Second section of Crypt of the Mind (I won’t say “chapter”, since I think my chapters would be longer).
All feedback is welcome.
By the time he arrived home, his sister was waiting in the living room, a mess of maps spread out over the low table. Her brow was furled into a frown and she was so concentrated she did not seem to hear him come in.
“Shala, I brought your wine,” he offered quietly.
“Put it down here, I am busy,” she said without looking up.
He slipped into the kitchen to fetch her a glass, and opened the wine for her. Setting it down carefully on the floor beside her—as the table was utterly covered with maps—he looked into her face.
“What’s going on?”
“Lamat’s tits, Kel, can’t you mind your own matters?” she snapped at him, her glaring eyes finally tearing away from the papers in front of her. She looked flushed and frustrated. She sighed and shoved the nearest map away, reaching for the wine bottle and glass.
“The northern border has been attacked by those Ríli rats! Our border fortress fell at the east end and Ríli are pouring into our lands. The ijplanning to gather soldiers from the Capital and the favored of the Empress’ court are being called to join.”
“…you can’t be serious.” He knew what she was implying. “You cannot go into war. Are you insane? It’s been ten, fifteen, how many years since you fought? I cannot lose my only sister to that slaughter!”
She stared at him, hard and cold. The flush from her cheeks was gone, and her face was white.
“I’ll ignore your tone for now. You know I have to do this.” She took an angry swig of wine.
“I certainly do not know that! If you die, what is going to happen to me? I will be alone forever!” Kel sank to his knees in front of the table, looking down at the array of maps but not seeing anything on them. His mind reeled.
“What will happen to you? Quite simply you will be a very lucky brother, heir to my wealth, given my lack of sisters. But don’t misunderstand me, Kel. I am not going into battle to die.”
Always her over-confidence, always her limitless assurance that she would succeed. Such a thing had brought her this far, but it could just as easily prove her doom. He could not see her fall like this, after so long of being at her side. His sister had been a warrior, true enough, but she was no longer so young and had been out of the mercenary business for years. To join the ranks of the ij—the Tosi officers of war—made sense politically. Warriors were inevitably given favor by the Empress, and for Koma to take up arms again in the manner of her former profession would only add to her popularity in the court. But this had not been her life in so long—had not been his life—his life of fearing for her existence on a daily basis. He didn’t think he could stand it again.
“You would hurt me irrevocably like this, Shala?” He felt himself start to tremble involuntarily, his body seemingly plucked out of his control.
Quite suddenly her face seemed to fall and soften. Her eyes looked a little more like he remembered them when they were children, big and wide and black, like pools of ink.
“I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you. I swear, Kel. You know I am your protector. I promised Māha.”
“If you go away and die, I will be left here with no one. Think about this, Koma!”
“I am! This is a unique chance, Kel. I won’t be in the front lines, I will be with the other ij, comparatively safe. We will be in the cavalry for the most part. You need not worry.”
“I can’t believe you would say that. Actually, I can quite believe it. You always think I should just fall in line, not complain, not object, not speak my mind.”
She rolled her eyes. “Like that has ever stopped you from doing it! You are quite an outspoken boy.”
“As if it has ever gotten me anything! You are still abandoning me.”
She drew up closer to him, resting her hand gently on his shoulder.
“I swear I am not. I promise you I will return from this, and I will be able to care for you even better when I return.”
He lifted his eyes to hers. Her dark gaze was less cold but equally determined as ever. “You care for me just perfectly well now. We have everythingwe could need. But you…you never have everything you want, do you? Nothing is ever enough for you.”
She was silent, but looked into his eyes with a sincere expression. “I will make to you the strongest of vows to return.”
With that, she sat down again and started stacking the maps up, taking another drink of wine. Her lips were stained purple at this point, and she refilled her glass.
Kel released a nervous sign and made his way toward the marble staircase, intent on staying shut in his bedroom until the time came that the market closed. Even more than before, he felt he had to get out of this house, away from Koma, to try, just for a while, to think about something else. He could not process this—the house would drive him crazy. He hoped Mīze would prove to be a distraction.
Thanks for reading. :3
PS: Answering a question from last time that I forgot to address: in the last installment, Kel goes to the market to buy a gezil–this is a traditional Tosi door cloth that hangs in a doorway–often it is highly decorative and fancy, there are a million styles and types. Sometimes the decorations are symbolic, sometimes they’re just trends in aesthetics. Mīze is a traditional weaver of gezil.