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The Devil in the Details - Braiden

   
Cady's brow furrowed as she listened, she stepped inside when Braiden opened the door. "Who would stand to benefit from that?" she asked, choosing one of the chairs in the sitting room to set her pack in and lean her staff against. After disposing of her burdens, she took a seat on the sofa. "The only reason I can see for someone to do that," she leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees, "would be to put us in a position where we'd need to borrow funds in order to keep our expenses under control. Or I could be missing something entirely." She offered her husband a half-smile that looked more like a grimace. "I am new to this whole politicking, country running thing, after all."

Braiden dropped his bag and his homework on top of it, and sat with Cady, plucking a raspberry out of the bowl and offering to feed it to her. "Anyone who wants us out of Tislen? That's stupid, though, because it relies on me being too proud to admit to something going wrong and the King deciding I should be removed. He's not going to do that because of a little mismanagement of funds on my part, not at this point. Only someone who doesn't know any of us would think that might work.

"Just draining the treasury, though, that affects everyone. If we run out of money and have critical need still, I ask the King to front us some. That drains his treasury. Imagine if that happened in every province. I'm not sure how much he has to draw on at this point, but it was drained quite a bit by the war, and then the tax base is smaller now because of all those killed."
He shrugged. "It's something to keep an eye on, to be aware of. There could be an entirely different explanation."

Cady let Braiden pop the raspberry into her mouth without letting her lips linger on his fingers any more than necessary. Talking management and politics wasn't exactly titillating for her. She started to mull over the effects of overdrawing the kingdom's treasury, then shook her head to clear it. Braiden was right. It was just something to watch closely. No sense in jumping at shadows just yet. Sighing lightly, she leaned back against the sofa and shifted around to get comfortable. "So what are our plans for tomorrow?" she rested her chin on Braiden's shoulder.

Turning and putting a light kiss on Cady's forehead, Braiden offered her another berry. "We're going to let Elenna boss us around while we go off to chase dragons. We aren't sure exactly where they are, so we'll have to find them. The smell of secrets and smug should give them away soon enough, though." Right about now, he probably ought to shift gears to the budget, but in the competition between his job and his wife, the first didn't stand a chance, not anymore.

"Did you want to talk about anything from the wedding trip? We kind of did already, but..." He finished with a very light shrug, because he had no idea if the subject was already dealt with satisfactorily from her point of view.

"No." Cady's tone was slightly clipped and more than a little decisive. Bringing up that morning's conversation with Sam would only sour her mood. "Nothing a good night's sleep won't take care of. Speaking of which," she sat up a little in an attempt to shake off her mood, "what ideas did you have for that rather full bowl of berries?"

Excellent, because he didn't want to talk about that, either. Braiden grinned. "I've had almost fifteen minutes to think about that."

The lamp sputtered in the corner and its light inadequately lit the large upper room, which allowed shadows to cloak dangerous places commonly used. The oversight consistently annoyed Karthias, but then, he wasn't used to a budget. Those of power ought to have the funds to properly extend their will over their domain, or at the very least, light their home.

This wasn't the case with the Crow-Touched, a fact that he'd come to terms with. Almost.

He stood in the area where food was most commonly prepared, staring at the dishes that had accumulated. Technically, a Servant didn't hold himself above such common chores. Then, technically, his worth wasn't defined by such tasks. This flight of children would hold him to whatever he put his mind to, as they'd proven over the last few months while the Princess had lived with them.

And so, he stood, and considered.

Toby had left, with a murder of Crows, and the Princess. They'd fought before they had left, bitterly. The words on his part had been carefully chosen, to wound, to drive, to define. Only time would show if Toby had shown the same care, but it was telling that pain had flowed on either side. His time here had changed much he'd thought he knew.

Karthias stood, alone, and prayed.

~*~

It came in the night, after the movement stopped, after the berries were eaten or tossed aside, and after, in sweat induced exhaustion, both were asleep.

It started with a feeling of darkness. Not the kind that comes with the night, for that always has stars, or the feeling of stars, or at the very least, the moon. Any of that suggests light, and there was no light in this place.

Nor did it suggest a dark cave, far underneath the ground, where a span of solid rock blocked the sun, or the moon, for that too suggests the absence of these things. In this place, there had never been a sun, or moon, or any celestial body that would give unconditional light. The price was paid. Always.

And nor was it akin to a sealed room where a candle had just been snuffed out, with the smoke rising up and filling the air with the scent of banished light. There had never been a light in this place to leave that ghost.

This was darkness, and it was complete. That was felt first.

Amanda came next. A sudden gasp that filled the empty space, the idea of a girl cowering in a corner, struggling and trying to hard to be heard that she bled. She was alone.

Completely.

"Braiden, can you hear me?" The idea of tears, of fear felt but not expressed, of a serpent poised to strike. The threat existed without form, but that didn't mean it wasn't felt. "I.... I need you."


"'Manda?" With the sleepy acknowledgement of his sister, Braiden opened his eyes, but nothing happened, which was strange, because there ought to be at least a little light coming in the windows. Even if the moon wasn't bright, the stars should cast just enough of a dimness to make out shapes. He frowned and noticed there wasn't a warm weight draped across him, which wasn't the weirdest thing to ever happen, but usually when she rolled off of him, he half woke and snuggled up behind her. Once in a while, he woke up without her there, but it was infrequent enough to be notable every time.

This, of course, was much weirder than that, because there was no bed, either. A fleeting thought ran through his mind that he should be glad it was dead dark, because the last thing he really wanted was to greet his sister while naked. Either of them. It was actually something he had nightmares about, years ago, started shortly after the Miss Horrible episode. Two years later, he wasn't having them anymore.

Anyway.

"What's going on?"

"I... I don't know. Braid, I think I'm in trouble." Amanda's voice trembled, trying to hold onto sanity and calm, and failing. "I went for a walk. I just went for a walk. Are you still there? It's so dark."

"Yeah, I just woke up." Braiden reached up and scratched his head, but the gesture didn't feel like it should. It happened, but this reminded him a lot of that time in some ways. Specifically, the part where things were all happening in his head. Hopefully, Cady was fine, and either this would be fixed by the time she woke up, or she'd be able to tell something was wrong and do something about it.

On the first possibility, he gave it a few moments' thought and figured information might help. "I was at the palace, we were visiting for the afternoon and night. You?"





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