Flashback The Wish and the Willing

Caspian looks for love in the wrong places.

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

The Wish and the Willing

Postby Caspian on May 19th, 2021, 12:24 pm

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“Need a hand?”

It’s the utmost basic thing, being addressed by the only other person in your company. Would be weird if they didn’t. But Caspian still can’t help the flutter in his chest when Taroko looks at him, speaks to him, holds out his hand to him as he’s doing now.

Accepting the lift, Caspian boosts himself on top of the crumbling brick wall, joining Taroko at the top. For a moment he teeters unsteadily, and wonders wildly if he’s going to send them both crashing to the ground – but Taroko holds him firm, plants the both of them, and when he catches his breath they’re closing the short distance to the neighboring roof.

They’re still a few blocks away from the place Taaldros and Bethana had told them they should wait. Against the backdrop of the steadily setting sun, the two of them patter across one roof to the next, Caspian hoping very much this isn’t the day where he slips and ruins this for everyone.

“I think it’s that one,” Taroko says, pointing towards a modest townhouse, the marker being a rusted old water tank on spindly legs, that looks like a tired metal spider ready to keel over.

With Taroko’s reassuringly firm grip, he scales up a short brick chimney stack.

Lemsworth’s house is a bit less obvious, but it’s painted white and, conspicuously, mostly intact. With their sights set on all their targets, the two of them are left with nothing to do but wait.

Beneath the vermillion rays of what remains of the summer sun, Taroko’s dark skin seems even deeper, all the warmer, muscled limbs glowing freely as if he’s taking that celestial energy and spinning it into something new. Not for the first time, Caspian finds their entire situation bewildering. What in the world does Taroko see in him? Were this a gusty day he’s liable to be blown clean off the rooftop. And he knows very well that if it came down to a knife fight, Taroko would beat him ten to one. Not to mention that he isn’t very plotty, nor does he find himself particularly clever; where he feels like he’s barely treading water, Taroko’s swimming laps.

But this must be real, right? This has to be something. Because they don’t need to sit this closely just to get the job done, certainly don’t need to be pressed hip to hip. If he thinks back - and it isn't hard for him at this point, his romantic encounters numbering so few, but still - no one's ever made him feel this way. He had done his fair share of fooling around in Avanthal, the stammering, blushing sort of nonsense one gets up to when one is less than 12. His first kiss was another girl from Snowsong Hold, named Laitha, and he had asked if he could do it, and she had said yes, and in the mess of their bulky fur hoods and all the frost collecting on their noses, he had missed. After a lot of fumbling - and he has to thank Laitha, in retrospect, for her saintly amount of patience - he had finally landed true, and the two had sat on the knoll in the tundra with their heavily mittened hands piled atop each other. From that moment he could never bring himself to make eye contact with her again, and the feeling was mutual. Then later, having spent all of his teenage years in Sunberth -

He avoids people. They avoid him. He's fumbled around plenty, but like everyone here, he knows things are fleeting, that people come and go. So his being here with Taroko, their seeing each other for so many hours on so many consecutive days -

The feeling is grand and enormous and wants to swell up from him, burst from his throat. He wants to tell Taroko. He's not sure what, exactly, but this feels like such a shift and a change in who he is at his core, and he doesn't want to go back to whoever he was before they met. He doesn't think he can.

Somewhere in the distance, a bell tolls. As it’s summer, it’s actually quite late in the day, spilling right into evening, despite how lovingly the sun lingers. With hands shielding their eyes against the last of its rays, they watch towards the west – and just as the day begins to slip to darkness, and Caspian wonders if it would be terribly risky to take Taroko’s free hand in his own, they spot the telltale signs of a mass of torchlights heading on deathly march down the street.

“That’s it, then.” Taroko’s voice has a tremor in it – unusual, for him, but not from any nervousness.

Just sheer excitement at the idea of what might come next.

And that –

Caspian can certainly relate to.

Taroko hands Caspian the conspicuously lime-green flag Tamande had given them for this purpose. “Want to do the honors?”

The barest breeze alleviating the heat rising across his skin, Caspian stands atop the chimney stack and waves the flag.

Several blocks down, near-adjacent to Lemsworth’s house, a bright yellow flag waves in response.

“Petch yeah,” Taroko hisses gleefully, hopping down from the chimney.

Caspian follows suit, and the two of them begin their swift journey across the rest of the roofs to meet them.
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Last edited by Caspian on May 20th, 2021, 12:08 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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The Wish and the Willing

Postby Caspian on May 19th, 2021, 12:54 pm

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Part of Caspian, if he’s being honest, wants nothing to do with Lemsworth’s house.

It’s supposed to be bloodless. That doesn’t happen often, which alone should be a selling point. And the entire job revolves around taking things that don’t belong to him, which combined with the promised lack of violence, should have made Caspian’s day.

But as he and Taroko finally drop from the roof to the street, sliding down a groaning drainpipe, he wants nothing more than to turn back to Taroko’s house and curl into bed with him.

It’s not like the adults need them. They’re not meant to be in there for more than a few minutes anyway, and in the grand scheme of things, would two more armfuls of stolen loot really make a difference?

It would, he can already hear everyone scathingly say – and that, along with Taroko’s palpably good mood, has him keeping his thoughts to himself.

They hang back in the alley just feet from Lemsworth’s house. The mob that had dragged him out numbers around seven or eight, at least half of them so blisteringly drunk that the fumes from their breath waft around the corner to where he and Taroko are hiding. Lemsworth’s making a hell of a racket, as might be expected, but true to Sunberth form, none of the passersby have any interest in getting involved. One of the mob might have clocked Lemsworth right upside the head, for abruptly the screaming ends.

They count to ten, peek around the corner, then sprint towards the house.

The rest of their joint company are already inside. It’s a really nice house, at least from Sunberth standards – gleaming boots resting on racks in the foyer, the parlor full of dark and tasteful furniture and little crystal figurines. There are leather-bound books and special occasion tea seats in glass cabinets and heavy tasseled curtains that someone’s pulled tight across the windows.

Zhassel’s in the parlor, cramming some of the glass figurines into a sack, grinning at them wildly when she spots them. Caspian gives her a wide berth. Two of Taroko’s house are ransacking the kitchen and dining room, and he can sense movement from the others in the study, the basement, the larder. A woman shrieks - and he hears Taaldros' deep baritone ordering her to be silent, then Bethana's own sharp addition. Rather than avoiding what seems, from all context, to be an episode of violence, Taroko heads right for it. There's a whirr and a rush in Caspian's head, his senses gone static from all of the input crashing upon him like one giant wave, and mechanically he follows.

In the kitchen, Taaldros and Bethana have cornered what looks like a housekeeper at knifepoint.

"Is there anyone else in the house?" Taaldros demands.

The woman shrieks and covers her eyes. "Please - I don't -"

"Is there?"

"No!" she screams when Taaldros lunges towards her. "No, no, no one but me."

The housekeeper looks around frantically - must have noticed how conspicuously young Caspian and Taroko are compared to the rest, for she looks at them beseechingly.

If only, Caspian thinks to himself with a pang, she knew that he's just as powerless.

But he knows it certainly doesn't look that way, with Taroko nudging him and saying, "Well that's a handsome bit 'n bob, isn't it?" as if they're just window shopping.

Averting his eyes from the housekeeper, he pockets a crystal wine stopper resting on the kitchen counter, its weight heavy in his pocket as he and Taroko turn out and make for the stairs.

At the foot of the stairs is a great grandfather clock, the golden arms and delicately toothed gears gleaming like honey. Those have to be worth something - but they only have a little under 15 ticks left before they’ll need to make themselves scarce, and he doesn't suppose he should waste any of it trying to pry the pieces off one by one.

“There’s got to be something good up here,” Taroko says giddily as they get to the second floor.

They’re in a long hallway lined with doors; at least two or three might be bedrooms or a study, and one a bathroom. They’re almost spoiled for choice here – and Caspian lets himself lean into it too, that little burst of power radiating off Taroko, the exhilaration of having stormed in with no one to tell them otherwise. He’s been in Sunberth for five years now, and along the way – somehow doing this, all of this, had begun to make sense to him.

If Lemsworth didn’t want his house raided, he shouldn’t have done whatever it is that resulted in its being abandoned.

And in any case – the mob would be reaching the Gallows right about now. A dead man doesn’t need his coin.

In some ways, they were doing him a favor, clearing out all the things he can’t take with him.

For no reason in particular, he and Taroko choose the door at the very end of the hall. Caspian’s prepared for anything – expensive liquor, jewelry, linens, a closet he can rifle through. Most ideally, a stash of cash, perhaps stuffed under a mattress. Frankly, if it ends up being a bathroom, he’ll be quite pleased – given the handsome state of the house, Lemsworth probably has plenty of very decent soaps and cologne, that if he doesn’t end up using on himself, would fetch a pretty price down at the bazaar.

What they find is a bedroom, and what looks like the master suite.

And it’s all well and good, and he and Taroko are alone and working in tandem, and everything today has gone, for what feels like the first time in a long time, so impeccably right

Until he hears a squeak and a shifting in the closet.

Both their heads snap towards it, and fearlessly, Taroko flings it open.

Crouched on the floor behind a tangle of robes, peering up at them with tear-stained eyes, is a young girl.

“Shut the door,” Taroko says. When Caspian doesn’t move, he whirls around. “Cas. Did you hear me? Shut the petching door.”

Blood running cold, Caspian complies.

And then it’s just him and Taroko and a girl who looks no older than 12, and the moonlight spilling like ice through the mullioned window.
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The Wish and the Willing

Postby Caspian on May 20th, 2021, 1:04 pm

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The sounds of their companies raiding the house swiftly siphon away the second the door slams shut.

The air seems stiller now, heavy and swamp-like, and the ringing in Caspian’s ears that had overwhelmed him the moment they first crossed the house’s threshold is now dulled – as if someone’s thrust his head under water, or thrown a sack over his head. As if he’s Lemsworth, being dragged up onto the gallows platform and ready to swing.

“Now, what in the world are you doing in there?” Taroko’s voice is over-sugared, like crusting molasses, a shadow pooling like tar, clogging the veins. “Did we know Lemsworth has a daughter?”

Is that question directed at him?

Caspian stays right where he is, the crystal wine stopper beating heavily in his pocket against his thigh.

The housekeeper in the kitchen had said no one was here but her.

As if reading his thoughts, Taroko muses aloud, “Guess she lied.”

“Taroko,” Caspian says, his voice hoarse as if he’s just brushed the dust from it, “let’s get out of here. There’s plenty of stuff to be had, and I don’t think she’s going to cause any trouble.”

“Really? Because she looks like a whole mess of it.”

That isn’t true. The girl has begun sobbing openly, a spindly thing in a cream-colored nightgown embroidered with daisies. Had the housekeeper just put her to bed for the night when the mob came to take her father away?

Before Caspian can stop him, Taroko lunges forward, drags the girl out by the arm and tosses her onto the floor. She opens her mouth to scream, but he’s on top of her in a flash, clamping his hand over her mouth with the knife pressed to her throat.

“Taroko!” Caspian exclaims. None of this makes sense and it’s an enormous waste of what little time they have. “Leave her alone. Look, on the dresser – he’s got watches and rings and cologne, and he’s probably got decent cufflinks we can hawk. We don’t have to –“

But Taroko’s just pressed his knife a little harder, muffling the girl’s shriek as a rivulet of blood trickles down, staining the nightgown, the rug beneath her.

“It’s just a bit of fun, Cas.” And Taroko’s voice has gone keen and breathy, and when his gaze snaps up, there’s a new light in his eyes that makes Caspian’s gut wrench. “The hell’s the matter with you?”

“I just think,” Caspian begins falteringly, “that we have a job to do, and she’s got nothing to do with it.”

“Time enough for both,” Taroko replies too easily, as if they’re simply deciding how to spend their weekend. He turns his attention back to the girl. “I wonder, little mite. Is anyone going to miss you?” As he digs his knife in, she screams again, legs kicking wildly, uselessly.

Something in him snaps. “Stop it!” Caspian’s on Taroko before he realizes he’s even moved. He half shoves, half kicks the other boy to the floor. Taroko hadn’t been expecting this – and he knows, as they tumble backwards in fierce grapple, Taroko’s knife flying out of his hand, that that’s the only reason he’d succeeded.

“What the petch are you doing?” Taroko shouts. Wrenching himself free, he staggers to his feet.

Caspian’s still on the floor, Taroko towering over him. Instinctively, Caspian draws the dagger at his waist – but Taroko snatches him by the wrist, twists until he drops it.

“Get out of here!” Caspian exclaims at the girl, who’s curled up against the far wall with her knees pulled up to her chest, watching them in frozen terror. “Go, get out –“

And then Taroko backhands him.

The ringing in his ears returns. For a second all vision and light leave him, the world vanishes – and then he realizes he’s on the floor, his face stinging and the taste of blood on his tongue.

But the girl –

He looks up blearily.

Still cowering and sobbing, she hasn’t moved – but maybe that’s for the best, because were she to go downstairs she’d only be walking right into the arms of several deadly mercenaries, each with their own opinions on how to deal with her.

Taroko’s advancing on him. He scrabbles backwards, hitting a wall – slides pitifully against it in his useless attempt to keep distance between them, and finds himself in the corner.

“Taroko – “ he croaks out. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – “

“You tried to petching stop me? You dared get in my way? I thought we had an understanding, Cas.” Grabbing him by the front of his shirt, Taroko hauls him up and slams him against the wall. “I thought we were a team.”

“Taroko –“

Taroko’s hands close around his neck. He scrabbles at the grip uselessly, frantically. It’s not enough to asphyxiate him – and he realizes, chillingly, that Taroko’s well aware. The what he’s doing right now is intentional, for effect, and whether or not he would go so far as kill someone pales in light of the fact that all this

He’s enjoying it.

Panic seizes him when Taroko begins to press harder. Like he’s looking for his limit, intends to ride the edge and press his message home clear. Like the girl had, now Caspian's the one kicking out, feebly and to no effect. Taroko is stronger than him, always had been and always will be, and maybe that belief that Taroko gets enough satisfaction from the hunt and not necessarily the kill is incredibly naïve – and that this is it, and he’s going to die in this corner of a dead man’s house, with his knife on the floor far out of reach.

But then –

Caspian remembers he has another.

With the last of his air leaving his lungs, Caspian kicks out again – but only to reach out and slip the second dagger out of his boot. He jabs forward, the needle point sticking right into Taroko’s ribs, who curses and stumbles back.

Hands thrown up, Taroko eyes him in fury and shock. Shifts his weight towards either of their abandoned knives.

The element of surprise had been the only reason Caspian’s gotten this far. If Taroko gets his hands on either weapon, they both know how this is going to end.
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The Wish and the Willing

Postby Caspian on May 23rd, 2021, 8:53 pm

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He sees it coming before it happens, knows exactly what Taroko’s going to do – but helplessly, he can stop none of it, can’t beat Taroko as he in his greater agility lunges for one of the knives on the floor.

In a second, he knows, Taroko will take the blade and slash towards him.

And maybe, then, that will be the end.

Taroko does exactly as Caspian predicts – but something gets in his way.

Suddenly the bedroom door flies open, a dark wraith appearing on the threshold. Whirling around, Taroko finds himself face to face with a seething Taalviel, who’s got her dagger raised and no mercy in her eyes.

For a moment his and Taalviel’s gazes lock – and it’s only a split second, but she takes stock of him on the floor, the girl in the bloody nightgown crying in the other corner, and Taroko the only one standing on two feet above them.

She doesn’t ask questions.

She doesn’t have to.

She slashes forward, Taroko parrying her at the last second, the collision of their blades ringing through the air. Lemsworth’s daughter screams again – and Caspian wants to shake her roughly, get it through her petching skull that she made a mistake, staying put when she had the opportunity to run, and drawing attention to herself with her house under invasion is going to do more harm than help.

“Get up!” Taalviel shouts at him, and it’s only then that he realizes that he’s not so different from Lemsworth’s daughter, and that he, too, had been frozen where he lay.

Something takes over. The rapid arc and swipe of Taalviel’s dagger through the air, the singing of her blade against Taroko’s each time they block and parry – it awakens something in him, that tells him he has options, that it’s either fight or flight but at the very least it needs to be one of those things.

Taroko dives for the second knife on the floor. But he’s got his hands full with Taalviel, and Caspian springs into action, kicking his hand away before he can connect. Now armed himself, he and Taalviel move in silent tandem, until Taroko’s the one with his back pressed against a wall.

Blood drips down Taroko’s cheek from where Taalviel had nicked him, a deep garnet against his dark skin. “What the petch is the matter with you?” he says, aimed at Taalviel, in a disturbingly jocose tone. “We’re on the same side, aren’t we?”

We’re on the same side,” Taalviel snarls back. “And I don’t take kindly to anyone hurting one of my own.”

That, to date, might be the nicest thing Taalviel’s said about him. It’s shocking, to say the least, because up until now Taalviel’s only acknowledgment of their bond is to chastise him every time he tries to criticize Taaldros. But parsing all that mess can wait, because the one before him –

He’s not sure where they go from here.

Taroko might, though. Because there’s a gleam in his eye, a shifting in his stance, subtle but present, that tells Caspian that he’s weighing his odds, perhaps literally so, and his chances of taking down the siblings in tandem.

If push came to shove – as if it already hasn’t? – could Caspian really hurt Taroko?

He couldn’t even hold his hand on that rooftop – how could he possibly bear down on him with a knife?

Fortunately for him – for all of them – they don’t have to find out.

“What’s going on here?”

All four people in the room swivel sharply towards another voice in the doorway. Long hair loose from its bun, shifting from emerald to amethyst, some locks to gold, is Gavir. In his hands is his crossbow, locked and loaded.

He takes one look at the girl on the ground, the configuration of Taalviel and Caspian against Taroko.

Like Taalviel, it doesn’t take him long to make his own calculations.

“Time’s up. Get downstairs,” he says sharply. “All of you.”

No one moves for a second, Taalviel and Caspian unwilling to simply turn their backs to Taroko. But Taroko throws his hands up, easy and languid, as if Gavir’s just caught them playing a silly game. Steely-eyed, Taalviel turns and obeys Gavir. Unwilling to be left behind with Taroko, Caspian swiftly follows.

Gavir’s the last one in the room with the girl.

No one, as they flee the house, sees the girl leave.

-

In the days that follow, Caspian stays mostly confined to his room.

It’s very rare, but it’s not because he’s been ordered to. Oddly enough, Taaldros had been rather proud of how he’d handled himself on the Lemsworth job. Proud, though, was a stretch, and it was much more like gruff acquiescence that Caspian had carried out his role, and hadn’t tried to run away nor cried about it.

Caspian doesn’t ask Gavir about the girl. Neither does Taalviel.

The summer streets call to him, and he watches them from his window. He and Taroko live in different parts of the city, but it’s still the same city, and the idea of running into him now twists him up inside. Back and forth he turns the night at Lemsworth’s over in his mind.

Over and again he replays every moment they shared together before that – slinking through the attic, slipping into Taroko's bed, the lunches with him and his aunt and running through the alleys as if they owned them.

But it hadn’t all been good, hadn’t all sat quite right. It takes Caspian a while to piece it all together, and when he does, the truth stares him so blankly in the face that he can’t help but feel ashamed. There was that time with the shopkeeper and the petching cat, who they’d left suffocating on the floor. The odd, overzealous light in Taroko’s eyes when he’d run into Lemsworth’s kitchen to look at the sobbing housekeeper. The way he had toyed with Lemsworth’s daughter, as if she were no better than a ragdoll.

And then there had been the ruthless slap to the face.

He curls harder around his pillow. He’d cry, if he could. He can feel the beginnings of it welling behind his eyes. But it stays there, turns to sickness and stone. Becomes a part of him that he’s afraid he’ll never shake.

He sees Taalviel around, of course. He wonders if she’s expecting him to thank her.

But she never says a word - and so neither does he.

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Caspian
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