ladylike either.”

“You would have been spectacular, I’m sure,” Odjes agreed.

Their surroundings shifted again, this time to her first Ona match. Or rather, the first one she’d observed, given that she could never play. Odjes was still there, sitting in the stands next to her. “There’s Tenlor,” he pointed, singling out her now-teenaged brother as he maneuvered his way down the field. “Come on, let’s give him a real challenge!” He pulled her hand, and after a brief tug-of-war she allowed herself to be coaxed down onto the field as well.

The match was close, as all such competitions were in her dreams. Odjes had told her that this was because she craved competition and risk, and she could hardly disagree. In the final moments she was barely able to slip the ball past her brother, and into the scoring zone. The crowd cheered loudly, jumping up and down, but Tenlor just vanished. Of course he did. Hazra had never seen Tenlor as a graceful loser in the real world, so she couldn’t picture it here, either.

Suddenly she and Odjes were back in the viewing room, with her father and Tenlor’s body. She showed her father who she really was, and barely got anything in response. That was when Heartbane had stepped up. The killer who’d been a part of her for years. The killer who demanded to be named heir, and promised her father revenge if he did so.


Here, in dreams, she could face the reality of her life. Here she knew that she was a killer as well as a princess. Here, she and Heartbane were one in the same. Both impulses were present within her, but here… they weren’t at war with each other.

When she woke up though, she knew she wouldn’t remember any of this. Any clue as to her identity as a world-class assassin would be gone, and Hazra would be just ordinary, barren, useless Hazra again. Only Heartbane was aware of the full game, and she kept it secret, claiming to be protecting her weaker half. Even the Clarion had gone along with that, Hazra had eventually realized in dreams. He did love her. But why did that love have to be blended in with lies and hurt?

Things had changed between Hazra and her father in the days since her revelation, but not much. He’d given her all the information he’d promised, and had questioned her in detail about her training and skills. But still it was as if Heartbane was just another Ascendant soldier to him, and nothing more. Everything she’d done for him—everything she’d promised to do, and he still hardly noticed her at all! At least she could still rely on her other mentor.

Odjes had been her teacher, right from the start. In dream after dream, Hazra had found herself part of a unit. A group of similar soldiers; some of them women as well. He’d drilled them all in basic endurance at first, and then moved on to tactics and stealth in combat.

Even though her squadmates weren’t real, somehow they helped. They suffered alongside her, night after night. Odjes’ advice had echoed through her even while she’d been awake, teaching her muscles what her mind already knew. At her request, he’d taught her how to kill, and she was very good at it.

Through all this time, though, Hazra had known that Odjes was unhappy. In the waking world he was a soldier himself—or so she surmised—but he taught her reluctantly. His lessons often came with warnings about what it was like to kill, and to live with that. Eventually though, he had realized she wouldn’t be deterred, and stopped holding back. Not that any of that had brought her any closer to her father. Blinking back tears at that, Hazra shook her head and tried to shift again. Not to another memory, but to the waking world itself.


Her heart beat faster, and her breathing quickened. Awareness flooded Heartbane’s mind, filling her perceptions with information. She could feel sunshine on her face, and see red through her eyelids.

There was pain too, shooting through her side. She moved minutely, trying to gauge the extent of her injuries. Odjes had taught her how to block pain as well, but in situations like this it was better to feel it all. She had three, or maybe four ribs cracked, she determined after a moment. They had been expertly bandaged. Heartbane’s lips tightened as she realized what that meant.

After Tenlor’s assassination, her father had been driven to identify his killer. The heretic was the obvious target, but his female companion was the one her father really wanted. The surviving guard had given a full report, saying that she blamed Tenlor for murdering her daughter. After Tellek patch had been destroyed, another woman named Endu had apparently never been found among the bodies. Neither had her children. It was likely she knew the heretic personally.

For some reason, Heartbane’s father was convinced that this Endu was the assassin. Perhaps he knew more about this murdered kid than he was willing to share. It was most likely a dwarf who had bandaged Heartbane’s ribs, which was a repellent thought, but Endu had been a noted healer in Tellek. She was a possibility, too. If so, she might still be in the area.

Heartbane kept her eyes closed during all this rumination, listening intently. She thought she could hear breathing to her left. A brief glimpse showed a man sitting in a chair a few spans away. He wasn’t facing her, so she quietly sat up, hoping fervently that the floorboards didn’t squeak.

She was in some kind of cottage, which looked old but well-maintained. The cot underneath her was new: probably brought in here recently. His chair was in front of what looked like the only door, and he was reading an old leather-bound tome while he faced the sun-kissed hills outside.

It was Arico. The heretic and traitor.

Memories swirled through her head in a confused haze. The heretic and the Harbinger, vanishing into the threads together, against all odds. The giant had been there, too. She remembered the Harbinger fleeing up the hill, and she remembered killing the giant. But after that… she’d just woken up here. Wherever here was.

It was midmorning out the window. She’d been unconscious for several hours at least. There was no sign of anyone else out there as well. She could escape easily, if the heretic was alone. However, this was also the chance to finish what she’d started. Her daggers were nowhere in sight, but her armor had been draped over a chair nearby. Along with her mask. The mask’s improvised dagger was gone as well, but Heartbane had more than one trick up her sleeve. Literally, as it turned out.

She reached for her armor’s left sleeve. There was no way she’d be able to put on her armor without alerting the heretic, but she could at least arm herself. Sure enough they hadn’t found it; as it was sewn right into the sleeve. A thin metal wire, pliable enough to not interfere with movement while wearing the armor. Less effective than her daggers maybe, but still deadly.

Heartbane doubted she’d be quick enough to kill him before he could disappear into the threads again, but at least this time she’d be touching him when he did it. She liked her chances in a fight for control over where they went. Who knew? Maybe she could even bring him to her father alive!

With a grim smile, Heartbane wrapped the long wire’s ends around both her hands and approached her captor from behind. She had almost reached striking range when he suddenly said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Heartbane paused, and the heretic turned slightly in his chair to look back at her with a smile. “I’ll just disappear again, and this time you won’t be able to track me.” She slowly lowered the garrote with a grimace, as he stood to face her. Behind him, she saw a glinting mirror in place on the ground. So that was how he’d seen her moving. Sneaky.

“I’m Arico,” he said unnecessarily. He started to extend a hand, and then dropped it with a sheepish look on his face. “Of course you know that, don’t you? Hazra Fisher probably knows a great deal about me.”

With effort, Heartbane was able to keep her expression from changing. How in the Many did he know who she was? She’d certainly never seen him before, not without her mask on, anyway. She would remember any stra’tchi vividly. Although, his shoulder mark looked new. Maybe he’d decided the time for disguises was over.

“Why am I here?” She demanded, as much to cover her surprise as to get the answer.

He only sighed. “I brought you here to watch over you, to make sure you recovered. You took quite a hit.” He glanced out the window. “Besides, I think you and I have a lot to talk about.” The heretic gestured to the nearby dining room table, and then took a seat there. He didn’t look afraid at all, but then he could just vanish if he wanted to.

“Sit, please. You have nothing to fear from me, and you can leave whenever you want. We’re the only two people in this entire patch.” He poured a glass of water for each of them and gestured again, a patient look on his face. “A friend once told me that in order to get someone’s trust, I need to give it first. There are some things I need to tell you, before you go home.”

Still suspicious, Heartbane let Hazra slowly take a seat opposite him.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 02:41:36 AM by Daen »