- December 19, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 13)
“Whoever thinks blood being thicker than water is a good thing, is a dumbass.”
– Harris Thorn, Lord of House Thorn, 443 A.C.A.
“I know this sounds rude, but I’m going to speak to my brother alone, so leave you two,” the wine-drinking Diana Starshield said with a flick of her hand.
She can pretend all she wants, I know she’s not drunk, Jack thought to himself.
Lucy’s too busy being flabbergasted by her demands to notice what Jack does. “Wha-why would we trust you?!”
Deadpan in tone, Malum said, “It literally makes no sense for us to leave you two alone.”
Diana rolled her eyes, as sipped from her goblet only to find it empty. She sighed as she had to reach for the wine bottle.
Jack knew, Father’s old trick, pretend to drink, act all drunk, wild, and uncontrollable, when he was really all there. He could cause terror and bask in the feeling of power it gave him all at the same time. Even if she were father, the trick is far less frightening to me now.
As she poured the drink Jack believed wasn’t wine, Diana answered their concerns. “Listen, you two seem like good… bodyguards. If I wanted to hurt him I wouldn’t have given our guards a vacation after feeding your spies rumors of his…” Diana squinted at Jack in thought, giving him a wild eye that reminded far more of his mother than he would have wished. “Is he your boyfriend or do you still put quotes around ‘friend?’”
Jack could hardly contain the growl in the back of his throat. So this was a waste of my time. The family always has to get what it wants.
“Well,” Lucy muttered and crossed her arms, “I believe she doesn’t plan to hurt you, but I do believe she’s a giant goddamn bitch.”
That made Diana smile as she drank. “Thank you, I do my best.”
“God, she’s one of those people who gets off on being called a bitch.”
Diana mocked a smile and let her eyes flutter with something resembling glee. “Guilty as charged.”
“Why are you…” Malum struggled to get out, his attention constantly drawn back and forth between the two women, “why are you doing this?”
Diana squinted at him. “To talk to my brother, pretty sure I was speaking a language you understand, assassin.”
Malum turned his mask towards the pirate. “No, I mean Lucy, I know what you’re doing, but why are you setting her up for literally every quip?”
Lucy gave a hard shrug as she admitted, “I don’t drive the boats because I’m the smartest pea in the pod, okay!”
“You don’t even drive the boats, the shipping master does that.”
All this talking in circles dragged Jack back to times he’d rather not revisit. God, it took her all but a minute to turn their eyes away from her. This whole time he’s watched his sister make fun of his compatriots, he’s watched her, and every time, between every motion and biting retort, she met his eyes and smirked a little.
“Let me talk to my sister, clearly she went to a lot of work to say ‘hi,’” Jack said, relenting to her.
“Okay.” It took Malum less than a second to turn around. One would think he hardly cared for Jack’s safety after so easily giving up on it. “I’m gonna find something to steal, but I won’t make it obvious so she spends time figuring out what it was.”
Diana hollered to the assassin, “If I couldn’t replace it, it wouldn’t be in the house, knock yourself out.”
Lucilla bowed her head in mock deference to the lady of the house. “Thank you, we could use the money, and will make sure to put it towards our crippling alcohol addictions.”
“Ah, finally funding something worthwhile.”
To Jack, Lucy warned him, “Also, don’t let her poison you.”
Not to let Lucy leave with the last word, Diana said, “If I were going to do that, I would have just had one of the tribesmen on your little Icy Isles do it.”
Lucy hesitated, just before she stepped out of the room. “I hate this bitch.”
Then the pirate left, and the siblings were finally alone.
Jack stood in silence as Diana slurped on her drink the moment the door was closed. Definitely not wine, Jack told himself again.
As Diana finished her drink, she noticed Jack still standing motioned him to the chair in front of her. She gave him a peculiar look as if questioning his mental fortitude.
Yeah, I’m home, Jack thought to himself as he moved and sat across from Diana, near the empty fireplace.
The two sat across from each other without speaking, with Diana looking him over in a way unfamiliar to him. It was his turn to make a peculiar face at her, but unlike him, she ignored his expression. He interrupted her, asking, “So…?”
Diana ceased her traveling eyeballs, for a moment’s pause, then rested her empty goblet down to rest her clasped hands in her lap. “How are you my dear baby brother?” she asked him.
Jack’s eyes squinted, just a bit, with this little twitch right where the sandman makes his nightly deposits. “How am I?” he repeated, a little bit of contempt coming out.
Diana, without missing a beat, answered with a condescending tone and a nod of her head. “Yes, I haven’t seen you in quite a few years. You didn’t even come to mummy’s and daddy’s funerals, but you came for a booty call. Not that I don’t understand, but your values are a bit warped don’t you think?”
That sounds like it, Jack thought to himself as he closed his eyes, and bent his head over to rub the bridge of his nose between his fingers. It’s always like this, nothing is ever straightforward.
Without even looking at her, he told her with a hagrid sigh, “Just tell me what you want.”
Diana was silent, quiet in response to him. It wasn’t until Jack opened one eye in confusion, that she nodded his head at him. Ah, I see, I’m not allowed to be rude.
Jack opened his eyes, sat up, and laid his hands on the armrests of the chair, just as he knew she wanted.
With little twists around the corners of her mouth, she repeated what she had been saying. “A conversation is what I want, a chance to check up, learn how you’ve been.”
What the fuck is this?
Jack tried to look straight but couldn’t. He looked away, all around the room, trying to keep from huffing and puffing in frustration. When he finally turned back to her, he leaned forward with his elbow on his knee and threw her question right back at her. “Okay, you want to know how I’ve been?”
Ever so biting, Diana responded, “I did ask.”
“I’m tired,” he said, and with gravel in his mouth, he added, “I’m angry.” Diana’s expression remained the same, unchanging and unyielding, unintimidated.
In fact, as he began to speak, she leaned forward with her elbow on her own knee.
And then Jack continued. “I’ve been run ragged after being betrayed by the love of my life, who my sister has now used to manipulate me. Hundreds, thousands of people I trained and taught are now dead, and I’m pretty sure that those who are left expect me to be one of the people who save them… who… inspire them. Me, inspire someone, ridiculous right?”
“Not to me,” Diana said, shaking her head.
“Agree to disagree,” he said, slapping his hands on the armrests as he leaned back. “Basically, I’m really shitty right now.”
“I figured as much,” Diana said, devoid of sympathy or empathy. She said it so matter of factly, like she predicted her brother’s misfortune and there was never any doubt she would be wrong.
Then she turned all that upside down when she told him, “So come home.”
Then everything that once appeared effortless in Diana, began to show strain. Diana’s interlocked fingers in her lap no longer seemed so condescending to Jack, but desperate. She wasn’t appearing small because she wanted to be less intimidating, but because she was small. She didn’t speak in monotone because it bothered him, but because she wanted to hide how she felt.
“Come home,” she said, “forget your friends, I’ll pay them the money they want, and you stay here.” When she made her request this time, he wasn’t crestfallen in his chair. He stood straighter, yet not taller.
Jack twisted his head a bit, to give her a small side-eye. “Are you kidding? I’m a wanted fugitive, I have responsibilities, I have-”
“If responsibility meant anything to you, you wouldn’t have abandoned the Stormguard for House Thorn.”
Now Jack had the chance to smirk, seeing his sister’s edges. There was this overflowing feeling of power in Jack as the conversation went on. Before, his older sister always managed to make him feel small, but then, as he had nothing to hide in his squalor, he was free to say what he wanted. Could she have said the same?
“Oh,” Jack cooed, “that’s what this is about, you want me to be your spy on the crown.”
“It’s too late for that now,” Diana said, evading Jack’s offensive. “Remember, it’s not about what I want, it’s about what you want, as it always has been.”
“No, no that’s a load of horse shit, it’s always been about what the family wants, and now that you’re in charge, it’s what you want. What is that, my dear, dear sister?”
Diana’s expression was a look of stone as Jack continued to defy her. Maybe she was beginning to feel what mother felt dealing with us. As Diana stared at him, the silence telling him enough, he was sure, Yes, that’s mother’s face verbatim.
“Stop being difficult Jacky,” Diana said, her playful tone in mock contrast to her cold and unyielding stare, “you’re a part of the Great Houses, if Harry Thorn can get out alive, it would take me only a bit of coin to get you exonerated and reinstated as a civilian of Raydorn. As a son of our house, you could likely even keep your Iligsia.”
“And why would you do that? If you needed a Stormguard, you can have Ivan get-”
“Ivan can’t think without his dick, he’s a useless pissant about as likable and useful as an appendix.”
Jack couldn’t help but purse his lip in amusement. Her patience was not as limitless with him as it would be with others. Plus, one can be sure Jack was thoroughly amused to hear her curse about their more than cuss-worthy brother.
“I’m guessing he’s annoying you here in this house.”
Diana’s groan was about the most honest thing that came out of her mouth so far. “As if he lives here anymore.”
Wait, if Ivan’s not here then…
“Are… are you all alone in here?” Jack asked her, trying to rein in his own bit of bite.
That’s when Diana’s hand stopped moving, and they both noticed it. From her hand, their eyes rose to meet each other, and Jack finally saw the real and vast anger she had for him. How dare he out her, even in the privacy of their own home when there was no else to hear? How dare he…
“I’m never alone,” she said, looking to the painting above the unlit fire. The face on it was blocked by shadow, but Jack doubted anyone would move the family portrait from its spot until Diana had children of her own.
“But you feel alone.”
At that Diana’s eyes broke away, and she looked to her glass. Her eyes narrowed on it, hating it for the falsehood it was. “We’re not talking about me.”
“But we are talking, and you always talk more around me, because you know I’m not going to tell anyone…”
Together, they spoke at once.
“I’m your brother.”
“You’re my brother…”
Diana looked over at him and seemed to squirm at the thought. “My beloved little brother.”
Somehow, that bit of disgust in her voice made it seem all the more true, Jack thought, having a genuine smile on his face.
“You could have just said you missed me.”
Diana looked as if she could have both rolled her eyes and glared at him at the same time. Without the ability to do both, she sighed. “No, no I can’t.”
Jack was quiet for a bit, waiting for Diana to look up to him, but she never did. Instead, she reached inside her sleeve and took out a flask that held alcohol she was not going to pretend to drink.
And at that, Jack suggested, “I should go.”
Diana did not reach for him, she drank and looked away from his gaze. “No,” she growled, in stark disagreement, “you shouldn’t but you will, because it’s always about you.”
As Jack stood, he turned back to his sister, seeing her as the wallowing woman she had become. “Is it about me, or whoever this family wanted me to be?”
Diana did roll her eyes then. In fact, she groaned loud enough that the whole house should have heard. In a voice mocking a child, she spouted off, “Mummy and daddy are dead now, Jacky… this is the part where you get over their expectations, they can’t exactly have them anymore.”
“Oh yes they can,” Jack assured her, just as her eyes finally looked up and over her drink at him, “you’re living them up, and I think you know that.”
In response, Diana drank, and never took her eyes off him.
Yeah, I’ll go fuck myself now.
Jack turned and walked out without nary a comment from his older sister. He let the door shut with barely a squeak and a whimper.
“Ow!” he heard coming from somewhere else in the home, along with some clanging and battering.
“Mother of light…” Jack swore under his breath.
It took a minute to find Lucy and Malum both standing in his dining stuffing dinner wear into their bags. Really, more like Malum stuffing his in his bag, and Lucy was pulling on his cloak, and using it like one.
When he walked in, they both froze in place and turned towards him. Lucy let the fork she was holding in her mouth drop to the floor. “I was just using that.”
These are the people I associate myself with, Jack thought to himself.
Almost immediately after that thought, he told them, “If you want something she won’t notice is gone, don’t go after something she makes a point not to use. That’s what’s special to her.”
“Oof,” Lucy mocked as she reached down into the pile accumulating in Malum’s cloak and showed a golden circle. “Good thing I took her hand mirror then,” she said as she turned it around and showed him his own expression: his mouth agape.
“Is it actually made of gold?” Lucy asked.
“That’s disgusting, good thing it’s mine now.” At that, she dropped Malum’s cloak and let the many dishes fall to the floor, realizing they couldn’t be worth nearly as much as the golden mirror.
With his cloak freed, Malum asked Jack, “I’m assuming the talk with your sister didn’t go well.”
Jack nodded his head slowly, confirming more than what needed saying. “Not as well as I hoped, I’m no closer to finding the Aurora Knight, but…” The smirk that began to form on Jack’s face caught Lucy’s and Malum’s attention.
“Diana has a hard time keeping things from me,” he told them, “she told me something I’m sure everyone will be interested to hear.”
If there was something that could soothe over the moment that ruined Andelyn’s day, it was dinner. Her stomach had been growling as she watched the seagull roast over the fire. Seagull’s a delicacy at this point. The first thing I’m doing with more money is assure that I never have to eat mermaid meat again.
The food was the only thing that worked to lift Andy’s spirits. Dinner was a community affair on the Icy Pearl Isles. People did not eat in their tents, nor did they stick to their familial units, which weren’t all that common to begin with among the isles’ natives.
Save for parents and their children, people sat next to different people each night, and that didn’t change when the Black Legion came to the isles. It only became all the easier with their legion refugees and the Hotun tribe. After a few weeks of dinner conversations, the people had begun to learn as much of each other’s language as they could.
The legionnaires had been well-practiced in learning and teaching the Icee language, and Andy had learned how to follow most of it. Uzuri was a struggle since the Hotuns were speaking a different dialect than what she was already struggling to learn, but it didn’t keep her down.
Even though she didn’t understand everything she was saying, being surrounded by people who wanted to talk and wanted to be around each other was infectious.
I’d be lying if I said I was thankful that they gave me my space to watch and listen. I probably look like a creep.
As Andy thought to herself, those waiting for the seagull were getting their roasted limbs handed out on sticks. When Andy got her turn, she grabbed it without hesitation and dug in. As she was sinking her teeth into the bird, she found this tingling feeling in the back of her head. It was similar to that nice fuzzing feeling over her scalp, but not quiet. There was some pressure to it, a push one could say.
Andy looked at the bird, first considering, Has it been that long since I’ve had regular food to eat? The tingling seemed to respond to that, which confirmed it.
She shifted in her seat as she made sure no one was looking at her, and as it happened her finger grazed the meat directly. When she did, the tingling only pressed harder.
Andy looked at her hand with recognition, and she had begun to realize. The first time was an accident, but the second time was for a purpose. Maybe… maybe it doesn’t happen at random, it certainly doesn’t happen every time I touch something… Though, as she had that thought, she touched her hand to her clothes and to the stick, without any real desire to know the history of either. To her delight, nothing happens. Maybe there has to be something I want, and I definitely need to touch it with my hands. Thank Valhall, I don’t need flashbacks every time I eat something.
Andy went to bite the seagull again but hesitated as the tingling in her head kept pushing. Okay, what the fuck is this?
She looked at the bird and thought of a hundred different things she could experience if she touched it with purpose. I could remember what it felt like being roasted, or being killed, or… laying eggs. Andy shuddered at the thought, and strangely enough, she felt annoyance poke at her head.
Andy’s demeanor shifted as she learned what it felt like to have something else’s emotions watch over her. Seriously, what the fuck?
Then the tingling quickly disappeared.
Yeah, run away. Let me eat my fucking seagull in peace.
Andy took another bite and slowly chewed to drag out the ecstasy of it. I grew up eating roasted duck like it was chicken, and now I’m eating seagull like it’s a delicacy. Mother would be so disappointed in me. That thought made Andy grin harder as she continued eating before she heard the footsteps behind her.
She turned her head, mouth still full of food as she stared up at Astrid. Suffice to say, Andy stopped chewing.
“So,” Astrid said, dragging out the one word as long as she could.
“Hmhmm?” Andy mumbled with food in her mouth.
Astrid slowly sat down next to Andy on her log with spread legs, with Andy subconsciously hugging hers together tighter.
“I should probably say sorry,” Astrid started, not quite looking at Andy as she said it, “that seems like the thing I’m supposed to do…”
Andy laughed with seagull in her mouth, and quickly swallowed so she could ask Astrid, “Quintus noticed you made me upset and told you to, didn’t he?”
“Yes, yes he did.”
Andy let out a little chuckle but then turned away to continue what was left of her dinner.
Astrid watched Andy as the taller woman seemed to ignore her presence there beside her. Astrid reached towards Andy, about to poke her, but then thought she might trigger Andy’s ability and took her head back, just as Andy was about to notice.
When Andy turned to check, Astrid spoke before Andy could turn back away.
“Andy, I do just want to help you.” Astrid spoke without any ribbing, or hint of teasing in her voice. Andy felt herself getting tense just by how Astrid was speaking. “I’m not going to try and make you a disciple of Lapis or anything. You’re no believer in any of them, I know your curses mean nothing of your belief.”
“I-” Andy struggled to say, as Astrid had not moments ago.
I liked it better when Astrid spoke in verses and confused me.
“I understand, thank you, Astrid, I appreciate you wanting to help, and if I ever need help I’ll tell you, but right now… I’m…”
Andy struggled to get her feelings across and pointed to her nearly finished meal.
Astrid arched her brow until she made the connection. Then the ax woman snorted with an uneven grin. “Hah, yeah, I’ll see you later, enjoy the seagull.”
Andy nodded along to Astrid’s laughter as the woman let her be.
Finally, Andy thought as she turned towards the meat on her stick. What I would give to just be able to fly away.
Andy opened her mouth and brought it to her mouth, but didn’t chomp down on it. She slowly moved it away from her mouth as she looked and realized. She had about enough left for one last bite and one last chance.
To be able to fly.
As the words came through her head, she noticed it, the little… tingle.
Andy looked around as people began to settle into quieter but no less engrossing conversations amongst each other. She double and then triple-checked to make sure that no one had wandering eyes, and then looked back to the seagull meat.
If I learn what it’s like to lay an egg, I’m never doing this again.
Then she lifted her finger, and slowly moved to touch it. She didn’t learn what the meat felt like, she was just there.
She felt the wind lift up her hair, only to notice that the hair was all over her body and it wasn’t actually hair. The night sky had left her, and she was in the light. She couldn’t see through the white as she felt her feathers growing wet, and weighed down by this all-encompassing object she couldn’t describe.
Andy felt fear as she thought she would crash, barely registering how naturally she flapped her wings, or that she had wings. Her heartbeat had begun to beat in her chest nearly a hundred times more than she was used to it. She didn’t feel like it would burst out of her chest, but her mind naturally raised her fear because it knew that it should.
She couldn’t immediately acclimate what was normal for this vision to what she was used to, at least not until she cleared her way through the cloud.
The blue of the sky spanned far in front of her as it met the Neverending Sea, both together filling her vision to the brim.
“Huoh-huoh!” Andy said, making some kind of croaking call in excitement. Despite realizing she was thousands of feet higher than humans would ever be for hundreds of years, her heart calmed.
She could ignore what should have been wrong, for what it felt to have wings and to catch the wind beneath them. She could ignore days past as the air slowed through her body.
Andy dipped her wings but tipped back just before she knocked into another seagull, noticing how they all rise to fall in line with her.
The other seagulls began to fall in line, and Andy without thought fell in line with them, coming to steer and dip and descend with them. She approached the ocean surface at speeds she’s never traveled before, but with so many others by her side, she felt no fear.
She had begun to know a freedom unfamiliar to her, something greater than she had ever known. She wished she could close her eyes and bask in what it felt like to have flown through the sky and then descend to earth, but her eyes would not close.
She settled to look around and found that she could tell these birds apart like she could any person.
But, it was only now as they were landed, that Andy noticed how wet her feathers were compared to every other seagull.
Did I really eat the only bird dumb enough to fly through a cloud?