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16+ Mature Content

Cat Steps Chapter 3.3

by Rosendorn


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for 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. She's treated herself and is still sick, only to realize the poison used is a mythical, rumoured-to-be-fake poison known as Snakesblood.

-

Walking through the underground passages that connected the nobility to the guards felt vaguely surreal. I had walked these cold, deep tunnels before, sometimes just to draw from the ancient familial magic embedded in every speck of dirt, but this time they seemed to be any other stone. The wards and emergency stores were almost completely invisible to me unless I searched for them, and normally they were at my call within a moment.

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, with its chief marker being isolation. Where I could normally feel the world around me, there was nothing but a blank, fuzzy feeling. I knew I should be terrified, but its other effect of dulling the mind was in full force. It was primarily subconscious routines that kept me walking in the same direction, as agonizing as it was.

I had forced myself to sense Nitika previously, and my energy to force myself was dwindling. My willpower to even consider doing the act was dwindling. This poison worked by wearing down all resources, all possible ways to fight it. Every other poison, every other toxin, could eventually be cast away by powerful enough individuals. Except this.

Snakesblood 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. Even this place felt only marginally better, training partners and active movement of humans nagging at me but unreadable. 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. The beds were not that soft. My word was more self-reasoning than answer to an unspoken question of what had brought me here. “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. It was hard to remember legends of this poison, but I remembered enough to know how most people couldn’t leave bed, let alone do anything. “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, even with nothing registering to my senses. 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. He had been in the healer’s barrack for three days as the antidote ravaged him, otherwise too weak to leave the bed.

This was not going to be pleasant.

Knocking back the full vile 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 sat in my stomach. My hands clenched and unclenched in an unpredictable rhythm, sweat already beginning to make itself known on my forehead.

There was commotion on the outside, somebody calling my name and Giri growling with the strength of a lion to leave. I made a small moan in the back of my throat, knowing my eyes were open and I was looking at the polished dirt floor but not able to register anything around me.

His hands— I thought they were his hands— gripped me gently enough I thought my father had returned and was easing me to bed with the care he had given me as a child. Blankets over top of me felt like sheets of ice, but that was preferable to the unbearable warmness beginning to take over my body.

Malaria hadn’t been this bad. No illness I could name had been this bad. I whimpered and curled up on the bed, wanting to claw at my skin but not managing more than gripping my arms.

Utter chaos at the entrance to the healer’s barrack just made me hide deeper under the blankets. Those sounds hurt with the antidote, my already sensitive hearing overwhelmed by blood rushing in my ears. Ihit hadn’t ever described this because he wasn’t a sensor— but here I was, feeling everything more intensely. I could hear my heart beating relentlessly, the compass letting me know I was alive.

Familiarity was my other anchor, Aydin and Sakari bolstered me. 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. Their energy didn’t rush through my fingers like my own, giving me a heated spear to hold in a raging storm.

Ice stabbed me in the chest, the shock to my system bringing instant lucidity.

I was still covered in blankets.

Wet blankets.

I flung off soaking wet sheets, sitting up and peeling off my shirt in the same motion. I hated fevers breaking more than I hated being sick; when sick, at least, I could forget what it felt like.

Giri handed me water once I no longer had dampness against my torso; I downed the whole skin in a single breath. The faint taste of salt and chai relieved my parched throat, the taste far too associated with healing for me to grimace at the otherwise-odd liquid.

He stood and went towards the curtain sectioning off my area. “Once you’re decent, Suraj wants to see you. The Raja 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…?”

“You’ll be walking by moonlight.” 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, beginning to strip off the sheets. “That doesn’t matter, with Snakesblood. It’s made to take out people like you. Have every mind to keep you here till morning.”

I stretched my neck side to side, a loud snap greeting the attempt at movement. I hadn’t realized how stiff I felt when the poison running through me. “I have every mind to come back… don’t trust palace healers farther than I can spit, when it comes to this.”

I had too much blackmail on them, too.

I would have much preferred to tell Father I would stay overnight. 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. Fever still raged just under the surface, temporarily kept at bay.

Afraid to reach out to Father, I settled for the next best thing. “Does the Raja know I’m… conscious?”

Giri nodded.

“Damnit.”

Giri pulled out a replacement mattress once he’d determined the old one was soaked through. “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. And I had just taken a bath. “My senses are still fuzzy, I now know how training dummies feel, and the Raja 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 was just behind the curtain, out of lantern light reach. 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 behind me, thumping the new mattress in place. “If you need a third stage, you need to go to the monks.”

Stages of Snakesblood. I had forgotten, temporarily, about 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.

Ayden finally came into sight, parting the curtain and quickly looking me over. I tugged the shirt he 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, going over the attack. “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 new mattress. It still didn’t feel as firm as it normally did. “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 needed to remember the time of day didn’t matter— if he wanted to see me late at night, he saw me.

I dragged a hand down my face. “I’ll be back later.”


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Thu Jul 05, 2018 1:13 am
Vervain wrote a review...



And away we go! This will probably be my shortest review today, because I couldn't find a lot to point out, but we'll probably end up talking about the main plot here at the end.

So let's start with the fun stuff -- stuff I loved about this part!

The first two paragraphs are stunning (well, all of it is stunning, but they're extra stunning). The description and how isolated Kerani feels because of the poison and how the castle behaves and feels around her when she's not at peak performance really gives the whole thing an air of separation. It makes me think, because Kerani is super connected to her people and her family lands and her castle, but it's apparent that not all of them share her dedication or even consider her necessary -- obvious from a political standpoint, and really intriguing from a character standpoint.

I’d take it in their place, if that’s what it took.
Kerani is so dedicated and it just amazes me.

I would have much preferred to tell Father I would stay overnight. 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. Fever still raged just under the surface, temporarily kept at bay.
I love this description too! Antidotes can obviously knock you out just as bad as a poison, and knowing what I know, it's absolutely amazing that Kerani's fever broke so quickly and she's started to recover from the double-hit of poison and antidote. It shows that she's really working at peak magical and physical performance (emotional is definitely another story lol).

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.
Kerani is so interesting because by the nature of the magic of this world she gets an inner look at the workings of emotions in everyone around her, and it really gives such a cool insight into how she perceives her world. Like, there's the possibility that she can't feel the wild concern and terror, or it's just plain not there because people know that they're not in danger -- she is.

“They were strong enough to take out a whole squad of Rats. I knew they were good. I didn’t realize how good.”
Yes! The escalation from street conflict/drug-running conflict to political conflict is so good. I want to see so much of this!

Onto some grammar points, which as you know will mainly be me pointing out a few nitpicks here and there.

whoever targeted me had taken the best.
Confusing phrasing -- maybe "whoever targeted me had picked/chosen the best" or "had settled for no less than the best" instead?

Giri appeared within moments, taking one look at me and ordering me to bed.
I think I point these out a lot, but this could stand to be two sentences. ("Giri appeared... He took one look at me.") It also gives you a chance to drop a half-line or even a couple words' description of Giri.

Knocking back the full vile [vial]
Simple typo (but I imagine the vial is pretty vile lol).

You switch between using Aydin and Ayden in this chapter -- maybe take a look at that.

More things:
Ihit hadn’t ever described this because he wasn’t a sensor— but here I was, feeling everything more intensely.
Yes autistic characters <3 <3 <3 You know I love autistic characters, and Kerani's portrayal is so realistic to experience that it's waycool. One thing I'd love more is a more visceral gut reaction of the feeling, something that the reader can feel in their spine instead of just reading it. It might be difficult but I think it would do this section a heck of a lot of good.

And here's where we'll talk about the plot:

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.
It's been 10k since the last thorough mention of the attack at the palace. I know that the current chapter plot is "Kerani gets betrothed and an attack happens here", but right now it feels like your previous Big Events haven't been carrying over to the main story.

Like, the main story right now is just Kerani vs. Poison -- obviously vs. the people who are behind the poisonings and the attacks, but what happened to her Rat informers? What happened to the attack at the palace? We've had a chapter, basically, of cooldown and her being poisoned at her betrothal party, and while I think some cooldown was necessary for the tension and the attack at the party is an awesome way to bring the conflict ever closer and closer to our main character, I want to see a lot more of what we started with. I feel like there's a thread running through all of this, but we skip almost episodically from chapter to chapter, and it doesn't feel like the stakes are tied together. We could basically divide them into Chapter 1 Conflict, Chapter 2 Conflict, etc.

I hope that because this is mentioned here, we're about to pull that beginning conflict -- what drew the reader into the story -- into the main thread as well. While obviously not every single word has to further the main plot, that's initially what I had started to read, and if you wait too long to bring it back to the forefront, the reader may have forgotten some important details to the story.

Obviously Kerani's been torn away from the city because of her betrothal and her father's paranoia, but I'm just thinking out loud here. You know I adore Cat Steps, I'm just having a hard time with the episodic Plot Chunks you have right now because I just want it to be a single (or many-headed) fluid Plot.

Keep writing!




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Sun Jul 01, 2018 6:07 pm
erilea wrote a review...



Hey, Rosendorn! This is Lupa for a review on Review Day (for the first time in forever, apparently).

1)

...but this time they seemed to be any other stone.


This is a minor detail: the plural pronoun "they" refers to the tunnels, while the seemingly singular noun "stone" appears to refer to the walls of the tunnels. You could say, "...but this time they seemed to be built of any old stone."

Also,
The wards and emergency stores were almost completely invisible to me unless I searched for them, and normally they were at my call within a moment.


You use "and" here, but I think "but" would be a more effect conjunction, especially since you're showing contrast.

2)
I willingly obliged, curling up on one of the thick cots that felt like sleeping on lush field. The beds were not that soft. My word was more self-reasoning than answer to an unspoken question of what had brought me here. “Snakesblood.”


Here, Kerani goes from discussing the softness of the cots to answering the "unspoken question". This is a bit of an abrupt transition, which could be an effect of the poison, but it's a little jarring.

3)
“If you need a third stage, you need to go to the monks.”


I get that this is describing the antidote, but I was wondering why anyone would need a third stage of the poison, especially after I read the next paragraph. Adding "antidote" after "third stage" would make it clearer as to which stage you're talking about.

4)
My temples throbbed, Father’s impatience and anger turning to demands to end his moods.


How does the latter part of the sentence relate to Kerani having a headache? And what does "to end his moods" exactly mean? This sentence is overall quite confusing, so you might want to revise it. ;)

I love Kerani's character already! She reminds me of another assassin I've read about--her attitude with the poison was hilarious. I can't wait to see more of Cat Steps on YWS! Keep writing and happy Review Day to you!

XOX,
Lupa22




Rosendorn says...


Thanks for the review!

As for your fourth point, that's a magic thing that's clarified in previous chapters: the world is built with empathy, so somebody can create a physical reaction in somebody else based on their emotions. It's happened multiple times where Father has made Kerani have a headache because he wants to see her.



erilea says...


Ah. No problem! :D



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Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:47 am
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mellifera wrote a review...



Hey Rosey! I'm back again, as promised :D Happy to be back and reading more!

Just going to dive right into it then-

I'd read about Snakesblood before, with its chief symptom being isolation.


So correct me if I'm wrong, you mean isolation to her magic and being able to sense things, right? Would this have affected her being able to sense Nitika drawing her a bath in the last chapter? (even though I'm the one who mentioned that in the first place lol)
or, after reading further, if this just a sensory isolation where her senses like smell, taste, hear, etc are just being cut off?

I willingly obliged, curling up on one of the thick cots that felt like sleeping on lush field. The beds were not that soft.


I'm a little confused by this- is the poison affecting how soft the beds feel? Because this feels like it's contradicting itself, but if it's just a side effect of the poison that's understandable. Just a suggestion if this is the case, maybe add in Kerani frowning or just a general nod to how the beds have never been that soft before?

and kept my mouth shut as it stat in my stomach.


sat*...?

sweat already beginning to make itself known on my forehead.


This might just be me, so take it as you will, but I don't really like this way of describing sweating? I don't know if it bothers me because it makes sweat almost personified or what it is exactly that rubs me the wrong way about this description, but I just don't like it.

Blankets over top of me


Another sentence that bothers me, but I think it's just because it's missing a word or two (The blankets laying over on top or something comparable might make more sense).

I could hear my heart beating relentlessly, the compass letting me know I was alive.


To counter all the sentences that bothered me, I actually really like describing a heart as a compass. I can't say for sure why, but it's an interesting comparison without venturing into the realm of something like purple prose or too flowery.

Familiarity was my other anchor, Aydin and Sakari bolstered me.


So Aydin and Sakari followed her, is that correct? If so, I might have mentioned them before just now, but I didn't realise they were there until they interact with Kerani after the fever breaks.

Their energy didn't rush through my fingers like my own, giving me a heated spear to hold in a raging storm.


Okay? Uh, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. It sounds like this is trying to describe two different things, how Aydin and Sakari's energy don't rush through Kerani's fingers, and how Kerani's gives her a comforting handle(?), but they don't really connect to each other in a coherent way.

I hated fevers breaking more than I hated being sick; when sick, at least, I could forget what it felt like.


Is there a break in time that I missed, or did Kerani just recover really fast? You had mentioned Ihit taking three days to recover, so it seemed odd that she would recover that quickly, though I'm wondering if this has something to do with her resistance to the poison? Unless, like I said, I missed a break in time.

"I'm impressed with ya. Was expecting you to be here a day, maybe more."


OH oops. Nevermind then xD I'll leave that in just in case it's helpful at all.

-I felt like this chapter was a bit of a rollercoaster in terms of Kerani's emotions/health? I mean, she's doing okay at the beginning of the chapter, there the section in the middle where she's very Not Fine, but then she recovers and she's okay again (although I know you said she feels weak, she just seems to have sprung back pretty quick, especially considering how bad Snakesblood is made out to be, regardless of her normal poison immunity/immunity-like thing). I don't know, maybe I just read too fast and it felt shorter than it was. It just felt like it was set up for whole potentials of issues with her being temporarily incapacitated, but it just kind of...skips over that? I don't know if I'm putting my thoughts out the way I'm thinking them, so I'm sorry if this doesn't sound quite right.

-In another note, I really like Sakari and Aydin, so I'm glad to see them back! I like most of the cast so far and their dynamics though, so I guess I couldn't really complain no matter who was with Kerani at the time xD (except maybe Bahij and her father...hmmm.)

Gosh, I swear this chapter is shorter. Is it, or am I just that tired? xD


That's all I have for today! I hope that can help you out some :) If you have any questions, you know where to find me.

I hope you have a wonderful day!




Rosendorn says...


Thanks for the review!

It's about 500 words shorter, and I might need to use up those 500 words to get the concepts across XD This was helpful in that it identified the ebb and flow's reason wasn't explained well enough, so I think I'll be taking this section to better explain magic, specifically guard magic.

I'm still not going to be spelling every little thing out, but after a couple of reviews saying the same thing, I'm going to be highlighting it because apparently that's the only way what I'm trying to establish will get across XD




I would rather die of passion than of boredom.
— Émile Zola