Tuesday, October 26, 2010

[RP] Dreams in Salt, Part 6

When he returned with a bag of hot food containers, he saw she’d tidied up a bit. Her hair was braided into several plaits and tied at the back of her neck. It made sense that she preferred her hair up. Down, it made her look like a little girl. The seeping crate now rested on top of a damp towel and the standing water had been neatly mopped up; a pair of lamps illuminated the kitchen half of the small apartment.

She hadn’t bothered to lock the door after he went down to the lobby, and she wondered if she was getting too comfortable, too quickly for her own good. It was unsettling on some level to see him come and go as he pleased. It was also somewhat of a relief just to let it happen. She made a conscious decision to focus on the relieved aspect of things and greeted him as he set the bag of food on the table in front of her.

“I have the shovel, pickaxe, and lye by the way.” He opened the bag of food on the table and began to set out smaller containers around it.

She snatched a bowl and pried the lid off with her fingers. There was a dense, tomato-rich stew inside and she promptly dug in with her teaspoon, hardly heeding the scalding temperature as she ate. “Good. You can bring them by next time you come, if you like. They’ll need to be stored until I’m finished gathering.”

“And what are you gathering exactly, aside from a lot of clams in the trash?”

Busy with a mouthful of potatoes and squash, she jabbed her spoon in the direction of the bowl of pearls. They gleamed in the white bowl like oversized sporefish roe.

Zana’zua sat down at the table, folding his hands on the tabletop in front of him. “Ambika, may I ask you a question?”

“Mmph.” She spooned another bite of soup into her mouth and waved him on impatiently with her free hand.

“What exactly do you intend to do? All I can guess right now is that you want me to dig up a body. I can’t say I have an issue with corpses, but I would like to know why we’re doing this. Why the pearls, and why the other tools?”

Further inspection of a crinkled, folded piece of waxed brown paper revealed two fine biscuits, and she broke pieces of it off as she talked.

“I made a mistake.” She glanced up at him and wiped crumbs from her lip. “The entirety of the Echo Isles belongs to Bwonsamdi, but two of those islands are especially sacred. I chose my site... poorly.”

Half of the mangled biscuit went into the soup as she continued, eating much more slowly now, breaking up the bread and taking small bites as she took the edge off her hunger.

“I was justified in what I did. He needed to die, it was only a matter of time--but back then I was very young, and didn’t know even half of what I should have before taking on such a task.” She swallowed, then left her spoon in the bowl and leaned back in her chair.

“I sealed his spirit into a space no larger than the grave I dug for him and left him there to die. Perhaps I should have killed him before I filled in the hole, but.” Ambika shrugged.

“In any case. My first offense was sullying the holy grounds of Bwonsamdi with a vile sinner. My second was in binding a soul there, when such things are only permitted on holy grounds with the Loa’s say-so. I didn’t know. But it’s no excuse.”

“Ambika.” Zana’zua frowned and unfolded his hands, then folded them again. “You are telling me that you murdered someone.”

“Yes.” She honed in on him with her clear, golden eyes. There wasn’t a single spark of guilt, regret or any other emotion to be found in them, for good or ill; she merely stated fact. Her soup had soaked up the last of the bread and she pushed the bowl away.

“He killed my mother. I was, and still am, quite certain of that. And though I could not remember her, I felt that he had stolen something sacred from me which I could never recover. That remains true to this day. His offenses were numerous; the death of my mother was only one of the reasons I did what I did. Once I was grown enough to understand my own power and what steps I could take to ensure that such a wicked troll could never harm me and mine again, I began to wait for an opportunity.

“Am I disturbing you?” she asked, looking sharply up at him before rising to put the kettle back on the flame.

“Ambika.” The death knight shook his head. “I have seen disturbing things, more than I hope any other person ever sees. I have also committed them.” He looked back up to her. “But the problem here is that you are only owning up to one mistake, and not the other.”

“He owed me a life.” There was that look again, cold and grim, making her look markedly older than she was as the steam from the kettle rose up toward the ceiling.

“Do you think Bwonsamdi only took offense at where you buried him?”

“Where, and how,” she replied. There was a long pause as she poured and steeped another cup of tea, mulling over his words. She wasn’t stupid; she knew what he was intimating. It had been a long while since she’d considered this particular point of morality in the whole business, and she still felt justified in what she’d done. But here was this death knight, sitting at her table and attempting to plant the seeds of doubt in her mind.

She frowned.

He shook his head again. “Then we will dig up the body. What are the pearls for?”

She sighed heavily and sank onto the couch with her cup. “The pearls will help me fulfill one of Bwonsamdi’s demands. He insists that I find a way to redeem or, at the very least, defuse the spirit of my uncle before I release him.” The cup went to her lips and she sipped, staring moodily at an undefined point somewhere under the table before beginning again.

“I will hear his sins and bind them to each pearl. He will have the opportunity to show remorse and ask for absolution; whether he chooses to do so will not affect the ritual. Once imbued, the dissemination of pearls will be a grueling task--this is, of course, an oversimplified explanation. There will be many steps that I cannot complete on my own.”

Zana’zua did not look at her when he spoke next. “And who will bind your sins?”

“Perhaps the very soul that binds yours. Does it matter?” Her tone was demanding, and she stared at him, daring him to look at her as her tea steamed, undrunk, on her knee. “My own absolution lies in appeasing Bwonsamdi. I intend to do precisely what he asks of me, and nothing more.”

His shoulders sunk, almost as if under the weight of the small priestess’ words. “Ambika, I have done a lot of things that I regret. Unforgivable things...unspeakable things. But the worst thing I ever did happened before I became a death knight. It is not uncommon to hear my kind say their worst regret happened before they died.” He looked back up at her. “People don’t always die the way I did. Sometimes they die on the inside.”

She smirked grimly at him. “I will hear and bind your sins as well, if you wish.”

He stood up from the table. “That is not what I meant. Perhaps some day the death god will grant me that, but not right now and not from you. Would you like me to meet you at the same time next week?”

His words had some effect on her; what, he couldn’t say. She looked at him long and hard with her teacup warming her hands and finally nodded once, slowly and deliberately. “Yes. Bring the supplies with you if you like.”

She called to him as he turned the knob.

“Lock the door when you go.”

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