When Micali returned home from that park where she contemplated her plans for revenge, Dom met her with a stern look and a firm embrace - the only person she regularly allowed to do such a thing. He had been glad to see her alive after her four-day coma, and any frustration he had for her recklessness had melted from him at the sight of her. A pat on the shoulder and a ‘good to have you back’ were the extent of her welcome home party, and she was thankful as she climbed the stairs to her room and left the sparsely populated bar behind her.
Her head injury didn’t do too much, as far as she could tell at first. Based off the nap she took after she threw herself onto the familiarity of her bed, she slept a little bit longer than usual. That was normal after that kind of injury, but she would have to be sure to monitor it. It also seemed that her nightmares were much more common in the day or two since recovery, though she was unsure if that was due to her injury or the memories that justice had drudged up.
She actively chose not to let her guard down; while Pallorus was dead, if Gemma was right and he had nothing to do with the attempt on Micali’s life, the assassin’s true hirer - who she wasn’t even sure was Olivor, now - was still around, and would likely want a second chance to strike. Micali found that a lock had been installed on her window, which she kept on at all times. She was more than willing to sacrifice airflow for the ability to draw breath at all, and as the nights grew colder it was a natural decision regardless.
Two days passed before Rosa said a single word to her. Micali gave her space, per Dr. Sati’s wisdom. The sniper spent most of her time in her room, and when she wasn’t busy with glances toward the window, then the door, then the window again, she decided to read some of the books she had started at various points in time, but never finished. It was the early afternoon when she cracked open one and decided to just start over because she couldn’t quite remember it. As she scanned the words, it was hard. Not only did she struggle to place meaning to each one - more so than usual at least - it simply hurt her eyes and head to focus on each letter too much. She decided to press on regardless.
She had gotten barely ten pages into the story - would have to restart sentences because certain words were unfamiliar, though she could often infer their meanings, or would simply need a break from the unfamiliar dull ache behind her eyes - when the soft knock at her door roused her attention. Micali used a folded piece of green paper - the ones she used for her calling card - as a bookmark, then rose to answer. She glanced to the door for an instant, the dark brown wood exhausted and ancient, but intricate in design. After the moment’s thought, she grabbed her knife from its holster where it rested on her bed. She held it behind her back in one hand as the other moved to the doorknob, and she opened the entrance to her room.
“Hey, Mickie...can...can I come in?”
She hadn’t expected Rosa’s face to be the one that appeared. “On your break?”
The shorter woman quirked her head to the side slightly. “We’re closed, as of twenty minutes ago.” Her tone was cautious, though amusement tinged it as she gave a faint smile.
Micali hazarded a look out her window, and the dark that stared back was enough confirmation that her book was a good time killer. She hummed a noncommittal response, and moved to the side, then shut the door as the pink velen entered.
“So, I was, uh…” Rosa looked around the room cautiously, and it dawned on Micali that she had never been in here before. While they were housemates, occasional coworkers, and alleged acquaintances, Micali’s room was more or less off limits, just as the room next to hers was; the room at the end of the hall that would have been Cora’s. “I wanted to apologize. I’ve been ignoring you, and it isn’t fair.”
As much as she was loathe to admit it, Dr. Sati had been right. Rosa simply needed time. “S’okay.” It really was. Micali still wanted all the details from Rosa in regards to how everything worked out, but figured she’d get her answer from the girl in time. She pushed down a nasty thought, then, that the younger woman had some sort of involvement in the assassination attempt in her room.
“It’s not. You poured your soul out to us just like a week ago, and I’ve been keeping secrets.” Rosa stood, still facing away from Micali.
Micali forgot she still had the knife hidden behind her back until her knuckles tightened around it. She let the silence indicate that Rosa could continue.
“I’m...I’m not who you think I am. I’d rather not go into all the details right now, but I’m from Pes Exis. Well, from Fere Divi then Pes Exis, but still. My family has money.” Rosa’s hands came together and fidgeted with her fingers as she spoke.
The brunette’s grip around the knife loosened substantially at that. “That’s how you paid off the guards?” It was more of a statement than a question, but it lingered in the room with an air of investigation regardless.
The black haired woman turned back to the other, and gave a single firm nod, then stood still for a second before she let out a shaky sigh as she casted her eyes to the floorboards. “I’m sorry to have kept secrets for so long, but to be fair, you’ve never really asked.” She then moved to look out the window, and tied her sleek middle-part into a loose ponytail with a band that had previously rested around her wrist.
Even though the sentiment was fair, the last part annoyed Micali, and she had to hold herself still to keep from snapping at the woman who came to apologize to her. “Yeah, well. Here comes a real shocker; I’m not a people person.”
Rosa turned on her heel, apparently now aware of how her words must have come off. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean- sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I just...I don’t know. I figured that after living with someone for a year, we’d just know each other a little better, or something. I’d like to, at least.” Her black eyes refused to meet Micali’s medium brown.
Micali moved to her bed, and tried to conceal the knife along the way by passing it in front of her while out of Rosa’s line of sight, then tucked it into its holster and slid it under her bed. She then turned back, and was calmed by Rosa not paying much attention. She sat on the edge of her bed, and let a heavy breath out through her nostrils. As she zoned out, she realized the unfortunate accuracy of it all. Rosa was right; Micali didn’t know her housemates...at all. She could, probably should try harder.
Next to her, the bed dipped, and she realized that Rosa now sat next to her. “How do you feel?”
Micali didn’t respond, instead found her mind was too busy with too many trains of thought. It took a sigh next to her to shake her back to reality.
The woman sighed, desperately pulling for words that could grab the accuracy of how she felt. “I feel like I’ve been asleep for the last three years. Like I’ve been doing everything without any meaning or thought, like...like it wasn’t even me in my body. Now that Pallorus is dead...I feel…” Alive. “Awake.” It was the truth. She had smiled that very morning, when she had come down from her room, and passed the creaky stair. As she sat at the counter, she had a small grin that nearly panicked Paulo as he tidied up the bar, though he returned it.
“Well that’s a good thing, right? It means that you did the right thing, maybe? I’m no expert in the whole...murder...thing,” Rosa said as she made a complicated hand gesture in front of herself that in no way communicated her message, but was a cute attempt nonetheless. “But if you feel better now, and he was a bad guy...well- no, you told us about what they did, Mickie. You did the right thing.”
Micali was torn between begging Rosa to please stop talking and questioning the strange emotion that tugged at her chest. She settled for the middle ground, and hummed lightly. Her mind then wandered to the night of Pallorus’s death, to the warm eyes and wet sand. “He...he had me. He was about to kill me.” She wanted to make sure the message was well conveyed, that Rosa wouldn’t be confused by her words. “But then he just didn’t. He actually helped me up. He handed me my knife, and...and he practically stabbed himself, Rosa.” She gazed to her side, toward her housemate, and realized by the blur in her vision that she was teary-eyed. Great. A hand came to Micali’s elbow, which she nearly shook off, but allowed to rest there with a mixture of benevolence and exhaustion. “I just don’t understand. He...he explained- or tried to, at least, before we fought. He was blackmailed into it.” She forced her tears back with several quick blinks as she faced forward again, and focused her vision on the dresser on the opposite side of the room. “But why go with it, then hide for years, then just…” Micali trailed off, and let out a wistful sigh as her eyes were then downcast, unsure as to where they should move. “It doesn’t matter, I guess.”
Micali turned back toward Rosa, and was shocked by the hard set of the woman’s jaw. One of the laicar’s eyebrows rose slightly, and she hoped it was enough to convey that she didn’t understand.
“It does matter, Mickie. You’re allowed to have feelings, and you’re allowed to want answers for the terrible things that happened to you.” Rosa clenched her fists in her lap, and the hard line across her lips turned downward, accompanied by a hard stare directly into Micali’s eyes. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it doesn’t matter.”
Rosa, whose soft yet angular face and gentle demeanor made her the least threatening person in Micali’s life, was angry. It was an emotion that Micali had never seen on Rosa before. Given that the vast majority of their interactions were small talk and pleasantries, it made sense, but even still. Something about the innocence that she associated with the younger woman made it almost uncomfortable to see her anything other than happy or worried. After the realization that Rosa’s silence was indicative of her expectation for an answer despite the absence of a question, Micali took a deep breath. Did it really matter? The things that had happened to her were done. There was no undoing those acts, no bringing back Cora - the weeks she spent pouring over books of restorative magics could attest to that. She would’ve needed an extraordinarily powerful healer, and even then...there wasn’t enough of Cora to be brought back. Micali knew that the waitress wouldn’t be appeased by anything aside from an affirmative, though. “Okay.” Even as the word left her mouth, Micali didn’t believe it.
Rosa softened at the response, and the edges of her mouth curled upwards ever so slightly. “Good. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doin’. And uh, sorry again, for being a mopey and stuff.” The weight from where she sat was alleviated and a few clicks of her heels toward the exit of the room accompanied the words that the woman spoke.
Micali didn’t have much time to offer a response before Rosa shut the door behind herself gently. She was tempted to run after the velen, to thank her for everything she’d done, to tell her that without her, Micali would likely be much worse off - if even alive.
The night progressed further, and Micali finished another ten pages of the book before she decided to give up, and just try again tomorrow. Or never.
Several days more passed where she reflected on what Rosa had said to her. She had lived at Dom’s for nearly three years but didn’t know much at all about anyone but herself and Dom. And even then, Dom was mostly an open book; a widower yet unabashed optimist with a disdain for violence and a love for laughter. It was almost disturbing how different they were from one another. Those differences, however disturbing they may be, were also the reason that both of them were so steadfast in their support of one another.
As Dom’s was closed on Mercadies, Micali descended the stairs to scrounge some food together when she stumbled upon the twins playing a card game at one of the tables.
At the sight of her, Paulo offered a small wave, which caused Magno to swivel in his seat and give a short “Hey, Mick,” before he returned to his hand of cards. They wore similar clothing, though obviously not the same. Pants, shirts, and socks were the gist, though the colours on Magno varied in neutral tones while Paulo’s stuck to earthy colours.
The sniper gazed from the kitchen to the table, then back to the kitchen, then the table again. She ducked into the kitchen where a pang of laziness convinced her to just grab a drink of water before she returned out to the main bar. She again did a double take, this time between their table and the stairs. With a mental huff, and Rosa’s voice an echo in her head, she made her choice.
The brunette pulled a chair up to the table, and offered a small glance toward the cards as she sipped her cup and simply watched them play for a minute or so. It dawned on her then, just how alike the brothers looked. She never had met many sets of twins in her life, but the term identical was not a stretch, at least not in this case. From the alignment of feathers along their elbows and hairlines to the exact twinges of colour in certain spots of their plumage, they were indistinguishable. Even their freckles aligned perfectly, which she felt was...odd, even for twins. There were small differences, she soon realized; the way that Magno smiled with his teeth, the way that Paulo’s eyes shot upward when he was thinking. And, of course, the fact that only one of them could talk.
Magno spoke, as if now a mind reader, after he lost a round of whatever game they had been halfway through when she joined them. “Want me to deal you in?”
“I don’t know how to play.” She heard her voice reverberate off the corners of the empty room.
“We could teach you, if you’d like?” His tone and face both so hopeful that they betrayed any notion that she had a choice, and she fought back a half-smile at the fact that they would want to include her so badly.
Paulo smiled and bobbed his head with an enthusiastic nod.
Micali gazed between the siblings, and she guessed that she may as well cave to the peer pressure. “...Sure.”
“Cool, just be warned - Paulo won’t go easy just because you’re learning.” Magno sent a wink her way as he shuffled the cards neatly, as though he had done it countless times before.
The competitive spirit took a hold of her, then, and she set her glass down on the table just a few inches away from the pad of paper and pencil that Paulo had been using to communicate. “Wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“The game’s called Pari Mendax. The way it works is,” he said between shuffling the cards further, “we break the deck evenly amongst us. With three it’ll work out to one person getting fourteen cards and the other two getting thirteen, but it shouldn’t make too much of a difference,” he shuffled again, his fingers exact in every movement necessary, “and so you basically want to end up as the player whose cards add up the closest to two hundred as possible, which includes trading with the other players - and lying is, in fact, allowed, if not encouraged.” He stopped his ministrations of the deck to look between his two competitors, then ran a hand through the plumage that decorated his head. “So after the cards are dealt, there are five rounds in which each player can make a trade. When you choose a player to trade with, they have to, and both players declare what they’re giving to the other ahead of the actual trade, and that’s where the lying comes in. You gotta be strategic though, or you might give them a high number and just get a high number back.”
The cards were numbered from one to forty, as she soon discovered. It was a foreign concept to her, though she figured it would be fun to try. They gave her the extra card - which she was fairly certain was a disadvantage, but oh well. She had cards thirty-eight and thirty-seven. She also had the one, three, seven, nine, ten, twelve, nineteen, twenty-four, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and thirty. She had neither the mental capacity to add all that up nor the time before her eyes were caught by the sight of Paulo methodically ordering his cards in some way that helped him.
“Round one, and the person to the left of the dealer goes first - Paulo.”
The silent twin looked between the two, and his eyes narrowed. He pointed to his brother and wrote out thirty-eight on his pad of paper. Micali held in a smug grin.
Magno shrugged, let out a “two,” and the trade was done. By the look that Magno gave his brother, the results were in the mute’s favour.
Micali played with half-interest. The cards seemed to blur in her hand and she forfeited the idea of winning as a possibility. As time passed, Magno’s words rang true - Paulo won the first two games they played. Magno spoke, then, “new rule: whoever wins gets to ask someone a question.”
Micali mulled the concept over in her head, and hummed lightly. They were brothers, so truly they just wanted an excuse to ask her about herself. After several more seconds of a mysterious silence, she found herself comfortable that the brothers would wait for her confirmation, and not make the assumption that she would simply go along with it. She nodded, and the games continued.
Predictably, Paulo won, though narrowly. Micali had actually come close that time, too. He scribbled a word on his pad, then flipped it to show the word ‘Age?’ circled.
“Thirty-one,” she said, and tried not to be offended as Magno slid five exa across to his brother, “How old are you two?” Whatever little bet the two had made it easier for her to ask something back to them, even if it wasn’t technically part of the agreement.
Paulo looked to his brother, and Magno gave a sheepish grin to Micali. “We’re...uhh...twenty-two, though technically I’m about fifteen minutes older. So yeah, just a year older than Rosa, twenty-four younger than Dom.”
Vis, they were so damn young. Rosa too, and something about that stirred something through Micali’s core, which she subsequently pushed down and ignored. After the most intense mathematics Micali’s ever participated in were finished, she emerged the victor by one point- largely in thanks to getting lucky when the others handed her the cards she actually needed.
Magno let out a low whistle and Paulo grinned at her openly with a small clap to his wrist.
Right, she needed a question. Shit. The brothers looked expectantly at her and the eyes made her desperate, so she spat out the first thing she could think of, “why can’t Paulo talk? Wait- fuck. Sorry.” If the floorboards opened up and swallowed her whole, she thought that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Magno turned to Paulo who gave a small shrug and a full smile. The one brother spoke, “tongue was cut out. Long story, not our favorite- and don’t sweat it. We’re honestly impressed that you managed to hold that in this long. Throwing it back - how many scars do you have?”
Micali made a mental note that the twins were safe and easy to talk to, then had to actually stop and think. “I wanna say...twenty-ish? That are bad, at least. Comes with the territory.” The sniper handed her cards over to Magno as he began to reshuffle them. The sniper cracked her neck from side to side and tapped all eight of her fingers along the table in rhythmic succession. “Let’s go already, I feel a winning streak coming on.” She turned to see Paulo flip her off with a wide grin.
The creak of the bottom step of the stairs had all three swivel their heads as Rosa appeared in a modest white tunic and black leggings, and the rare absence of heels, though as the late afternoon petered into the evening, Micali would hope so. “Hey, guys. Dom says he’ll be down to make dinner in a bit - what do we all want?”
Paulo wasted no time in jotting down his answer as Magno let out a plea for “the stew! Please, Vis, the stew is so good and we have all the ingredients.” He turned to see his brother hold up his own answer - pie - and let out a mumbled “traitor…” as he turned to watch Micali, whose stomach rumbled at the realization that she’d forgotten to actually get a meal earlier.
“I’ll have whatever.” She was both too hungry and too worried to be picky. The worry mostly came from a deep desire to not be a bother. That and the whole ‘I could die any second of any day’ thing.
Rosa looked between Paulo and Magno, and nodded with a “stew it is.” The creak of the bottom stair occurred once again as she returned up - presumably to alert Dom to what they wanted.
Paulo gave a short shrug then returned to the game. If he suddenly only started to trade with Magno and lie every time to screw over his sibling, Micali didn’t mention it. Magno did, though, with ‘we just never have the stew, man, c’mon, don’t single me out’ as his main whine for the next ten minutes of the game. Paulo won, though it was mostly from Micali’s mind’s desire to wander along with her desire to watch Magno squirm.
The question then was ‘Hobbies?’ and Micali was a little stumped. “I’ve tried reading, but I’m not great at it, especially since my head injury…” she trailed off, then realized that if she left it there, the twins would worry. Humor would help, right? “Mostly I just sleep when I’m not doing anything. I...I used to really love painting, but I don’t have the supplies for it anymore.” It wasn’t a lie. A withholding of information? Guilty as charged, but the full truth behind why she doesn’t paint anymore was a long story that she preferred never to think about.
Magno nodded, though his eyes seemed to harden at the mention of her injury. “Paulo...writes, and I like puzzles. Crosswords, things like that. Also, the whole cooking, cleaning, working thing.” He cleared his throat as his ashen skin took a light blush. “Not to...nevermind.”
“The reason I don’t work down here is that I’d cause more problems than I’d help solve. Remember that time Dom put me in the kitchen? I burnt a pan. A pan.” Micali reassured him with a small chuckle and a ghostly touch to his shoulder. She found it easier to physically interact with her housemates as the day went on and the relaxed mood persisted. It helped that she’d come out of her shell somewhat, thanks to Rosa’s advice.
“You burnt a pan?” Speak of the devil, and she shall appear with the creak of old wood.
“Was a while back. If you’re not busy, do you wanna play too, Ro?” Magno offered, as the cards were collected again.
The youngest of the four gave a small nod as she walked over toward them.
Micali gave a half smirk to Magno. “Is it that hard to pronounce both syllables?”
He sputtered for a moment, then recovered and sent a mock glare toward the elder woman. “It’ll catch on, just you wait.”
Micali was entirely certain that it wouldn’t.
Rosa sat down on the other side of Magno, across from Micali, and exchanged a knowing look with Paulo as they both burst out in laughter, then composed themselves. “Are we playing Pari?” A round of nods were had, and the waitress stretched out both hands, accompanied by a symphony of knuckles that cracked with the pressure. “You’re all goin’ down.”
Some minutes passed before Dom stepped through with a smile to them all and the announcement that he was going to make dinner. Magno offered a hand, but Dom refused with a fond smile. “Just win a round for me,” he had said as he circled around the counter and disappeared into the kitchen.
Micali learned a good amount as time passed from there.
The twins weren’t born in Lucrus, but grew up in the slums, more or less. They had to do some unsavoury stuff as they grew up - grave robbing, regular robbing - just to get by, but say they never harmed anyone. Micali wasn’t in a place to judge. Rosa was born and raised in Pes Exis- no shock there due to being told a few days earlier. Micali told them that the Insidiis headquarters were up near the outerwall of Estro Boris, close to Fere Divi.
When the question of the Insidiis and their general purpose came up, the sniper froze. It had been instilled in them from a young age to never tell anyone of the existence of the Insidiis, but she took the moment to realize that she wasn’t affiliated anymore, and that the Insidiis, according to Gemma, were hardly even around nowadays. She remembered the hard slaps to her wrist, the harsh belts upon her back. But they were just memories.
“The Insidiis was actually created under the direction of Editus Malum, the old council member who died.”
“The demvir,” Magno stated as an almost-question, then both he and his brother shared a cursory glance.
“Mmm. He basically wanted a private organization that could take care of his problems. I don’t...remember much of my childhood before they took me, but I do know that it wasn’t great with them. As much as I hate to admit it - I’m not very smart. My education consisted more of learning which body parts one could live without instead of mathematics or literature. I was nine the first time they stuck a gun in my hands, and when I missed all six of my shots, my raisers were not happy.” She let out a sharp grin to try and hide the fact that it was a messy memory. She’d cried for two whole days after the beating they’d given her, but she was made stronger for it, or at least they had told her as much. As she opened her eyes from the smile to the table around her, she was met with fond eyes and tired grins. Nobody pressed for more information, and it was nearly maddening. She knew that they wanted more info, that they were bursting at the seams to know more, but they were all too polite to even attempt it. They deserved better than her, and it made her want to keep her mouth shut all the more.
Editus Malum died almost four years ago. She didn’t know all the details, but she did know that his death allowed for the inception of Melior Sed Supra into the high council, the laicar woman who had greatly progressed Cura as an organization. The organization had already existed, but after her induction into the council, its growth was exponential. Quite the upgrade, in the eyes of the less fortunate. The other council members at the time, Viktor Industria, Auctoria Geminos, and the more recent induction of Silas Obitus all lacked any sympathy to the death of Editus. They all knew what he was up to with the Insidiis, and Micali wouldn’t be surprised if they were behind his death. With that death, though, came the death of the Insidiis, and the Seven Devils fell apart even further - and this was after she’d been replaced. Then after all that...they came for Micali and Cora. She shook the memories away as she realized another round had begun.
They made it through a couple more. Rosa’s favorite colour was dark blue, almost black like the night sky, while Magno liked silvers and greys, and Paulo simply wrote out ‘Green’ with a smiling face beside it. Paulo was allergic to tomatoes, and Rosa had seasonal allergies. Dom then brought out the stew. It smelled delicious, just as it tasted. Micali would have to thank Magno later, and obviously also Dom. It seemed like the portly bartender had made enough to last for a few days afterward as well. The meal was eaten with gusto and happiness, while pleasantries were exchanged. Everyone’s day was good, and the only plans for tomorrow were to work, then Rosa needed to do some shopping in the evening, which Micali was somehow roped into.
Laughter rang out into the stagnant, cold, dark Occiduus night as a pair of eyes watched a closed window from beneath a streetlight, grey and white feathers illuminated.