Darkness and Beauty

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Chapter 34 - Lance

The ceremony took a lot out of me. The words came out of my mouth on memory, and the song just...filled me. I heard his voice starting the song long before I did, and that made it hard to not break down and tell someone else to start. It hurt, and when Fauna's voice faded out, I felt alone with the last words.

Everyone stayed still sunrise, even Darius kneeled there all night. At first, I refused to let him come when Fauna told me, but he wanted to pay his respects, wanted to say thank you, so I let him. It's not often that my father was thanked for helping others with their situations, and he deserved one last one before he left. I saw the papers Darius threw into the fire. I don't know what they said nor who they were from, but I had a strong guess.

Adeline was the best of us, even if she wasn't an assassin. She became the warm hand we needed when we couldn't feel mom's. When she told us she was the late Queen, I didn't know what to think. It had been years since the people had last seen her, so no one really pieced it together. The Jades never went to hear her stories when she came into town, and only me and my sister got them at the house, but everyone simply loved seeing her in the halls. She became another mother to everyone, so when she died, there was no questioning that we'd perform the ceremony for her.

That ceremony had a different melancholy to it than this one. Then, I hadn't known her well enough to really be in mourning for more than a day or two before getting into training again. With this...this is going to take time. I sent Blight off with Fey and the prince and waited another hour before walking to the flame. There's very little that I had to offer him to burn, but I scavenged my rooms before coming up here and found what I had been looking for.

Mother never wrote her songs, never read a single note, but I did. I used to sneak down to the Melodic Orchestra amphitheater during the day and have the conductor teach me the notes. It'd only be for an hour or two a day, but I memorized what notes matched up with the ones on the piano. He only taught me the basics, enough so I could copy them down onto a paper to later remember. He swore not to tell anyone of our lessons, that he simply appreciated the passion I had for the art. His name was Ezrah, and he helped me write out the notes to a song my father taught me. It wasn't like my mother's long and heartfelt ones. It was an old tavern song that old drunks sing that my father secretly showed me.

I didn't just love the song because it was vulgar and didn't make any sense whatsoever, I loved it because he taught it to me. The quick pace that I liked setting made it even better. Mother wasn't there to scold him, but I could still see his inward cringe when I'd sing the vulgar words louder and louder each time. If he didn't want me screaming it at the top of my lungs, then he shouldn't have taught it to me.

Since the song was so quick and I couldn't keep track of what notes I was pressing or how fast, Ezrah help me record the notes down. He did ask one day why it sounded so familiar, and my thirteen-year-old ass just smiled wickedly before jumping into the song, voice bouncing off the walls. He was completely horrified at the beginning, then he just shook his head and joined in, voice clanging with my own as he riffed of me on the keys. I knew that I didn't need to write down the song to remember it, but simply looking at the notes scattered on the five lines cheered me up when I needed it.

So I grabbed the papers from where I kept them beneath my pillows, replayed the song over and over in my mind throughout the night, and then watched them burn in the fire.

I knew Rykiel was waiting for me downstairs, waiting to give me updates and take in new orders. I knew that my father would want me to, but it was another hour of watching the flames wave before I walked away. The house was quiet, everyone getting in a few hours of sleep before they had to take their shift. The lights will stay dark until dusk is in full swing again, and just staring into the gloom had my eyes burning again.

I got through another hour of trying to find space for the hundred assassins that returned home. Those who have family in the city will stay there when they need rest and come back for their shifts and training. Others will be sharing rooms both underground and on the third level of the keep. More can be put into the abandoned rooms of the inn or pay for a room of their own. I know the owners of the building, and though their customers may not like it, they'll house us. I'll send them a few thank you pastries and goods to them for their kindness.

After the headache, I met Reynald and Julyan at the front gates. Reynald is a skilled spy, able to get in and out without being noticed or acknowledged while he does so. He'll be tasked with shadowing Charles to see if he can come up with any evidence of our suspicions. Julyan is like another Will with his nag for torture, but the difference is that Julyan's loyalty is unquestionable. He actually doesn't like torturing and making people scream, but he's downright good at it. He may run to the bathroom to hurl his guts after he's done with someone, but he's never once held back. If I can trust any two people to not stab us in the back, it's Reynald and Julyan.

When Darius and Fey told me about Eleanor and Charles, I didn't exactly believe them at first. Then Darius mentioned how Lord Roland left with a limp that no one knows how he got and the Eleanor managed to stay behind, and I looked into it. We can't be entirely sure, and as much as my sister puts her faith in Darius, I still needed more proof. Julyan will be taking over inspecting people's mouths for the poison, disguised in the bulky guard uniform. Gods I hated that thing. It was thick and let no air in whatsoever. If I have to put those shitty pieces of metal on again, I'm going to scream. Not to mention that my sister is never going to let that go.

I saw the orphans the same time she did, recognized them from when they were given a loaf of bread to share by a baker. They looked curious as to what the commotion was about, but I could see the way the eldest kept her hands close to her siblings. When my sister and Darius walked up to them, I wasn't sure what was happening. I went to go ask the Queen, but she was smiling proudly at the sight and I held my tongue. She had that smile all throughout the day as they played in the flower fields. I had a smile of my own watching as my sister talked with Roseia. We were about to have a shitty night, and still, she smiled and laughed.

When I got back to the castle and found Mira and Levi smiling and laughing as Kat juggled two apples, Claritia showing Roseia how to knit, I couldn't help the smile that came. I made sure Julyan and Reynald started their assignments before coming here, and I'm glad of it. The Dozen were all inside as well. Alex and Alister were trying to juggle apples of their own, failing miserably when they ended up chucking one at each other. Mira and Levi laughed harder when they chucked their second apples at Mal and Ozzie talking in the corner.

"How is it that my sister left you three orphans, and you ended up with five children?" I asked Kat as I took a seat next to her.

"Oh, this is nothing. I care for about eight others on normal days."

"I'm guessing that one of them is my sister?"

"I'm fairly sure it's eight because of your sister. She brings them all at ease when she's not being an asshole."

"What's that like?" I ask, watching as Gabe throws Mira in the air before catching her and doing it again at her request.

"What's what like?"

"Seeing my sister when she's not being an asshole?"

She laughs, shaking her head while keeping an eye on Levi as he gets chased by Ethan and Al. "It's...not as fun. I'd prefer she make snark comments and speak with brutal honesty. I know that no one may never admit to it, but things have changed since you and she came along – in a good way. Darius and his friends seem to smile more, Thomas has finally stopped being so guarded when people are around, the castle feels safer with guards around every corner and not just in the main halls, and the Queen...she doesn't seem so scared to have the baby now."

"What do you mean?"

"Well before you came, she tried asking Siscilla if she could somehow delay the birth. I'm not sure why, but she just seemed so afraid of what would happen if she didn't give the King another son. He'd never hurt her, never has, but she still hates the idea of letting him down. Now...she's been begging Siscilla to try and speed up the pregnancy. She wants to see her child's face and treasure it, no matter what gender it is. She's...happy. Safe."

"And what of you? Has my sister changed you?"

"Oh she's changed me alright. I'm not as afraid to speak up then I was before, and having her tell me that I could go to her for anything – for safety, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, or for advice – it really made me feel like I could finally breathe for once. Like I didn't have to hold my breath when someone walked into the room or looked at me when I walked through the halls. I'm...I'm the person I always wished I could be."

I took a few minutes to let her words sink in. Thought about how we came here to protect and defend and found ourselves slowly finding the meaning to friendship again. There are so many walls that we've built to keep ourselves separated from the outside world, and focused on the mission at hand. We've cut ourselves off from letting ourselves try and find more joy in our dark world, and it's been slowly tearing away at us. I hadn't realized until now, but it's not the loss of my parents and love that makes the abyss pulse within me, but the lack of bliss and ecstasy we didn't grant ourselves to mend.

Watching as Kat now finds herself interested in learning how to knit, I let my walls fall. I let the comfort of the Queen and Siscilla's words from two nights ago sink in entirely. I feel as my heart sinks with the thought of Kat standing on the temple's roof, and her falling forward, nothing but the ground to stop her from continuing to fall. My chest heaves when I think about how I nearly let the death of my father leave Fauna in this world alone. Darius and the Dozen would be there to keep her from falling into darkness, and I'm grateful for the friendship they've given her, but I would've left her.

I watched my little sister chase everyone in those tunnels with her tangled hair and wild grin, and I knew that those broken pieces of her were slowly healing. Before I walked in to find her looking hilariously like a wet dog, I had pulled Kat aside while everyone ran into the sitting room. I waited for the laughing to start before turning to her.

"You know that you can come to me too, right? If you needed something."

She opens her mouth to say something, then closes it, changing her mind.

"I may not be my sister, but I don't break promises either." She nodded, her eyes not meeting mine. It was a sorry effort at trying to gain more of her trust, but I needed her to know. I nodded to myself and started walking towards the laughter before someone noticed we're missing. I made it to the couch before her hand grabbed mine.

When I turn, I find her eyes glossy. "Promise me something."

"Anything."

"Don't let me jump."

I turned fully toward her, now concerned for an entirely different reason. I tried lowering my head so that she'll look at me, but she shut them closed. "Kat."

"I'm just...having nothing to live for and still keep waking up day after day with nothing but my own thoughts...it's hard to live like that." Tears started slowly falling, and it hurt to have to hear the next words. "Every day I think about climbing to the top of any one of the towers and stepping off the edge. I've had no one to talk to, no one to teach me how to stay standing when all I want to do is fall. I've been alone. And with you and your sister and everyone in that room now telling me that I'm not...I don't know why, but the thoughts now run through my head every time I see an edge high enough, and I don't want that. I don't want to jump."

Broken. She was broken when she was three-years-old, and no one has bothered to try and pick up the pieces. Sure I lost my mother at nine, my love at seventeen, and my father two days ago, but I still had people there to keep me grounded. I still had my sister who was so stubborn that she'd pull me out of bed when I had been locked in my room for days. I had my father and Mary and Adeline to say goodnight to, but Kat...she didn't have anyone. She had that small room she grew up in, and her own thoughts telling her that she was worthless, and for that – for all the pain that she's lived alone with for fourteen years, I wrap my arms around her, praying that I'm enough for her.

"If you fall, I promise to catch you. Every time. For as long as you need."

We stayed like that for a while. The sound of the room next door quieting making us pull apart. I knew that I had done the right thing in making that promise when I saw the small flicker of light in her eyes. Since then, she's been constantly glancing at me as if making sure I'm still there and that I won't go back on my word. It's funny to watch her look up, look back down, then slightly panic and look back up again. The Queen's been pretending like she doesn't notice, but she's slid knowing looks in my direction a few times.

I walked away for two minutes to use the bathroom, and when I walk back in, I find them both staring at me wide-eyed. Claritia puts her face carefully back in neutral, but Kat still looks like she's seeing a ghost.

"What?"

"Nothing. We were just talking." Claritia says, going back to her blanket.

"I should um, I should hoe – go! I should go. Clarice might breed – I mean need, me." Kat stands, giving Claritia a glare before walking out.

"You going to tell what that was all about?" I ask taking a seat on the couch.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Mmmhmm."

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