10; The Work of Loss
“Yes, that’s correct.” It certainly was, as the basic, unenthused voice came back through. Talrigori hadn’t spoken to Micali since the day before the attack three years prior.
Micali quickly moved to close the door behind her, intent on keeping the conversation as private as possible. She paced back to the case, and the voice came back through.
The mentioned woman put her finger back to her ear. “I’m here.”
“Good. I’ll skip the pleasantries - I’ve been better and so have you. I’m not contacting you to catch up. I have,” Talrigori spoke in her familiarly even tone through the earpiece, “a proposal.”
“And why the fuck would I want anything to do with your proposal?” The sniper hadn’t intended her words to come out as a snarl, but these things could happen.
The voice in her ear scoffed. “So hostile. I was getting to that, aside. I-”
“Did you know?” Micali interrupted without even intending to, but decided she wasn’t even slightly concerned by the impropriety of the action.
“...Micali.” The voice reeked of exhausted, pitiful indifference.
“Talrigori you fucking tell me, did you know what they were going to do to me? To Cora?” She realized her voice was escalating, that any instant now she’d wake her friends up.
“...I did. However-” The voice was cut off by Micali pulling the gem from her ear and flinging it across the room with a small tink. A potential ally - one of the only two Devils she considered a possible friend after everything - had betrayed her after all.
She had known. Talrigori had fucking known ahead of time. She probably helped them fucking plan it, too. How much of it, Micali wondered. That Olivor would stand watch at the entrance to the library? That Valgora would go aisle to aisle and wait for the signal to light the books aflame? That Pallorus would hold Micali’s hands behind her back and put a knee to her spine to keep her firmly collapsed to the floor? That Cidisti would openly mock her until Cora walked out from the adjacent room and he grabbed her? That Foss would take out a knife and stab his own daughter in the chest? That they would then torture their former friend for the next hour until someone walked too close to the library?
Across the room, a voice came through faintly, from the gem.
Micali walked up and smashed the thing with the heel of her boot, then did it again, then again. When it was reduced to a fine powder, she turned her anger to the wall in front of her. She punched, then punched again, her eyes dull and unfocused. Her knuckles screamed in agony as they split, but Micali pressed on, intent on watching the wood splinter. She imagined it was each of the Devils, which nearly ran her out of fuel. She imagined it was herself, and the desire to destroy was renewed. The blood had begun to drip to the floor when a hand grabbed her arm as she had reeled it back to punch yet again. Her head turned, eyes full of unfiltered rage as Paulo met her gaze. For an instant - just a single moment - her eyes narrowed upon a new target. Then she collapsed, and he caught her. She only knew she was sobbing by the shaking of her shoulders and the inability to see clearly. The pain in her hands and the low whining pitch in her ears kept her from hearing what was said as other bodies moved about through her swimming vision.
Her breathing was in control, yet even still she found consciousness slipping away. Her head spun in an enchanting dizziness that left her glad to feel anything other than empty, then the world went dark.
She awoke in her room. Immediately she sat up straight, and inspected the damage she’d managed on her knuckles. The bandages that wrapped around them tightly kept her from seeing, and it was then that the wave of guilt crashed over her body. Not only had she burdened her friends with her problems yet again, she’d shown them the side of her she worked so hard to bury. The ugly one that felt only two things; the hollow emptiness only a childless mother can comprehend, and the overwhelming urge to hurt. To watch others suffer, to feel pain itself. The side that spoke in her mind that day in the park after she woke up after four days. The side that ignored Pallorus when he tried to talk. The side that the Insidiis created.
The door to her room opened slowly and Dom’s head poked in. He gave a soft sigh and entered. “I won’t ask if you’re okay, because that would be pretty stupid. I will ask, however, if there’s any way I can help.”
The immediate urge was to shake her head, to tell him that it was all fine. But it wasn’t fine. It wasn’t fine and she wasn’t okay. “I want to get drunk off my ass,” she deadpanned, but left an air of comedy to the statement when one of her cheeks just barely pinched up.
Dom sent her a large smile, dark green feathers pushed up along his rotund cheeks. His dusky brown eyes softened as well, clearly relieved that she had some modicum of humor after the previous night. “Now that I can do.”
The bar was empty, though they were open. Late mornings on Colodies weren’t exactly rush hour. As she descended the stairs ahead of Dom, she saw Rosa first, who was in the process of scurrying about and cleaning the already clean tables, her back turned to Micali no matter what.
Resigned to the idea that she had fucked everything up, Micali just took a seat at the bar, then thought better of it. “Save the drink, I need a shower.”
The path through the kitchen toward the bathroom was one that would place her directly alongside the twins. Even as she passed through, though, they too didn’t make any attempt to speak to her, or get her attention. The cold shoulder was what she had expected at the very least, but it didn’t make it sting any less. What she had done the night before was just a glimpse into the reality of Micali Alsara; she was not a good person. She was not a fun friend to play card games with, nor a wounded woman who needed to be read bedtime stories. She was a being created and nurtured to hurt, to destroy, to kill.
Once the door shut behind her, she got to work unfurling the bandages around her knuckles. The damage wasn’t as bad as she had expected, really. It was hardly different from the many training sessions she had shared with Pallorus where she was pushed farther than normal. That didn’t mean she was used to it, just that the dull pain was familiar...almost comforting.
She stripped, stepped into the shower, and let the water burn away her thoughts.
When she emerged back through the kitchen later, the brothers still refused to meet her gaze, even as she stared at the backs of their heads while they pretended to make themselves busy. She sighed, just loud enough for them to probably hear, then went up to her room to get changed out of her days-old clothing. She decided to just wear a tank with no tunic or jacket despite the cold. She wanted her scars on display, the jagged reminders of her mistakes and failures, as the others may as well get a full glimpse of the nasty reality that she was. She threw on an all-black attire, then finally went back to the bar and sat down for that drink.
It was whiskey, her favorite. The glass was one of the antique ones that Dom rarely used, glasses far too ornate in design for a middle-class bar. As the drink was poured, Micali watched the crystalline reflections of light become masked by the alcohol, and nodded softly, eventually, to let Dom know he had poured enough.
He disappeared into the kitchen, then reappeared an instant later tailed by Magno. Dom rounded the counter and sat down next to Micali. He poured himself a glass as well, which Magno had pulled out and slid to him. “Figure I could use a break.” Neither of them wasted any time in beginning to down their drinks.
The silence was a welcome comfort after the voices that raged in Micali’s head had refused to be quiet as of late. Some time passed where Magno welcomed a single patron into the bar, someone that Micali resigned herself from staring at, as at this point she would likely welcome a dagger to her back. The footsteps were far too loud to be Talrigori, regardless. But no, she wouldn’t think of that, she was here to get drunk and ignore her problems. That’s what normal people did.
Dom spoke first between them, some minutes later. “Today’s the anniversary. Or tomorrow, I guess.”
Micali went rigid, and the sip that passed through her chest burned more than the last few. How could she be so clueless? Was she really so self-absorbed to have not realized the date, nor its significance? Occiduus twenty-sixth was the official date of death for Perdita Cessabit, though she passed just after midnight, so the actual date was an empty technicality. “...Four years, now?”
Dom moved his glass around in a circular motion before him, the drink swirling around as the movement allowed glisters of light to dance along the counter, his eyes transfixed as he was lost in thought about her. “Four years,” he confirmed, downing the last of his glass. “Hard to think she’s gone, even so much later. Some days I worry that I’ll forget her face.”
Micali winced at that, her eyes downcast in empathic solemnity. She thought of Perdita, the wispy black and pink enlil who had shared a room with Dom when they had first planned on opening the bar. Everything about her was gentle, from her demeanor to her voice to her touch. Her very essence was so light it was intangible, the woman far too soft and kind for this city, this world. The sickness was incurable, and she had known ahead of time that she was a dead woman, but didn’t tell Dom until the last possible minute that she even had the illness. Micali was split behind finding the action admirable and cowardly. Perdita had spared her love the fear and pain of knowing she was to die ahead of time, but cost him the time to prepare his grief. If Micali were in his position, she’d be pissed, but if she were in Perdita’s, she would have done the exact same thing. She had only met the kindly, small woman a half-dozen times, but each time had been one she remembered. Perhaps that was the work of loss, she supposed. When someone dies, all those small interactions become so much grander, so much more than a simple conversation or a friendly joke. “You won’t.” Micali didn’t know if she believed it herself, but figured it was what Dom needed to hear in the moment.
He didn’t respond, but his silence didn’t leave an air of tension, so she presumed he simply didn’t want to dwell on the subject any further. This was the Dom that only she saw. The Dom that was just as angry at the world, just as lost in it. This Dom let his jovial disposition slide; the whimsical, boisterous man burnt to crisps by the cinders of his late wife’s memory. His grief circled him like Lacunar, the second moon. It hung there for much of the year, but far and distant. Micali’s, on the other hand, flamed like Caesar. It passed by each day, and seared her skin as she approached it, burned her eyes if she dared to gaze upon it. It also enlightened her world, replaced the cold of night with a burning purpose.
Dom had always been a man who loved to have all the facts, to be able to protect those he cared for. When Micali turned up at his door three years earlier, half nude and freezing cold, he had taken her in without question, even if she hadn’t made any contact with him for the previous three weeks. When he wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and gave her one of Perdita’s old shawls to cover herself, she told him that Cora was dead. She told him that after all the plans they’d made for her to retire from the Insidiis and come work at the bar instead, to give a proper life to Cora, it had been for nothing. Her hands had ached as she spoke, the pure-white velen woman’s corpse still fresh in the frost of the slums. It was much the same as Perdita, she assumed. He couldn’t protect her because he simply didn’t know. He couldn’t try to help Cora or Micali because he didn’t know. That’s why she didn’t hesitate now, to tell him everything. Not only for a shoulder to lean on when she stumbled, but to keep him in the loop, for his sake. The drink before her was emptied during her train of thought, and it was filled to the brim by the bottle on the counter as Dom then filled his own. “Who was it last night?”
Micali guessed it was her turn. Fair enough. “Talrigori. She contacted me, said she had some kind of offer for me. I asked her if she knew about what they were planning to do to Cora and I, she said yes, I smashed the gem and then...well, you know the rest.”
Dom nodded lightly, his sleek green feathers bobbed as he did so. “Why’d you have to take it out on the wall?” His eyes held a lighthearted shine, and she allowed a brief smile at his attempt to brighten the mood. The smile dropped as quickly as it appeared, and he went back to staring into his drink. “She getting added to your list?”
Micali paused for a moment, and thought. Was she? Talrigori hadn’t been there that night, but she had known, to some capacity. A small twinge of regret flashed over Micali that she hadn’t let the white-grey enlil finish her explanation before flying off the handle. Although, what plausible defense was there? It all depended on how far ahead of time Talrigori knew. A week? A month? She was added to the list. An hour? Half a day? Micali would think about it. “...Depends on how long she knew for, I suppose.”
Dom nodded further at that, presumably in agreement that it was the best approach. “Oh, here’s the list she left you. Probably the offer she had, some kind of hit list.” He produced a four-times folded piece of white paper from his pocket, and handed it over to Micali. She unfurled it, and was met with a list of names, sure enough. A number prefaced each of the six names.
- Armac Elantur
- Rubeum Allec
- Hicla Terem
- Leno Corporum
- Puer Tertius
- Viktor Industria
Micali recognized a couple of them, faintly. Rubeum Allec was a high-up noble who controlled the primary food-production company in Lucrus. Hicla Terem controlled the company that handled the infrastructure of the city - the construction workers, essentially, though you’d never see them anywhere other than Pes Exis and select parts of the industrial district. And, of course, she recognized Viktor Industria, the leader of the Lucrus High Council, and all around scumbag. The other three names were unfamiliar. Micali wasn’t the smartest, but even she could put together what this meant. Six names for six names. Talrigori always knew everything, and that likely applied to the location of the Seven Devils as well. As she poured over the names again and again, she let out a hum.
Dom turned to her then, and gave a half shrug. “I won’t judge, do what you think is best. I...You know I don’t approve of what you do, but you also know why. It’s not because I look down on it - it’s because that kind of work only leads to bad things. What happened to you came from the Insidiis raising you, making you into a killer. I want better than that for you. Always have, always will.”
It was a familiar lecture, and not one that Micali would easily discredit. It was very true, if she hadn’t been taken by the Insidiis from her family - whoever the fuck they even were before they were killed - she would be living a much different life. The shiver that ran down her spine at the realization that she was still that killer they created made her push her drink away. “I know that. I just...it’s all I know, all I’m good at. There’s...not much else I can do, or would want to at this point. Honestly, once all this is done with the Devils, I’m probably going to retire. Help out around here some instead.”
Dom downed the last of his third glass, now, and smiled at her. “I’m gonna hold you to that.”
Micali stared at her still half-full drink, and found her desire to drink dissipate. Even she didn’t know whether or not she was lying through her teeth anymore.
As Magno walked around the bar and up the stairs, careful not to look at either of them as he moved the path, Micali followed him with her eyes, daring him to speak, to interact. He didn’t. She downed the last of her glass, an act of desperation to follow through with anything, and stood. “I need to get the fuck out of here, I’ll be back later.”
A quick trip upstairs had Cora on her shoulder and a quiver of arrows on her back. As she came back down, she heard the whispers between Rosa and Dom before she stepped down into the bar proper, where the whispers died down to silence. The pair stood at the counter, and both turned to stare at her as she glared back, then stalked toward the door.
Rosa made to move toward Micali, but not before the archer had already exited the building.