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16+ Mature Content

Cat Steps Chapter 4.1

by Rosendorn


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.

Kerani is a counterassassin who was poisoned with the worst poison known to man at her betrothment party. It was just revealed she needs the third stage antidote, the highest stage administered. It was a direct assassination attempt on her.

There is an implication of childhood sexual abuse in this chapter. If this triggers you, please skip

- - -

“Is there any way at all to track a Snakesblood purchase?”

I shook my head at Jalil’s question, both of us in my room. I curled up on my couch covered with a layer of blankets and tea Giri had given me to hold off the effects until I could make it to the monks. Or, more accurately, until they could be sure I would be safe on the route to the monks. It tasted like diluted antidote, enough it burned every sip I took.

He ran his fingers through his beard. “There has to be some way. Ingredients, maybe. Or supplies.”

I took another mouthful of tea. “The antidote is made with the same, so unless you want to audit every temple and palace in what is perhaps the empire, you’re better off looking elsewhere. The Rat could maybe track the purchases better, but they wouldn’t even think of giving me the information if I even hinted it would be enough to track their sources. We can’t go by supplies or poison, because it’s not officially sold. Not in any way that looks recognizable. Even the Temples don’t dare.”

He sat down heavily on a chair. “What do you have in mind?”

I shrugged. “Make a list of who’d be able to afford it and cross names off as they’re cleared.”

He pressed his fingers together against his lips, eyes cast down. “I hate seeing you sick like this. And to think it might happen again…”

“Trust me, I hate being sick like this.”

He wasn’t going to get an answer to the second part of his statement. His sigh reflected that realization. “I know you’re worried about who this is, that ordered your death.”

My tea went on the side table, hands pulling up the blankets to ward off a chill. “I can either worry myself to death or I can focus on getting better and taking them down. If whoever it is bought Snakesblood, they invested the treasury of the province into it. If they made it with bought ingredients, then it’s less expensive in gold but more expensive in time. If they have a source of the materials under their control, then they only need the spellweavers. I’m vaguely aware of the process, but whatever they do turns it into a poison like no other.”

“I read it was impossible to build tolerance to.” He stood and moved to beside me, hand on my arm to indicate I could lean against him if I wanted. “And you shouldn’t be this lucid, right now.”

I chuckled, shifting to rest against his chest. “I’m trying to determine if I should simply go to the temple, or ask Father’s permission, first. Even though I’m going regardless.”

He paused at that, arm absently rubbing my back. “Go. I’ll tell him where you are once you’re too far gone for him to catch.”

“So you sensed it, too.”

His laugh was a breathy bark. “He spoke to me at length about your role, and has for months. He refuses to listen to reason.”

I weighed that back and forth, lining up fuzzy memories that were at least more solid than yesterday. “I can’t say I didn’t sense it, but I’ve been focused enough on the kalisi fields I didn’t care. You’re getting better.”

“I learned from the best.”

That caused me to look down, cheeks burning. “I am not the best.”

He rubbed my arm in gentle yet affectionate roughhousing. “Give yourself a few years, at the rate you’re going. The fact you’re Rat trained puts you leagues above the likes of Suraj.”

“Family executioner who might pay the ultimate price if I don’t reach the Temple soon…”

He shook his head. “Family protector who has saved the lives of dozens. One could even say hundreds, for the bloodshed a civil war would create.”

I snorted. “A civil war would mean half the family dead before the end of winter. I’m surprised our family colour isn’t red, to hide the blood.”

He extended his hand, palm down, into my line of sight. “Would you say my hands are less bloody?”

“You haven’t killed a human being.”

He turned his hand to be palm up. “Who’s to say I haven’t? Who’s to say that by going through taxes and collecting payment, I haven’t sent a family on the street? Caused a merchant to shortchange somebody who’d been relying on his services to pay their taxes or debts to people who kill to avenge them? Or the hardship of leveraging a fine. Or putting somebody in jail for evasion, and they die within years because they lost everything. I could say they deserve it, or I could say we must be careful with our power because demanding a single extra silver could lead to bloodshed that I am so removed from I don’t see it.” His voice quieted. “While you are much more… involved in the process of death, sometimes I envy it. I can forget what my actions will do. I look to you to remember, because you haven’t let this family harm our people, ever since you could sit in Father’s study and give your opinion.”

I laughed. Bitterly. “He’d kill anybody else who tried!”

“He could’ve killed you.” He waited for me to unfreze after his blunt statement before continuing, much softer, this time. “You know how ruthless he is. We keep the whispers from you, although I’m sure you’ve sensed them. Even the people you blackmail vouch for you, when it suits them. And it always suits at least one of them.”

I rubbed my face. “Part of me hoped that was simply garükh yunu making me paranoid.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not.” He exhaled. “And the way he’s going, there’s worse to come. He’s too stubborn for his own good.”

I managed a tight smile. “It’s his own life he’s toying with.”

“Careful, Cat.”

“It’s an accepted risk for retiring body guards.”

He exhaled. “You scare me when you talk like that.”

I picked my tea back up. “Call me vain. I know I’m damn near impossible to kill.”

“It’s not that.” He paused, jaw muscles working to file down the tension in his voice. “You’re… my sister. You’re going to be the aunt of my child. We sat together learning about taxes. You taught me what tax fraud looked like before the treasurer did, because you had some scheme going with the Rat and needed documents to go temporarily missing while you got more evidence than any of us could’ve dreamed of getting on our own. I couldn’t tell you what type of ring it was, because you’ve broken so many.”

I nearly choked on my sip. “How Vy and Isra got their first kids.”

I didn’t go into details with my family about the types of rings some of the Rat broke up. Children forced to work in industries they shouldn’t have a part of until they were old enough to understand. Sold for reasons unknown, or known, I didn’t care.

For what felt like the first time, Jalil reached his heart out to me. The heart that had seen more death than I had from power-hungry relatives, from successful coups that left us clinging to each other and trusting no one.

Faint memories him, just two years older than me, yelling at Father after the last layer of guards had been removed from deep inside the palace because I should be the last line of defence, and we could escape Imperial suspicion that way. Look stronger than we were. Look more deserving of betrothal than all others.

“Call me selfish all you want,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to lose you because you could be tied to any attempt on his life.”

As much as he was right, I pushed back. “So what do you expect me to do? Let him push me around because he forgets the risk? Not express my feelings about him after what he’s done? Sit and be his puppet? I’m not his Imperial princess, content to architecture or horticulture or economics. He gave me a blade. If he didn’t want me to have one, he shouldn’t have put it in my hand.”

Jalil turned to face me, hands on my shoulders. “I expect you to do whatever it is that keeps you safe. Because as much as our blood runs through our veins, power runs through his. He can overrule anything he wants to, regardless of the risks.”

I exhaled, anger leaving my system. “You tell me to do that right after you tell me to go to the monks against his wishes.”

His grip tightened. “Because I believe I can keep you safe from that.”

“What if you’re wrong, brother?” I shook my head. “What if Suraj is swayed to his side and wants an Imperial wife over me? What if he makes his second wife his principal wife and I’m left without the power I need? I haven’t had a chance to speak with him since he decided to try and play my life— what if that action has him decide it’s too hard for me?”

Jalil’s hand went to my hair, a gesture I had so strongly associated with Ranya it brought a lump to my throat. “He will have your brothers to contend with if he even tries. You have saved our lives too often for us to not be indebted to you that much.” His smile was his typical wicked one, the kind both of us gave when we were closing in on our target. “I’m sure Deven would be supportive if he discovered his beautiful wife is alive because of her sister.”

I swallowed. “If.”

Jalil’s smile faded, but the light in his eyes didn’t. “It’s a last resort, Cat. Although I can’t say I understand why, I’ll respect your wishes.”

That brought a small curve to my lips. “It was the best-worst kept secret we’ve ever had. Everyone in the palace knew I was protecting Ranya. Nobody in the Imperial procession did.”

His eyebrows shot up. “None of them?”

I curled back up against him, tired of sitting up straight. “Not a soul. My daggers were explained as ceremonial marks of rank and lineage, and my fit build was considered the same, with some extra discussion of how Northern women could hunt if they chose to, and so long as they stuck to archery. None of them had to know I can’t hit a mark with a damn.”

“Why?”

I took another sip of tea, for the first time grimacing from the taste. It was cold. “Admitting you had to take extra precautions to protect a potential crown princess was a sign your holdings weren’t secure enough, and that could call into question your position as a somewhat-independent province in the Empire. Akmal selecting his wife saw at least one state officially annexed, and in the past century, I believe five have. It’s happened within individual provinces, as well. We inherited our coastal territories that way, generations ago, instead of warring our way down there.”

He blinked, wrapping his arm back around me. “I knew we acquired territory through diplomacy along those lines, but I did not realize… the extent.”

I snorted. “It would have to be exceptionally dire, for me to even consider telling Deven.”

“Then Suraj still has us to contend with. I’m sure even Bahij would lend his voice,” he replied quietly. “So does Father.”

I smiled. “Now you’re starting to sound like me.”

“I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or not.”

“Neither can I.”


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Wed Aug 15, 2018 2:46 am
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Vervain wrote a review...



Okay I'm finally here! I'm glad to catch this one early, as I always am ;D And as always, I adore your chapter, so let's get that on the table first! <3

1: YES more Jalil and Kerani interaction please. He's so wholesome and good and he realizes his faults and wrongdoings and oh no you're going to kill him aren't you—but he's just such an honestly good person, and I feel like Kerani needs someone like that in her life from time to time to remind her that not everyone is a backstabbing social climber or someone who wants to see her settle down and have babies RIGHT NOW put down those knives, forget saving people, babies. So I feel like Jalil is a healthy addition to her life and I'm terrified to see what she would ever be/will be without him as an influence for her.

2: Okay so this is something you're not doing as much: Talking heads! It doesn't feel like a lot because you've mainly had interactions of two people in a scene, with very few having more main players with speaking parts, but you've been doing a lot better about including thoughts, feelings, and physical interactions between your dialogue lines. It makes me super happy. c:

3: Another thing you're not... not... doing? But you're finally starting to make us realize the scale of the Empire. I think I mentioned a while back that yeah, your Empire is big. But we don't really get a sense of how big it is because Kerani stays in her family home, or she stays in the city, and we don't get that physical sense of "it takes two weeks to travel from Point A to Point B" or anything like that. You have a lot of potential for really cool stuff with this setting and I feel like you're starting to pull some more of the Empire's size into this chapter.

Which leads into my first bit of critique, that it's good but it's still not enough. I think because we didn't get that scale early on, and we've been in Kerani's family home for basically most of the story, we just get the sense that the palace is the setting, the city is the side setting, and things outside of that happen but don't really matter or influence the story.

We started this story with the Rat, a conflict, everything, and this really ties into my little gripes with the plot—that we're getting Kerani's plot, but it's not the plot we were introduced to, and we don't really go back and visit that now and then. It still feels like this scene is an intermission. I don't know how to fix this feeling, I just know that if I point it out when I feel it I might think of a solution. But legitimately, even if it just means the high risk of sneaking out before her betrothal, or having a Rat informant meet her under guise of anonymity, or some news coming in—anything to let us know that people are still dying and that conflict is still happening when Kerani isn't there to see it herself.

Object permanence. That's the phrase I want. The setting, especially, is kind of lacking it. When we move from the city to the palace, we lose the plot elements of the city; when we move from the palace to the betrothal and poisoning, we lose the plot elements of tracking down poisoners. This chapter is important, and I think it does need to exist how it is, but I also think that the story itself needs some more plot-object permanence, even just mentions of a short scene here or there that reminds us that other plot hasn't gone away.

My last point: While this chapter needs to exist, I'm not sure this scene needs to exist in the same way it does now.

What happens in this scene?

Jalil is on Kerani's side. Kerani's brothers will defend her. Kerani needs to go to the monks for a 3rd-level antidote. This is mentioned first in the scene and she's been poisoned for quite some time, and we found out in the last scene that this is still a very serious poisoning, so... why is nothing happening?

More happens with tea in this scene than Kerani's poisoning. Why can't this scene happen while Kerani is trying to pack her things for a stay at the temple? Why can't this scene happen while she's trying to child-proof her room, weak as hell, and make sure that no one will hurt themselves while she's not there to keep them away from her poison samples? Why can't this scene happen on the way to talk to Father about going to the temple, or why can't it move there as the characters talk through their options?

Kerani is physically weak right now, and we know this. But she's been pushing through being physically weak for basically the last chapter. What is keeping her from acting now? Why is she, a character who is usually pushing herself to her final limit, not pushing herself now? And once you've answered that question, what is happening in this scene if Kerani is not pushing herself?

(She's sitting on a couch drinking tea.)

Quiet scenes are incredibly important for the health of a story, but I feel like this one started taking us somewhere emotionally, left us in the same place physically, and didn't have as much impact as it could have. It seems a bit out-of-character up to this point for Kerani to be just complacently sitting on her couch sipping tea when she hasn't even made a concrete plan for going to the monks, considering she hasn't decided if she's going to ask Father before she goes or not.

But that's just what I think. I really do love their interaction.

Keep writing <3




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Tue Aug 14, 2018 6:20 pm
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mellifera wrote a review...



Hey Rosey! I'm back for some more :D Let's get right into it, shall we?


It tasted like diluted antidote, enough it burned every sip I took.


"enough that it burned with every sip I took"? This reads funny and although I'm pretty sure I understand what it was trying to convey, I just want to make sure.

"The antidote is made with the same.


The same ingredients as the poison?


-I could just be off, but I feel like Jalil and Kerani's conversation bounces around a lot. It goes from trying to figure out who did it, worrying about Kerani, back to who might have done it, escaping to go to the Temple for help, talking about her father's displeasure in what she does, etc. I don't know how important this is, but I just felt like it was a little less natural than your dialogue usually is?


That caused me to look down, cheeks burning. "I am not the best."


I'm sure there's been moments like this before and I just have a terrible memory, but I love seeing Kerani like this?? I mean, don't get me wrong I love it when she's being a super counterassassin and everything, and maybe this isn't the best example, but I love this vulnerability too, where there's more depth to her? I'm not sure if I'm wording that correctly but I guess moral of that: Kerani <3

He rubbed my arm in gentle yet affectionate roughhousing.


Isn't that...kind of contradictory? It reads as though gentle is clashing with affectionate, (gentle yet affectionate) which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the first place, but then the roughhousing comes in and there's no obviously link between the two.

He waited for me to unfreze after his blunt statement


unfreeze*?


-I'll uh, have to say, I do still wish that the Rat was introduced sooner rather than later? I know you already talked about that being built up in the coming chapters, but I'm still having trouble connecting it with anything whenever it's brought up because I have loose tendrils of ideas about what it is but nothing I'm able to put down in words? I mean, I could just be slow too because I didn't quite grasp what the garükh yunu was at first either and it took me a couple of chapters to, but I just thought it was worth bringing up (I promise I'll stop now though since I already mentioned that lol I'm sorry)


As much as he was right, I pushed back.


Is "right" the...well, the right word here? Because Jalil is expressing his opinion on the matter, and I feel like he's making more of a point about it than simply being right about it? If that makes sense.


-I'm sure I'm just repeating myself, but I can't really...imagine what's going on here? I mean, I know it's hard to write physical behaviour/etc when the characters are sitting around/injured/in a small space, but there were a few times when (I probably missed some of it too or didn't absorb it well enough) where it felt like there was big gaps between one of their movements that a new one would...almost surprise me? But aside from that, I loved the in between descriptions of their bond <3 I'm such a sucker for sibling bonds aha. I love how they balance each other out with the different aspects of what it is they do (like Jalil saying he's no less innocent than Kerani when it comes to killing people?? I love that).

-And then the other thing that has more to do with structure again, was it was pretty noticeable that there were just stretches of text with just one or two lines of text, and then there would be a large chunk. It wasn't particularly bad or annoying, but I don't know how you want that to be structured, and it was was noticeable.

-Obviously I don't know what's going to happen beyond the things you've told us, but from all that you've incorporated about the world itself, I'm really hoping that Kerani ends up travelling around, at least a little, because everything you've said is fascinating and I really want to see it explored?? Like I said, I don't know what's going to happen of course, but I love the idea of getting to see more of the world because I love what's been seen so far.


And with that, I think that's all the comments I had! There's so many paths I can see happening, but I guess I'm just going to have to be patient haha. I'd love to see more of the world, and I'm really excited for just...Kerani in general xD

Always happy to see a new part around <3 I hope you have a lovely day! :)




Rosendorn says...


Thanks!

Yeah, the Rat is deeeefinitely something that I need to introduce better. The original plot wasn't really supposed to be so palace-heavy, so I had every intention of making the plot a mostly-Rat-focused thing (hence the first two chapters) but then the betrothal happened and I switched and I'm in the process of switching back.

It's not what I'd call smooth xD



mellifera says...


Anytime!

I mean, I'm definitely excited to see how the Rat plays into it! It sounds really cool and from the bits that have been fed in, it sounds interesting. But yeah, I do wish there was at least a sort of simple introduction as to a little of the structure or at least who/what the Rat is/entails?




A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
— Oscar Wilde