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Tsaba deals with a problem that she has neglected for far too long

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Center of scholarly knowledge and shipwrighting, Zeltiva is a port city unlike any other in Mizahar. [Lore]

A Change of Flesh

Postby Tsaba on September 26th, 2013, 6:47 pm

Tsaba hesitated. She wasn't exactly going to refuse his help, but... he'd already balked at the idea of her taking a new body, and balked again when she'd selected a child. She didn't know how far his tolerance would go. How much more would he see before deciding that Nuits were all horrible monsters after all? She still remembered how he'd looked at her when they'd first met; she hadn't had context for the expression of fear and loathing back then, but she did now. And she never wanted to see it on his face, aimed at her, again. Her attempt to exclude him from the embalming process was for herself as much as it was for him.

But she didn't protest. She didn't look him in the eye and say, 'I don't think you understand. I am about to cut a dead little girl open. You don't want to be here.' She didn't do that, because he'd gone with her in the middle of the night to steal a corpse from a warehouse, because he'd helped her learn of Zeltiva, because he'd accepted her despite bad preconceptions and let her change his mind. Because he'd earned the right to determine what he wanted to see. And because... and because, hiding something from sight didn't make it less true. If seeing what she was repulsed him, then she didn't deserve him as a friend. She respected him too much to deliberately base their relationship on deception.

"As you wish," Tsaba said, ducking around him to take the lead to her room. It would be the first time Castor had seen it, she realised. Well, at least it would be memorable.

She'd already prepared the room for the ritual, which hadn't been hard. Her sleeping pallet had been stripped of its mattress and sheets the day she'd moved in; for the ritual, she'd laid down some protective linen. The floor, too, had a broad rug of fresh linen, and in one corner her large washbasin (which had never actually been used for washing) sat. Next to the basin lay her freshly sharpened knife, a needle and thread, and a crooked wooden stick from outside. A pot of embalming salts was also in evidence, as well as a very small barrel of kelp beer -- she'd prefer a purer alcohol, but she didn't know where to get it, nor did she have any distilling equipment. Beer and a naked candle flame would have to do.

Her notes and books had all been neatly stowed away; only a single library book, a pot of ink and a clean brush sat on her desk. Resting against the end of the bed was a shovel. But none of that was immediately relevant except the book. Tsaba opened The Art of Embalming and flicked through several diagrams to refresh her memory. She could sit and read it for hours... but that would be stalling.

"I need you to put her on the bed and help me undress her," she told Castor gently. "This process might be... I'll understand if you want to leave, at any point." If he left, Tsaba would simply fulfil herself the tasks that she would otherwise designate to him.

Tsaba tried to move the body as little as possible as they removed its clothing; partly to avoid damaging the joints, but mostly out of respect. She worked as quickly and efficiently as she could, although her arm slowed her down and seemed to become more damaged every time she taxed it.

Once they'd finished, Tsaba removed her own shirt (it wasn't necessary, but it would save it from unnecessary bloodstains) and got to work. She first checked that the eyes were closed, and then carefully took the child's arm. She lifted the arm upward and outward, pulling against the naturally stiffened muscle. The aim was to loosen the muscle without tearing it or damaging the bone; as both types of injury would be irreparable, she took rather more care than an expert embalmer might. Better to work out too-stiff shoulders herself from the inside than had shoulders that were broken.

After the shoulder, she got to work bending and unbending the elbow, then moved to the delicate bones of the hand. In her impatience, she almost broke one finger, and after that she began taking even greater care. Once the arm was as loose as that of a fresh corpse, she moved to the other, then the legs, then the neck.

She didn't trust her skills enough to manipulate the spine. That would just have to stay stiff until she used it enough herself. Then she took a scrap of linen, dipped it in kelp beer, and wiped down the entire body.

Tsaba bit her tongue, and glanced at Castor. It was make-or-break time; time to see if Castor would stick around or if they'd be having an awkward sorry-I-made-you-mutilate-a-corpse-with-me discussion in a couple of days. "Could you bring me the washbasin, please?" she asked.

It was a good thing that the hands of a Nuit didn't tremble. If was a bad thing that they were sort of clumsy, but she'd been compensating for that for 75 years; if she could write and glyph with Nuit hands, she could cut with Nuit hands. After ensuring that her knife was sharp enough, she dipped it in kelp beer and then passed it through an open flame. A little fire appeared on the blade... good. The more flame, the better. She would've liked the flame to dry the knife completely, but working with improvised chemicals, even a little flame was a good result. She made a careful, tiny incision on the girl's neck, barely a prick. But she made it carefully. She made it straight into the artery.

Tsaba was somewhat fortunate in that she was embalming a body for immediate use. Had she wanted to store it, she would need to devise a way to drain all the blood and fill it with preservative. But her own ichor would act as a preservative, and in her case it didn't matter if there was a little blood left. She just wanted the bulk of it out of her way. As soon as the incision was made, she dragged the body to the edge of the bed and kicked the basin halfway under it. She carefully lifted the legs and put a knee under the torso, trying to make the neck wound the lowest point. If Castor came to help, she'd let him, but she didn't give him any such instruction.

With proper experience and proper equipment, she could have drained almost every drop of blood from the corpse. As it was, she couldn't, which was a good thing considering that the basin probably wouldn't be able to hold that volume of blood. Eventually the trickle slowed to a series of drips. When it had almost stopped, she put the body back down, arranged it back into a comfortable but accessible position on its back, and cleaned the wound with a little more kelp beer. She stitched the wound tightly closed, which took some concentration; sewing wasn't something she was very experienced at.

She forced herself to breath throughout the entire task. Most Nuit could get through an embalming relatively unaffected by the smell, but Tsaba wanted to experience everything that she made Castor experience. It was only fair.

"I need to get rid of this blood," she said when she was done, not meeting Castor's eyes. "It's better that I get caught with it than you." She manipulated the shovel until it slung over the shoulder of her bad arm, trying to make the movement look as natural as possible, and lifted the bowl of blood against her hip with her good arm. It was heavy. But if she was very careful, she should avoid spilling it in the hallway. Realising that Castor probably didn't want to wait in a room with a corpse she added, "But if you'd be willing to play lookout for me, I'd be grateful," and headed out of the dorms.

It was actually fairly easy to find a deserted spot on campus in the middle of the night. Tsaba ended out digging a deep hole as quickly as she could right behind the podium where she'd given a speech on how harmless Nuits were. She poured a basin of human blood into that hole, then partially filled it with dirt. But not all the way. They'd need it again later.

Back inside, she passed her knife through beer and flame once more before makinf a shallow incision from the girl's belly button to the top of her pubic bone. Many embalmers preferred much longer cuts, but the person who'd embalmed her sister had explained that a small cut was preferable if a long one wasn't necessary. The longer the cut, the more stitching to tear and leak. The incision cut through skin and fat, barely scoring the muscle. That was okay. Too shallow was better than too deep.

A second incision, directly on top of the first, cut through the muscle. Only a few tatters remained to sever on the third pass. Tsaba took great care not to cut the organs underneath; that would be worse than not embalming at all.

The real stench appeared after Tsaba pulled out a handful of intestines. She made herself keep breathing, but deliberately didn't look at Castor. She didn't want to know what his expression was like. She didn't want to see him looking at her with disgust.

"If you could cut up linen into strips and rub it in the embalming salts over there, that would be a great help," she said neutrally. "It then needs to be rolled into little bundles. Don't be afraid to go overboard with the salt. Too much is better than not enough."

She took her stick and carefully looped the intestines around it. By spooling them on like thread, she could keep them all neatly together and prevent any tears or accidents. It didn't make the task any more pleasant, however. By the time she'd finished, the bundle was almost spherical around the stick.

Tsaba dipped and flamed the knife again, as well as her own hands. She cut four thin strips of linen, dipped both in alcohol, and rubbed them liberally with embalming salts until they were dry and a little stiff. Two larger squares were similarly treated, and folded several times to make two thick, stiff squares, each about the length of her hand.

Then she stood once more over the body and chanted under her breath, paying careful attention to the flow and cadence of the words.

"Djaspond dalat. Irst Radjudt. Abase pechit pond. Caposirst, daeqirst... radjudt!"

She was using far too much magic. Far too much. And any sort of sensory loss in the middle of an embalming would be a severe drawback. So she worked as quickly as she could.

Tsaba wasn't looking for anything complicated in the aura. She just needed to know exactly where the organs were located. She quickly identified the top of the intestines, just below the stomach. She tied two treated strips of linen around the area as tightly as she could, then cut between them. As soon as the end of the intestine was removed, one of the treated squares went over the internal wound, and the ends of the tie still inside were used to tie it tightly in place. The other end of the digestive tract received the same treatment.

The intestines were placed in the basin and immediately dragged out behind the podium to be buried. Still, the hole wasn't completely filled in.

Next went all the lower abdominal organs. Tsaba didn't bother with the heart; it was too close to the lungs and stomach, which she wanted to keep. More dangerous to go for it than to leave it. Everything above the diaphragm would just have to stay. Instead, after disposing of those organs and finally properly filling in the hole (and piling some old bark and debris on top to make it look less like a fresh hole), she turned her attention to filling the abdomen with salt-filled bundles of linen, making sure each was wrapped fairly loosely before putting it in. Her intent was to fill out the cavity with something to preserve it, not hard heavy bricks of linen that would limit her movement or damage her. Once she'd deemed the cavity to be properly full, she took the needle again, and began sewing.

She stitched the abdomen shut as tightly and evenly as she was able. She wiped down the area with kelp beer, then salt. She washed her hands clean, and requested Castor's help in dressing the corpse once more.

Then, more than anything, she wanted to rest.

Nuits didn't need rest, although Castor was probably very tired by that point. But she wanted to need rest. She wanted to be away from the situation for a little while, to mentally and emotionally recuperate. But she couldn't. The sooner she did the ritual, the better, and not just because it limited the amount of time spent in her room with a corpse under highly suspicious circumstances, but because it limited the amount of time that her new body was deprived of precious, life-extending ichor.

So she didn't sit down. She methodically packed away all her embalming tools and washed the basin out with the remaining kelp beer -- she figured that the stink of the beer was less unsettling than the stink of blood to her human guest -- and stowed it, with the linen, under the bed. Then she took an unnecessary but calming deep breath, and looked at Castor.

"Okay. Everything is ready for the transfer ritual now." That, she knew, Castro would want to see. And if the ordeal of embalming had pushed him away at all, perhaps the transfer would help at least a little in repairing the damage. She knew he'd want to see it, because she knew that he was an academic at heart, like her. So she said, "If you want to go get some sleep, I understand. But if not, I would very much appreciate somebody to watch over me while I am transferring. The ritual leaves one quite vulnerable." And because she knew he was like her and she knew what he was dying to ask but wouldn't, her lips quirked upwards and she indicated her desk. "I would not be offended if you wanted to take notes."
Thanks to Abstract for the lovely boxcode!
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