Tatianna was still.
The long, heavy silence hung in the air like a tangible thing as she stared at the squad of Whisper agents that surrounded us. I could almost hear her thinking, calculating just how far she could make it before they gunned her down.
Should she transform, we both knew she could take them. The monster she could become was resilient enough for that, but transformation would take time, time she didn’t have. Her minions could save her, swarming up, but through the eyes of the agents I knew they weren’t close enough either.
“Back off!” She warned, moving down suddenly. She lay atop me as one hand took my chin and the other grabbing the back of my head. “Or I’ll snap her neck.”
“You don’t want to do that.” Tianne said. “Release my agent. Now.”
“Why should I?” Tatianna snapped, her fingers tightening ever so slightly. “I-” Tianne squeezed the trigger, and the bullet sent up a burst of shrapnel from the cobbles half a step from where the necromancer straddled my bloody body.
“I said now, captain.” The lightbringer warned. “Stand down, and not only will we not kill you, but maybe we can keep your secret a secret.” Tatianna blinked at that, and I felt something clench in my gut. “There’s no need to destroy what you’ve built.”
“What’re you saying?”
“You’ve set up an impressive little organisation.” Tianne said. “The Misericorde could be a useful ally, and the Order of Whispers is always good to count amongst your friends.”
“Be a lot more convincin’ if you hadn’t sent these two.”
“You think it’s coincidence that two Whispers Agents just happened to show up with a piece of history that would inevitably lead them to you, The Misericorde herself? We knew that if they came with anything besides a relic like the sword hilt they’d have ended up with a different miscreant.” Tianne asked. “Kaede and Baen’s mission was to confirm our suspicions regarding your identity, nothing more.” Tatianna’s grip loosened slightly. “If we wanted you removed, we’d have sent a hit squad.
“We’ve been watching you for a long time. Kept our distance.” Tianne explained. “But the world is changing and it was decided that we couldn’t wait any longer. We need you and your network on our side.” The lightbringer stopped coming closer, now no more than a few steps from us. “So let her go, and come with us.” Tatianna’s eyes narrowed, but Tianne’s finger tightened visibly on the trigger again. “There’re only two ways this can end, and you don’t want to take the second door.”
“I…” Tatianna leaned back slowly, straightening herself till she was somewhat more upright, but her grip didn’t loosen much. “All of this?” She asked, and there was a dullness creeping into her voice now, something that seemed part resignation, part shock, and part exhaustion. The recognition of having no options. “No-one knows?”
“No-one.” Tianne promised. “The Order keeps its secrets.”
“I…” Tatianna shook her head, her hand slipped away from my throat, and she looked down at me. Her fingers trailed along my bloody cheek, almost tenderly. “Kaede, I’m-”
The dart seemed to suddenly grow from her chest with a soft popping sound, and her expression contorted as she rose to her feet with a shout, clutching at the projectile. She staggered, reaching for Tianne.
“Hit her again.” The Lightbringer said, and through Tatianna’s swimming vision I could see Halleston raise a blowgun to his lips and launch another dart, this one hitting the necromancer in the upper thigh.
“You…” Tatianna tried to take a step forward, her eyes flashing green with impotent rage. Tianne holstered her pistol and came forward.
“I meant every word I said, Captain Aurcattio.” She said, deftly avoiding the reaching hands and driving her knee into Tatianna’s gut, doubling her over. “Just breathe. You’ll be fine.”
The necromancer wheezed, gasping as she collapsed onto her knees, then toppled slowly to her side. It reminded me, somewhat painfully, of how Coalpaw had died. Her eyes slowly went dark, and it was only the slight rise and fall of her chest that gave me any impression other than that The Misericorde was dead.
“That should do it.” Halleston said, coming forward and giving me a grin as he crouched beside me. “Kaede, good to see you again.” I tried to sit up, but he put a hand on my good shoulder and kept me down as the agents moved in. “Easy.”
“Agent Kyan Halleston.” He reintroduced himself. “Sorry for that little spiel out on the road, but Tianne sent me to keep tabs on you.”
“She’ll be fine.” He assured me. “A bit scratched up, but healers are on their way. Shamblers didn’t much care for killing her, apparently.” The relief I knew I should have felt was a dull, muted thing, like a voice from deep underground. “Truth be told she’s looking better than you are.” The other agents were running forward, surrounding the comatose Tatianna to clamp heavy irons around her wrists and ankles, snapping them shut with some kind of complex asuran lock. A burlap sack was pulled over her head.
“Hal.” Tianne called, and the man hopped lightly to his feet.
“Take your team and bring her out to the docks safehouse.” She ordered, gesturing to Tatianna “Keep her bound and black bagged.”
“Understood.” He nodded. “What about the rest of the crew? The asura is insane, the human is in shock, and the charr is wounded.” Tianne seemed to consider this for a moment.
“Bring them to the docks,” she said, “signal The Amarress.”
“In this weather? It’s getting worse out there, visibility is-”
“They”ll see.” She said, cutting him off. “Signal her.”
“Understood.” Halleston nodded sharply and turned to shout orders at his team.
“Be careful with her.” Tianne called after him, crouching down beside me. “ No chances.”
“You’re an idiot.” The lightbringer said when he had left. “If I hadn’t moved in, you and your partner would both be dead now.” She shook her head. “They’re going to praise you for this, no doubt.” She went on. “They’re going to tell you that you did great, that the results speak for themselves, and I suppose at the end of the day you played your part. But you lucked into this, and don’t you forget it.”
I didn’t respond, looking through Halleston’s eyes as he oversaw the agents sealing Tatianna’s unconscious body up with further chains and more of the heavy locks. They wrapped her in rough burlap and a charr hoisted her into his massive arms. Whatever barbs Tianne seemed determined to cast my way seemed oddly unimportant, and I didn’t know why I felt so emotionally drained. Words that would have rankled seemed strangely irrelevant now.
“What’s going to happen to her?” I asked, and the lightbringer blinked.
“More or less what I promised her.” She shrugged. “We wanted The Misericorde, but we wanted her approached a little more subtly.” She sighed. “She’ll be given a bit of a reeducation as to the pecking order, then probably set up back here. She’s smart enough to make it work.”
“Your plan from the beginning?” There was a numb, distant sort of anger at being used, at being lied to. Worse, at feeling stupid for not having seen it, not having expected it. But was was irrelevant as her mockery.
“Close enough. We needed to test you and confirm Tatianna’s identity. Birds and stones.” She said. “We’re going to ne
ed people like her, Varr. Smart, powerful, ambitious.”
“Damaged.” I added. “Controllable.” Tianne stopped, for a moment, looking over my bloodied face as a pair of asura – medics, judging by their equipment – entered the courtyard and hurried towards me. “Oh, you sweet, stupid, spoiled child.” I couldn’t see it, but I had the distinct impression the bitch was smiling. “Why do you think we recruited you?”