Elise didn’t say anything as Blair led her back to the tavern; she was too numb from everything that had just happened. Everything just felt so surreal, like she was in some sort of awful nightmare; however, as she’d realized many times that day, none of this was a dream. She wasn’t going to wake up and realize that her brother was still alive and the Giskens had yet to invade Caitha; she wasn’t going to wake up, safe, away from all the pain and the suffering caused by the Gisken’s war. Olrick wasn’t going to wake up from his own nightmare, filled with being tied up in the stables like some sort of an animal, beaten and tortured for only the Gods knew what. She couldn’t help but wonder what went on in these Giskens’ minds to make them treat people like animals.
And then, she remembered Kael. He’d seemed to actually care about what was happening in Thaos, at least, until he found himself in front of his superiors. He’d stood by and watched as all these awful things happened to her brother, to Olrick, to her. He didn’t do anything to help. No matter how much he acted like he cared, he was still one of them.
After a few minutes of walking through a town littered with dead bodies, she and Blair reached the tavern. It was completely empty, void of anyone except for the two of them. Even Pa was gone…
“Where’s my father?” she asked as a pit began to grow in her stomach. “What had the monsters done to him?
“Maybe someone had some use for him,” he said with a shrug as he stopped walking to inspect the bottom of his shoe. It was covered in sticky, dark red blood, just like the rest of the floor “I’m not sure what, though; he’s too old and too weak to do anything of use.” He sat on the chair that Olrick had used to prop the door open and pulled a skin of ale from inside his coat.
“While he’s gone, you have some cleaning to do,” he said, waving at the mess of blood on the floor. “I’ve heard plans that we’ll be using this place as a base of operations, and I don’t think the general would appreciate it if this place still smells like blood when he gets here.”
Elise found herself biting her lip, scared, as he began to drink from his ale skin. “W-What do you mean, base of operations? I live here-“
“Not anymore, you don’t,” Blair said. “Try not to worry about it. They just emptied out the prison a few minutes ago; I’m sure there’s a lovely prison cell you and your father can live in.”
The prison. That was where they were holding Bram until they could give him a court marshal. If that was true and they’d really let all the prisoners free, that meant that he was out, roaming free while she was here, cleaning blood from the tavern floorboards.
She looked away from him, trying to keep herself from shaking. Could this day get any worse?
“Now, hurry up with the cleaning,” Blair said as he folded his arms over his chest and made himself comfortable in his seat. “Maybe if you do a good job, General Raul can find you a nice place in Kurzh for you to live in.”
Elise looked down at the ground. Blood soaked every floorboard, and was dry enough that she knew that it would take hours to scrub out. It was a big job, one that she knew she couldn’t do alone.
“Are you going to help?” she asked quietly. Blair snorted.
“Of course not,” he said. “It’s not my tavern, is it?”
Elise swallowed the lump that was forming in her throat and went behind the bar to grab the water bucket and some rags. It looked like she had her work cut out for her.
The second she got down and began scrubbing, she knew that the job would be even harder than she thought it would. They’d already waited too long in scrubbing the floors: the blood had already seeped into the floorboards enough that she really had to push on them to get even a small amount out. When it did come out, it soaked the rag she was using and turned her hands and the skirt of her dress red with watery blood. It was definitely the hardest cleaning job she could remember doing, and the fact that Blair was sitting there, watching her the whole time didn’t make it much better.
“You really aren’t doing that good of a job over there,” Blair commented after a few minutes of scrubbing. He took a few swigs of ale from his skin. “It looks like you’ve barely done anything.”
Elise found herself biting her lip. Even though she couldn’t care less about how he felt about her, she still found that the comment stung. She knew that she was doing her best, so hearing that her best wasn’t good enough made her feel like crap.
“The blood’s soaked into the floorboards,” she said quietly. “I-it’s hard to scrub out when it’s like this-“
“I didn’t ask for excuses,” Blair said with a wave of his hand, a look on his face that reminded her of a parent dealing with an obnoxious child. “Just get scrubbing harder; we don’t have the time to wait for you to learn how to clean floors properly.” He cursed, rolling his eyes in annoyance as Elise began to scrub even harder.
“I don’t understand what General Raul could possibly see in you,” he said to no one in particular. “You can’t even clean floors properly, for the god’s sake; what makes him think you can do something of importance? We ought to send you off to Abunaken.”
Elise closed her eyes as tears began to brew in her eyes. Gods, how could anyone think that being so mean was okay?
Before he could say anything else that was demeaning, another Gisken walked in, one that Elise didn’t recognize. She assumed they were friends: Blair seemed to relax when he saw him and laughed at a few of the things he said.
She looked down at the floor and concentrated on her work; she really didn’t feel like getting chastised by two Gisken soldiers in one day.
After a few minutes of them talking and joking with each other, she got the feeling that they’d started to talk about her: both of them were looking at her as they spoke, something that really unnerved her. Finally, Blair sighed and stood up, shoving his skin of ale back into his shirt.
“Looks like we’ll have to take a break from the cleaning,” he said. “Get up; we need to go.”
Elise put the rag in the water bucket and stood up as her stomach began twisting itself into knots in nervousness. She really didn’t like the way this was sounding. “Go where?”
Blair smiled, which only served to make her even more nervous. Having a psychopath like him smile couldn’t be good. “To see your old man, that’s where.”
She swallowed down her nerves. Elise may have grown up isolated in Thaos, but she wasn’t stupid. Whatever Blair was about to lead her to wasn’t going to be good, and if it really did involve Papa… well, she didn’t want to think about what that could mean.
Gods knew she had reservations about it, but she still let Blair lead her outside the tavern and to the city of white tents the Giskens had set up just out of Thaos. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t refuse to go with him; she didn’t have the strength to fight him.
After a few minutes of walking through the city of tents, Bram poked his head into one of them, then looked back at her.
“This is the one,” he said, pulling back the tent flap. She couldn’t see anything inside it; it was too dark in the tent.
For a few seconds, Elise simply stared at the tent, unsure of what to do. She didn’t want to go into the tent; she didn’t care if Papa was there or not.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Blair asked, impatient. “Do I have to force you in there?”
It looked like she didn’t have much of a choice. With a deep breath, Elise stepped into the tent.
For a few seconds, Elise just stood there, staring at the sight in front of her. She felt like someone had gone and punched her in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her. Lying in front of her on the ground was what remained of her father.
He was dead, that much was obvious. His body was lying in a heap on the ground, his limbs folded and bent at grotesque angles. Blood slowly trickled out of every orifice of his body: his mouth, his eyes, his ears, his nose; it leaked from places that she hadn’t even realized it could leak from. His eyes were wide open and his jaw hung open in one final scream. He looked like he’d been crushed to death by a boulder or something, without the external evidence.
Elise put a hand to her mouth and fell to her knees as tears began to brew in her eyes. Papa and Milo were dead; any family she’d had left after her mother died a few years before had been taken from her in just a week.
She looked away from the body as sobs began to wrack her body. This couldn’t be happening; her father couldn’t be dead!
“That Watchman friend of yours is to blame for all this, you know,” Blair said from his spot behind her. When Elise looked behind her at him, she saw that he was looking at the body without even a hint of sadness. Not that he had a reason to feel remorse; not that he’d ever had even an ounce of compassion in his body. “If he hadn’t tried to escape what was coming to him, your father might still be alive.”
Elise wrapped her arms around herself and looked down at the dirt beneath her. She felt sick, like she was about to throw up. Ever since she first started training with her mother to be a nurse, she’d wondered why people would curse the gods when something bad happened to them. Now that she’d had everything she’d ever known ripped away from her in a matter of hours, she was beginning to understand. The gods must hate her; that was the only explanation for all of it that she could come up with.
“Why did you do this?” she whispered. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
“This is what we do to resistors,” Blair said. “Everywhere we go, General Raul has the choice between saving his men’s lives or keeping life as it is. It’s comforting to know that he’ll choose us over people like you when it comes down to it.”
People like you. Was that how it was? Was Raul really so willing to sacrifice the lives of innocents like her to reach his goals? She liked to think that there was good in everyone, but the more time she spent among people like Blair and Raul, the more she was beginning to rethink that.
“Will you at least bury him?” Elise asked. Blair snorted and folded his arms over his chest.
“I’m not going to, and I doubt General Raul will loan you any of our men,” Blair said. “If you want help, you’ll have to get it from someone else.”
Elise closed her eyes and wrapped her arms tighter around herself. So, not only were they going to kill her father, but they were going to make her bury him, too? Maybe the gods really did hate her.
She got to her feet and tried to swallow down the lump in her throat. She told herself that there wasn’t any way her day could get any worse, but then again, that was exactly what she’d thought while she was cleaning the blood from the tavern floor.
“Will you at least carry him for me?” Elise asked as she turned around. Blair sighed, annoyed, and yelled something in Gisken. A few seconds later, a younger soldier walked in and saluted with his fist raised.“Get this corpse out of here,” Blair said. “The second you get to the cemetery, get back here.” He nodded, picked up Papa’s body, and followed Elise to the town cemetery so she could bury her father.