Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language and mature content.
For those just joining us: Kerani is a counterassassin who has discovered a large plot that impacts her main source of information— underground crime— but her father is insisting she start to give up her counterassassin ways so she can get married. She was just attacked during the middle of her betrothment party for her working on stopping the people attacking underground crime
For those of you returning: I have changed some worldbuilding things! Kernai's family/region name is now Palahira and her family colour has switched to orange. If you spot anything "shira" or "ruby" from here on out referencing her family, it's an error! Also, if you remember her friends as "Sakari and Aryan", it has now changed to Sakari and Ayden.
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Poison antidotes always wiped me out for at least a day. I was able to keep watch for danger, and if pressed I could have fought off an attacker, but otherwise I stayed in bed. I hadn’t figured out if it was because I didn’t need them, so my body reacted as if I had been poisoned, or if I took too little and I wiped myself out picking up the slack.
Considering my options were to keep my current regiment or death, I put up with the consequences. I would build tolerance eventually.
A letter from Suraj was waiting for me when I could think again. I kept the letter in one hand while transferring the sealed bags containing blood and poisoned soaked cloth to my workbench. I debated using some of my alert powder to ensure the letter’s safety, for how my body was already weak, but I decided to save it. Suraj had too much to lose by killing me, and there didn’t seem to be any malicious attempt in the paper.
He started with an apology for pulling me away, at least.
My tentative hopefulness plummeted as the rest of his letter outlined ‘compromises’ that insisted I rely on the guards more, pointing out I had potential trust issues if I didn’t believe a military force I was so intimate with was strong enough.
For somebody so Empire obsessed, he had very quickly forgotten how the Empire forced each province to have a sub-standard military to avoid suppressive force. Our numbers were already threatening an audit, and it was impossible for this palace to be protected. We spent our allocations on his palace, for how it was in the city and a much bigger target. He was safe. I was not. And once I married him, the non-safety would transfer to him.
I would have to tell him as much in my reply.
His rebuttle would be I would be living with him in the city, but I knew otherwise— the way resources were distributed among the palaces, I made up a substantial portion of it. We couldn’t afford to leave the main palace so defenceless without me. And if he tried to say the Empire accounted for me, I could very clearly say they didn’t. I had the guidelines memorized.
This was going to get annoying, I could tell already. I discarded his letter for the “later” pile and dealt with the most pressing matter: any visible patterns.
I knew what poison they had used thanks to some field tests, but I decided to run them through my processes to see if there was anything a field test wouldn’t catch. My still-lingering headache boded well for that possibility, which meant I’d likely need help. Bahij was my next-best possibility other than Nitika, but that meant facing him again. I could also use the palace chemists— we paid them for a reason— but they were risky. They were noble. While they themselves were so far removed from the throne they would only directly inherit with five coups, their relatives might only need two.
I’d see how I could handle this myself, first. And maybe send a sample to Vy, but I would have to deliver it myself and I didn’t trust I could stay alert enough. I’d only test a third of the blood to make sure she had enough.
One skull-splitting headache later, I either had the correct poison and had lapsed my tolerance to it, or I had such small trace amounts I couldn’t detect but were so potent they still wiped me out. That most certainly ruled out going to Palahira chemists for a solution. I had blackmail on too many of them to trust they wouldn’t lie to me about the results and use the knowledge I had handed them on a silver platter to see me killed in a coup.
On a hunch, I cut a patch out and tested some of my spare blood with kalisi.
Pinholes in the fabric appeared almost instantly. They spread like smoldering fire, quickly eating away the whole scrap.
It took everything in me not to scream.
Thank Palanhaar the guards never used kalisi in our antidotes for exactly this reason. Palace healers, on the other hand, did.
I needed to get to the city. Immediately.
Standing up as quickly as I did stopped that plan in its tracks. I needed to get to the guard healers immediately, instead.
Walking through the underground passages that connected the nobility to the guards felt vaguely surreal. Now that I knew what to look out for, I was surprised I hadn’t noticed the most obvious symptoms. I’d read about Snakesblood before, how it interacted with every system in the body, targeting sensors in odd ways. It was harder to sense my environment, harder to draw on the stores that normally bridged the gap between my depleted state and my duties.
It was more expensive than the finest perfumes to make. I couldn’t help but feel complimented whoever targeted me had taken the best.
In longer time than I would’ve liked, I emerged in the barracks near the healer’s wing. Giri appeared within moments, taking one look at me and ordering me to bed.
I willingly obliged, curling up on one of the thick cots that felt like sleeping on lush field. “Snakesblood.”
His eyes widened. Within moments he returned with a small black vial, helping me sit up before handing it to me. “I’m surprised you’re walking.”
I snorted and uncorked the cap. “I want to say I’ve been through worse, but I don’t think from a single attack.”
The smell of this antidote was unmistakable. I’d smelled it exactly once, when somebody had wasted a small fortune on attempting to assassinate Ranya— Ihit himself had taken that hit while I was busy with an accomplice.
This was not going to be pleasant.
Knocking back the full glass was an exercise in willpower. My body wanted to reject it halfway through; I forced it to take everything, and kept my mouth shut as it stat in my stomach. Within moments, something expanded from my organs, out. It pushed through blood vessels until it reached my skin, sweat glistening on my arms.
At least, I thought it was sweat. My vision blurred and all attention forced inward.
Malaria hadn’t been this bad. I whimpered and curled up on the bed, no choice but to ride out the symptoms.
I heard utter chaos at the entrance to the healer’s barrack, something that just made me cover my head with a pillow. Every sense was even more amplified with the antidote, on top of my tendency to flinch at raised voices. Ihit hadn’t ever described this because he wasn’t a sensor— but here I was, feeling everything more intensely.
Aydin and Sakari bolstered me, followed by the rest of my training group. They were my guards above all else, as much as I protected them. Their presence gave me a break, as much as I still wanted to throw up.
I yelped at the stabbing cold in my chest, everything shattering.
I flung off soaking wet sheets, sitting up and peeling off my shirt in the same motion. Giri handed me water once I no longer had dampness against my torso; I downed the whole skin in a single breath.
He stood and went towards the curtain sectioning off my area. “Once you’re decent, Suraj wants to see you. The Raj is… impatient to have you in the palace.”
I paused before pinching the bridge of my nose. “So that’s what that was.” Before he could say anything, I raised a finger. “If he issued one order for any of you to get flogged, I will tell him exactly why I couldn’t be disturbed.”
I’d take it in their place, if that’s what it took.
He waved a hand. “No need. Ihit spoke with him already.”
That made me rake a hand through soaking wet hair. “How long…?”
“Sandhin is beginning to rule.” He tilted his head to the side, set of his mouth soft. “I’m impressed with ya. Was expecting you to be here a day, maybe more.”
I gave him a humourless smirk, standing to test my legs and get more wet clothing off. “I get some reward for dosing myself with poison monthly.”
He shook his head. “That doesn’t matter, with Snakesblood. It’s made to take out people like you. Have every mind to keep you here overnight.”
I stretched my neck side to side, a loud snap greeting the attempt at movement. “I have every mind to come back… don’t trust palace healers farther than I can spit, when it comes to this.”
Actually staying was the preferred option. My body didn’t feel right, yet. My skin felt too tight, joints too loose— and I felt weak. Even though I could sense again, nothing felt properly connected, yet.
Afraid to reach out to Father, I settled for the next best thing. “Does the Raj know I’m… conscious?”
“Had a page in here who ran back the minute you threw off the blankets.”
Before he could continue— or I could curse— Sakari poked her head in. “How’re you feeling?”
I took the towel she handed to me, rubbing off the sweat still pouring out of my skin. “My senses are still fuzzy, I now know how training dummies feel, and the Raj wants to see me anyway.”
Her hands joined mine, rubbing away with more firmness than I could muster. “Is that better or worse?”
I snorted. “Better.”
“Does she need anything in her water?” Aydin asked from somewhere.
I forced myself beyond the veil of poison, gritting my teeth. He and Giri were on the fringes of the curtain. I could follow the page’s trail from where Aydin had been standing to Father’s office, which contained Suraj— impatient but worried— and Father— impatient, worried, and angry. Guards along the wall keeping watch. The undertow of servants blending together in an ebb and flow of normalcy, the odd patches of worry there had been an attack. Everyone was on edge but it didn’t press down on me like it normally did; there wasn’t the concern of wild horses who had just been leapt on, wondering if they would be next.
Everyone seemed to know I was the target.
Either that, or I plain old couldn’t feel it.
“Yer lucky we have stage two antidote,” Giri said from above me. “If you need a third stage, you need to go to the monks.”
Stages of Snakesblood. Almost nobody needed to know about the stages— it was expensive enough to produce stage one, let alone any of the worst. They stopped making antidotes at stage four, and reached for a blade, instead; it was a more merciful death.
I tugged the shirt Ayden offered over my head. “Flattering, really.”
He shook his head at me. “Leave it to you to take poison as a compliment.”
I grinned. “If you knew the prices of this stuff, you’d take it as a compliment, too.”
Ayden rubbed his mouth. “They completely bypassed us. Then had a diversion. And had a backup guard. Whoever this is…”
I hung my head, elbows on my knees as I sat on the bed. “They were strong enough to take out a whole squad of Rats. I knew they were good. I didn’t realize how good.”
Giri shook a water skin. “We’re still better. No worse than a scratch.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about.”
I hadn’t heard news in weeks. There was still nothing from the farmers. Bahij hadn’t gotten a messenger through, even with Rat help— not like they wanted to provide much, between his loose lips and their own self interests. The lush season was ending, most people’s focuses turning to harvest and surviving the winter.
I was running out of time to get news.
My temples throbbed, Father’s impatience and anger turning to demands to end his moods.
I dragged a hand down my face. “I’ll be back later.”