Completed The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

The final reckoning.

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A city floating in the center of a lake, Ravok is a place of dark beauty, romance and culture. Behind it all though is the presence of Rhysol, God of Evil and Betrayal. The city is controlled by The Black Sun, a religious organization devoted to Rhysol. [Lore]

The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

Postby Caspian on March 1st, 2020, 1:14 am

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    75 Winter 519
The dark water laps loudly against the side of the ship.

Clinging by his fingertips to a ledge, toes pinched into the knots in the wood into which he’d lodged, Caspian’s thankful for the noise. So loudly thrums his heart in his ears that he himself finds it distracting - and just moments ago he had noticed how stutteringly his breath’s issuing from his lungs, as if he’s what, scared? which had begun when he at some point had slipped and let out a litany of expletives that again, very fortunately for him was eaten up by the lake.

The rocking of the boat’s beginning to get to him. If he shuts his eyes - no, that makes it worse, his mind flying to dizzying heights. The prolonged effort has him trembling from his shoulders down to his toes, and when he eases himself higher he suddenly slips, and only with a wild waving of his arms does he manage to snag one of the lines of the rigging.

The string of curses that erupts from him as he sways like a masterless pendulum nearly overtakes the lake. At the onset of this he’d tried said rigging but found the absence of foothold a terrifying prospect, but free-scaling in the dark -

The only thing to be done is getting on with it. Gritting his teeth and stifling his huffing breath, he hoists himself up the rigging, feet sliding against the wave-slick sides of the ship. Muscles burning and really not in favor of the prospect of plummeting directly into the lake, he gives up on the pretense of stealth and breathes through the strain, exclaiming in relief when he finally reaches the edge of the deck.

Somewhere a temple bell tolls. Just past midnight, right as he and Taalviel had projected.

A sudden footfall has him freezing in place and hastily sucking in the breaths he had just so liberally spewed. Someone strolls by at an infuriatingly desultory pace, and he presses face-first and flat against the side of the ship, both feet gracelessly locked around a knot in the rigging and fingers crooked at painfully rigid 90-degree holds.

They take their sweet time - and Caspian, having long ago learned the hard way, forces himself to count to sixty ticks before heaving himself up in earnest and snaking beneath the railing.

This ship doesn’t bear any precious cargo. For the past week, he and Taalviel had staked out the ships regularly parked on this arc of the Docks, and though they’d bickered a fair bit over which one would prove best for pouncing - the point is this one’s largely recreational and essentially unused, the lone employee patrolling more a casual formality than security. Nevertheless, Caspian ducks down before the guard rounds the bend on their perfunctory lap, slinking towards the stern. Inside the left breast pocket of his coat is his Obfuscate dagger, rolled up in the same light leather hide in which Thancerell had first given it to him, to keep from tearing. The handle of the spiral blade, he’d left uncovered, for the purpose of grasping it now.

The guard takes the turn nearest him. He tucks himself back between two barrels, and in holding still and grasping the dagger, senses its wave of illusiveness wash over him.

The guard yawns, scratches at his beard, and passes on.
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Last edited by Caspian on October 28th, 2020, 11:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

Postby Caspian on October 5th, 2020, 1:52 am

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    This isn’t the ship he’s looking for.

    The first time he tries to bolt off through the dark - his foot’s fallen asleep and the hitch in his step is practically resounding thunder. Were that actually true he supposes that might have startled security out of their sleepy shuffle-step, but there’s no rush, no accosting, nothing holding him back except for his own treacherous hesitation and that petching pile of pins and needles in his leg, so he retreats back into the dark, silently fuming at the apparent lack of seriousness with which the guard takes his job because, seriously? the owner’s just lucky he’s only on this vessel as an intermediary.

    When the guard passes a second time, he counts to ten, stretches out the ticks to a baker’s dozen and pads softly towards the back railing. Docked directly by this ship is the one in question - and with one last look behind him to ascertain the guard’s at the furthest point in his lap from his own position, he leaps from one railing and over another, landing with a soft thud upon the other deck.

    Though he could practically fly again, so potently pumps the little bolt of energy through his system, he crouches behind a pile of rigging, reaches for the handle of his Obfuscate dagger and holds deathly still.

    A minute passes, so says his inner metronome, and another for good measure. Yet no one comes. He withdraws carefully from the rigging and peers down the length of the ship. Nothing and no one, save for the moonlight laid upon the deck in icy slabs.

    The absence of anyone is a startling contrast from the gruesome scene that had played out just two days before.

    Two days before it had been bolts and chains and manacles round wrists and girls that sobbed and others who perhaps even more heartbreakingly did not seem they had a sob left to give and -

    He shakes his head. The memory of the unloading of the slaver’s ship, the Honorable Arabella, had gripped him with such an arresting suddenness that for a moment he feels he's reliving it.

    The worst part was that it had happened in broad daylight, at the business hour of high noon; that the scene was just one of several playing themselves out with the same weeping cast and gut-turning trappings all up and down the Docks; the worst part was all parts, and knowing that all he was good for was being a ponce carrying after his on affairs, perpetually watching from a distance.

    The gruesome context should make his current mission easier. But he’s never played arbiter, has never had any interest in doing so, and maybe that’s why he’s in the position he’s in yet again, in which his time is no longer his own, and a stepfather across the continent makes demands he whinges over but nevertheless finds himself compelled to obey.

    Regular employment as a sailor on a slaving ship isn’t the reason he’s after Moyran. The man was a long-time associate of his stepfather Taaldros and had made the lethal mistake of double-crossing him. For years they’d thought Moyran dead - head bashed at the bottom of the esteemed Sunberth Quarry. Classic - but his traveling between here and Zeltiva and wherever these horror shows float to round up their living cargo indicates that perhaps, in fact, the Quarry did not take. Taaldros doesn’t do loose ends; loose ends need to be dealt with, preferably through delegation.

    So here he is now, skulking about in the dark chasing an old man he hasn't seen in perhaps a decade - and still infuriatingly undecided about exactly what dealing with it might mean.
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    The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

    Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 3:40 pm

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      The truth is this could have been over and dealt with yesterday.

      That’s how everyone sees it. And by everyone, this time it does mean more than his sister and her perpetual state of disapproval as to how he carries out his affairs. For months after her arrival in Sunberth, Taalviel had made herself pointedly scarce if either Saticath or Thancerell were over; it seems even she didn’t much enjoy the alternative, which was openly glowering in silence in the corner. But whether she had simply been worn down, or sincerely needed that long to get used to coexisting with anyone, she had gradually begun speaking to Caspian as she normally would, even in the presence of company. At first it was stilted and coded, undecipherable without the many years of context being siblings would bring; but eventually – and perhaps it had something to do with Thance making himself useful over the summer by rescuing them all from the Lark party with his skiff, or that one bizarre time they’d split two of Thance’s parents’ rather expensive bottles of wine and Taalviel let Saticath plait her hair – Taalviel becomes comfortable enough to openly snap at him for stalling.

      “Who again are you after?” Thance had asked.

      “An enemy of our father,” Taalviel had replied with a shocking amount of eye contact.

      “And then when you find him you’re going to…” Thance had frowned at Caspian.

      It was rightly deserved. But at that point Saticath had caught on at least to the conspicuous degree of vagueness of it all and it was maddening to have three pairs of eyes on him at once, so he’d glared and mutely dared them all to use a word like or approximating assassinate –

      “Give him a stern talking to,” Taalviel had interjected, and the other three had stared for a very long tick until they realized with no small amount of unease that the Kelvic had perhaps just made a joke.

      “The sternest,” Caspian murmurs to himself now.

      The reason it might have been over very much yesterday – a covetousness denomination; hindsight is petty mangling at its finest – is that they had already determined the inn at which Moyran was staying for the duration of his shore leave. And Caspian had lain in wait and even went so far as to stalk him to a tavern one night to watch the mark drink himself into oblivion but when it came time to follow him up the stairs –

      “It’s like you’re trying to fail,” Taalviel had hissed at him, which earned an unhelpful titter from Saticath and Thance and led him to very emphatically remind her that he’d wanted nothing to do with this in the first place.

      There were, unsurprisingly, consequences for Moyran’s behavior. He’d gotten himself kicked out of his designated inn, and last night had taken to kipping down in the crew’s quarters. How much this irritated the Taires, the owners of this venture, or the captain of the ship, Caspian doesn’t know – but the fact remains that Caspian could have ended this once and for all some 24 hours past when Moyran stumbled up the gangplank and retreated very much alone to one of the bunks onboard.

      It has to happen tonight; the ship sails tomorrow. Though there doesn’t appear to be anyone yet onboard this vessel, he watches across the way for the lax guard on the other deck. Not wanting to take a chance even from some distance and in the dark, he waits for the guard to make their desultory lap, putting plenty of tack and rigging between them before he stalks low across the deck, installing himself behind a pile of crates closer to the stairs leading down to the ship’s quarters.
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      The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

      Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 5:08 pm

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        The waves seem so loud even from the deck. Though he lives on the Docks and spends so much of his time surrounded by them, he hasn’t been on ships much, and the constant sway, though when compared to Thance’s skippy little skiff is lumbering and baritone and looming large –

        Shutting his eyes as a general coping mechanism has been disappointingly ineffective as of late.

        On the Lark barge he’d hardly felt it; no queasiness either on the second ship, at that party over the summer. But at both he’d barely set foot before there were several and highly enthusiastic corrections to his sobriety, with all visual and auditory stimuli to keep him occupied. But here it’s just him and crouching in the dark with one hand resolutely grasped around the pommel of the curious corkscrew blade hidden in his jacket, wood and rigging in endlessly creaking chorus, just a nauseatingly fraction of a tick off from the syncopated slaps of the water below.

        What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Thance had asked him once, back in the days when it was easier to get him to leave in the morning. The question was a silly one, all fun and games to people of Thance’s set whose greatest sin, probably, was filching from mother’s purse. It was easily and readily identifiable as an acceptable hypothetical to ask someone you’d just been tackling, just another addendum to the amusement of being in bed together in the first place, and Caspian had known all that and for some reason had still replied in a way that was actually excruciatingly violently sort of honest

        What if Moyran doesn’t come? Or if he’s wheedled his way back into his original room at the inn, or found another? So many things could fail to come to fruition and this time it will definitively be because of his own absence of action and the thought of going through all of this again, of angling into another Lark party, to quibble over ledgers and ink and calculations he barely finds comprehensible, to drag in those closest to him because he’s incapable of making decisions that require standing on his own two feet –

        A heavy footfall suddenly inflicts itself upon the gangplank, like the chopping stoppings of a horsehair bow against catgut strings – followed by an oddly gummy pitter patter he can’t quite place.

        Reflexively, though it doesn’t make the illusion of invisibility any more effective, he grips the handle of his dagger so tightly his arm shakes. Finally on the deck appears Moyran, dragging a young woman, barefoot and dress threadbare, behind him by the wrist.

        They aren’t more than twenty paces apart, and Caspian hasn’t seen him in nearly ten years – but it’s vindicating and somewhat appalling that he might have immediately recognized the man even from double their distance. The air that he had so shallowly held onto feels knocked from his lungs. It’s as if no time has passed at all, and he’s sixteen again, so essentially unchanged is Moyran’s lank hair falling in two greasy straw-colored sheets on either side of his face, the double-bend hook of his nose that was the result of a terribly volatile line of work rather than any familial inheritance; the same, even, is the step-sling-step?-step of his drunken swagger as he plunders his way across the deck.

        The young woman is crying. With a resounding crack that has Caspian wincing and clapping his free hand over his mouth, Moyran backhands her and sends her tumbling to the floor. Sparing her no second to catch her breath, he snatches her up again and sends her with a kick down the stairs.
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        The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

        Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 5:48 pm

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          One-two-three –
          – four-five-six –


          Watching – waiting – counting in six. He can do that; he most certainly can because he’s done it before and even if hadn’t he’s going to do it now because it’s necessary. She must have shouted when he’d first snatched her up, begun crying long before they’d even reached this arc of the Docks, from the welting around her wrists tried to claw her way free. The hour is late but this is Ravok; there will always be people flitting from one party to the next, the Ravosalamen in their perpetual hovering, any manner of average passerby because the city is supposed to be a safe one and running around at night doesn’t bring the same danger one might find anywhere else. So that means people had seen, and they had heard – and all it had taken, if Moyran were prompted, was an indication of the branding on the back of her neck that indicated she’s a slave, and if not his, then someone’s soon – and he was left to do with her as he liked.

          The thought turns his stomach more wrenchingly than the lake ever could.

          But he has his sixes, and he counts them – and when Moyran and the young woman are so many sixes ahead he steals along after them, zipping across the deck and gingerly testing each stair of his descent before putting his full weight upon them. The wood planks creak and bend beneath him and at one point assumes incorrectly that they’re all of even dimension, and nearly loses his footing. Clumsily, he falters and grabs a railing that isn’t properly bolted into the wall, the shoddy construction letting out an ear-splitting creak.
          Moyran’s shuffle-step falters. Caspian lets go of the railing and grasps the handle of the blade instead, dropping into a crouch, still halfway down the stairs, concealed in a shadow of the stairwell just inches away from a plane of moonlight.

          But the woman must have done something, sensing Moyran’s lapse, for there’s another heart-rending crack and a thudding of a body onto the floor. In his drunkenness, it seems to slip Moyran’s mind that something might be amiss, for he’s swearing and the woman shrieks, and then the slamming of a door.

          One-two-three –

          Caspian descends the stairs.

          – four-five-six –

          He doesn’t know her but he doesn’t need to. Maybe if he hurries –

          The floor wavers unsteadily beneath him with the rocking of the lake. The darkness of the hallway makes it worse. Palms flat against the wall to anchor him, he slides carefully down the hallway. Though he hadn’t seen which door was Moyran’s, the woman’s crying leaves no mystery – and it strikes him, suddenly, that had he done this yesterday, he wouldn’t be here now, and neither would the woman. This is his fault; and if it isn’t, it’s as good as. Who knows how much she’d already been hurt before they’d come onboard and who knows how much she’s hurting now and if he can only just hurry and stop the shaking of his heart he can put an end to –

          There’s a loud crack, different from the ones that had come before – not of flesh upon flesh, but something decidedly inorganic and perhaps like stone.

          The door’s slightly ajar and seems to creak open just from Caspian’s breathing upon it. In the center of the dingy room is the woman, with what looks like a painted ceramic pot broken in half at her feet; and half-cast over the bed is Moyran, a dark trickle of blood running down his brow.
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          The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

          Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 6:33 pm

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            They’re both shaking. They’re both here and don’t want to be. They both might have easily not been here at all had they known better places and better times. And though he doesn’t know her name, it’s in this sameness that he raises a finger to his lips, raises the other hand to show he means no harm, and slowly enters the room. She startles back, abruptly maintaining the distance between them, and then some – and he doesn’t mean to make her feel more violated than she already is but he can’t help but notice the welts around her neck, the blackened bruising of her feet, the scars like red and silver lattices visible through the tears of her tattered dress.

            He chooses a corner, backs into it and leaves a clear berth for the door. For moment it looks as if she’s going to take the corner diametrically opposed instead, as if the force that had possessed her long enough to crack Moyran’s skull had just left her, and what remains is a shuddering husk. But suddenly, out she flies, and Caspian’s left alone with the body across the bed.

            With one-two-three paces he crosses the room to the door, and shuts it behind him; on four-five-six he returns to Moyran lying disconcertingly still, in a cloud of murk and booze and blood.

            Had the woman done his work for him?

            But they hadn’t checked properly a decade ago, when Moyran had dueled his stepfather and tumbled into the Sunberth Quarry; no one wanted to ease themselves down into the rocks and filth and the dark and at the time Caspian had been relieved that no one had asked him. What had been a relative victory and an immense relief at the time has only come back to bite him now.

            Fool him once –

            There’s a magnifying glass on the table. Leaning over Moyran, he holds the glass over Moyran’s mouth, which has fallen slack.

            The glass fogs, and even without it is the unmistakable expelling of what seems an entire barrel of ale.

            The bed seems moth-eaten and terribly stained but Caspian sits anyway.

            What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

            What are the odds Moyran won’t wake, that though there might be breath in him now, it’s on its way out? It’s only a small miracle that the man hasn’t drunk himself to death already; doubt he has someone looking after him, and all these years he might have easily suffocated on his own bile in his sleep. Why not tonight, then, when Caspian still hasn’t put a hand upon him? No one would have to know. Enough horrors have passed tonight that his expression’s twisted into something harangued; let Taalviel see it and think they had been his own.

            Should he leave it, then? It won’t be the most gruesome thing this vessel’s ever seen. Maybe no one will be surprised; maybe plenty will say they saw it coming.

            A tiredness washes over him. It’s not a good sign – doesn’t the body-mind trick usually stave off until the deed is done? If he holds very still and looks away from the unpleasant heap thrown across the bed, it’s just him and dark corners and broken pottery in the moonlight. It’s almost a shame it had to be broken; the porcelain’s whiter than bone and painted in winding baroque patterns of blue. The bottom’s stamped with the name of the distributor and –

            What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?

            He nearly laughs out loud. Thance’s parents are crockery merchants, and this is one of their own.

            It breaks apart further in his hands. A jagged piece comes off, like a bolt of white lightning fitted to his palm.

            It’s almost like he brought a knife for nothing.

            “ –‘s there?”

            Caspian sharply wheels around.

            Moyran heaves himself into a sitting position upon the bed, one hand pressed over the cut across his brow, regarding him with glassy eyes.
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            The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

            Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 7:14 pm

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              If someone were to walk in, it would be very difficult to dissuade them from the belief that Caspian is the responsible party.

              Beneath the searchlight of the moon, he knows how it looks - a wraith dressed in black, with a porcelain stabber in hand and a bleeding man before him.

              But no one walks in, and Caspian confronts the fact that through all the sleepless nights he had spent fretting about this moment, he had never once betted on being close enough to Moyran to make eye contact.

              “ –‘s there?” Moyran repeats in an affronted slur.

              “Don’t you remember me?”

              Moyran frowns and lowers his hand from his head, as if he’d forgotten he’d put it there, and seems genuinely perplexed by the dark stickiness he finds. Maybe he’s drunk enough he can’t feel the sting; maybe he’ll still be drunk enough when Caspian finally –

              “Should I?” he slops out, teetering unsteadily even as he sits.

              Three steps to the bed; beats four through six as he lowers himself to sit at the foot in silence.

              “I think you must,” Caspian replies.

              A lopsided grin lights upon Moyran’s face. And Caspian remembers that too, accompanied by the ache of looking too closely at how many years have since flown. The smile was crooked with or without liquor, and its causes were more often unsettling than not.

              “ ‘ittle stray!” Moyran suddenly exclaims, but his elation warps when he notices the porcelain bolt.

              “Right,” Caspian repeats softly. “I knew you’d remember. A little stray like me.”

              “Grown now, ain’t yer? Well. Sort ‘f.” The lout has the gall to snicker. “Still prancin’ about, yer flimsy wick?”

              Somehow Moyran’s using the politer terms with which Caspian had historically been addressed.

              “Something like that,” he replies, and not unkindly.

              He runs a finger along the edge of the porcelain shard. It’s not the finest but as with most things if one just presses hard enough –

              “Well – “ Moyran huffs. “Whaddeyer wan’, then?”

              That’s all anyone ever wants to know. He wishes that for just one moment everyone would stop asking, so unrelenting is the fugue in his mind, so harsh its endless strum and if they could just give him one sliver of a moment he might find the space to finally sort out an answer.

              “I – “

              Something knocks against his boots. Rolling beneath the bed is a bottle of something amber and dark, and he snatches it up, contemplating it numbly.

              “Why’s m’head ‘urt?” Moyran garbles. “You. You did this?”

              “No, Moyran,” Caspian says with a sigh. “I did not.”

              “Whaddeyer wan’, then?”

              The contents of the bottle are so potent they sting they air just from their uncorking.

              “Moyran – “ he says, and holds up the bottle. “For old time’s sake. Won’t you have a drink with me?”

              The delight on Moyran’s face is so unbridled and genuine that he almost feels bad at the thought that he’s set to end it.

              “Out on the deck,” he says, rising from the bed, and though Moyran protests, he’s not the one with the bottle.
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              The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

              Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 7:56 pm

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                It takes more than a few sixes to lead Moyran down the hallway, and many more to get him up the stairs.

                When they reach the deck, the night air seems to revitalize him enough that he doesn’t need a wall or railing to follow Caspian down to the stern of the ship.

                Ahead of them somewhere is the Lakeshore; beyond that, the rest of the world. Yet out of an entire world of lovely and fantastical things he’s here instead, with a chip off a broken vase, a half-empty bottle of whiskey that’s probably mostly spittle, and a sorry slug who’s just assaulted a woman but doesn’t think it worth mentioning.

                “Here,” Caspian says, offering him the bottle. It took some doing, but Moyran’s managed to join him on his perch at the stern of the ship, their legs dangling over the lake.

                Unsurprisingly, Moyran doesn’t bother examining its contents before taking a hearty swig. There’s that moment, Caspian’s noticed with heavy drinkers, where they lull, chased closely by a voracious second wind. This appears to be where Moyran is now, for he’s looking upon Caspian with new light, the bottle clutched in his arms like a newborn child.

                “Really. You’ve grown, ‘aven’t yer? ‘ow long’s it been?”

                Not long enough to forget everything that needs forgetting, it seems.

                And certainly not long enough for his stepfather to forgive an enemy.

                “I remember yer. Always in the back, could barely raise a knife. I don’ remember wot th’ hell yeh done but once I remember Taaldros gave yer a devil o’ a wallopin’, near cracked yer arm – “

                The incident had left Caspian unable to hold up a violin for nearly a month, let alone play one.

                Moyran passes the bottle to him, overly chummy. Caspian tips his head back and pretends to swallow.

                “I’m 26 now,” he says conversationally, though he isn’t sure why.

                “26! Th’ devil yeh are. We use’ t’ make bets, y’know? On whether yeh’d make it past 20 – “

                Caspian thrusts the bottle back at Moyran, who needs no prompting.

                “But if yer 26 – “ Moyran frowns, takes another swig, some of which dribbles down his chin. “ – that sister o’ yours. Oh, but she were a fine one. How old i’ she? Where th’ hell is she?” He looks around, as if expecting her to suddenly appear.

                Short-lived, that second wind. Casting himself around has him unsteadily teetering even though he isn’t on his feet.

                “I always used t’ say. If she weren’ no daughter o’ a friend – “

                “And you were very good friends, weren’t you?”

                Moyran blinks, then nods sagely, emphatically. “Through the back n’ bite with ‘im. Good memories. Through thick ‘n thin.”

                “Memory is a funny thing,” Caspian says softly, gazing out over the dark, rolling expanse.

                “Yer, ah – yer seen ‘im lately?”

                This isn’t the way he thought it would go – but the important thing, it seems, is that it’s going. And what’s the worst thing that could –

                “No,” Caspian watches himself say, with an icy deliberateness weighing volumes down in every syllable. “Have you?”

                Perhaps something of the sober Moyran wrenches itself to the surface and has realized how terribly strange and precarious is the situation at hand; perhaps truth wins itself over memory after all. Sputtering, Moyran turns away and defaults to drinking. But that doesn’t seem to make Caspian vanish, as he appears to very desperately wish. Stumbling to his feet, he reaches out wildly, but Caspian rears back. They haven’t touched and he’s going to keep it that way.

                As he struggles to right himself –

                It happens too quickly for anything to have been done. That’s what Caspian tells himself when he counts to six and Moyran’s still having trouble freeing himself from a coil of rigging he hadn’t noticed he’d entangled himself in when he’d first sat down. Had Moyran thought to set down the bottle, that might have been his saving grace – but it takes all of his drunken faculties to hold onto it. It’s still clutched in his arms as he mistakenly believes he’s freed himself from the rigging and tumbles off the back of the stern, smashing like a cymbal into the water below.

                They’d locked eyes for a moment as he fell.

                And for one dizzyingly potent moment, Caspian and another human being had known exactly where they stood.
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                The Bloodied Barcarolle Pt. III

                Postby Caspian on October 10th, 2020, 9:06 pm

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                  Numbly, Caspian watches Moyran’s body flailing below. As a child his mother regaled him with tales of quicksand; he wonders if death by lake bears any resemblance.

                  Reflexively, he’d stepped to a section of the railing beneath the shadow of the ship’s masts and bundled sails, slipped the shard of porcelain into his trousers, and taken hold of the blade of invisibility in his jacket.

                  Had Moyran been sober –

                  Who knows if the man can actually swim? Maybe it would have always been this easy, and the grubby bottle of whisky was an unnecessary prop.

                  The coil of rigging beside him twists and frets along with the body thrashing in the water. It tangles further, loops pinioning limbs, one wrapping round his neck. Though the guard on the neighboring boat hadn’t been a sparkling paradigm of the profession, two fears remain now – that he’ll be caught, and beyond that, that walking away prematurely will mean Moyran will find another way to weasel out alive.

                  Before the rigging can slink any further, he stamps down with his heel – when it strains and threatens, he pins it with his other. The thrashing grows wilder, and Moyran’s half-garbled, half-sloshed threats and pleas cut up to him through the incessant brooming of the tides. It’s not enough. He casts a look over his shoulder – no one quite yet. Swiftly, feet still pinning the rope, he stoops down and relinquishes hold of his dagger to tie the rigging to railing.

                  Funnily enough, Moyran’s still holding onto the bottle when Caspian sees the last of his frenetic wavings break through the surface of the lake. The guard from the other ship finally does take notice, but in hesitating to come aboard a ship he isn’t assigned to, Caspian’s granted the final moments needed to make sure, with both eyes trained upon the water, that the body hadn’t broken free.

                  The hand he’d held clutched over his heart slips into his jacket, finds the dagger’s handle, and holds it like a promise. As the guard from the neighboring ship ambles towards the stern, putting two and two together at dreadfully but thankfully glacial pace, Caspian retreats into a shadowy corner and winds the opposite way around the deck from the guard. Over the railing he goes, back the way he came. When he reaches the gangplank –

                  Unable to help himself, he runs. In six steps his boots thunder down the length of the gangplank. A song chases up towards him from the deep as he runs along the length of the Docks. It thrums through his soles, sears through his skin, and though he clamps both hands over his ears its frequencies worm their way through his seams.

                  Madly, he turns away from the Docks and towards the center of the city. Even in the dark, he recognizes it dimly, dismally – and though his fears still hound him, though the water in the canals here bear the harmonic chorales to the lake’s bloody barcarolle, he can go no further.

                  Gasping for breath, he slumps against an alley wall. More than the stitch in his lungs, something’s sliced him open. The jagged piece of porcelain –

                  Drawing it from his pocket, he casts it upon the stones, his blood stark splatters against the white and blue.

                  ---

                  Temple bells chime twice when he lets himself into his apartment.

                  To his great surprise, he’s entirely alone.

                  Still fully dressed, he lies in bed and stares up at the ceiling, the Obfuscate dagger still in his jacket pocket and pressing down upon his heart. A maddening clarity has taken hold of him, but uselessly – in the dark the shapes of his room remain faceless and formless, the expanse of the ceiling a boundless void. Despite the icy insistence of his consciousness it takes all of his effort to heave himself back into a sitting position and onto his feet. Back and forth across his room he paces, wishing he’d gotten home just a bell or two sooner – the streets might still bear their revels, the tavern below still buzzing, anything to cut through the soggy silence that steadily penetrates the room like a dark ink clouding through water.

                  Without Taalviel there’s no one to occupy his table. He sits. Stares at his empty bed, then up at the wall beside him where Akvin’s painting hangs. In the dark he can’t see what shapes the magical painting has taken, but in his mind, with nothing else to occupy him he vividly imagines the shifting of the oils, the deep groaning of the daubed mountains sliding over the coast and growing until the picture is nothing but a dark chasm and the sea the color of roiling pitch –

                  In a wild fury he tears the canvas down from the wall, clutches it close – for it was a horrible gift, this living mirror, which without fail knows him better than he dares.

                  Dawn breaks over the city when he finally manages to sleep. When he dreams, he’s 16 again, standing in snow, walking through sleet. The way ahead is crystal, the way above is fog – and when he looks behind the world is a tapestry, unwinding and unraveling, and no matter how far he runs the precipice is there with him.

                  And when he looks ahead –


                  ---

                  “Good present, wasn’t it?” Thancerell asks him when he, Taalviel, and Saticath file in later in the afternoon, nodding towards the Obfuscate dagger.

                  Even Taalviel looks somber, like they’re all at his wake.

                  It’s absolutely maddening.

                  “The best,” he replies, and without correction or elucidation he can see their expressions turn.

                  Not against him, necessarily.

                  Thankfully not, because –

                  Wouldn’t it just break his heart?

                  That day, Taalviel writes their stepfather a letter. And maybe she’s feeling something like sympathy for him, or this is his reward for doing what he’d been told to do, because she asks him, without any trace of sarcasm, if he wants to read it.

                  It’s tempting.

                  “I think they’re going for a point,” Taalviel says when he balks, nodding towards Saticath and Thancerell, who are already halfway down the stairs.

                  Akvin’s painting is rolled up and propped in the corner. Involuntarily, his eyes stray towards it.

                  The corner of the canvas bared towards him is coal black.

                  “I...”

                  She hadn’t said anything about it when she came in, though it definitely hadn’t escaped her notice.

                  “I think,” she says carefully, “that it might be good idea.”
                  He had been stalling by his dresser. Unfortunately there wasn’t much there to stall with and now he’s sitting upon his bed, numbly and dumbly, feeling suddenly as if there is so much he needs to say yet not enough ways to –

                  “Cas,” she says, “do you want to talk about it?”

                  “Talk about what?” Unconsciously, he’s snapped to his feet. “Gods, the lot of you, like – like this is a petching funeral parlor. Dunno what’s gotten into you all.”

                  She frowns. “Are you sure you don’t – “

                  “No idea what you’re talking about,” he says quickly, tossing his coat over his shoulder, shoving a hand into his pocket. Looking everywhere but at the roll of canvas in the corner. “See you in a bit? And if you’ve still a bit of parchment after the novel you’re writing, tell Dad I said he can eat glass. Or, I dunno, maybe just hi. He was never one for nuance.”

                  Six steps to the door.

                  Taalviel calls his name.

                  He shuts it, plunging forward and down the stairs, into light and noise and everything that might blight the dirge clawing up to him from the deep.
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