There was a man slumped over in a chair, breathing hard like he had just run a marathon. His wrists and ankles were tightly chained down. He had information they wanted and she had to practice.
But she was just tired today. She had a long training session yesterday and somehow this poor stranger’s frantic desperation was assisting him. She felt bad for him, she had no idea who he is or even his name. He was just unfortunate enough to work for someone that interests us, interests them. They’re all bad people Is what Talithey tells herself, and most of the time it works. Other times she could vent her emotions at them but there was none of that either. Just pure exhaustion.
No, looking into this man’s eyes and mind, he wasn’t bad. Maybe they’d let him go after she was done with him. If she could just persuade him to speak, the pain would stop for him and he could go home to whatever life he holds. Hopefully he’ll forget this ever happened.
But she was just too tired right now. She knew she’d get a lecture if she didn’t try at least one more time despite having lost count of all the failed attempts. She took several cleansing breaths, counting each one of them. Even quietly recited a rhyme to herself to give her mind pattern and structure where it felt sporadic. She closed her eyes and reached out to the man again. Which was a bit of a mistake. Reaching again sent a painful sting engulfing her head and spreading down her spine, her mind almost felt paralyzed for a brief moment. She startled him when a small cry escaped her. Fuck that hurt. Fine, I’ll stop.
She shook her head to clear her vision and she could feel the blood slowly running from her nose. She held her head in her hand for a long while, before looking at the man again. Wondering which one of them looked the worst.
“I’m sorry.” She spoke barely above a whisper, but she meant her words. He just stared at her, maybe a flicker of confusion on his face, but beyond that, she couldn’t tell if he believed her.
“What happened?” Balgrim’s older grizzled voice closely accompanied the creak of the door opening.
Fuck, someone heard me Tali took in a slow steadying breath, intensely cursing herself. He liked to ‘check in’ every now and again while she had the supposed honor of extracting information. Just once she wanted to get through these without having to explain her failures. Or shortcomings when she manages to be successful. She Pressed a handkerchief to her now persistent nosebleed before turning around to face him.
“He’s stronger than he looks.”
Balgrim looked…stressed today? Or weary. He wore traveling leathers so her best guess was another ‘business meeting’. He left to attend those a lot. She had only accompanied him to one before so she could observe, but he wanted her to earn more of a name for herself before bringing her to more. Hopefully that wouldn’t be too soon. Despite the extra weariness on his face, he always looked oddly cheerful with any situation he walked into, entering the room was definitely no different. He halted his motions when he stood between her and the man. When he noticed the blood, he gave her a onceover, she could already hear the question before he spoke it, she beat him to it.
“It’s nothing. Just an accident.”
He acknowledged her with a nod, and glanced over at the man who’s expression looked more frightened than before. “Have you found anything yet?”
She shook her head, “No.”
“Not today.” Her direct wording felt a touch bold, but she hoped if her intention was to try again tomorrow, she would catch less flack.
He tilted his head at her, “Not today?”
“I…I quite literally can’t.” She looked at him baffled. Like it couldn’t have been more obvious by her condition that she’s had enough.
He gave her a very skeptical look, as if it was the first time he’d heard her refuse a request before. Which it was not. He took a step toward her. “He…” he motioned his hand toward the man, “Bested you?”
“No, not bested, just…I’m not at my best today. That’s all. It happe-”
“Have you been doing as instructed by Genevra?” He held up his hand to cut her off. Thankful for it actually, it felt like she was rambling.
“Of course, that’s the problem.” Her tone rose a touch with her frustration. Genevra was her magical tutor. She’s a fair woman, even quite kind to Tali’s surprise. But her training regimen was strenuous and she certainly felt its effects today.
“After yesterday I’m exhausted.”
“It’s not just that, is it? You didn’t want to question him.”
She broke away from his scrutinizing stare and looked at the bound man. He was looking right back at her. She could see the pleading in his eyes, hear it with how intensely fixed his expression was. “I…Balgrim he just doesn’t know anything.”
And that’s where she fucked up. It was like she could feel his presence in the room growing, like the walls of the room were just mirrors for his emotions.
He nodded to himself, receiving confirmation of what he obviously was expecting from her. He was good at honing it but she could see the small flash of his temper when he looked up at her again. “Yes, and there it is. Go out. We’ll speak more in a minute.”
Maybe it was a bad time to be spiteful, but she stalled a good several seconds before she vacated the room, lest he changed his mind. She couldn’t tell what he said but he spoke to the man before exiting the room himself. He spared a brief disappointed glance at her before calling the names of a few people from down the hall. Not a minute passed until three gruff individuals came in to meet them.
“He’s brave this one, bravery calls for your more traditional methods.”
Talithey closed her eyes. These three, the triplets, is what she called them. They loved what they did, and relished it. She hoped she could have more time with man, when she’s stronger or feeling more persuasive. Not have to resort to…’that’. Why do I care so much?
“Yes, sir.” They all smiled and the three of them answered in an eerie unison. They all stared at their new prey like he was a slab of meat before they all filled in. The last one out shut the door behind them much to her relief. That relief was no doubt evident on her face because when she opened her eyes to look at Balgrim, he was staring at her as if she were under a microscope. It almost startled her.
He very rarely raises his voice to her, when perturbed his voice is always low and even with a very grating quality. “One day, you will be strong enough to hold up our name. But not today. I am not convinced you gave this your all. Not at all. You wouldn’t want to disappoint us would you?”
“Of course not.” Tali damned her defensiveness as soon as she spoke, the higher tone of her own voice was enough to make her wince and her head pound more.
“I do not believe you.” He got quieter, harsher. Loud enough still to not only command her silence, but that of kingdoms as well. Even though his form is shorter than hers, it felt like he stood much taller over her. Even so she protested.
“Why don’t you? Everything I do is for the Guild. I train for their benefit.”
He smiled up at her and crossed his arms. “Does failing benefit us, sweet Sparrow?”
Tali stood there in silence, frustration rose and burned in her chest. She hadn’t been receiving active training for that long. Did he truly expect perfection from her this quickly? At least it was not him that’s been teaching her magic. For that she was genuinely grateful. She’d never want him in her mind. She’d sooner carve out her brain.
“Are you ignoring him?” As if this day couldn’t get any better. Luke obnoxiously piped up standing in the middle of the hallway. He was notoriously very hostile and jealous toward her, and a general prick to any other guildmate. She truly could not understand why. Who would ever strive for Balgrim’s favor? Luke could have it if he wanted it, by all means.
She snapped, throwing her bloody handkerchief at his chest. “No one asked for your fucking input, Luke.”
Luke laughed at her outburst, and carried on. “No one asked but guaranteed it’s always wanted.”
“Yeah, just like how your family wanted you. And how no one asked where you were when you were out rotting in the streets.”
Luke tried to lunge at her but his motions halted when Balgrim held up a hand at him. Voice now louder and commanding “Enough. Both of you. Luke, go.”
“Sir.” Luke acknowledged him quickly and even bowed before scurrying away like the rat he was.
“And you. Come here.” He motioned downward for her to come closer. She had an uneasy look on her face and apprehensively approached closer, kneeling down as instructed so they were roughly eye level to each other, but she kept her eyes averted a bit. When she could she refused to look him directly in the eye. It made her uncomfortable on levels she didn’t understand, like she could see or feel the darkness emitting off of him. A darkness ever eager to be intrusive.
“I would think you’d be grateful. We found you and accepted you into this family. You’d be a bar wench right now if we hadn’t”
“…There’s nothing wrong with bar wenches.”
One day she’ll learn to just be quiet, but not today. Balgrim smiled at her, perhaps he was expecting some form of extra defiance. It was her after all.
“Look at me.” He brought his hand under her chin, lifting her gaze to meet his before he spoke once more.
Her nerves were already frayed but the sound that surged out from the room adjacent to them was enough to make her jump out of her skin. She broke eye contact with Balgrim to look at the door, the thought of stopping what was happening was suddenly all she wanted to do.
He forced her to look at him again, his hand tightened harder around her jaw. Just enough to make her feel threatened. Make her feel frightened. He spoke much quieter with his last word, but for her it felt loud enough to echo through the hall walls, burrowing into her head “Hear him. Had you been successful this would not be happening to him. He would’ve been allowed to leave. Understand?”
She looked like she was about to protest his words, and in response his grip on her tightened even more. She visibly winced, it hurt which she suspected was the point. Between him and the blood-curdling screams coming from behind the door, the fear that froze her blood drained her of all her words and thought. And all she could do was feel like a scared little girl.
Her voice sounded meek when she finally answered and she loathed that her courage to speak louder ceased “…Yes.”
“Yes I understand”
He didn’t say anything for a longer moment, perhaps wanting her to sit in fear longer. He smiled, almost pleasantly before finally loosening his grip on her jaw. ““You would not survive out there without us, Sparrow. Too many are ready to take advantage of people like you.” His tone was now cheery. He lightly patted her cheek and stepped back from her.
“You can go now. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
When he moved from her, he headed straight into the room where the sounds just kept getting louder. She wanted to leave as soon as he told her to go, but she didn’t move from where she was still kneeling. She needed a second. A second to will back the burning feeling behind her eyes. She refused to have anyone see her affected by something. She took a breath and finally stood up.
In a far more quiet room, a red-headed woman rummage about in a semi-spacious room that was the very definition of an organized chaos. She had alchemy equipment strewn everywhere, like she couldn’t decide what project to work on next, and some of the equipment was in active use, steaming away, but forgotten about. Whatever substances in the veils started to either burn away or evaporate. Right now she was haphazardly searching for her favorite mortar and pestle.
Talithey quietly eased the door open into the room, leaning against it once she closed it behind her. Her headache and bleeding nose still persisted, she knew she would probably need help with that sooner rather than later, but she just wanted a moment to take in the quiet and the comforting smell of her favorite room with her favorite person in it.
Finally, she cleared her throat and spoke out.”Aevis, can you please help me with something?”
The red headed alchemist jumped out of her skin, almost dropping her metal tongs on the floor. “What are you doing creeping?” She sounded exasperated, but she had a smile on her face seeing Tali.
Tali pushed herself off the door and moved further into the room, sitting down at one of the workbenches. “Not creeping, just admiring the view.” She gave her a cheeky wink.
Tali’s remark made Aevis roll her eyes a chuckle a bit.”Oh, stop that.” She put away stray equipment and strode over, stopping short when she noticed the blood.” Why are you bleeding?” She immediately made a detour to her medical shelf.
“I just push too hard. That’s all. And got in trouble, but that’s not a surprise.”
Aevis pulled out a basket of many different colored tonics from the shelving, examining each one. “You’re always in trouble. Did you say something you shouldn’t have…again?” Aevis came and sat down next to Talithey, holding two veils she picked out. She popped a green one open first and handed it to Tali, which she drank immediately.
“Maybe…yes, yes I did. Balgrim doesn’t understand that he has impossible standards. This tastes horrible by the way.” The substance tasted a lot like grass and sour wine, but it was immediately soothing her headache.
Aevis just rolled her eyes again at her. “Its supposed to. That one was to numb the pain. This one is for healing. Drink.” Aevis gave her the red one. It somehow tasted worse than the last one, but she was grateful. She let her know by placing a soft kiss on the side of Aevis’s neck. The alchemist brushed a stray hair from Tali’s face and had a very matter of fact tone to her voice. “He doesn’t have impossible standards. He just wants to make sure you’re doing your best. Its how he shows he cares.”
Tali looked at the floor Oh he cares does he? They’ve had similar conversations like this before, some of them turned into bickering matches which was exactly what Tali was not in the mood for. “Have ever had his standards dropped on top of you?”
Aevis smiled so brightly at the question. “Of course. It wasn’t too big of a deal. When you love your family, you’re happy to do anything for them.” Aevis leaned in and briefly brushed her lips against Tali’s. “Don’t worry, it will get easier and you will get stronger. Now, stay. I’ll find you something to drink that isn’t tonic related.” Aevis hopped off the bench and went to another portion of the room that Tali couldn’t quit see.
Talithey leaned forward, resting her head in her hands and she held the now empty bottle of healing tonic in her free one, staring down at it like it was the most interesting thing in the world. The headache was finally gone, it didn’t hurt to hear herself think anymore. But a part of her would’ve preferred to keep the discomfort, because what she thought of both made her feel both confused, hopeful, and sad all at once. It bothered her that Aevis didn’t seem to understand her frustration, but she understood why. She hoped someday, when she took her alchemist away from her ‘family’ that maybe she’d get it. If not, well…That’s her decision. Tali wouldn’t want to abduct anyone but these people…Aevis was safer away from them, right?
Of course she is. Talithey knows what a true family is. And the fear shes felt through these last several months…this most certainly wasn’t it. This was called a cage.
Tali’s eyes shut at the thought of her own family. She didn’t think about them much lately, not because she didn’t love them, but because the sting was too much. Sometimes she’d send random Sendings to the both of them, praying they’d answer her.
Praying, pfft. She definitely didn’t do much of that lately.
But now her mind was stuck thinking of her family. She hadn’t tried contacting them in awhile. She didn’t know why she still tried, she was almost positive they were gone. But that tiny lingering hope for an answer was enough to keep this small part of her sane.
She looked around, Aevis was still busy. She still had some time. She bowed her head and and quietly spoke her words into the spell. This time, she geared the Sending toward her mother. “You always encouraged me to be strong. That it’s okay to get in trouble as long as I can get out of it. I…Well, I don’t think I can get out of this one. Can you please come take me home, mother?”
When all that met her was silence, she exhaled a deep soulful sigh and she was left with that familiar sting.
It will get better eventually Was that last thing she thought before her favorite red head came back to her.