A/N: THE ORIGINAL 2ND CHAPTER HAS BEEN MERGED WITH THE 1ST, so if you read the original 2nd chapter, please go to the NEW chapter 2!
"You've never written before? Never?"
Jag's voice was flat and disbelieving. Jathan squirmed under the doag's incredulous stare.
"I never had to," he said. "This is the first pen I've ever touched."
"And I don't suppose you know how to read, either!"
Jag had spent the past half hour explaining to Jathan how to open a Door - "write your Numbers first, then the destination and how directly you want to get there" - before he had bothered to listen to Jathan's attempts to tell him that he did not know how to write.
"I worked at a slaughterhouse!" Jathan said. "And even if I could read and write, I wouldn't be able to understand whatever language these things are written in."
"Every literate can read the Stairwell Argot," Jag said. "It's how the Stairwell works: those who open Doors speak the Argot and those who speak the Argot can talk to everyone else. It's why you can understand me."
"I'm speaking the Argot?"
"No. You haven't opened a Door yet." Jag rubbed his face, all frustration and irritability. "You are making my life a lot harder than it should be, Terrey."
"You're the one who dragged me into this," Jathan pointed out, then frowned. "Why did you bring me here, anyway?"
"I'll tell you late - "
"We have plenty of time," he interrupted.
"Hardly," the doag snapped. "I only have so much blood I can give to pay for your passage, too. If I hadn't intended for you to be able to travel the Floors on your own, I wouldn't have pulled you out of Level Thirty-Five to begin with, let alone bought you a Card and Pen."
"And who's to say that's a good thing?" Jathan muttered.
"Do you want to die?" Jag crossed his arms. "Your carelessness would have caught the attention of someone nasty, and chances are you'd be dead by now if I hadn't got to you first." He sighed. "Damn it all…I guess we'll have to start from the very beginning."
The next hour was torturously grueling. Instead of using his copper pen, Jathan was forced to use a goose-feather quill. This made sense, as his copper pen did not have a nib or any sort of reservoir for ink, but the quill felt awkward in his hand where his copper pen hadn't. Both he and the doag quickly fell into ill-tempered bickering over the curvatures and angles of letters until they dissolved into a shouting match.
"You're fucking hopeless." Jag stared at him as if he simply could not understand why Jathan was taking so long to learn how to write. "You are so fucking hopeless."
"When did you learn?" he demanded.
"When I had to," Jag snapped. "I was a couple years younger than you."
"How do you know how old I am?"
"About twenty-three, aren't you?"
"So you're even stupider than I thought, not being able to follow this."
"Why are you so blazing set on calling me an idiot?"
"I don't think you understand how important it is that you learn how to write." The doag turned so that he was directly facing Jathan, his wild eyes boring into his. "With what you are, if you don't know how to write, you'll die. They will find you eventually and when they do, it won't be pretty."
"Who's 'they?'" Jathan asked.
The doag hesitated, his breath halting in the space between word and silence, and exhaled. He sucked in his sallow cheeks before going on, his words slow and deliberate.
"The people Upstairs," he answered carefully. "If you weren't human, everything would be easier for you. You'd probably be living somewhere close to Ground Zero, and your existence isn't illegal down there. As it is, you're damn well buckshat."
"Upstairs? You mean on the higher Floors?"
"Of course I mean the higher Floors!" Jag snapped. "Where else could I be talking about?"
"Why just Upstairs?"
"Maybe I should have explained this to you back at the restaurant." He took a deep breath. "Remember what I said to you back in your home?"
Jathan shook his head. Jag rolled his eyes in frustration.
"I asked you if you believed in God, and that if you didn't then that you wouldn't have a choice. There are too many of His emissaries for Him not to exist, and if nothing, Satanaiel is proof.
"Our Cards are bronze because it's the most Hellish substance in the universe, making it possible for us to enter the lower Floors without getting in trouble. The people Upstairs have silver Cards, silver being the most Heavenly, and would have a pretty damn difficult time getting down there. It's the opposite with bronze and Clouds. It's why I told that elf back at Maramitia to get you bronze - you're safer that way."
"Why would I not be safe otherwise?"
"Because you're a namethief," the doag replied. "Anyway, this conversation is best kept for another time, after you know how to open Doors. It'll be better for your survival. Now keep writing."
He toiled away at the parchment and quill for the rest of the day. By the time night struck, he had effectively wasted a quarter ream of paper, destroyed two quills, and drained six wells of ink. His hand ached like it never had before.
"Authors are nothing but a big crowd of dunbobs." Jathan winced as he nursed his wrist. He leaned back on the chair at the desk. "What kind of idiot spends all his time writing?"
"What kind of idiot can't learn how to write even when he spends all his time trying to learn?" the doag asked irately. "You're right, though. Poet or playwright, they're all dead gone in the head."
"I did learn," Jathan said as he grinned in triumph. He held up a sheet of paper with sprawling, unsteady characters and letters. There was a crooked line of splotchy digits that made up his Numbers on one side, and he had managed to scrawl his name—though it was practically illegible—in a corner.
"Still damn slow," the doag muttered. "Did you actually learn the letters and numbers or did you just copy them?"
Jathan's face twitched a confession of guilt; Jag sighed.
"Lucifers. What am I to do with you?"
"Couldn't I just memorize the numbers and letters and how they line up? Why do I need to know what they mean?"
"There are people out there who make a living out of just learning as much as they can," the doag said. "Look, namethief. If you want to survive, you're going to have to learn how to open Doors to every Demention in the universe, which means you have to know how to write."
The next few weeks were filled with nothing but slaving away at quill and paper. Jathan's hands were soon constantly sore and splotched with ink, and he barely ate or drank enough to frequent the washroom.
He resented how Jag was so adamantly against being satisfied with his work. He shook out his hand, trying to clear it of the stiffness that came from clutching the quill so tightly. At the toll of midnight he leaned back with a groan, massaging his neck and shoulders with his cramped hands in an attempt to work out the kinks, and handed his work to the doag.
"Is it any better than it has been the last seventeen days?" Jag asked.
"I hope so," Jathan answered tiredly.
Jag surveyed the paper. When Jathan had first handed the doag his work, the doag's eyebrows had been at a normal height; as his eyes scrolled down, they had slowly climbed up his face. By the end his forehead was practically folded in half to accommodate his look of incredulity. Finally, he put the sheet of paper down and shook his head.
"Terrey. Boy." Jag's eyes were closed and his face was tense, as if he were trying to control himself. "It's been over a fortnight, and you still haven't learned how to write. A full two and a half weeks - are you a dullard? Is that why your parents abandoned you?"
Jathan froze, rage racing through his veins. No one had ever asked him why his parents must have left him; that question had been left for himself. Though he had never cared about it before, Jag's words lit a fury he could hardly bear.
"I wouldn't be surprised," the doag continued. "And your handwriting is buckshat scratch. How hard could it possibly be for you to hold a pen decently enough to write? It's like your mother fucked some animal without thumbs."
"Whore's son!" Jathan exploded. "Bastard! You - you - you mutt!"
His head and chest began echoing Jag Jag Jag, chanting it until it reverberated within his chest as he had with Damean Laslock. But the name refused to budge even the slightest inch away from the doag; it seemed to be surrounded by a wall made of something like bricks.
Jag's eyes narrowed.
"You call me a mutt," he hissed. "Then you try to take my name, after all I've done for you?"
"Like what?" Jathan demanded. "All I can think of is how you insult me!" He ticked off a list with his ink-covered fingers. "You've insulted my race, you refuse to tell me anything useful, you barely feed me, make me sleep in that damn chair - "
"If you'd prefer to sleep on the floor, be my guest!" Jag yelled. "And it isn't my fault that humans are so inferior to other races, or how buckshat stupid you are! And if you knew any more than you do now you'll be likelier to die - the fact that it's so difficult for you to understand this is another testament to your monumental idiocy!"
"It's sorry how you act like you're better than me," Jathan seethed. "When really you're nothing but a cheap little crossbreed mutt."
Jag stiffened then, and Jathan knew he had crossed a line that he shouldn't have. His anger dissipated all too quickly in the face of Jag's mounting fury.
Jathan gulped hard and stumbled back a step. It was like an encounter with an enraged animal. He nearly expected Jag to lunge forward and attack him with tooth and nail, and for his jaws to slaver and snap at his neck. He found himself eyeing the doag's mouth, afraid that fangs would sprout.
"Beg for mercy," he commanded.
The need to obey him was overwhelming. He could not dispel the feeling that if he did not do as the doag bid, he would die at his hand. He tried to cling to reason, to logic, but he could not stop shaking. He swallowed the words and clamped his mouth shut; he refused to be reduced to a pitiful mass of flesh and bone. He would not even so much as apologize.
"Beg," Jag snarled.
Jathan jerked his head to the side as a "no." Tears came to his eyes, for it felt like he was delivering himself to death out of pride. For a fleeting moment he considered giving in, just in case - who would know if Jathan died? Who would care? - but he had grown tired of the doag's constant condescension. He would not back down.
Jag seemed to tower over him. Cowering, Jathan shook his head and closed his eyes, breathing heavily. It took all the will he could muster not to run.
The doag's hands wrapped around his neck, and the words he had tried so hard to keep within him burst out.
"Don't kill me, don't kill me, don't kill me," he blubbered.
Jag let go, the wildness of his eyes and body fading to smugness and triumph and contempt and perhaps a hint of pity. Jathan squeezed his eyes shut, wanting to cry out of fury and desire to lament his grievously wounded pride.
"You will not call me a mutt ever again."
Jathan did not say anything, and instead bit his lip. He tasted the metallic warmth of blood on his tongue but did not bother to lick it off. He stayed there, kneeling, long after Jag had left the flat. When he finally did get up, it was to sleep on the sofa as a last-ditch effort to spit at the doag's face.
A/N: please review :)