Archive | November 2014

Chapter 11 – Taslin – Choose

“Choose.”

The barracks for the new and un-Patronized Gladiators were, by nature, not at all private. Thus, while Vinroth held up tunics for Taslin, most of the rest of the women were watching with interest.

“I like the violet one. I think it brings out your eyes.” Marrhi leaned over her bunk and fingered the soft fabric.

“But it’s going to make her skin look yellow.” Sellen wandered over. “The blue is nice, though. Where did you get these lovelies?”

Vinroth helpfully held up the three options – violet, blue, and a soft green color – for the other Gladiators to examine, and left answering that question to Taslin.

“The not-a-Patron. The first one, still.” Taslin took the green tunic from the valet and held it up to herself. “His gifts are getting more generous and less practical.”

“Why haven’t you picked him yet?” Lansesh plopped down on the bed next to Taslin. “Because, you know, there are others of us who are interested, too, and if you’re not going to take him, I’m sure he’ll start sending presents to the rest of us.”

“If Taslin is his type, Lan, do you really think you’ll be?” Corby shook her head. “Or me, for that matter. He’s clearly looking for a Tower sort and you, my dear, are a gate.”

“Hey! Take that back!”

“Nothing wrong with being a gate. You’re really good at what you do. The green’s good, Tas. I like the shape on it, if it works with the shape on you.”

The green one did have a nice shape. Taslin pressed it against her body, studying it. “This has to have cost him a fortune.”

“As I understand it, he enjoys spending his mother’s fortune quite a bit. And she indulges him, because he’s her only living child. His brother died climbing the Ladder a few years ago.” Vinroth had practice pitching his voice very low; Lansesh could probably hear him, but the rest of the barracks definitely couldn’t, not without magic. And while using the vepó in the barracks was not exactly forbidden, it was discouraged very strongly.

“So he has the money to spend. And he’s spending it on me.” The tunic was made out of thin silk, cut to skim along Taslin’s figure and end somewhere almost at her knees. It came with an under layer in a much darker green, and soft indoor boots the color of the walls. “I think I won’t really argue, although where am I going to wear something like this?”

“Well, today, to meet him. And you’re going to sit down and let me do something with your hair, too. Did you hack it with a knife?”

“Urm. Yes?” Her hand went to her hair. “All right. I’m meeting with him today, I take it?”

“Meeting? In that?” Lanesh reached over and touched the tunic. “You know this is embroidered in monk’s-tears, right? Nothing else makes that color.”

“How do you get thread out of monk’s-tears?” The multi-hued metal was generally found near Wellsprings of vepó; Taslin had never seen any before and now she was holding something embroidered in it.

“I think you liquify it?” Lanesh shrugged. “I’ve never seen it done, but my mother had a pair of slippers that were embroidered all over in that and silver.”

Taslin gulped a little at the excess that represented. “That’s… something.”

“They were very tough shoes, at least.” Lansesh stood up. “I like the green. Go with it.”

“She can go with whatever she likes, Lan. This is her engagement.” Corby swiped the air near Lansesh, not quite reaching her.

“Well, fine. If you’re not going to use the blue, I’ll buy it from you.” Lansesh grabbed the blue tunic and stood up.

“How do you have money if you don’t have a Patron either?” Sellen jumped off her bunk to look at the blue tunic.

“Well, my parents send me a little bit now and then. They’re not really happy about the whole Gladiator thing.”

“If your mom has slippers full of monk’s-tears, I can imagine they’re not. Wow.” Sellen shook her head. “You can afford this?”

“Maybe ten, twenty omeh? They can go as high as thirty, which would be pushing it. I can go up to seventeen with what I can get my hands on now.”

Taslin glanced at Vinroth. He nodded, a tiny movement. “Fifteen omeh, then.” She’d never had her hands on a tunic this nice before, so she didn’t know if it was a fair amount. But her mother could feed the family for at least two weeks on that, maybe as many as five if she stretched it. Or it would pay for a month of advanced classes for her brother and sister. Hel and Thet had promise, if they could just get a leg up.

“Fifteen it is! Hold on.” She fiddled around in her bodice and came up with a small packet of the spell-laced bills. “Seven, eight, nine… that’s a five, fourteen, and fifteen. Here. Oh, I know just where I’m going to wear this…”

“Should you be selling gifts your Patron gave you?” Sellen’s frown was purse-lipped and old-lady-ish.

“He’s not my Patron. Yet. And he said to me that I didn’t have to use them, that I could let my cat sleep in them. That I could give them to destitute Tenth Circle children.”

“People say things like that.” Sellen’s frown hadn’t unbent yet.

“Well, if he’s lying, then I’ll know he’s lying. If he’s telling the truth, then he won’t be in any place to mind. And if he minds anyway, then he can change what he says the next time he gives me tunics.” She stripped down to her britches and wrapping, then, giving it a moment’s thought, stripped all the way down to her skin. “Was there…”

“Of course there was.” Vinroth, his eyes on her face, passed Taslin the tiny silk breeches and the top-like thing that must be in place of her normal wrappings. “Here, let me show you how this one goes on.”

“You get a lot of practice with women’s underwear, Vin?” Corby’s tone was crude and the laugh she appended was even cruder. Vinroth, of course, ignored the tone.

“I am a valet to a stable of Gladiators. I have had more than enough opportunity to put such things onto to women, injured, indisposed, or simply wishing someone to do up the back fastenings. Here, Taslin, like this.” The vest wrapped around, holding each breast separately and buttoning in the back. It was nice, she mused, although a very different feeling from wrapped bindings. Probably not the best idea for the pit…

…but tonight was an entirely different sort of combat. She slipped the fifteen omeh into the vest and let Vinroth dress her.

Laces were laced, buttons were buttoned. The tunic was deceptive in its simplicity; if it weren’t embroidered in monk’s-tears, she could wear it under armor in the ring. But, like the vest, it fastened in the back, as if Jervennon wanted her to need help getting dressed.

“There.” Vinroth smoothed the tunic down and smoothed the boots up. “You look… very handsome. Here.” He steered her towards the barracks’ single mirror. “Don’t you think so?”

Taslin might have protested handsome; she had enough vanity and the thinnest urges of femininity. But looking in the mirror… “I do. I look sharp.” Something about the cut of the tunic made her look slender and minimized her already-small chest. “I don’t look sexy…”

“I think you’re hot.”

“You like boys, Sellen.”

“So? Maybe he does too.” Sellen threw a sock at Taslin.

Taslin dodged the sock and ignored Sellen. “What if he hates it on me?”

“Well, then you’ll wear something else the next time. There you go, you’re fine.” Vinroth did something to her hair with a bit of oil, and then something to her face with a bit of his pot of cosmetics. “You don’t look like a woman going on a date, but you look like a Gladiator on an engagement. And since that is what you are… it seems to be a good look. There.” He did something else to one lock of her hair, making it frame her face and somehow softening the sharp edges there. “Now, off to the meeting room with you, and good luck with your beau.”

“He is most definitely not my beau.”

“Oh, but he’d like to be. Remember what we talked about.”

“Are you her valet or her father?” Corby pinched Vinroth’s tush for punctuation. He barely twitched. “Neither. At the moment I’m the valet to the barracks. But not, I might point out, the barracks whore.”

“Soorrrr-eeee.” Corby held up both her hands and backed away slowly.

Vinroth smoothed Taslin’s hair. “You’re going to have a lovely conversation with him, and, with any luck, he’ll be as understanding as I think he is. Remember, he’s in a difficult position, and he’s going to have trouble thinking about anything else.”

“Difficult position.” Sellen’s scoff was soft enough that they could ignore it, so they did.

“And remember that you need to explain your position to him as carefully as you can. He doesn’t want to put you in a bad spot, or he’d be doing this far differently.”

“Can’t you explain it?”

“You know I can’t. Out with you.”

She fled, trying to make it look like a strategic exit and not an escape. Her boots sounded strange on the tile-and-rock floors: they were too soft to slap like sandals or thump like normal boots, but they weren’t bare-footed, so they made a shush-shush noise as she walked. She distracted herself by trying to make the movement silent. Shush, shush… nothing. She walked that way to the visitation room.

Oh. Oh, yes. She couldn’t ignore what she was here to do any longer. She took a measured breath, and then several more. The sword thrust is level. The opponent is clear. We step in, and we move the sword just so.

He was not the sort of opponent you could stab. Or, rather, she probably could, but her life would then be measured in hours and not years. Breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, and center.

She had knelt for the collar. She could kneel again for Jervennon of Cecby.

His door opened. “Taslin Gladiator. Please, enter. You look wonderful in that tunic; is it the one I picked out for you?”

“Yes, s- Yes, Jervennon.”

“You remembered!” He clapped his hands together. “Lovely. I knew you were a good choice. I knew were brilliant.”

“I don’t know about brilliant, but I have a good sense of self-preservation.” Except when her mouth opened and words came out without running through her brain first; what had that been? Some suicidal bratty class-war remnant of her childhood?

Jervennon laughed. “I’ll take it. Come on in, please. Your valet sent word?”

Taslin dropped to one knee. “Jervennon. I am being pressured to choose.”

 

 


Sorry for the delay! (Nano <.<)

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Chapter 10 – Valran – Hold

“Hold this.” The terrifying ancient woman passed Valran her satchel.

He held it, realized he was using it as a shield, and shifted it so he was in more of a valet pose. He could do valet. It wasn’t what he’d signed up for, but he could do valet.

She seemed to approve. “Good. Good boy. Scoot over a bit.”

Valran scooted over. Gracnellanya Pace sat down next to him and tapped the back of the driver’s seat. “Home, Liknirrun.”

“Yes ma’am.” The car started moving. Valran glanced at the driver briefly – he had curly brown hair and the tallest ear-points Valran had ever laid eyes on.

But he wasn’t important. He wasn’t the one who’d just bought Valran. So back to Gracnellanya Pace it was.

She was smiling, the sort of expression a cat made when it was looking at a cornered mouse. Valran found it relaxed him. That, that he could understand. He knew all about being a cornered mouse.

He tilted his head downward, so he could look up at her through long lashes, lashes that Bicla had made-up just for this. He made sure she was looking and he put on a smile, the mouse’s smile to match hers.

“You are better at this game than I expected.” She patted his knee. “But I’d save the pretty eyes.”

Valran’s chest did a strange twisting thump, but he didn’t change his pose. His smile had slipped a little bit, but he put it back on and added a slow lick of his lips. “You bought me, ma’am. My contract belongs to you for the next ten years; you’d seem like the perfect person to practice my sweet eyes on.”

“Mmm. I bought you, yes, but son, you’re younger than my great-grandchildren. You may even be younger than my oldest great-great-granddaughter.”

“But, as you said, you’re not ready for the bone fields yet, ma’am, and anyone might enjoy what I can offer.”

“Mmm? You’re not a trained masseuse or pleasure-giver, are you? You don’t usually find those working the walls in the outer circle, and you almost never find them selling themselves directly to a client.”

“No training, no, but certainly an eagerness to learn, ma’am.” This was not going according to script. But Valran knew what he’d been bought for, and he was sticking to his lines.

“Surely I’m not the mistress you were hoping for?”

“Ma’am, I wanted to shortcut the Ladder. This was the most effective way to do that.”

What happened to sticking to his lines? When had he gotten so honest? He wasn’t in the habit of being this straightforward with people.

“But surely you pictured some sort of master or mistress?”

She was showing her teeth. She still had all of her teeth. Many of them were sharp. “Ma’am. Yes, ma’am, I suppose I did.” He closed his eyes, because it was the only way he was going to survive this conversation. “I had fantasies. I don’t think I’d be human if I didn’t.”

“And you are so very human.”

“People say that a lot.” They’d said it in a lot of ways, too. Valran tried not to let it bother him. Not as much as…

“But not a Purist?”
As that. “People ask that a lot, too.”

“Considering your answers to some of our questions, I think it was a fair assumption.”

“You don’t often get many Purists in the middle of watershed cities, and you don’t usually get any of them bending knee to shortcut the Ladder. I mean…” He opened his eyes and hunched forward, realizing a little too late that he’d been lecturing his owner. “My apologies, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… I mean, that’s what I’ve heard, time and again, that the Purists don’t really come here. They don’t like the watersheds, right, for obvious reasons. And some of them are really, really purists and get rather upset about the Ladder and all of that…” He trailed off as he realized the tenor of her smile had started to change. “Sorry, sorry ma’am.” Valran dropped his head and waited for the punishment, the scolding, or the laughing.

“You’re quite sensitive about this, aren’t you? Tell me, young man, do you have the ability to channel vepó at all?”

“Of course! I mean… Yes.” He coughed. “Yes, I do. I’ve had the same basic training all kids get in school, and I can put up wards or light a fire.”

“And you have no interest in pursuing it further? Why not?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

“That’s a pity. Why not, Valran Servus?”

He swallowed, feeling the dryness taking over his throat. “Ma’am…” there was no point in pleading, was there? “Ma’am, I was five when I saw someone turn into a Fountain. Two people, actually. They were fighting, the way that they do, sometimes – I don’t know if they do it in the inner circles, but they sure do in the outer Rings – and they both kept pulling on the power pulling and pulling.”

He took a breath. Being naked in front of her would have been easier. Being naked and servicing her would have been easier. Hells, walking through hot coals naked would have been easier than this.

“I have seen those fights.” Her voice had changed yet again. She sounded like someone’s grandmother, all concern and kindness. “They had already begun to change, I’m sure? You don’t just jump from human to a Fountain in one fight.”

Valran caught his breath. “Yeah.” The images were seared into his memory. “The one, he had horns, and hooves, and his hands were shaped oddly. His ears were bull’s ears and his skin was furry. The other one was all red, even his eyes, and he had way too many fingers. And tails.”

He knew he sounded young. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t think about that time without thinking about the child Val he had been.

“So they had been pulling on the vepó for quite some time already, to be that significantly changed.”

That was what they taught in school. Right alongside warding and fire-starting and other basic uses of the vepó, they taught what happened when you used it too much and for too long. But they also told you it had to be too much and too long; that lighting your hearth fire would never turn you into a Fountain.

Valran gulped again. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I know that you’re taught these things, of course. But it’s one thing to be taught it and another to remember it when someone it turning into a Fountain in front of you.” She patted his knee. “I apologize.”

“I’m sorry… what, ma’am?” He looked straight at her face. He must have misheard her. “Ma’am?”

“I said I’m sorry, Valran Servus. I knew, I could tell it was a tense memory, and I pushed you anyway. I had to know, you see. There are Purists even here, and they sometimes bend knee in order to wreak havoc in our cities.”

“You thought I was…” Valran shook his head. “All right, it’s not the first time that’s happened. Ma’am.” He nodded his head. “Ma’am, I hope I didn’t offend.”

“Not at all, dear, not at all. But we were speaking of your service.”

“We were? We were.” He nodded, carefully. Service. He could handle that. That was why he was here. “Ma’am.”

“Good boy.” She patted his knee again. “Now, I have a number of grandchildren. When you’re my age, that tends to happen. When you’re Inner Circle, they tend to survive long enough to be counted.”

“Ma’am.” He bit back any number of retorts that would just wave his Outer Circle roots in her face.

“And one particular granddaughter of mine just made it back to the First Circle.”

“Made it back…” He blinked. “To the First Circle, ma’am? She did the whole Ladder?”

“She did. It took her seven years, but she’s a resourceful girl. The year she spent in the wastelands helped a lot, of course.”

“Of… course…” Valran swallowed. “You have a granddaughter, then, ma’am. Who made it up the whole Ladder in six years.” Every Citizen of the Circled plain who wanted to be considered an adult had to start from the Outermost ring and work in – or shortcut it, the way Valran did. Most people took decades to get anywhere. Very few made it back to the circle of their birth, unless the circle of their birth was one of the outer rings. “Is she…” Not the right question, Valran. Try again. “That’s very impressive.”

“It sounds more as if you think it’s terrifying.”

“Well… ah, no offence meant, but yes, a little bit. How is that possible?”

“You’ll have to ask her. You see… you’re my gift to her, for her return.”

“Aah. I see.” He wasn’t entirely sure he did. People really did that? Someone was really doing that to him? With him?

“I don’t think you do. But I think you will.” Once again, she patted his leg. “You’re a bright boy, and intriguing. I started bidding on you to tweak Kitdellesta Ashna and Ablenfeshlin Rhon. They’ve gotten too full of themselves lately. But once I started bidding, once I started watching you, I decided I wanted to bring you home.”

“Ah?”

“And then,” she kept talking right over him, “I thought about being nineteen, twenty again, and I thought about bending knee to someone who was five times my age or more. And I decided that Kel could probably use a companion of some sort.”

“Ma’am?”

“I think I’m just going to tell you to say ‘what the fuck?’ because it will sound less absurd than continuing to say ‘ma’am’ when what you clearly mean is the other.”

Valran coughed and took a wild gamble. “Whaddefuc, ma’am?”

“Tut, tut, you’re in the Second Circle now and… there… now the First.” The car had just passed un-stopped through a gate. “Enunciate.”

“What. The. Fuck. Ma’am?” He was going to die.

“Much better.” She beamed at him, and Valran felt a weird tightening in his chest. He glanced away, letting his gaze linger on the leather upholstery. “So. Kel has only been back for a week, which is obviously not time to readjust, but, still, she’s having trouble adjusting.”

Valran closed his mouth and nodded. Adjusting?

“I imagine it’s hard to believe, but sometimes when we send our children out to the outer circle – or, as in Kel’s case, out into the flood plain – sometimes they don’t come back.” She held up her hand. “Not, as happens to everyone’s children, because they get stuck and unable to climb the Ladder further, or because they die. Not even the way once in a long while someone will decide another city’s Ladder is easier and safer to climb than New Indapala’s.”

Then what? Valran kept listening.

“No, sometimes they just… chose to stay. Or they get back and leave.” She patted Valran’s leg once again. “Your job will be to anchor her here, in the First Circle.”

 


Sorry for the delay! (Nano <.<)

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If we reach $20/month in Patreon or $25 in donations in Paypal – or a combination therof – I will post a second chapter this week, on Sunday.

If we reach $40/month in Patreon or $45 in paypal donations – again, or a combination – readers will be able to choose between an outtake or meta/demifiction now or an epilogue chapter at the end.

Reviews count as $5 each; if we reach 4 (or 8) reviews, I will post a second chapter (or a chapter AND a demifiction/outtake)

Current Review total: 2