Flashback Squeak and Squabble

Caspian attempts to steal from the larder.

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A lawless town of anarchists, built on the ruins of an ancient mining city. [Lore]

Squeak and Squabble

Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 2:13 pm

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    35 Spring 507
Caspian is hungry.

He is 14 years old.

Those items occurred in the above order, the first of which has been his omnipresent condition since being in Sunberth.

The second item –

It shouldn’t matter, maybe. That’s what everyone here tells him about most things he cares about, at least. Taaldros had asked when his birthday was, once, at the very beginning, but it was a perfunctory thing, a matter of collecting context upon the acquiring of a new asset. Also, he had been drunk at the time, and had thought it more than a little funny to make a crass joke about perhaps being Caspian’s father all along.

Birthdays are silly things, pointless to keep track of. This is his second one here, and in fact he’d missed the first, because that week Taaldros had happened to have thrown him against the wall a mite too hard and he’d spent the next few days disoriented with, in retrospect, what might have been diagnosed – had anyone bothered to call a doctor – with a concussion.

Hunger is his reason for slowly turning the knob on his bedroom door and pulling it open the barest distance needed for him to sidle through. Any more and the hinges will squeak; his birthday is –

Not so much a reason, but a fact of the matter that has hovered in his thoughts ever since he glanced at the clock and saw that it had just passed midnight.

No one will remember it’s his birthday except him. Maybe a curbing of the gnawing of his stomach, for just one day, is the best present he could receive – and if there’s anything he’s learned from his first two harrowing years in Sunberth, it’s that if you want something, it’s up to you to go and get it.

The upper floor is dark when he eases himself through. There are three more doors on this floor, and thankfully lantern light – a sign that perhaps someone is both here and awake – spills form beneath none of them. The closest door is a bathroom; the next two, bedrooms constantly occupied by any of Taaldros’ associates and their trysts for the week. All night he had kept an ear pressed to his door, waiting for any sounds that might help him determine exactly how many people he’ll have to sneak past. Around 10 pm, someone had lumbered up the stairs, and from the heavy plodding of their footsteps and how they had fallen against the bannister, they were likely blind drunk and making the unusually wise choice of calling it a night. The other bedroom –

He frowns. He’d heard some footsteps back and forth across this floor but it was hard to say whether that person had merely been up here to fetch something and then left, or had actually retired here for the night.

Assume the worst.

That’s what Taalviel would say.

Slowly, carefully, he takes one step down the hallway, then another, testing the floorboards with the lightest pressure from his toes before planting his entire foot down. There are worse houses in Sunberth but this one has seen more than its fair share of wear and tear and whatever had happened when – according to the stories Gavir had gruffly given him the bullets on – Taaldros had decided this was where he wanted to live, and had routed out the crew who had been occupying it at the time.
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Squeak and Squabble

Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 2:58 pm

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    Halfway down the hallway is when he makes an error.

    The problem is that it had been going well. A dozen steps, all toe-tap and gentle roll to the heel and not a sound to be heard save for the blood pounding in his own ears. The dozen little victories had lulled him, for a moment, into believing that he was doing it, that perhaps he might finally be getting good at it. That perhaps the many nights he’d been forced to go skulking about with Taalviel and even all the jobs he’d nearly ruined with his clumsy footfalls were nevertheless starting to add up, and he might not necessarily be useful quite yet, but he was no longer a rampant liability. And so he had foregone testing the next floorboard with the same delicacy he had treated all the previous, and the squeak that erupts from beneath his step resounds in his ears as loudly as a shriek.

    He freezes in place, eyes darting to the two bedroom doors and holding his breath for any sign that whoever’s in them isn’t now awake and fumbling for their weapon of choice.

    It’s typical, isn’t it, that he’s failing before he’s even really started.

    Several long seconds pass, but no one’s boots hit the floor, and with a new tremble to his steps, he tests the next floorboard.

    What would he have done, anyway, had someone burst out and discovered him there? Run back to his room and shut the door, probably, and hoped that they had at least drunk enough to not have the energy to harangue him further. They’ve stopped locking him into his room, for the most part, but it’s common knowledge among Taaldros’ crew that the dark waif from Avanthal isn’t supposed to be wandering around unsupervised. Said waif certainly isn’t supposed to be biting the hand that occasionally feeds.

    This is when he realizes his next error – or, really, his first.

    He’d neglected to shut his bedroom door after he’d slipped through. A vertical plane of moonlight spills in from the few inches he’d cracked it open. Anyone who sees it will know that he’s out doing something he shouldn’t.

    The thorough thing to do is shut it – and how many times had he been admonished, with a slap to the head, to leave no proverbial stone unturned? But it’s too late to go back across the floorboards – so says the acute twist in his stomach that sees the distance as far more beleaguering than the few feet it is in daylight.

    If he can get to the larder and back quickly, no one will notice.

    He turns back to half of the hallway left to conquer. There’s a shred of a rug across some of it, and while it might soften his footfall it might also conceal the worst of the floorboards that have warped with the weather. Holding his breath, eyes trained on the last bedroom door, he proceeds with renewed caution to the top of the stairs.
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    Squeak and Squabble

    Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 4:01 pm

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      A dense fit of coughs erupts from the bedroom at the end of the hall. A startled Caspian, just about to test the first stair, grabs the railing and hastily retracts his foot. Whoever’s coughing is shifting heavily on their bed, which groans beneath their weight and knocks against the wall. A distracted muttering follows when their coughs finally subside.

      If Caspian isn’t going to wake the whole house up, the drunken lout certainly will.

      But no noise comes from the other bedroom, the one that to begin with could very well be empty. Or maybe, if someone’s there, the behavior of the several-sheets-to-the-wind first is just one of those things that doesn’t merit notice here.

      He could still run back to his room. They’ve started feeding him less on purpose but the only time they outright starved him was at the very beginning, when he’d realized that being taken along with his mercenary stepfather meant cracked skulls and disemboweling and relieving screaming strangers of their digits, or whatever they were being paid to do. He’d refused to go on the next job and wound himself up into a panic attack right on the kitchen floor that evidently no one had much sympathy for, and in retaliation they’d locked him in his room and over the next 36 hours his only meal was a cup of broth that barely filled up the palm of his hand.

      You didn’t even last two days, Taalviel had observed, which made Zhassel cackle.

      The rest of them hadn’t said as much out loud, but they didn’t need to.

      Ever since then he’d complied, handicapped only by his nerves, and according to everyone, his sheer ineptitude. Food was then doled out to him in kind, and so perhaps he could just take his chances, wait to see what Taalviel brings him in the morning.

      Another fit of coughing decides for him. It’s a half-step, half-stumble of a decision but he jumps and takes the first stair. It creaks under his weight but the volume is thankfully nothing compared to the coughs. Anxiety rides high in his system, and it’s not just a tactical move to progress as many steps as he can down the stairs with the coughing as cover, but a reflexive gesture to put as much distance between himself and the source of noise as possible.

      The stairs make a sharp turn here, and from the turn onwards, one is in full view of the parlor. The problem – yet another – is that Caspian had not entirely thought this through.

      What if someone is in said parlor?

      Some of Taaldros’ friends play cards there. Zhassel has a habit of curling up on the nicer of the rotting cabrioles, sometimes in her Hound form. Her hearing’s sharper than average as a human, but as a Hound, she might very well be able to pick up the sound of Caspian’s steps as disparate from the coughs upstairs.

      She might just as well hear the breaths stuttering from his mouth that he can’t seem to get a grip on.

      With his back pressed flat against the last bit of the wall keeping him out of sight of the parlor, he yanks his shirt up higher, covers his mouth with the swath of fabric and clamps his hand over.

      The way back up the stairs is dark, save for the moonlight he’d carelessly let in.

      Holding his breath, he takes the next step and rounds the corner.
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      Squeak and Squabble

      Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 4:40 pm

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        A dark shape is huddled on the cabriole. Instinctively – but is it really an instinct if it’s something that’s been knocked repeatedly into you? – he drops to a crouch on the stairs. The position’s a bit tenuous because his feet aren’t level, he’s got one on the step he’d just taken and the other still planted on the step behind, and in recompense he’d grabbed the railing, which he suspects was never built that sturdily to begin with.

        As a method of defense it’s embarrassingly pointless, because the balusters aren’t exactly much of a barricade, and in fact some within the eyeline of the couch are missing. It’s the equivalent of a child ducking their head under the covers to fend off the thought of preying ghouls, but it makes him feel better nonetheless.

        The coughing upstairs subsides.

        Hand still clamped over his shirt and mouth, breathing so shallowly and sparingly through his nose he’s growing lightheaded, he crouches and waits.

        The dark shape in the parlor doesn’t move.

        Indecision paralyzes him on the spot. But it seems he’s at some point of no return now, given his distance from his room.

        Still from his huddled position, both hands grasping the balustrades like jail bars he tests the next stair, then the next. But the next –

        The stair squeaks.

        Almost.

        He cranes his neck to peer at the shadowed figure slumped just a few yards away.

        No movement.

        This stair, the whole plank, it just isn’t going to work – he’s going to have to skip this one and pray he doesn’t slip edging onto the next.

        The railing shakes unnervingly in its posts. He can’t put too much weight on it – even under regular circumstances he’d never lean his whole body against it – and loosening his grip, using it as carefully as he can and strictly for the sake of balance, he slides over the step he can’t take and onto the following one. Thankfully, it makes no sound – what in the world would he have done then? – but the stair he’d slid over, the wood’s choppy and gnarled and something sharp’s sticking out. It catches against his shirt, worn thin long before it had been delegated his, and he lets out a startled gasp in pain at the scrape that’s perfectly audible even with so much to muffle. Frozen again, half-suspended, he glances over at the parlor.

        Still nothing.

        The closer he peers –

        Whoever it is, thankfully, isn’t Zhassel. It’s much too large to be her in her Hound form, still far too bulky to be mistaken for her as a human. The curtains in the parlor are partly open, and lying in the light filtering through is a bottle of what’s most likely liquor, and most likely empty.

        Evidently, one of Taaldros’ friends – if one can call them that – didn’t make it into one of the bedrooms, or they’re simply at capacity. It’s certainly a better outcome than having to slip past Zhassel and her amplified senses. With more surety, he plants himself onto the step, and carefully clambers down the rest to the floor.
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        Squeak and Squabble

        Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 5:24 pm

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          At the base of the stairs, an obstacle that, to the degree had had thought ahead, he hadn’t necessarily pictured himself surviving –

          A sense of curiosity compels him.

          From here, the wheezing of the man asleep on the couch is practically a racket. He doesn’t know how he missed it before, why he had been so frightful of being heard as he turned the corner of the stairs. The nearer he draws – and yes, those are his steps he’s electing to take further into the parlor, instead of towards the larder, which is the opposite direction – the wind knocking in and out of the man’s weathered lungs seems near deafening.

          The man’s face is vaguely familiar; he’s definitely come round the house more than once this season, and his most memorable trait is that one night half a dozen of them had been playing poker and he’d made the near-fatal error of crowing a bit too much about winning a hand over Taaldros. Thankfully it hadn’t erupted into a brawl – why anyone would walk into a man’s house, one known for losing his temper, and above all tacitly agreed as holding the seat of highest power, and then insult him was beyond reason. But Caspian had caught the glint in Taaldros’ eye, the one that means he neither forgets nor forgives. The man might still be in good enough graces to have dipped well into Taaldros’ generosity when it comes to hospitality, but doubtless his time would come.

          And maybe – is that time now?

          Caspian had long since dropped the muffling from his mouth. Crouched again on the floor, he slinks towards the man, stopping at the edge of the shadows cut through by the moonlight. The stench of liquor radiates from even a yard away. Upon closer inspection, the bottle lying on the floor is in fact empty, save for a trickle of amber liquid pooling up by the rim.

          He doesn’t know why he does it. But it’s been happening as of late, being gripped by a sudden feeling of wanting to edge. He picks his battles carefully – if he does this right, according to Taalviel, they’re not supposed to be battles, that’s not what thieves are for. And some of them, like this man, just make it so easy.

          From what he remembers from the poker game, this man has a habit of stowing too many mizas in a pouch belted at his waist. There’s something to be said for keeping one’s valuables on oneself but the amount had been unwisely conspicuous – really, why did he feel the need to keep so much of it on himself as once? Didn’t he have a mattress he could stash at least half of it under? – and from his waist the pouch had really dragged.

          He’s so close now that were the man coherent, he could reach out and slap him. It’s difficult in the dark, and he doesn’t want to get any nearer than necessary, and for a moment he wonders if it wouldn’t help to draw the curtains back just a bit – but he spots something on the cabriole that mollifies his venture enough.

          In the seams of the cushions of the cabriole, right by the man’s hip, is a silver miza. Hand shaking with equal parts anxiety and what he’s afraid is excitement, he reaches out and takes it, and slips it into his shoe. The man’s money pouch, maybe, hadn’t been closed tightly enough, and as he’d thrown himself onto the couch in his stupor, money had slipped out.

          What if there’s more?

          There’s nothing else on the cushions, and he doesn’t want to stick his hand in places where right now it probably shouldn’t be. He runs his hands along the floorboards in the dark, coming up with grime and dust, splinters and screws – and something that is unmistakably another miza, then another, right under the man’s boots.

          They’re just bronze ones, but they shine in the moonlight all the same.

          As he creeps away, testing the floorboards with his toes once more, the man continuing to wheeze as if he hadn’t just been robbed, he finds himself perturbed by the thrill that thrums through his heart.
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          Squeak and Squabble

          Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 6:59 pm

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            The kitchen is easier; namely, the kitchen is tile. Funnily enough he almost doesn’t get so far as to ruminate on the difference – in the little lightning of the moment that was scarpering off with the mizas, he’d almost forgotten his hunger entirely. But he’s here now, and the tile, though swabbed over with grime by even yet more of it, and cracked in some places, is a lot less tricky to navigate than the wooden floors. The only thing he has to watch out for, which is considerably tougher in the dark, is kicking over any of the ones that have been knocked loose. But he remembers those, at least the ones most likely to set off a racket – there’s a spot by the sink he can easily avoid, another just to the left of one of the cupboards. Less than ideal, he vaguely recalls there might be a couple just in front of the cupboard – or is that his renewed anxiety taking hold?

            No one’s in the kitchen. There’s a small table here, and two rickety chairs, and he really should have thought about that before turning the corner as he had, as if he’d had nothing to lose. The high from robbing the man asleep in the parlor had been more potent than he’d thought. And yet –

            He casts a look past the kitchen, towards the parlor.

            Maybe, after he quells his stomach – wouldn’t it be a pity if it groaned so loudly and that was what woke everyone? – he can think about diving back in.

            In the hours leading up to his scheming, as he’s done compulsively so many nights before, he thought back to Avanthal. The herrings blackening at their edges over the firepits, the cleaved and crossed tubers roasting alongside. There’s nothing like that in Sunberth, or at least, no one here’s deigned to give it to him. The realistic fantasy that he is about to manifest, or so he tells himself with one hand on the larder door, is an excessively reasonable absconding of half a loaf of bread, a pat of butter if it hasn’t gone rancid, and the roasted chestnuts he’s hoping Taalviel hasn’t yet discovered.

            The larder door squeaks too. Fortunately, he remembers that just before he gives in to his own impatience. Heart pounding again in his ears – as if the organ itself knows just how close he is to getting away with it – he very slowly eases the door open. Though the kitchen’s not so fraught a place to be as the stairs, the first floor is where Taaldros’ bedroom is, and if Zhassel isn’t kipping in the parlor then likely she’s tucked at his feet.

            The door resists him. Half the problem is that he’s not that familiar with its weight, and he isn’t sure how much force would be entirely unnecessary and create more problems than it solves. He isn’t allowed near the larder unless expressly ordered there – usually to fetch ale for Taaldros or his associates – and he doesn’t know how many meal-less hours they’ll punish him with if he’s caught, but it’ll likely be a lot more than 36.
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            Squeak and Squabble

            Postby Caspian on November 22nd, 2020, 7:29 pm

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              The next pang in his gut spurs him onward. Acting, at least, seems a lot better than standing still.

              Holding his breath again – as if that matters – he takes hold of the handle on the larder door and eases it free. The bottom of the door hasn’t been cut very level, or maybe it’s the fault of the person who lay the tiles, but it scrapes against the kitchen floor. He clamps his hand over his mouth again and leans back, glancing into the parlor – but the man continues to wheeze.

              And wherever Zhassel is, if this had woken her, by now he’d likely hear pattering across the floors.

              The width to which he’d dragged open the door isn’t enough. He sucks in his already caved-in gut, and – no, it’s his ribs that won’t go, and his skull, and there’s not much he can do about those dimensions. So holding his breath again, he tugs the door out a couple inches further, thankful for the rot that’s softened the wood and made the scrapings against the tiles at least soft ones.

              Then, finally

              He slips into the larder, flinching against the far colder, mustier air.

              There’s a window in the kitchen through which the moon and a distant lamplight filter through. The barest traces of it make it into the larder, and he has to go by muscle memory alone.

              Afraid of knocking over anything and the subsequent noise it would create, he creeps forward carefully, hands out in front of him. The barrels he expects to find are in the places he knows they should be. There are a couple more he hadn’t figured, and a sack of grain on the ground that almost sends him sprawling, but he catches his hand on another barrel and eases himself up.

              What he hadn’t figured on was how he would feel groping around alone in the pitch dark. Though he can see the door and the pane of light through the opening, it seems too far away, and suddenly feeling claustrophobic, he decides to hang the butter and the chestnuts, he’ll just grab the bread or the first thing he lays a hand on, and begin the arduous ascent back up to his room.

              Just as he blindly gropes out and lands on what he’s fairly certain is the bread in question –

              A hand closes over his wrist, another clamping over his mouth before he can scream. In his terror, he forgets he’s meant to be silent, and he kicks out wildly, knocking over a crate and sending it crashing.

              “Stop it! It’s just me,” hisses Taalviel in his ear, as if that’s supposed to make him feel better.

              Her grip tightens on his wrist, making him flinch, and her nails dig into his face. Only when he forces his body to slacken in surrender does she deem it appropriate to relent.

              He rears back and knocks into a barrel, sloshing the contents. He heaves himself upright and at what he hopes is amble distance from her. “I’m sorry,” he immediately blurts out.

              “Shh!” Whether or not she can see in the dark, she’s on him again in a second, jabbing a finger threateningly into his chest. “Why are you sorry?”

              “Because I –“ he forces himself to whisper, “ – stole from – “

              “Tried to steal,” she corrects him, speaking of the larder.

              And it’s true, he’s not actually accomplished much of anything.

              He wonders if she knows about the mizas.

              “ – tried to steal some food,” he finishes as he’s led.

              “It’s a good thing you didn’t lie. It would have been ridiculous, given where we are, and besides that you’re not very good at it,” she replies matter of factly, as if they’d been speaking of the right way to darn a sock.

              “I’m sorry,” he says again. “It’s just that – “

              It is terribly hard not to cry. He’s done so much of it, which naturally does nothing in the way of garnering respect by anyone here. But in the dark, in the cold, with grime under his nails that he can’t seem to be rid of, and the same hunger pangs that have been tearing him from the inside out for the past fortnight –

              There’s a rustle, and she shoves something into his hands.

              It’s a small burlap sack, the contents round and hard and clacking softly together.

              The chestnuts.

              “Take that. And if you can get back up to the stairs and into your room without anyone noticing – “ Taalviel pauses, thinking. “I’ll bring you a mash in the morning.”

              Just as silently as she’d come, she disappears, the only sign of her going the momentary blackout of the light from the opening in the larder door.

              Caspian eats two of the chestnuts before following. He eases the larder door shut – holding his breath between the two-part scrapes – tucks the bag of chestnuts into his pocket, and pads silently across the tiles.

              The man who isn’t very good with his mizas is still asleep on the cabriole.

              And though he very much wants to crawl back into bed as soon as possible, that cabriole –

              It’s kind of on the way.
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              Squeak and Squabble

              Postby Shiress on March 18th, 2021, 11:01 pm

              Your Grades!


              Caspian

              Skills
              Stealth 4XP
              observation 3XP
              tactics 2XP
              Larceny 1XP

              Notes
              Caspian gets an A for effort! I look forward to reading more interactions between Caspian and his sister. It's nice to see her being sweet, if one can say that in the same sentence with Taalviel. LOL




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