Title: To Touch the Dark
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Ansgt
"Mama! Mama, look!"
Síomha looked up, almost curious, and smiled at the little girl she saw standing in front of her. She knew whatever she would be shown would be trivial; nonetheless, she looked, almost wanting to know but knowing that she didn't.
In the firelight flickering wildly on the room, the child's eyes glowed a faint golden color that nearly matched the slightly darker shade of its hair; some part of her screamed 'mine,' uncaring of the stupid naivety that shone from those eyes, seeing only the physical resemblance between herself and it as some permanent form of possession. It amused her, sometimes, to look at her child, knowing that this thing was hers.
She had never been so naïve, had she?
Absently, she ran a hand through the child's curls. "I'm listening," she said, when the child simply remained silent and hopeful. Such a idiot child. "What was it that you wanted to show Mama?"
Without notice of her thoughts, the child beamed and held up a pair of tiny hands, linked by tiny thumbs though held apart at slight angles. "I can make a butterfly on the walls," it said cheerfully, then turned and held up its hands, fluttering them back and forth in an imitation of wings. "Isn't it pretty?"
Síomha sighed and drew back her hand, feeling irritation and disgust worming into her thoughts, without having to look at the shadow-butterfly. It really was trivial. Usually, it took longer for the children to annoy her, even when they were being particularly dull, she reflected distantly. Maybe she'd held some hope that it wouldn't.More than usual, at the least.
"Do not be so simple, Mélisande," Síomha said aloud disdainfully.
Brows furrowing in confusion, the child chewed on its lip. "How can people be simple?" it finally asked. It looked back at the wall that, presumably, its butterfly was on before dropping its arms to its side. "What's Mélisande mean, Mama?"
"It is a name composed of the words for 'labor' and 'strength' in an old language," she said, ignoring the question she had been asked before. Any indirect links between humanity and her children, she ignored, and it had become something of habit rather than thought.
"Oh. Is it my name?"
Síomha frowned. Was it? She'd traded in name after name; perhaps she'd liked the last name she'd chosen? Perhaps not. Sighing softly, Síomha decided that it didn't really matter. "No. I do not believe that it is."
"Is it his name?"
"Whose?" Síomha stared at her child. Had she ever allowed the child to interact with anyone besides her? She hadn't, she was certain.
"My brother," the child said brightly.
Understanding, Síomha shook her head in exasperation. 'He,' indeed. "No. It is not your brother's name," she said, wondering when the child had picked up such inappropriate pronouns. "It is probably someone's name, at the least. And the proper pronoun to use when referring to your brother is 'it'."
"Me, too? Am I an 'it,' too, Mama?"
Síomha watched the child, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Of course."
"Oh." The child leaned in close, peering curiously at the book that she held in her hands. "What are you reading?"
Síomha glanced down at the pages she had been on and smiled happily, forgetting for the moment the strangeness of the question that she had been asked before. "The transference of souls. It is Lemoine's latest edition," she said smugly. And the book she held was also the last book that had been printed, before the crown had banned the book from circulation.
It had taken her months to track down a collector who was willing to sell! Even then, she had actually had to prove to that woman that she wanted the book, truly. As if asking had not been enough. People were ridiculous, at times.
Humming softly, contently to herself, Síomha closed her eyes, seeing the expression of terror and panic that had ingrained itself in the collector's features. Even after she'd left, she knew, he would jump at shadows and hide from whispers that did not exist.
Peripherally, she sensed the familiar presence by her moving further away. Síomha opened her eyes. Wide amber eyes stared back at her. There was a fear in them now, buried beneath anonymity, that had not been there earlier; even if the child did not know the source of her sudden unease, at least she felt uneasy.
Síomha smiled in approval. "Is there something the matter?" she cooed, reaching out a hand for the large, golden curls so like her own.
The child stepped back, shaking its head, and offered a bright, if slightly confused, smile.
In the dark, with only a new moon and a couple of stars above them, it was hard to see if there were any new bruises on the kid. Resigning himself to asking Sío whether or not she had been hurt, Silas reached out to ruffle the little blonde's pale curls mercilessly. "Hey, kid," he said softly, removing his hand once Sío's hair was properly mussed and, grinning, knelt down until he was eye-level with the short eight-year old. "You hurt?"
"Mmm-mmm," Sío hummed cheerfully in denial, and held out a hand that was clenched in a fist. "Guess what I have? Guess!" she whispered excitedly.
"Do I have to?"
"Yes!" Sío hesitated, then asked uncertainly, "Isn't that what I'm supposed to do? Make you guess? The kids in the books do that, even when everyone already knows what they're hiding."
"Sometimes," he agreed easily. Stifling the urge to look around for anyone who would interfere if he actually stuffed Sío into his pocket and left the continent then and there, Silas poked the tiny fist in front of him curiously. "Let's see…it's small and, um—"
"Round!" Sío whispered conspiratorially, then proceeded to ruin the helpful air she'd cultivated by giggling.
"Round." Silas raised an eyebrow. "Really," he said skeptically, not bothering to even sound the slightest bit questioning.
Sío nodded, and promptly opened her fist. "See?" she whispered smugly. In her hand laid a smooth, dark stone that caught what light there was and reflected it back in a faint, white glow; it seemed as though the stone emanated the glow from within itself, from a spell that had been anchored in it for convenience.
"Seeing," Silas reported solemnly. Then he tugged on one of the longer curls that fell into his charge's eyes. "But next time, do try to keep the other person guessing until after the tickle fight that we should have gotten into in, say, a few minutes from now, my lady." He grinned. "Alright?"
"Yes, Silas." The little blonde hesitated, then asked curiously, "Why?"
"Why what?" Silas asked, taking the stone from Sío's hand and slipping it securely into his shoe. "Why try keeping the other person guessing?"
"Why try keeping the other person guessing until a tickle fight?" Sío quickly asked.
"Because it's more fun?" Gently drawing Sío into a hug, Silas whispered, "The books I gave you didn't have tickle fights?"
Instead of flinching, tiny arms wrapped around him tightly. "Just one," Sío answered promptly, and hesitated a moment before pulling away. "But the main character got ambushed and there weren't any guessing games. At all."
The part of him that wanted to kidnap Sío and run off so that they could become hermits on some tropical island somewhere in the middle of nowhere flailed wildly before it determinedly tried to bludgeon him to death with guilt. Silas kindly pointed out that Sío had actually hesitated before trying to pull away, which meant that he was doing something right, so would it just bugger off for now?
He definitely needed sleep, Silas decided wryly. Otherwise, he'd probably start talking to himself out loud and 'mental instability' was not one of the virtues of humanity that he wanted to teach Sío.
Shoving his thoughts aside, Silas stood up and tugged on one of Sío's curls again. "I'll do better next time, alright?"
Brown eyes, darkened into black by the darkening night, looked up at him. "Promise?"
"Of course," he answered automatically. "Why wouldn't I?"
The building was a tall, slim structure that stood apart from the landscape of trees and wide, expansive manors. It was also the only structure on the entire street that still had lights shining brightly from its windows. Ignoring the faint tingle of magic that brushed past him from the guardians of the manors that he walked by, Silas walked casually towards the main office of the city's guard divisions.
It was late; no one was out but for the few who were traveling in sasrih carriages to the comfort and safety of their homes. Even with them though, the street was quiet; sasrih were quiet. Creatures that could manipulate air with a finesse that had been trained into them since birth weren't prone to the noisy clip-clop of horses or the rattling of wheels over not-quite smooth roads.
Reaching the office's doors, Silas shoved his thoughts aside and quickly passed through the security check points built into the building's main lobby. He ignored the halfhearted acknowledgements that he was given, and took the stairs until he was on the office's second floor.
Smirking tiredly at the polished brass plate that pronounced that the room behind the door he finally came to a stop at belonged to 'Godfrey,' Silas slammed open the door.
"Must you always slam every door you meet with?" a familiar voice snapped irritably. "It is tiresome, Frost."
Silas snorted. "It relieves stress," he said, eyeing the decrepit man sitting behind the room's only desk with annoyance.
Eighty-nine, with thinning white hair and watery blue eyes, Godfrey was the only one in the city's guard divisions that had enough credentials to deal directly with high-profiled cases through the agents that were assigned to them. (Which made him only slightly more intolerable than being acupunctured by dragons' teeth.)
"Involve yourself with some healthy young man or woman," the old man suggested, "or, if worst comes to worst, slam someone else's door then come see me. I'm certain I can wait that long."
"Yes, because I can afford another black mark in my records," Silas answered, closing the door behind him.
He reached into his pocket, where he'd transferred the stone to, and took out the disguised recording device. It didn't glow between his fingers; the light in the room was too bright. Throwing it carelessly onto the older man's desk, Silas leaned back against the door. "All the evidence you need to finish the case against the lady Síomha. The lovely lady admits to further child abuse and further bitchiness."
Godfrey's expression flattened into something inscrutable and lifeless.
For a moment, it seemed as though the world froze, time standing still.
The façade of calm that had kept him, if not together, then functioning in the past weeks began to crack.
Silas narrowed his eyes. "You have three seconds to tell me that you're not about to tell me what I think you're going to tell me," he said quietly, and for the first time in days he felt exhaustion and resentment suffuse his thoughts again, "starting now or I will slam every goddamn door I find in this fucking city until it collapses."
"Go home and get some sleep, agent Frost," was the flat reply.
Silas forced in an even breath. "Sorry," he said. He wasn't.
It had taken him weeks of arguing just to be able to allowed further contact with Sío and several more weeks to be able to directly involve himself with lady Síomha, again, to collect evidence for another case against the duchess. In a few seconds, none of it would matter.
Sío wouldn't matter.
Godfrey remained silent, watching him blankly.
"What? You need a formal letter of apology or something?" Silas smirked, feeling ready to break something. When the other man still refused to react, he stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Look, old man, I'm sorry, alright? Can we just get this over with so I can go get some real food? It's been forever since I had anything solid that didn't come in neat, little tasteless packages." The words were forced.
"Tomorrow, you will be transferred back to your former district with due haste." Godfrey smiled then. "I will let your adviser know that your expertise has been greatly appreciated in the last five months and recommend that you be allowed leave for a month's rest."
"A month," he said slowly, and carefully, methodically began to compartmentalize his emotions into the recesses of his mind; it was only a temporary solution, but it was the only solution that he could afford. Going on a murderous rampage and using alchemy on himself, standing in the middle of a guard divisions office, was asking to be thrown into the prisons. And he wasn't suicidal.
Feeling calmer, Silas looked away from the older man and asked flatly, "What will happen to Sío?" Remembering the fact that he hadn't told the other that he'd gone and named his charge, Silas added in clarification, "The construct."
"I was not aware that the constructs were named."
"She's human," he said, hearing his own voice from a distance saying the words. Silas wondered absently what he would do with the children's books he'd already paid for. After all, it wasn't as though he would read any of them.
"It was an alchemic construct created by a madwoman, Frost, nothing more and nothing less. You involved yourself too personally in the case."
Closing his eyes, Silas ran a hand over his face. He was going to regret any arguments with his senior adviser (even if he was going to be transferred soon) once he had enough sleep and caffeine in him, he knew, so he shoved the urge to somewhere else, too, instead of having to deal with it then and there. Later, when no one was watching, he'd break chairs and punch holes through the walls. Or something.
"When was it created?" he asked, opening his eyes again so that he wouldn't have to see hopeful brown eyes and a bright smile.
"Our estimates have the date at two to three years ago for the female construct. The male construct had probably been created four yours prior to its sister construct. Silas," Godfrey hesitated, then said, "I am ordering that you take a month's leave."
Silas froze, what calm he'd managed to scrounge together wavering, and stared blankly at the older man. "Do not treat me like your own agents."
"Indeed," Godfrey said. "You are definitely more volatile than any field agent I have ever come across, transfer or not. I am not as idiotic as your past advisers were to allow you to continue as a field agent, unabated, for as long as I suspect it to be. When was your last leave of absence, agent? Three years ago? Four? Nine?"
When Silas left, slamming the door behind him, Godfrey had yet to finish talking.