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16+ Violence Mature Content

Cat Steps Chapter 3.2 (Edited)

by Rosendorn


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence 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

-

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.

The sense of somebody else in my suite had my under-pillow dagger in my hand and halfway out of its sheath before Nitika’s signature registered. Caught between a relieved exhale and about to yell at her for being in my poison-filled room when pregnant, I dragged myself out of bed, peeling off sweat soaked pajamas. I was lucid enough to tell she was drawing a bath in my large pool, so I headed there.

I didn’t want to admit how difficult it was to use the winding ramp spiraling around the basin as stairs, but was too prideful to loop around it with Nitika in the room. Even though the ramps existed for exactly when I was too weak to walk and needed to relax in water.

She barely even glanced over her shoulder at me as she ran her hand under the water. “I figured you were smart enough to keep your poisons contained for me to come inside.”

I sat heavily on the edge of the large basin, toes barely brushing the water as they dangled into the pool. “What’re you even doing here?”

Now she did glance at me. “You didn’t even lecture me on airborne poisons. What is it?”

I rubbed my forehead. “Figured you of all people would be smart enough to know that.”

She made a small noise at the back of her throat. “To answer your question, the healers want somebody to look you over, Bahij wants to stick his nose into what you’re doing, Suraj wants to stick his nose into what you’re doing, and you need to relax before facing any of that.”

I exhaled. “Thanks…” The water was up to my ankles, now, the basin filling up remarkably quickly. I started carefully unhooking my breastband so as not to have the small throwing knives fall out of their precariously clasped sheaths.

Nitika stared at the clank of wooden handles on tile as I set it down, blinking at the blades. “Are you always armed?”

I nodded and slid out of my loincloth before entering the water. “When I can’t wear the band, they’re sewn to the sides of my bodice.”

Her eyes flicked to my body and I dulled my senses as much as I dared, waiting for her to take in my skin. I had given up figuring out which scars were worse— my back, overcrowded from not enough skill and too much cowardice; or my front, full of near-fatal plunges in moments of weakness.

I dove under the surface to ignore everything she could possibly say next, giving both of us time to think. The blissfully warm water eased the ache still deep in my muscles, an ache that was returning with a vengeance after only a short time moving.

By the time I’d surfaced, I had forgotten Nitika was staring at me. It was only a clearing of her throat that reminded me I was even in the same room as somebody else. Despite the scare, despite logically knowing such a lapse could get me killed, my heart rate barely elevated. My mind was barely registering that was even a problem.

I needed to do more tests on my reserve blood.

She let silence hang again while I wiped water from my eyes. “I hadn’t realized your service had been so… active.”

I chuckled deep inside my throat. “I might as well have been retired the past six months.”

She frowned. “Just six?”

I nodded and swam over to my underwater bench. It was easy to pick out a vial of my favourite oil displayed on the extra-wide rim of my basin; each scent and type of oil had a different shape and texture, creating a tapestry of glittering glass and stone.

I had taken particular interest in designing such a luxurious bathing space, the various vials and jars making the room look like a proper princess’. Something I had dreamed of being at the time. “Jalil’s suites are less active than the rest of the palace. Ranya leaving stopped the worst of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think there was another woman vying for Suraj’s hand.”

She snorted. “I always wondered why tasters in the harems was so tightly controlled.” Her pause wasn’t open to somebody else breaking into the conversation. “Speaking of Suraj, he sent you a letter.”

“Of course he did.”

“He apologized.”

I paused. “He did?”

“Well…” She sighed, waiting for my sigh to die down before she continued. “He apologized then said you would have to work on a compromise for the future.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose, now. The oil still on my hands left a slick impression, perfume so close to my eyes making them water. At least I could blame any tears that began flowing on that.

I ran the oil back through my hair, working on scrubbing the sick-sweat off my scalp. Within a few moments I had reached for salt to aid the process, mixing it with a different oil to produce the scrub my skin needed. The mosaic under the water glistened in the lantern-light, shining gold and pink tiles matching the rest of the room. Mixing the solution in a separate bowl was something I could do in my sleep; I tried to have something simple in muscle memory, something to remnd me I didn’t just know how to handle a blade.

“It’s never a good sign when you go this quiet.”

My hands lowered from rubbing my shoulder raw. “Compromise never means anything good. Compromise means stop being a guard.”

“Do you want to stop?”

I looked away sharply. Nobody had ever asked me that.

When the silence dragged on a bit too long for her comfort, she continued. “Well?”

“I don’t want to stop because somebody else would rather I be pregnant,” I murmured. “They can’t just tell me when to start and stop.”

She dipped her feet in the water, sari pulled up to avoid getting it wet. “Did they force you to start?”

I nodded.

“So this is rebellion.”

I smirked, now. “They asked for it.”

She laughed softly, the sound echoing in the mostly-marble room. “It’s unusual, for a woman to be forced into any one path, in the Empire. We’re kept out of some of them, but not… stopped or forced, for what’s available.”

I shrugged, pushing myself out of the water and glad the stone was elementalist-heated. “We can’t stop bandits, in the mountains. We can’t stop assassinations in the mountains. The fact I can sense everyone in the family so well… it was only natural, I be the guard. Especially as we started getting rid of them. I was somebody you couldn’t remove.”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

I raised an eyebrow, pausing with another glob of salt on my fingers. “Have you ever even guessed at how the Empire keeps its provinces from rebellion?”

She looked at me like I had just asked the stupidest question in the world. “Army size lim— oh.”

I nodded, rubbing the dead skin off my back. “And considering the army and guard are the same organization— which, I might add, is a further method of limiting army size imposed by the Empire— it becomes impossible to keep our family protected without me. I don’t even want to think of the death toll other provinces had at trying to be selected for the next Empress. Or what they had to hide to keep their girls safe.”

She shuddered. “So they let you kill each other instead of even thinking about looking at their power.”

“Essentially.”

We were quiet for awhile, me returning to rubbing sick-sweat off my skin. I was definitely still tired, and I couldn’t tell if it was from trying to fight poison, or another one of the poison’s effects. The room was starting to feel overly-warm, now, while I felt overly cold. I slid back in the water to try and reach balance, not knowing if this was a symptom of exhaustion or a sign I was about to wear out my antidote.

The fact I even doubted that pointed towards poison.

A swish of water from a lazy kick brought my attention back to Nitika. “Does the Empire know about you?”

“Not officially.” I shrugged. “Unofficially every political organization knows more than it lets on. But how much they know I can’t say.”

Her feet kept moving, flicking water halfway across the pool. “I don’t recall my father mentioning you.”

That brought a smile to me, despite it all. “I tried to be invisible.”

She laughed. “I hardly even knew you existed my first few months here!”

“Good.” I dragged myself off my bench, returning to an uneasy swim. For once the depth of the water, barely allowing me to stand and keep my head above it, scared me. “It meant you had no reason to know me.”

She kept watching, keeping an almost maternal eye as I worked tired muscles. “You’re not really part of the family, are you?”

It was hard not to sink at how cold that made me feel. The water was still warm; I had to remind myself of that. “I am sworn to protect my own.”

“That didn’t answer my question.”

I glanced back at her.

She looked away. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

I forced my way back to the edge, finding a rough stone that I wouldn’t slip off. “No. You shouldn’t have.”

I pushed myself out of the water near the towels, rubbing my skin down and glancing at the scabbed-over cut on my arm. The blood had streaks of clear liquid and sickly black woven into it, something I never particularly considered good signs.

Nitika stood to offer me a hand up. “How often does this happen?”

I took it begrudgingly. “Poisoning? Every few months. Feeling like this after poisoning? Almost never.”

She froze. “Few months?”

I nodded, stepping from rough stone to rough stone as I tried to talk and walk out of the bathroom at the same time. “I had just recovered… before…”

She hooked her arm around me. “Kerani?”

I scrunched my eyes shut, rubbing my temple and leaning against her. “Headache… I need to… test this.”

“I’m staying while you do.”

I didn’t protest. She hovered as close as possible. I would have honestly forgotten to get dressed if she hadn’t shoved clothing in my hands, something I could easily wrap around my body.

I knew parts of what poison they had used thanks to some field tests, but obviously I had missed something. Only a handful of poisons— all incredibly expensive— were even possible to miss on the tests I had performed.

I dragged out my rarer supplies, Nitika slipping on one of my spare masks. “Should I get the palace chemists?”

“And hand them my possible assassination on a silver platter?”

Brilliant she may be, political she was not.

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. And two removed from the throne was the most dangerous group of all. I had blackmail on too many of them to trust they wouldn’t lie to me about the results.

I could test for the poisons I had missed. Vy had made sure of that. She could test it, but I would have to deliver it myself and I didn’t trust I could stay alert enough. I’d reserve a third of the blood to make sure she had enough.

On a hunch, and wanting to rule out the most deadly of the lot first, I cut a patch out and dusted kalisi on the blood stain.

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.

Snakesblood!

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.

Nitika had backed away at the embers. “I thought Snakesblood was a myth.”

I shook my head. “I wish. Trust me, I wish.”

“I’ll stall should anyone come searching for you.”

I tipped my head in gratitude and slipped away.


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Thu Jul 05, 2018 12:31 am
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Vervain wrote a review...



Once more, into the breach! There's a lot more good stuff this chapter, probably because it's been edited already so most of the awkward things have already been pointed out/dealt with. I'm super happy to be getting around to this. c:

Let's start with good stuff again because that's the first thing that popped up!

Now she did glance at me. “You didn’t even lecture me on airborne poisons. What is it?”
I rubbed my forehead. “Figured you of all people would be smart enough to know that.”
<3 yes keep developing Kerani and Nitika! This is my favorite friendship out of all the relationships you've introduced so far (though romantically I'd love to see more of Vy/Isra bc YES).

I slid back in the water to try and reach balance, not knowing if this was a symptom of exhaustion or a sign I was about to wear out my antidote.
The fact I even doubted that pointed towards poison.
I don't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I love how smoothly you show us that Kerani is just plain good at her job. It's been mentioned before that the Empire probably couldn't find a match for her and I'm honestly curious because now part of me is going omg the Empire has found a match for her and the other part is wanting curiously to see what's happened and I am so so so excited.

The blood had streaks of clear liquid and sickly black woven into it, something I never particularly considered good signs.
Yeah Kerani, most people don't consider that a good sign... But oh man your description is so cool. More please <3

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.
Yes just stand up immediately after you're one hundred percent certain you've been badly poisoned with something that's closer to a rumor than fact -- that goes well for everyone! But it ties in to how headstrong Kerani is as a person and I'm so loving all of it.

Onto some other stuff now!

I had taken particular interest in designing such a luxurious bathing space, the various vials and jars making the room look like a proper princess’. Something I had dreamed of being at the time.
I want to hear more about little-Kerani. Not necessarily a ton more but more, enough to see how she's changed, and enough to show that she's...aware of her change, however she feels about it, etc. Even a tossed-out line of "I was ten when they asked me to design my rooms for the palace" (or however old she was).

Her feet kept moving, flicking water halfway across the pool. “I don’t recall my father mentioning you.”
That brought a smile to me, despite it all. “I tried to be invisible.”
She laughed. “I hardly even knew you existed my first few months here!”
More Kerani and Nitika! This one I'm pointing out because it's another space that could use more -- and the character development is great but part of me wishes that Kerani... felt something? That she's grown so close to Nitika in such a short time. Maybe it's because Ranya's gone and Chandi is pregnant so can't come into Kerani's quarters, but I wish there was something there to show us how she feels about being so close with someone who came to them from the Empire such a short time ago.

Style bits!

“It’s never a good sign when you go
this quiet.”
My hands lowered from rubbing my shoulder raw. “Compromise never means anything good. Compromise means stop being a guard.”
“Do you want to stop?”
This whole exchange down to "They asked for it" is a bit talking-heads-y. I know this is still a first go-round despite being edited but you know I have a moral compulsion to point out talking heads when I see it. Just for consideration. <3

“I always wondered why tasters in the harems was so tightly controlled.”
I don't quite understand this part. I don't know if it's because my brain is being funny or the writing isn't clear, but I'll reread and let you know via discord in the morning.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, now.
I saw someone point this out on the last one and noticed that Kerani actually does this a lot. I get that it's a physical tic, but I'd definitely keep an eye on it and make sure she doesn't do it often enough that your readers go "well that's a boring reaction" or anything. Maybe tie it to a specific emotional response and stick with using it only for that? I don't know.

my heart rate barely elevated. My mind was barely registering that was even a
problem.
Okay, I love this bit too. The reason I've pointed it out here is because you repeated "barely" in the span of 5 words -- I get into those description tics too, just thought I'd point it out for you.

Overall! I love this chapter (but I love every chapter, you know this) so far, and I love this scene in particular. It gives us more story on who Kerani is as a person, it gives us more on what's affecting her, it shows us that something terrible has happened -- even more terrible than initially anticipated. It shows us that Kerani is dealing with something, or someone, who is desperate to take her out and they're willing to drop some big money on that. I'm really curious how this is going to unfold and who's going to be behind everything.

Also oh my goodness the idea of Kerani going to palace healers instead! That's such an awful visual with the Snakesblood reacting to the kalisi.

I really adore what you're doing with this world and the characters and I'm so excited to see where this goes next!

Keep writing!




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Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:07 pm
Aley wrote a review...



Hey Rosey,

I think I recognize this series from talking with you and that makes me super excited XD

Overall, I only found one thing I think needs changing.

"Even though the ramps existed for exactly when I was too weak to walk and needed to relax in water."

fragment. Even though ___ I ___ You have the "I" but it's part of the first thing because of "extended to exactly when" which is making the "I" part a subordinate clause to it, and leaving out the "even though" "I" set up.

The story seems to be going well. I like how there is an element of explanation through this unwise individual. I think that's a really great way to exposition the situation and give us a good feeling of what's going on and who is who even this far into the story.

I feel like the only thing that you might want to do a little different is with your explanation of the poison because I'm not sure I understand exactly. Is it in the air? Is that why she says her chamber is poisoned? Or is she emitting some sort of poison because of the antidote? What's going on with that?

All in all, really good so far. Keep it up!




Rosendorn says...


so I'm not sure what you mean by "the poison" so I'm going to take a stab at both possibilities...
1-her room is her own poisons lab, and Nitika is pregnant. so she's got a giant workbench filled with poison samples and antidotes that may or may not be poisonous, and she is paranoid about possible dust being inhaled/damaging the baby
2- she herself has been poisoned with a cut, and is currently still experiencing after-effects over 24 hours later

if either of those are what you meant, let me know. I'm already considering clarifying Snakesblood, and I might clarify her room, but I'm not sure which one you meant



Aley says...


it was #1



Rosendorn says...


Alright, I'll keep that in mind to see if it's been explained enough in other chapters!



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Fri Jun 22, 2018 11:33 pm
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mellifera wrote a review...



Hey Rosendorn! I'm here to review, as requested!

Actually I got a bit carried away and went back to read the previous chapters because the summary at the beginning intrigued me enough and I really love the story so far <3 I love your writing style? I can't put my finger on what it is about it, but it's very...enchanting? For lack of a better word right now.

I saw you mention that Kerani was bisexual (besides it appearing in the story and stuff) and I just want to say how excited I am for that?? Uhhh, that sounds weird, but I don't see a lot of bisexual characters around and it always makes me feel very happy and fuzzy, so I really love that the protagonist is.


-So I might have just missed this, but do you ever describe the appearance of any of the characters? I don't have a clear read on what any of them look like (besides mentioning Kerani's father's skin tone - and I'm just going out on a limb to assume Kerani's is similar - and Nitika's) besides the way they dress.


I dragged myself out of bed, peeling off sweat soaked pajamas as I walked to her drawing a bath in my large pool.


Did she know Nitika was filling a bath for her before she walked in or was she just uncomfortable enough to take off her pajamas regardless of what Nitika was doing?

The water was up to my ankles, now, high enough that I started carefully unhooking my breastband so as not to have the small throwing knives fall out of their precariously clasped sheaths.


I feel like describing her breastband with the throwing knives could have been separated from the water being at her ankles? I'm not sure what the relevance of the two sentences are to each other to continue off of.

Nitika stared at the clank of wood on tile as I set it down,


Is that supposed to be plank of wood?

Despite the scare, my heart rate had barely elevated.


I could be wrong, I'm guessing this has to do with Kerani's PTSD? So I think I know what you're getting at, but it reads kind of funny with 'despite the scare' to me, because it just seemed like she was made aware of Nitika's presence again instead of being 'scared'. I guess the word choice is the what bothers me. Maybe 'Despite what should of been a scare' or something more like that would work with the other sentences? I don't know, maybe it just bothers me.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, now.


Don't think that comma belongs over there.


-I've noticed there's quite a few ellipses. There are a few closer together, like when Nitika is talking about how unusual it is for women to be forced onto a path and Kerani's following dialogue, where it brings down the intent of the ellipsis being used as a pause (The other part I noticed was at the end when Kerani's about recovering and then again when she gets a headache).


-For much of the bathing scene, there isn't much description or balance of anything but dialogue. It's a lot of the dialogue and a few actions (I nodded, she frowned, I shrugged, etc). There isn't much to take from body language or tone of voice. I've really enjoyed all your other chapters and I didn't have many problems with too much dialogue before, this one just feels a little heavy on it without a good balance with everything else. There's a lot of short lines, and while I appreciate the explanation of some of the things like Kerani's position, it gets a bit...not rushed, but almost choppy, in a way? It's repetitive, she did this, I did that. I'm not sure how to explain that best, hopefully that makes some amount of sense.


-Am I right to assume the magic is sensory and that different people are attuned to different things? Like, some people can read emotions more, some can sense danger, etc? I mean, I have a tendency to just run with things without really reading between the lines/reading too much into it and just assuming how things work, so I apologise if this is off the mark. Regardless, I love the magic system and how you have it set up. The whole novel has a very fantasy-ish vibe without being all 'dragons! mage who shoot fireballs! kingdoms!' and I'm a huge fan of that (not to say I don't like that too lol) because it's so refreshing to see something new like this.


I'm pretty sure that was a lot of gushing and a bit inconsistent haha, sorry about that. Hopefully you can get something out of that that's helpful :)

I hope you have a lovely day!




Rosendorn says...


Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Kerani is actually biromantic asexual, if you want to go the most exact. Isra's line about "how uninterested in skin you are" is the confirmation, but it's kinda hidden xD

So I might have just missed this, but do you ever describe the appearance of any of the characters?


Nope! lol I never figured out how I wanted descriptions to sound, at least when it came to people, so I avoided it. I'll probably stick in some more descriptions in the third draft once I've figured out how Kerani describes people.

For much of the bathing scene, there isn't much description or balance of anything but dialogue


Gah, right when I give this exact review to three people XD I knew something was missing in that scene, so I'll work on adding in some more setting. One of those cases where I had such a solid frame of reference I forgot not everyone does lol

Am I right to assume the magic is sensory and that different people are attuned to different things?


Yes, you're right. I have no real intention of spelling out the magic system in anything that resembles "quickly" (that's been my downfall most of the drafts I've written so I have actively tried to use as little magic description as possible), but magic is indeed based on different preferred abilities. There's some nature, some nurture, and a bunch of combinations therein lol

I really dislike it when everything is spelled out (feels unrealistic for me), so I've tried to make this feel as... organic? as possible. This is why there aren't really any descriptions of people; I found most of them in first person felt shoved in, and I really wanted to try and drill into Kerani's voice to the point where her describing people didn't feel like that.

I haven't found the answer to either yet.




The simple truth is that authors like making people squirm. If this weren't the case, all novels would be filled completely with cute bunnies having birthday parties.
— Brandon Sanderson, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians