Light struck him across his eyes like a blade. He blinked and winced at the searing brightness; he moved out of the way of the ray and rubbed his face with his right hand. He felt strangely drawn and groggy, as if he had been awake for more than a day, though it was apparent that he had been asleep for a while. He jumped, startled, when he heard the front door click open.
"Who is that?" he rasped.
"Finally awake, are you?" Jag's voice came from around the corner, and from the rustle of paper and the smell that wafted Jathan's way, the doag had brought food. "You sound horrible, though I guess it must be from how you've slept for days. I wouldn't know though—I've never seen anyone be that lazy before."
"I've been asleep for days?" Jathan's jaw dropped.
"Four," Jag informed him, handing him a sandwich from the paper bag. "You must be hungry."
Jathan did not spare time in taking a hearty bite out of the sandwich. He wolfed it down in record time—he was utterly ravenous and could not remember an instance he had been as hungry as he was then—and by the time he had finished it felt so satisfied that he chose not to be fazed by the doag's expression of disgust.
"So that's envy, pride, sloth, and gluttony on your list of sins," Jag noted distastefully. "None of those are particularly dignified, Terrey."
"You have a pretty strong case of pride yourself," Jathan retorted, restraining a belch.
"Yes, but I've actually deserved it," the doag snorted. "What do you have to your name? Well, your 'adopted' name."
Jathan chose not to respond, and instead chose to yawn and stretch out the many kinks in his neck and back. As he turned his eyes toward the window, he nearly fell off the sofa in shock.
"Snow?" Jathan managed to say in disbelief. "It's snowing right now?"
"No, someone is sprinkling soap scrapings from the roof," the doag said sarcastically. "Of course it's snow; what else could it be?"
"I mean, it's winter already?" Jathan rubbed his eyes, as if he were hallucinating, or make the snow disappear. "How long have I been here?"
"Exactly two months," Jag answered. "And there are thirty hours in a day here, so in your time, it's actually been a bit over two months."
"You pulled me out of Livenholt in the middle of October…"
"It started snowing a couple nights ago," Jag told him. "It's very late in comparison to earlier years, and I've been living here for a long time. Usually the snows come around early November."
Jathan shuddered at the idea of snow coming so early; he detested the cold. If there was one thing he had liked about Langlond, it was that the first snows never came earlier than the last week or so of November.
"I can't believe I was asleep for four whole days," he said with another yawn.
"I'm not terribly surprised, though," the doag said, sitting down at the desk and pulling out a quill and sheet of paper. "The further away the Door you're trying to open is the more taxing it is, especially if it goes across divides."
"The major one is between Grounds and Clouds, of course, and the Grounds and Clouds are divided into two parts; the deeper ends of both are referred to as Circles and Rings respectively." Jag frowned, looking up from the paper to peer at Jathan. "Didn't I already tell you this?"
"It's possible," he shrugged, rolling his shoulders several times.
"Dunbob," the doag muttered, returning to his writing. "Well, at least you've made some sort of progress. I was beginning to think that I'd have to keep you here forever."
"From how you've been so against me leaving this damn place, I couldn't tell that that wasn't what you were going for," Jathan snorted.
"Well, budge outside then if you think it's so safe!" Jag snapped, waving his quill in the direction of the front door. "If you want to live, you're going to have to stop overestimating yourself. Lucifers, it's a wonder how you humans even survive on any other Floors but the oblivious ones. I used to wonder why your race got killed so often, but I understand now—it's just too damn easy."
As he opened his mouth to object angrily, something struck Jathan: a question that he realized should have demanded an answer to much earlier.
"Jag, why did you save me?"
The doag's hand froze, hesitating over the paper as his eyes bore into Jathan's, searching for something. Jathan wanted to cringe and withdraw, hide himself from Jag's scouring gaze, but his pride would not let him be defeated so thoroughly—instead, he simply looked away.
"I saved you because you're the last living namethief," the doag answered finally.
"L—last?" Jathan looked back up. "Why am I the last?"
"Because the rest are dead, stupid."
"No—you—you know what I meant."
"The one before you was killed," Jag muttered, hunching over his writing. "I almost got caught in the crossfire but managed to escape with my life and limbs. If it weren't for her I'd probably be dead by now."
"You made her into a sacrifice so you…you could keep living?"
"She didn't squeal when they asked her at knifepoint," the doag snapped. "She made it a point not to be any more concerned about me than the other pedestrians who were in the vicinity."
"And that proves she was willing to die for you?"
"You would have to know her to understand," the doag scribbled furiously. "Besides, she knew she was going to die anyway. What would they do with her, being a namethief?" Jag slammed the quill onto the desk, splintering its point. "She chose not to betray me because of what I did for her."
"And what was that, Jag?" Jathan asked sarcastically. "You let her sleep on the sofa right away instead of on the floor?"
The doag looked up at him, his eyes furious and wilder than usual. Jathan swallowed hard and glared at him, trying to hide his fear.
"Are you going to let me die that way, too? Be your shield?"
"You are the biggest liability I have," the doag snarled, his shoulders bunching as if he were preparing to lash out at him. "If anything, I am your shield! You would be dead by now if not for my actions, and is this how you repay that kindness?"
"I never asked you to save me!"
Silence. Jag's expression was one of incredulity; Jathan could not tell what his own face betrayed. He gulped and went on,
"What does it matter to you that there's only one namethief left?"
Jag's anger died down as he hesitated in answering. Jathan could practically see each possible response flicker through the doag's yellowish eyes. Finally he replied,
"Because it's how I make my money." Jag flung open a drawer in search of a new quill. "Truth is, Terrey, without someone like me, you're doomed. You can't make it out there alone." Having found a suitable goose feather, he dipped the point in ink and continued writing. "And if you're good at something you should never do it for free."
"So what you're saying is…" Jathan said slowly. "Is that you saved me so you could use me? Like taking something from out of a bin because you thought you could make some money from it?"
"Would you rather have died?" Jag demanded. "I'm damn good at staying alive—I always have been, though only Satanaiel knows why. The interesting part of it though is that people around me also get their chances raised. And you know who out there has the least chance of surviving? Namethieves. You also know what kind of gigs are well sought after and pay Heavenly high? Stealing names."
"I didn't save you to listen to your idiotic questions. Now shut your gob before I scare the shit out of you."
The doag stood up, vacating the desk and chair. He gestured toward them.
"Now...if you want to learn to open Doors without causing too much pain or shedding too much blood, I advise that you keep practicing your script."
A/N: it's been quite a while since I updated last. Reviews are much appreciated!