A family of Idiots
To my readers, Noir says a pretty bad word, one tha somewhat threatens the ranking of this story. Granted, she's sworn before so I don't think it's justification for pushing this up to the next ranking. But if someone feels that way let me know and I'll do so.
As the road turned east, so did they. Kicking up dull flakey dust with boots and leggings that were fast losing their original colors and growing to match the path they trod in hue. Amused, bemused, the whole rag tag group watched as their captive took the lead and ducked behind the nearest bit of cover. Experience told them he wasn't "relieving a few pounds downabout" as York would have put it, nor was he trying to make a break for it, so safe to watch they watched. Well aware of their scrutiny, pretending for the sake of his tattered dignity that he wasn't being seen, the boy half bent over and spent a few moments furiously swatting at his pants. Despite his best efforts (best and repetitive, for he'd tried this trick before many a time) the now again red head wasn't having any luck cleaning his pant.
And he was adamantly refusing to stop, when swatting failed he tried swipes.
In the back of the group Noir snickered, Urushi chuckled shaking his head at "Cardinals" amusing antics all the while. Standing securely in Dari's shadow, scrawny face studious, York frowned. Not bothering to turn, keeping his voice low and smile steady, the Dark wing's leader murmured.
"So, you think like Urushi that we've got a Cocoo?"
To that question York shook his head, un-obscured eye intent. "No, I thinking he's a hawk."
Dari's grin tightened a bit about the edges as malice light up his eyes and strained the smile. Well aware of Dari's history and its attendant savage instincts that he'd been forced to acquire to live it, York snapped out a hand, settling it on Dari's writs. Leaning close, dangerously close, for the man could kill him with one blow if he wanted to, York shook his head again. Never mind the man couldn't see it, he'd feel it, would be aware of it in some subliminal ineffable Dari way.
"Not like that." York hissed.
"How so?" Dari purred, hands clenching. Even with his fingers just barely bushing the man's fore arm York could feel the man's muscles surge and jump as he confronted and contained those... instincts.
"When I said hawk I didn't mean some stupid bird, or some ego problem, or bandit pigin for competition." York continued, breathy voice quiet and quick. "It's a word used in Kimlasca by snooty red coats," Catching Dari's grunt of confusion, York elaborated. "Batical Kimlascans: red coats, lobster tails, you know the lingo you've been in Malkuth long enough..."
Dari cleared his throat, only that, and York shut up, or rather went on topic than resolved to shut up later. Dari's clenched fist was a hint as to what would happen if he didn't. While not subtle, it drove the point home. "To be more exact calling someone a "hawk" is Malkuthian clack to descr-"
"Heyla Cardinal you're gunna gouge out you knees yous keep diggin' at them like that!" Urushi hollered.
Looking up from his efforts, Cardinal glared bloody long swords (forget daggers, thems was long swords, yes indeedy) at the stooped man, Smirking at the "hollow" threat, Urushi was oblivious to the fact that Dari was giving his last in command a similar glare.
And there was nothing hollow about the look. About either of those looks.
Deciding then and there that silence was golden and distance were diamonds, York slipped out of Dari's shadow and was on his way down the road before anyone realized he was gone. The riches up ahead were worth any scolding from Dari for bailing out. It also got him out of range of the inevitable fight that he scented in the winds. Looking back, prompted too by the ruckus building behind him, York decided that he'd gotten away not a moment too soon. the dust cloud they all kicked up while fighting on the Imperial road to Engeve was really impressive, large and violent looking even. Smug, he smirked, whistling that Score be damned song Noir had been bawling out a few days ago.
Best way to go about it all was to get that damned song out of his skull now so he could look properly pathetic and contrite when the others caught up. And he'd best do it without that bawdy tragedy howling in his head.
Bedding moved, force washed, viciously wrung, and semi dry, they had set their new camp a few yards away form their old one. Grumbling about mosquitoes and bees Urushi had sworn and "hurmphed" so much that York had tentatively offered to "do something about the water." To that four resounding (panicked even!) "no"s had sounded. And to that wise reprimand York had folded.
Compassion spend to the night, Dari ordered Noir first watch, Urushi second, York third, and Cardinal last. Then, since he deserved it for all his hard work, Dari checked the set of his bandaged fore arm then went to bed. Content that he wouldn't bleed out during the night. Barring the cut however, Dari seemed to be sleeping the night thought more and more often. Ever since the Wings had gotten their "Cardinal" Dari had been sleeping the night through more often than not. Clearly he was a man who believed in getting the "rights and privileges inherent to being a leader" upfront and in full.
As it was, though they moved, they weren't comfortable. Used to discomfort, Urushi fell first to slumber, then York scumbled despite the burning in his guts. For one though, sleep was hellishly elusive. Try as he might to ignore his surrounding and drop off, he just couldn't'. Though the Wing's "loot" was fast becoming inured to the little pains and aggravations entitled with traveling, he wasn't hardened. Not yet, and forming calluses were the most tender of skins.
It was the wet that was keeping him up. the blankets were wet, chill, and though dry about the edges they were soaked in the center, and that soaked span was spreading. curled on the edge of his blankets, more out than in, Cardinal glared at the white pointes that scared the black hide of sky.
And some distance away, facing the dark alone, Noir cried.
"I hate being dirty." Cardinal whined, trooping behind Noir he groused under his breath, aiming the half growled gripes to the tops of his boots. "My feet hurt, my back hurts..."
From just a little was ahead Noir made a non-committal "Mmm", her familiar red locks swayed as she nodded.
"I'm thirsty, I'm hungry..."
And thus the final facade, that of stoicism died. With an inglorious whine it folded on itself, dying quick and sure, with minimal thrashing. Or, rather, considering Cardinal's new found perchance for whining it might better be said it died a slow, protracted death. Or, perhaps, it was best said that Cardinal would die a slow protracted death if he didn't shut up. Urushi, who's ears were damned good, cast York an inquisitive look, tapped his staff on the ground. Pretending to consider the invitation, York tilted his head this way and that, looked to Dari's broad back, weighted Dari's reaction to Urushi's want. Calculations complete the scrawny man shook his head.
For now they'd just deal with it.
To that unsurprising revelation, Urushi grunted, dissatisfaction twisting his lumpish face into a grimace.
"...Trapped out in the middle of no-where with-"
"-Malkurth, Cardinal, we're in Malkuth." Noir chimed in, cutting off the boy before he inadvertently insulted every single one of the people present and got the crap beat out of him as a result.
"In the middle of no where." Cardinal groused; ignoring his fellow red head's rebuke, save to put more emphasis on his whines. To that Noir sighed, and to that soft sound Cardinal went quiet, considering. At last, in a tone less of whine and more snobbish, the boy accepted the semi-mute reprimand and corrected himself. "Forty percent of Malkuth is uninhabitable. Another forty percent isn't habited despite it being perfectly fine because of prohibitations placed on the Empire of Malkith by the Score..."
To that stream of fascinating facts Noir yawned, indifferent as always. Undeterred Cardinal pressed on, insistent on getting his lecture over and done with.
"That leaves twenty percent of almost half of Auldrent, populated."
Patiently Cardinal waited, and after two minutes of mutely walking his patience burned up. Glaring at Noir with both green eyes he prodded a woman over twice his age to speaking with that look alone.
"That sounds like a good number. A big one."
"Ten percent?" Indignant the red head's glare became a gape. "That's a big number? Are... are you stupid or something?"
"Scale, little Cardinal." Noir bantered, ignoring the "stupid" comment as she'd been called worse, regularly, by her own 'Mates. "We're talking about all of Auldrant here. Not the lint and pennies York thinks of as a good payoff."
York, who was keeping pace with Urushi, snorted at the crimson headed faction of the "wings". Only that, but with it came a warning glare. He was listening, had been listening, and didn't want to get dragged into their little argument.
Then, to spite himself, York's mouth snapped open. "Unlike certain Kimlascans I'm not greedy."
"Who you calling greedy!" Noir snarled, face coloring to match her hair, her voice twisting easily into the shriller octaves.
"You." Dari growled, no bothering o turn around. With all the yapping he was painfully aware of where they were. Not that their racket meant anything. Dari lead, and they followed, that was just the way of things.
"Am not." Noir growled.
"Are too!" Dari's growl deepened to a punishment promising snarl.
Knowing from tone and bitter experience that taught her to recognize that tine, Noir's green eyes flicked left then right. Spying inspiration walking right besides her the Wing's woman smirked.
"Cardinal, be a gentleman and tell Dari how wrong he is!"
"Wh...what?" the red head actually stuttered. For once the child was totally without control of poise.
In short, he was a child. Startled, a little shook, but a child.
Patiently Noir repeated herself, swaying closer to her victim. Looking down, green eyes wide, Noir of the Dark Wing's fluttered her eyelashes. With that vacant expression in place she set her hand on his shoulder just so... Lifting his hand to hide a smile York chuckled into the appendage. Cardinal's face was well on it's way through going through the rosy spectrum preceding a match to that blood red hair of his.
"Smooth as silk, my dear." York murmurred, shaking his head a little, the smile waning a bit about the edges "Don't know how you do it, but by God, you did it."
"Did what?" Urushi grunted, looking at the man keeping pace with him like York was a little mad.
Used to being considered mad by a maddening world York just firmed up his smile a bit around the edges, shrugged, then shifted his patch from left eye to right to scratch at the now revieled eye. It itched something firece this morning. With a cough inspiring nudge Urushi caught York's attention and left a new bruise besides. Rubbing at his new sore spot, the blue clad Malkuthite looked down at his fellow thief.
"The usual." York explained, still rubbing, smile never failing though it faltered a tad.
"What usual." Urushi snapped up at the emaciated man.
"You're a smart man, you'll figure it out." York taunted, then he picked up the pace, leaving Urushi to flounder in the background.
"Damn it, what usual!" Urushi spat, first to the thief's retreating back than to the ground at his feet. "What usual!"
To the back of the groups spirited little display the front faltered, then stopped. Looking back Dari's black eyes thinned, promised punshiment to one and all if they didn't shake a leg. To that Urushi snarled at the dirt in front of him, but under Dari's dark gaze got back to walking. No threat needed, thank you ver much. Will dodge the small span of torture by toeing the line, yes I will.
It all went without saying, spoken and afirmed when the cut throat took his first shuddering step, then another. Staff tapping into the grond, bones groaning thier protest, Urushi shuffled after the others, muddy eyes pointed down, studying the ground he trod before treading it.
With a broken sigh Noir raked a hand thought her hair, adamently not looking at it. She sniffled a bit, rubbed at her red streaked eyes like a little girl tring to recover from her first spat of tears. By the sound of her sigh -hitched tight with pain and wavering like all hells till the end- it could have been said that the key word of the buisness was trying.
But sometimes trying meant failing, and for her this was one of those times.
Like all the others.
World bluring, blurred, she stared unseeing at blocky shadows that were actually things cloaked by the dark. Perhaps that was a rok, and a rut there, but she couldn't tell and didn't care. One choaked, nasty sounding "snuff" later and Noir jsut gave up. Gave up on control and image and everythign. All the way this time, no holds barred she gave in to the burning behind her eyes. With a soft moan she folded almost double, face buried in her upraised hands, she wept.
Unashamed and unrestrained.
One cry later -a good cry, the kind that made you feel better, worn but better- Noir dabbed at her face with a sleeve of her left arm. Resolutely ignoring the stickynature of the "tears" caught under her nose, she blnked. The world was black, and not as blurred, and she was glad. Glad that for once there was no fire, no way that anyone could see the wreck that served as her face.
And the horror that was her hair.
It was ugly, ugly and fake and rotten. Red, that was the base, but it was a dusty red, a hag's red. It was a faded red (not crimson, living, light, and glossy) of rose peddles preserved by folding them in lightless expanse of a book. There was no vibrance to the color, hence the dyes. Dyes that she had to have, colors that were glossy, and light, and friviously young. A hundred colors, the "many colored" to hide the fact of all she wasn't. She wasn't young, wasn't beautiful, she jsut wasn't and that was enough to keep her back when all she wanted to do was go forward.
"Gods and Goddess." Noir whispered, taking another swipe at her face, wincing at it's tenderness. "I'm sucha damned-"
A sound, soft and subtle made her snap her head up. Whirling on her heel Noir turned and confronted the rustle of cloth against flesh. TO that prompt she twisted to her feet, paraniod nerves making ehr draw her dagger and turn to face the threat. So she obliged instincts, and at the end faced Cardinal. Green eyes looked up at her, too keen, too sharp. She always thought that when considerd those orbs that were the same as hers in color and shape but nothing like her own in every other way.
"What do you want?" Noir spat.
Unblinking he considered her. A miniture adult trappe in a child's body. Flawless in posture, with the shadows of night hiding the rags and wear of his clothes... in that moment it wsa possible to believe in impossible things. "Six imposible thing 'fore breakfast," so went her favoirte line in her most favorite of stories. Shivering a bit, cringing back though she'd never know it, Noir flinched as Cardinal continued to hold her gaze. Then, to add disturbing upon creepy, his eyes flicked to her knife, than to her. He saw she was armed and wasn't disturbed by it in the least.
And if it had been anyone else, any other little kid, she'd have said it was trust. Trust in an adult, that blind indearing trust that made mothers gush and father's smile indulgently at thier little ones though they were scolding all at once.
But this was Cardinal, not some "other" little kid. Finally, bored with the stand off, weary with the world, and worn by all her years doing far too much, she sheathed her knife.
"What do you want?" Noir repeated coldly.
To that he tipped his head, green eyes looking at the ruin that was her face. To that she bit her lip. Waiting for it, that unsubtle stab, the familiar mockery, and or a Dari like show of disdain at her "womanly" weakness. The order would come, she knew it, to choke it down tears didn't fix anything. The silence stretched, and right before her nerve could snap he shifted from one foot too the other, resolutely refusing to break off his infernal staring despite whatever discomfort he was feeling
"Well?" Noir snapped her voice shaking to bloody tatters on that one sylable.
"Why are you crying?"
To that she stiffened, as if she'd been hit. The burning began behind her eyes again. World a black grey blur she almost sobbed, managed to not quite muffle the sound, but the tears came despite her best efforts. Damn them for that.
So much for "choking it down" and "stowing it away for later".
"Because..." Confession wavered in her mind, she hung, teetering between truth and confusion. As with all the times before confusion won out, like always, like ususal. "Why do you care? You'll just laugh, like Dari, like York, like everyone else!"
Unspoken, but not unsaid, hung the truth. Like he'd care. Like anyone had cared. Like anyone would care. No one cared for anyone, that's how the world ran, take it or leave it. Then, because it was so close, because he'd came too close and that dmaned breaking was begining all over again, Noir lashed out.
"What's your name, birdie?"
And to that betrayal his palid skin reddened. Anger and fear twisting his face from miniture adult to miniture monster, in less than ten seconds flat. She shivered despite herslef, and only the glinting of tears about the egdges of his eyes kept her from running. And because she stayed and didn't run (a break from the ususal, a first break in a long long time) she found Shame waiting. Found it hot, hot like betrayal, bitter like loss. Facing that new sensation head on, unable to take back the words that brought it, or take anything anymore, she raised one hand to better hide her face.
"I'm sorry kid."
Silence, violet, violent silence hung between them. Ever a coward she couldnt bring her hand down, she wouldn't bring it down, not for all of Auldrant on a silver platter.
"I'm a bitch, worse than one. Just a tramp, eh?" Dredging up one of York's sick smiles she gathered what remained of her courage and lowered her hand.
But she couldn't meet his eyes.
She would't meet his eyes.
"So forget it, try to get some sleep or Dari wil beat you bloody for falling asleep when your watch rolls around."
Quiet then, still charged, something hung between them, unspoken, unsaid.
"I.. why are you crying?" He asked again.
Annoyed, as they were back to square one (And this was a game. Life was a game. The point of the game was to win, and winners didn't stick to the back of the pack. No sirree they didn't. Had to get ahead, any way, any how, else you'd lose) Noir sighed. Even that sound was a bit broken around the edges. Irritated at her own lapses, her own weaknesses, Noir of the Dark Wings grunted. At least that sound didn't break up, around the edges or otherwise.
"Because." She snapped. "Just because." Then "just because" her blood was up and anger was easier on her complextion than crying was, she added. "How about you tell me your name Birdie, since we're getting along so well and all?"
To that he flinched, into himself, over himself, like her question was a sword to the gut. Biting her lip, aware she'd gone too far, Noir swallowed soemthing hot and better. Shame again, she mused, not a pretty taste that, would have to avoid it in the future. Turning her back she went back to watching nothing at all, the nothing at the edge of thier camp. Safer that, safer and surer.
"You know what Birdie, I told you before and I'll tell you again. I'm not a nice person. How about we shelve it? You go to bed, I get to work, and we leave it at that?"
And to that reasonable perposal he paused, considered, then started it all over again.
And to the dark, pretending she wasn't talking to him but herself, Noir told the first truth in many many years. Since Hod, probably.
"Because I'm ugly, and old, and stupid." She whispered. "Because I'm helpless, and worthless, and I know it should have been over. Lorelie said it was over, but it wasn't, it isn't, and I'm still here and they aren't."
He didn't ask the obvious, the "who's they" and he didn't say "why" again. He knew why now, and the boy wasn't one to repeat himself needlessly. Oblivious to how he approuched Noir shivered, then stiffened as small arms wound about her midsection and a warm presence pressed against the middle of her back. Her knees buckles, no prelude of shaking knees to give a warning or two, they just buckled and down she went. Startled, maybe scared, he didn't pull away, but he did let go. And when she fell, hiting the ground as hard as she could, crumpled and slumped, he was there again. Tentativly stroking her head, smoothing her hair as she creid once more.
When she looked up, Noir saw the familiar wavering. That hellish hanging between truth and confession twisting his too young face and making the tears dance like demons in his eyes. He opened his mouth, maybe to answer or offer something. Something meaningful, something pointless, whatever it is she didn't want to hear it. Lifting a hand, putting one finger to his lips, she stilled whatever he had to say with the lightest of touches.
"You don't have to tell me 'less you want too."
To his silence and wide eyes she smiled, a sickly smile that was all the more true for it's varied shadings. To that he offered a smile in turn, not a pretty one, or a quick giddy one like all the other children would have worn. It was guarded, small, and something of his secret was written about it's strained edges.
"Sooo.." Padding about and around Noir, stoping short of overtaking Dari, York considered the Wing's Loot from the corner of his right eye. Today the left was covered, by a black eye patch of course. Smiling wide and innocently, his piercing blue eye anything but casual, York slowed just a mite. To the emaciated man's scrutiny Cardinal broke off with glaring at Noir. His attempt to "Prove Dari wrong" hadn't gone over well, and though the boy wasn't hurt physically his ego was a mite bruised. Expecting more of the same from York, Cardinal watched the scrawny man, meeting one eye with his own two. "Since we're being all friendly-like now, could I ask you a question?"
Like what? Cardinal's sullen glare mutely asked. The once again red head oozing a quiet malice like a fonist dripped fonons.
So engroused in his little sport with Cardinal York lowered his guard, not a smart thing amongst thieves, exspecially those of the protective stripe. Missing the subtle signs, the clenching of a fist and the like, York was sent tumbling by Noir's left hook into his jaw. With a squawk of surprise the Wing's non-battle fonist was sent tumbling into the durt, in his exagerated flopping he brushed against Dari's feet.
Annoyed beyond endurance Dari looked over his shoulder, only that.
And without a word York stood, not daring to breathe a complaint. Urushi stopped grumbling at the unspoken threat, and Cardinal went pale.
Noir, nursing her sore wrist, only smiled, offering an unappologetic "Sprung my wrist, that's all."
"Then don't hit so hard." Dari advised, only that.
They continued on.
Satisfied, Darithin of the Dark Wings let his eyes slide closed. Had Noir continued her caterwalling for too long he'd have said something, or at least taken her knives away from the girl. Quietly, Dari rolled over so his back was to the drama unfolding, and with his closed eyes he felt confident enough that sleep would come. Maybe without that familiar taste.
That was part bitter, part hot, and all too damned familar.