Apr 04 2016

Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast II

Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast I
Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast III

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At some point, and I wasn’t sure when, I began seeing again.

Someone was looking out a window, watching heavy morning rain drench Lion’s Arch through heavy glass panes. The sun was struggling through the thick, grey clouds, and the faint shimmer of light hoping to become a rainbow was barely visible. A hand came into view, fingers brushing the glass, and I felt a surge of relief as I realised whose hand it was.

My attempt at calling out to her came out as nothing but a hoarse rattle, but the eyes whirled from the window and a moment later she was at my side.

“Kaede!” Tatianna said, sitting down on the bed next to me. “No no, not so fast.” She stopped me pushing myself up on my elbows and instead helped me, slowly, ease my way into a half-sitting position with pillows to prop me up. “By the Six, I’ve known you for a week now and you’ve been knocked out more times than most manage in a lifetime.” There was a faint cracking in her voice. “Good morning.”

The bed I lay in was surprisingly lavish. White sheets, multiple down pillows, and the rest of the bedroom was equally decadent – at least in comparison to what I had seen in this city so far. Fine curtains, large windows, and the dresser, chairs, and small tables were all made of engraved wood. Unimpressive when I thought of the Varr Estate, but it was somewhat comforting to once again see some of the world’s basic comforts.

“I…” I tried, failed, and when I tried again Tatianna handed me a small cup.

“Imagine you’ve had enough of water, but you should drink something before you try to talk.” I took one sip, winced at the pain of swallowing. “There… it’s okay. Just try for a bit more.” I didn’t argue, trying another, then another, and my throat felt less like sandpaper.

“Wh…” I swallowed, took a breath, then tried again. “What happened?”

“You nearly drowned.” She said, somewhat unhelpfully. “The others found us, got us into a boat.”

“You… The Maiden? You were aboard?”

“Aye.” She said, a soft sigh escaping her. “I don’t rightly know exactly what happened, but when the fighting started I made a run for it. Found you in the water.” She looked away. “You were… you were face down. It’s pure luck I found you at all.”

“Baen…”

“She’s alright. So are Coalpaw and the rest of my crew.” I felt a something relax in my gut and allowed myself to sag back against the pillows. “Kind of flattered that you all came looking for me. I heard you were involved in a big way, and you didn’t have to be.” She said. “So, thank you.”

“Where are we?” I said, feeling slightly embarrassed by her sudden seriousness.

“Safe, mostly. This is place belongs to some rich bastard.” Tatianna said. “He’s away for the season, but the caretaker owes me a few favours. We can stay here for a while, give you a chance to rest.” That answered that question, at least. “When you’re feeling up to it, we’ll get you something to eat.” I could hear the smile in her voice, and I her eyes searched my face. I shuddered at the sight of myself, my unkempt hair, my cracked, red skin, and then was struck by the significance of what it meant.

I tried to close my eyes, tried to turn away, hands coming up to cover my eyes. “It’s alright, Kaede, it’s alright.” She said, taking my hands in hers, fingers closing over mine. “Calm down, it’s alright!” I tried to wrench my hands free of hers, failed, so instead settled for turning my head away. “Kaede, it’s alright. Baen told me.” I hesitated at that, and though I kept my eyes firmly closed I did stop struggling.

I realised that it was pointless anyway – she had clearly seen my eyes already. Slowly, I opened my eyes again.

I didn’t resist as she stared into the violet-white of my unseeing eyes, but thought, frantically, of something to say. We had cover stories planned for such a thing, lies to explain things if anyone ever saw my eyes, but none of them came to me through the grey fog that still clung to my thoughts.

“What’d she tell you?” My voice came out as a hoarse croak.

“That you can see just fine. Just that your eyes look a little different.” She hesitated, her attention fixed on my eyes. “That you’re a little sensitive about it.” I grimaced – I could almost hear Baen saying it.

“Where is she?” I changed the subject, turning my face away. I didn’t like the idea that I’d been lying helpless for however long while Tatianna – or indeed anyone – had been able to gawk at my eyes. Still, there was no undoing it now.

“Baen? She went out for supplies with Darrus. The larder was filled to feed three or four people for a week before restocking.” Tatianna said. “We got eight, one of them charr, and now that you’re awake I imagine you’ll be wanting to get something real to eat soon.” I tried to speak, coughed, and allowed Tatianna to help me drink before trying again.

“How long was I out?” I asked, noting that speaking was becoming much easier. “What happened on the Maiden?”

“You’ve been asleep for about two days.” She said, her gaze still on my eyes. “And I… look, just rest for now, alright? I’ll get you some food, then I’ll explain everything.”

***

Tatianna had indeed been taken by Levaunt’s men, she explained to me. She had been looking for Wilhar, Syman, and Laissa at the docks when they’d ambushed her. Too many to fight, they’d taken her at gunpoint and carried her across to The Cloven Maiden. Levaunt had made her a new offer – confess to being behind the assassination attempt on him and he’d “allow” her to rejoin his crew

It took me a full day before I could muster the strength to rise from my bed, and a further day after that before I could manage a stumbling walk. Baen was at my side often, Coalpaw and once even a grumbling Fotti took their turns bringing me my meals. It was Tatianna, however, who spent the most time with me, chiefly tending to my medical needs.

Fortunately, my wounds were largely superficial. Scrapes, cuts, bruises, one spot where a shard of wood the length and width of my middle finger had pierced my upper arm. The worst of it was a trio of cracked ribs, which Tatianna bound tightly to restrict my movement. It reminded me, unpleasantly, of the few times I had worn a corset. Tatianna laughed when I told her as much, and seemed to enjoy my fabricated tale of undercover mercenary work to justify my wearing one. I twas to forget, sometimes, that Tatianna didn’t know the truth about me.

“Levaunt had a pet doctor, an old norn sawbones.” She explained to me as she gingerly removed the dressing on my arm, inspecting the wound carefully. “He was a lecherous old bastard, but he taught me a thing or two about patching up wounds when I was younger.”

“How young?”

“I joined Levaunt’s crew when I was fourteen.” She answered. “I’d always liked the sea, being born here and everything, but I didn’t know just how much I loved it till I got aboard a ship.” There was a peculiar note in her voice, though whether it was whimsy, nostalgia or both I couldn’t tell. “Ever been on a ship, Kaede? I mean, a real ship, out on the ocean?”

“No.” I said. “Little boats, and only on a lake.”

“Fishing craft, or those silly little floats that the rich like to putter about on?”

“The latter.” I didn’t want to take the risk and lie as my knowledge of fishing was practically non-existent. “I worked as a bodyguard for a Krytan merchant once.”

“Sounds boring.” Tatianna said unapologetically, and I couldn’t help but smile. Sitting about on the leisure barges with other nobles had been exactly that. “You should try a real ship sometime. Believe me when I say it’s different.” She lathered more white ointment onto my wound. “Nothing but possibilities out there, you know? All of this mess here just doesn’t exist when you’re out there. Everything that happened on shore, everything that might follow you is left behind when you’re out on the sea.” She sighed. “If I ever get The Covenant back into the water you really should come sailing with me sometime.” I made a noncommittal noise, but I couldn’t help but imagine it.

What would it really be like, I wondered, to just drop everything and sail away on The Covenant with her? Baen and I could leave everything behind – the Order, my family, Cymea. What would it feel like, to start fresh? I knew that there was no way I could possibly surrender all my hopes and all the things that were promised me for some idyll that was no doubt more phantasm than reality, but I couldn’t deny that the dream had its draw, even if it were only a fleeting appeal.

“So, why did you leave the army?” Tatianna asked abruptly, interrupting my whimsy.

“What?”

“The way you fight – I don’t know much about it, but Darrus says he’s only seen the like in trained fighters.” She said. “Suspected the army, some specialist brigade – but you two seem awfully young to be any kind veteran. Did the training and then left, maybe?”

“Something like that.” I muttered. “Baen and I were picked up by a mercenary band when we were younger. It was better than the street, so we went with them. Us and a fair amount of other kids.” I slipped easily into the well rehearsed cover story. “The head of this band was a former Seraph, and he knew a thing or two.”

“So why’d you leave?”

“Didn’t, not really.” I said, wincing as she wrapped my arm in a fresh bandage. “We were raided by the Seraph. Most were arrested, some killed, the rest scattered. Baen and I managed to get out, been making our way ever since.”

“No family?” I hesitated.

“Younger sister.” I said after a moment, and she looked at my face. “The rest are gone.”

“What was in ‘the rest’?” She pressed, then immediately looked down. “I’m sorry, I’m getting personal. You don’t have to answer that.” Her tone took me by surprise; embarrassment seemed so incompatible with the confident Tatianna I had come to know. I couldn’t see her face, but there was something of shy, almost childlike apology in her voice.

“It’s… it’s alright.” I stumbled a little, not sure just how comfortable I actually was. “A brother. Mother and father, though I suppose that’s obvious.” I failed to keep the slight edge of distaste from my voice at the mention of my father. “How about you?” Sahir’s words came to mind, drifting upwards like an unpleasant odour. “Any family?”

“Two little sisters.” She said. “My mother died when I was very young. My father was killed when I was a teenager.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” She said, flippantly. “He was the worst kind of swine.” Again, I felt a smile form involuntarily on my lips, though it faded quickly.

Levaunt’s ranting, Sahir’s warning – it all did line up with this story. Tatianna’s father, killed perhaps right before she signed on with Levaunt to escape the law? But what did it matter? It her father had deserved it, if he truly had been a monster, who was to say she hadn’t been right to kill him? How did it all change how I saw her day to day, now, years after the supposed crime?

Besides that, I couldn’t help but wonder – idly, I told myself – whether or not I’d have had the courage to kill my own father had my station allowed it.

Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast I
Chapter Seven: Suttlest Beast III
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