So there they were.
Well, there were no prospects. That's okay, he reasoned, there are never any damn prospects. Fuck 'em. Don't need 'em.
That having been said, he'd take the first one he got. Always. It was a rule, of sorts.
Like taking the offer from Kettin when the Lost Moons caved in on themselves—the last Lost Moon, still had the tats and everything, not that he could just wash 'em off. And that'd been an okay deal, too, living out there, day to day. He got the occasional stimulation from bringing in the odd stray newcomer, quicklean or whatsome, to the old buzzardly.
Kia and her lot, that did them in, and Ty—the little shit, never liked him, but never really hated him either, up till he pushed Whist and Blink off the Bear Claw. But that was a mixed blessing, 'cause in the same day he learned that, surprise, Blink could take people with him. Imagine that! Nine, ten years—well, he didn't count years of age anymore, although Whist had a recollection of a specific date on which he was born. But all that time, regardless, and he'd never known? What a waste. They really could have struck it out by themselves on ole Os Dakar with that sort of trick. Or gotten off.
But then he'd be a Dominion man in a Kirin's world and that'd turn out bad.
It was probably heartless of him to have been pleased to hear that the guy had gone and got himself killed, since Kia had liked him so much. Kia was a real woman, kind of crazy, but real. Whist recalled being impressed from the get-go by her, and she wasn't all painted up, but she'd been both regular crazy and crazy for that Pilot-shit-lover-boy of hers at the time, so there was nothing for it, going after her.
Still wasn't anything for it—she'd gone off and found herself another boyfriend pretty much immediately. Kia was, apparently, the type of chick who couldn't go long between men, which was a pity if you couldn't pop up at the right time. And her Jedda guy was a real dependable looking type. She'd be an idiot not to stick around. Whist had let it go, knowing pretty much for certain that Kia would do just fine as a crazy desert queen or whatever.
Parakka got a lot of real women, for whatever reason. Calica was another one of them, and when he heard her story, since the basics weren't hard to find, he felt a little kinship with her—other than the fact that she seemed to hate him (gee I wonder why, said the little voice in his head that often times said some hilarious things, like 'this is immoral,' 'you have no ethics' and 'I hope you can sleep tonight with all the fuss I am going to make you heartless bastard') he liked her okay, too. But chicks like her seemed to all go for Ryushi—and other than the slight gullibility factor and that honor thing that he liked to preach, Whist couldn't in all honesty blame her. If he'd been a chick, or that kind of guy, he'd probably gone for him too. Li-Aurin-Ain felt the same way, but generally Whist regarded her as a real woman in training. She still had the occasional temper tantrum.
And she changed her name way too often. What was that going to accomplish? But name-changing worked for her. There was no one in the world that would mistake him for the average Areki, not how he looked. Most people assumed he just kept up dying his hair, but the Lost Moons had actually figured a way to get it in the scalp so it grew that way. Hair tattooing, wouldn't you know it? It was hard, being sneaky when you were a sore thumb in a crowd of pinky fingers.
So that's why you got good at lying, or why he did at least. Acting like someone else if you couldn't look like one. Keep 'em guessing. Whist kept a rough estimate of himself, just to make sure that he never lost himself to a lie and became too honest or too cocky or whatever. Going overboard never helped no one. Blink helped. Blink and he had pretty much one real personality aspect that was constant: survival instinct. He figured that him and the dog were pretty much the same entity by now, so he could guess according to Blink how he would really act in a situation, though it wasn't always accurate.
Kia, for instance. Well, getting over her had been difficult, despite having not known when he'd ever been at the bottom of that hill to start. And Blink, in his usual doggy way, saw kissing as the human prelude to humping (in dogs it was butt-sniffing) and Blink had wondered the point of pecking her like that in the battle in the desert, especially in front of the new hill, which was daily looking more and more like a mountain named Li-Aurin-Ain (but only in his head, he called her Li to her face and Li'ain with strangers, provided she had given that name.) He'd tried explaining the human rationale, but found there wasn't one. Kia'd been there, he'd always wanted to, she couldn't hurt him immediately afterwards and so he did.
It had been the first kiss out of not many ever, so he tended to think about it a bit. Blink had relented a little on that point after a while, but maintained the uselessness of it.
Li-Aurin-Ain was pathetic though. He hoped she was thanking the spirit-stones in her back for him. It'd been out of a nightmare to be approached by her—he hadn't seen the Jachyra in a long while, and hadn't hoped to see them come out of the mirror, ever again. But on the other end of the mirror had been a pretty lady interested in what he was interested in (still pretty hung up over Kia and he felt like messing with her), and thus the accord had been made. He'd even come up the Fetch thing for her, as a cover. It didn't work as good without the Jachyra, but with a little cunning she could work with Blink and make it happen. Fetching was a rare talent, so most people didn't know what color the stones should be, should hers get a little air time.
And he hoped that she was grateful for him for teaching her how to lie. She was getting pretty good at it now, except for her eyebrows, which flickered with indecision constantly. Dead giveaway, one of her many tells.
Another thing Blink liked to point out was the pointlessness of traveling around with her, especially since she procured little food, was more trouble than she was worth, he could not eat her, and she did not seem like she was going to provide them with human puppies anytime soon. (Blink believed this to be the function of all females of all species.)
The entropy thing she did was no joke, though. And eight stones? Crazy. If he had eight stones in his back, he'd be barking right now. And he could probably convince people that he was blue and spat fire.
Empathy worked on human beings, a little, too, once you got the nuances right, and with a bit of practice. A good liar was an empath at heart. Go just far enough that it'll be believable, but have them still on edge so they think they're being wary. Getting in people's heads was easy; he could probably do it even without the stones.
Well, it took a great liar to lead a hostile enemy into the mouth of hell by the hand without a fight and he'd been doing that since he was twelve and the Lost Moons had murdered themselves. He even practiced lying a bit to whoever was listening, but sometimes he got lazy and just told the truth. Most people would believe it was a lie anyway, if they were used to him.
The Lost Moons for instance. Li'ain asked about them, or, more specifically, the tats. Her first question: "Where'd you get them?"
Two word answer. Short, simple, easy. Still working with the Jachyra, still working with Li-Aurin-Ain to remind Mi-Kia-Atte about herself and still under lock and key by something related to Macaan. Anyway, he was tired; when the Jachyra got him, he had been curled up in some warehouse on a shelf after running for two days from crazy Kirin Guardsmen out to arrest him and he was fucking damned if he was going to spend another fucking second in a fucking prison. Anyway. Too wore out to really put some effort into lie-practice.
"Do you mind if I ask when?"
A pause, there.
Ah, it could be taught! Whist was lucky that Li-Aurin-Ain's sense of humor was also growing with age, or else he might have fried a long way back.
"Dunno. I was a kid."
"Is that what they do on Os Dakar?"
"Yeah. Identifies your tribe and crap. They all had real stupid names: Fallen Suns, Ash Faces, Lost Moons, Black Bloods, Unlucky Bastards, etc."
"Which did you belong to?"
"Moons. It was mostly made up of Dominion folk—Dominion tribes were usually all upset because they were in a dark place with no sun or moons. Therefore—"
He snapped. His fingers, not his brain.
She didn't ask anything else after that for a minute, so he continued because he didn't like the quiet so much anymore. There had been too much in that cell—without Blink—that big quiet place in his brain where Blink was sedated and drugged and dead to the whole fucking world (both of them) and he was just constantly alone in the dark of Maar's most silent prison. Yeah. Not another second.
"Yeah. They picked me up as a kid and put me through this kind of test, right? To make sure I could make it if I joined up. No cripples on Os Dakar, they didn't get nowhere."
"What was the test?"
"Something like swimming through a pool of mini-Deepwater."
It had been a perfectly buffed and smoothed slide. It was steep and impossible to climb, and at the bottom there was a dark pool full of monsters. Get out of the pool, climb up the slide, join the tribe or get eaten. Fantastic. Nightmares for weeks, but he'd made it. She obviously didn't have to ask if he had passed, so she asked, "Why were you on Os Dakar in the first place?"
That was both a hard question and an easy question.
"I mean, what did you do?"
"Nothin'. I was a kid, remember?"
"Then why . . . ?"
"Why not the mines, then? Isn't that where all the political prisoners were sent—"
"I dunno. Too political, probably."
"You must have been an infant during the invasion."
And then he told her. He just told her what had happened and why. He told her how his mom had been secreted out of Tusami City by the former Thane of Chiva, and how his dad and two older brothers died in the coup—not just died in the fighting, but executed. He told her about living in exile, how it really wasn't all that bad, living out in the Wildlands. She nodded, like she believed him. He wouldn't have blamed her if she didn't; it wasn't like he was a trustworthy kind of guy. But she did.
It wasn't a hard story to tell, despite being the first time he'd ever told anyone, and despite being clouded over by a child's confusion and hate and absolute lust for revenge. You never gave up something like that, if you started young enough. If you started young enough, you lost just about everything that would've gotten in your way—morals, scruples, etc. And you kept waiting for the chance, and didn't die until you had it. And when it had come along, he'd taken it. Right now, Macaan was drifting through his precious little Netherfane with a slot in his forehead. How satisfying was that!
Kia, Takami and Ryushi, and Li-Aurin-Ain and Parakka and anything that would get him further along. He grabbed hold of everything he could. It was a rule of sorts. And now Macaan was dead. There was really no point in drawing it out, or anything fancy. The disc to the head had done everything it had needed to, and besides that, the look on his face—shocked, surprised, and most of all, that fantastic expression of recognition, through the tats and the dye and the years—he wasn't a Deliverer for nothing. He knew Whist and Whist really knew him. And that was its own reward, right there.
Blink didn't understand that, either, but got the concept—Macaan kill mama-lady, Whist-master kill Macaan. Simple.
And what happened after that? Geez, what happened after that? No prospects, no real future, nothing but a hazy idea of wandering the world with a girl who was only technically a year or two old and could zap him very dead with a thought.