A Night Reunion
One lantern. Corthos had checked an hour ago, his evening rounds looping him back past the Clothiers on a nearly hourly basis. Even now, he watched from behind his mask. She wants you distracted. Just like Lena, she wants your attention removed. We have a war to fight – this is not the purpose you were made for. He shook his head, clearing his mind as best as he could. Below, a second lantern went onto the windowsill, a twin light flaring into life. He stood from his crouch, legs aching, back popping. This could be a mistake. There are a hundred real problems to take care of. If you let yourself be distracted, you will fail them. “One distraction isn’t going to kill me.” With a run, he leapt from the rooftop, feet gracefully kicking off the walls of two buildings before he landed on the ground. Moving his knapsack slightly, he pulled the heavy brown hood of his robes up over his head, moving to her doorway and knocking once – always once. She opened the door, and he stepped in. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, and once they did, he took in the sight before him. Merry stood before him, dressed in nightclothes fit for a lesser noble, all silks and refrained elegance. She embraced him, then stepped back, glancing down at the floor before speaking. “I made the tea that you always liked, the blackberry and mint one – I kept some of the mint that Aldo had always smuggled about.” Corthos raised an eyebrow. “Breaking two proclamations in one night? Such a rebel.” Merry smiled, heading to the kitchen.
She was happy to see him there, alive and well. Knowing of his actions was both a great gift and a terrible burden – she was certain that a day would come where one of his associates would come to her door, carrying only a letter and bad news. But tonight, she would not allow him to focus on that. She poured the hot tea, walking back into the room and setting a cup next to him. “I have to admit, you mentioned so many new things in your last letter – I need to know some of it. You stole a Chelish battleship?” Corthos laughed in spite of himself, pausing to correct her. “We did not steal it. We….the captain asked for a favor. We had to escort an old friend to him. So Maxwell – I think you’ve met him, a good lad if a bit dull – he and I went into the nobles house and helped the man escape. And the captain swore us a handful of favors. I hope to never need to full firepower of a disgruntled Chelish warship, but I would have been a fool to turn it down. Having a favor is far more effective than stealing the ship – I wouldn’t have been any good at sailing it anyhow.” He sipped at his tea, looking amused. Merry sipped at her own, pondering. “Fine, but what about the Slasher? How did you manage that one?” She peered at him from behind her mug, hiding the small grin that appeared when he became more animated and lively in his words.
“That was due to another friend I have made. This one could speak to the dead, talking to a victim to let us know any traits of the Slasher himself. It was not terribly hard to narrow things down, he was a large target in a small area. And once we started to piece it together, we found him with minimal effort. We had waited for his return, finding the knife and enough information to assure us. And when he came back, we confronted him.” There was an odd smile and a distant look to Corthos, his eyes looking not at Merry but beyond her, his smile a rictus grin for a moment before returning to normal. “He did not survive the fight. I turned his information over to the Dottari….they were just happy to be rid of him. Apparently the whole city was, even Barzellei….or he just wanted to keep his enemies closer than his allies.” Merry could feel her hands moving, the tea starting to wobble in the cup. She found that she didn’t have words to reply, her eyes staying on his as she tried to regain composure. When she did, her voice was soft and timid. “It’s a good thing that you took care of him, I suppose. I would have rather you avoided getting into fights with serial killers who stab on a whim, but at least you are still alive.”
Corthos nodded, sipping again. Merry continued on. She fears us. She thinks you are too weak to do what needs done. She may be right. But we are not weak. Merry stood, leaving the room to gather her teapot, trying to calm the shaking in her hands and regulate the speed of her breath. She brought it back into the main room, filling each cup with a calm grace created by years of servitude. “Corthos….I’ve been thinking. You said you have been having such awful dreams. Did something happen that I should know about? Is there a reason for this fear of this mountain? Has something happened – or IS something happening – that I should know of?” Corthos looked at her calmly, a wry smile on his face. “Merry, there is nothing happening beyond what I’ve already talked with you about. I’m certain that it’s just nerves, and nothing more.” Merry grinned weakly, sitting next to him. “Cor, look me in the eyes. Please promise me that everything is alright, that there isn’t something more. Maybe I’m just being a superstitious girl, but I fear that there is something you aren’t telling me. Corthos…”
She took a deep breath, speaking slowly. “I want to know if you are leading a double life again. There is a man who roams the Villegre at night…” Corthos put a finger to her lips, then rested his hands on her shoulders. Leaning down, he locked his eyes to hers. His voice was lower than normal, a vaguely uneasy sense of menace hidden within it. “I swear to you, Merrigold. I am not that man. I would never lie to you.” Merry felt herself recoiling back slightly, a brief glimpse of fear crossing her face. As she looked into his eyes, there was an instant – a brief moment – where she thought she could see a pleading glance, a silent call for help. But before she could speak again, Corthos had moved forward, his lips pressing against hers, pushing her back. When the kiss broke, Corthos paused, smiling wide. He looked hungry, like a predator that had cornered his prey. In his eyes was a look of determined frustration, and he seemed to hang close to her in a way that she found uncomfortable for once. Her eyes met his again, and she saw the same pained gaze. She spoke only a few words as she moved her hands between them. “Corthos, please…you’re scaring me. You’re acting like one of….them.”
He stopped, the hungry look replaced with a deeply wounded stare. He seemed to deflate, to retract back away from her. She spoke in a voice that was shaking, but insistent. “You should go. You….I don’t understand you. I thought I did, and maybe I was just a stupid girl who thought too many things that weren’t real were, and fairy tales were true. But you…I don’t know what you’ve become, Corthos, but if that is how you are now, I don’t like it. I don’t want a version of you that lies, that gets aggressive with me, that scares me. I can’t. I’ve had enough of that, and I thought you agreed.” She took a deep, shaking breath, trying to stay calm. “I was going to ask you to stay here, to try and get some rest, but…” Corthos stood, silently moving towards the door. Behind him, Merry continued, determined to say her part even when her voice faltered. “Corthos….what happened to you? What happened to the man that I spent so much time with, the man that I grew to love, the soft and gentle soul that only wanted what was best?”
Corthos paused for a long moment before speaking. “The same thing that always happens. You didn’t know me. You thought you did, and you fell in love, and now you do know me. You know what I am. And I’m not that great of a person, Merry. I wanted to be – I wanted to be a better person for you, to make great changes, to save everybody. But the problem is that saving everyone requires sacrifice. And when you can’t let anyone else sacrifice, you just keep giving what you have until there’s nothing, then less than nothing. Ripping and tearing at whatever you have to just try to find enough kindling to keep the fires burning. And sometimes you have to sacrifice whatever you have left and whatever you want, and you take whatever deals let you do what you need to do, and the consequences be damned.”
Merry sighed deeply. “Corthos….it’s not the end. It isn’t over. I just….you scared me. And I need to deal with that. I’ll put another lantern up when I’m ready to see you again. And please….be careful. Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t…..just, be careful. Please.” Corthos looked back, his eyes meeting hers. She saw a fear in them that she had never seen before, a momentary glance that seemed to strip away all other layers and show Corthos as a scared man, the look of someone caught in a riptide and watching the shore drift further and further away as it pulled at him. He broke the gaze, looking back down. “I will. I promise. And I am so very, very sorry, Merrigold. For all of it.” He shut the door behind him, moving quickly. There are miles to go before we sleep. And we cannot be distracted by the carnal and the romantic.