SynopsisWell, this stuff happens, see?
Like gun fights, and sword fights, and word fights, and grand plots to assassinate important people. And also quails named Tim.
ExcerptHe responded, but she did not hear it. The server had arrived with the tea, ignored by everyone as she and Sen traveled an unusual road with their conversation, but the aroma was now just reaching her nose. It was barely noticeable, hiding almost perfectly with the bitter scent of the tea. It should not have been noticeable at all, even to her. He’d put in more than she’d said. The server passed around the four cups, and she had another shock; it was in her cup, as well. Maybe in Seiuhdur’s, too. The Emperor was still talking, but she could not tear her eyes from the tiny cup. Seiuhdur wouldn't know. Couldn’t know, he didn't know the terror that screamed in her head.
Her arm hurt; she realized Seiuhdur was dragging her along by it, her legs moving on autopilot, carrying her along behind him. In her other hand was a knife, covered in blood. She could not remember how it had come into her possession, and could come up with no reason why she was holding onto it. She dropped it, and it clattered on the stone stairs. They were running down stairs, this came to her, as the reason why the buildings in the distance were slowly coming towards them, more than just the breakneck pace Seiuhdur set.
They were already running down the shallow steps two at a time, she skipped an extra stair, catching up to Seiuhdur so her arm did not hurt so much. He looked over at her, just for a second, and she was shocked by the raw grief etched into his face. But then they were running again, and she, with only a view of the back of his head, forgot what she had seen, too caught up in the motions of running, of trying to remember what had put them here, running down the stairs leading to the Imperial Domicile, with a bloody knife in her hand.
She had killed the Emperor. With the Imperial guards on their heels and alarm bells ringing all over the city, it was hard to avoid the realization. Yet, she could not.. She remembered the tea. The tea had come, and it had all been poisoned, hers, Seiuhdur’s, the Emperors, probably the fat concubine’s, too. And yet the next memory she could dredge up was running down the stairs with Seiuhdur, dragging her along. Dropping the knife. A steak knife, from their table. She recognized it, in hindsight. She must have taken it, and stabbed...
The memory would not come, buried in shock. And now they had no time, no time for the careful reflection of events past. Even now, she was still blacking out bits and pieces. Why was Seiuhdur bleeding? It looked like a quarrel from a crossbow stuck into his arm; she tried to remember how it had gotten there. Had he been protecting her? Or was it a passing shot, meant for either of them?
A sudden jerk from Seiuhdur sent her tumbling, and did little to settle her memory. She rolled on the road, breath knocked out of her. And then his arms pulling her to her feet, dragging her to her feet, supporting her just long enough so that she was merely falling forward instead of her legs collapsing out from underneath her, and then he was pulling her along again. She didn’t know what they had been avoiding. Something deadly, no doubt. And Seiuhdur saved her.
That realization hit her in the gut, and she almost stumbled to her knees, rescued only by the dogged persistence of the hands dragging her along. She’d killed his Emperor, and he was saving her.
Daylight brought some sanity to the streets; she passed a vendor trying to set up his shop, foodstuffs. At the far end of the street there was a mass of cats, yowling and making a racket. They'd largely gone to ground with the chaos, smarter than the rest of the city, that they were back was reassuring, life could go back to normal.
They were piled high atop something, she couldn't tell what until she came to the end of the street, and then all of the pleasant reassurance of seeing the helpful creatures around evaporated. Someone had piled bodies in the street corner; better than leaving them lying everywhere, it made it easier for the matrons to clean the streets, when they came-- and the cats were treating them as what they were: flesh. Dead of violence, no smell of sickness or rot, not yet. It was a feast.
She forced her eyes away from a face torn down to bone by fangs and claws, kept walking. Couldn't stop it, couldn't stop anything. Death everywhere, there were worse atrocities were happening all over the city. At least the cats had no malice.