←  The Wall, Gates, and Garrison

Mistborn: The Inquisition


Within and Without

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 13 Nov 2012

"Thank-you my good sir," Aaron was saying to the guard as he ushered them out of the stairwell and onto the wall proper. The wind ruffled Aaron's hair, or it would have, had it not been so short. The entirety of the final empire seemed to stretch out into the distance beyond him. Luthadel and all it's deciets were behind him, at least for the moment. He had spent all of his life within the opressive confines of those walls, perhaps outside of them, without all of the schemes and deceits, he could gain some clarity.

The guard bowed low, paying his respects to the heir of a great house. That was still taking some getting used to. His rise in rank had been so public, and so sudden, it seemed like everyone was over-compensating. Aaron hoped things would calm down eventually. He was quickly losing patience with formality and decorum.

"No need for that," Aaron said warmly as he handed the guard a few coins. "I assure you the kindness is due to you, for bringing us to this excellent view." Aaron twisted his neck slightly, nodding to his cousin, "Isn't it Winston? A truly supberb view. It's the perfect place to have a good study session. And it's all thanks to you."

The guard said that Aaron was too kind, and that he would try his best to ensure non of the rabble would disturb his contemplation. Aaron nodded his thanks, and turned towards the open horizon, taking a deep breath of the air. It still smelled of ash, of course, but it still seemed fresh, free from the stink of people and animals and skaa that was so often found in the cities.

"I tell you cousin, this is freedom. This is what we are missing in our grand keeps and decadent dancing halls. I am certain I shall be able to focus much better out here. There are fewer distractions, you see." To put it plainly, Aaron had been having a great deal of trouble with his lessons. Odairn's treatises on etiquette were bad enough, but when Winston tried to talk numbers and codes with him, it was like the man was speaking in another language. Aaron knew he wasn't the best student, but the lessons were so difficult he was certain something else must be wrong. He just felt so trapped in the keep. He needed fresh air and freedom if he was going to learn anything, he was sure of it. And so, he had refused to do any more work in the keep, and had dragged Winston up to the wall with him.

"Don't you just love it up here?" he said with a smile and a wink.

Winston Elariel's Photo Winston Elariel 14 Nov 2012

"It is a magnificent view I'll agree." Winston replied looking out over the ramparts. He looked around surveying the state of the guards and other men roaming across the walls. They were keeping their distance from the Elariel Heir, affording a small level of privacy. He moved his gaze further trying to identify if there was anyone even further away that might be able to spy upon him and his Lord. There was no one yet, or at least no one within eyesight.

Winston turned back to Aaron, "But if we can begin, I would like to." Winston referred to the series of booklets that he had brought with them. They were a series of encoded booklets, each written in one of the basic primers of House Elariel. Winston handed the heir one of them.

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 15 Nov 2012

Aaron sighed and removed his overcoat, setting it against the wall so he could lean on it and not dirty his suit. "Very well, I suppose that was the deal." Honestly, didn't Winston have a human bone anywhere in his body? The man seemed to have the sensibilities of a kandra, and was driven by nothing but duty and responsibility. Aaron realized he didn't even know who Winston was, really. All he knew about him was the role he filled.

He must get frustrated with me, he realized. His behaviour thus far, while reasonable in his view, must have been exhuasting for the serious young man. That's right, he's younger than me. Aaron had to keep reminding himself of the fact. Based on their respective behaviours, it seemed like Winston was much older.

Accepting the booklet from Winston, Aaron flipped through until he found the page they had left off on. The only reason he was able to locate it was because he had folded a page over. Last time he had forgotten to, and Winston was forced to find it for him. Trapped between his iniability to tell one page of code from another and his desire to conceal his idiocy, the folded page seemed like the best choice of action.

"Well then," he said. "Shall we begin?" Aaron looked into the booklet, trying his best to will the scattered letters and numbers into some semblance of sense. Why wouldn't the meanings and patterns stick in his head? "How does this section work again?" Aaron asked, pointing to a particular section of the page.

Winston Elariel's Photo Winston Elariel 15 Nov 2012

Winston had noticed Aarons little trick of dog-earing the pages to keep track of where he was. He simply ignored it as it saved time, although he made a mental note that in the future for the perforation ciphers that he handle the pages with care. That done Winston turned his mind back towards Aaron's question.

It had been a long time since Winston had needed to think of the fundamentals of ciphers. The individual mechanics of each code had long ago been internalized making the individual actions of each transposition and substitution a matter of looking at the page. Lord Hector had praised him for his ability to read codes, as he was nearly able to read without a hint of a pause.

Looking at the passage that Aaron held, Winston's mind interpreted the message before thinking of the steps, it was several moments before Winston was able to slow down and think of each step. This cipher was was simple. Each passage had boundary notations, which Aaron seemed to be able to pick on at least, showing that their time spent was not a complete waste in futility. Within each passage there was a transposition of every second character moving two spaces to the right, and a substitution of two to the left along the alphabet scale for the other characters.

It took the passage reading:

After three attempts on his life by the Hassaus and their allies, Daeron set out to deal with them. He defeated the Hassau Mistborn first, after a chase that woke the entire Hassau manor. Avoiding dozens of allomancers and scores of hazekillers as he did so, Daeron escaped with barely a scratch. He did not stay away for long.


Y-rfper phcey rtkerp slof qij di ewbr chF qaysquy bnr chpiy jlci,sB camr ncs tso tmtb ye lgwftr ch.mF ecdcfraber chF qays ugMrsmblrd pers ,dare r afcqa eftrau io eft elegtcrF qays uymmn r .tAgogdenb xole sdoy jlkolaccqry bnq mccr sdof xaiejiclqry schb biq ,oB camr nqeyccp dgwftz paje y aasyrat.hF egd dmn trsway yw ymf rmlgn-.

Unfortunately simply telling Aaron how to unravel the cipher was, for whatever reason not sticking. Telling him 'It's transposition of every second character to two characters to the right and an alphabetical scale substitution two to the left of the non-transposed characters did not seem to be understood. Perhaps if I have him work backwards? Maybe I should have him only work on the basics like single fold transposition or substitution.

Still he needed to work on the task at hand. Winston pulled a notebook open to a blank page, motioning his lord to watch as Winston methodically did on paper what his mind was able to do in a couple seconds. First he wrote out the entire passage. "This cipher is two-fold, one level of transposition and one level of substitution. The first level is transposition, meaning that either words or letters or characters were moved within the passage."

Winston methodically began to circle every second character. "This particular cipher is of the second character transposition variety. During the encryption each character was moved over to the right by two character spaces." Winston took out a pen knife, cleanly cutting a blank page from his notebook and cutting it in half lengthwise. On one half he began cutting small squares the size of letters evenly spaced apart, the other he left alone. "This is an example of what it looks like visually."

Lining each piece of paper with the other he wrote out a short sentence aligned with each of the slots. -THREE GUARDS TO THE LEFT- Then Winston slid the piece in the rear to the right so that the short sentence now read, T-RHEEG AUDR SOTT EHL FE-T

"Do you follow milord?"
Edited by Lanscaper, 15 November 2012 - 09:25 PM.

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 23 Nov 2012

Aaron nodded thoughtfully, trying to find the meaning in Winston's explanation. Two character spaces to the left, that doesn't seem so difficult. What Winston was saying made sense, and Aaron could follow along as his cousin manipulated the pieces of paper, but he still wasn't sure he could do so himself. Why was this coming so hard to him? Being a Lord already meant that one day he would expected to be proficient at business and politics, but now he had to learn jibberish as well? Right then, he felt like he could spend every hour of every day studying and still not learn all of the things he was expected just to know. Not that I could, even if I wanted to. His father was already lecturing him about his social life, saying he hadn't been getting out enough since Mikhail's death. How do they expect me to fit it all in?

"I think I have it," he said after another few moments of thought. "But it might take some practice to sink in. What about the other letters?"

Winston Elariel's Photo Winston Elariel 23 Nov 2012

Winston looked that the young House Heir watching carefully to see if he was actually paying attention and not just pantomiming understanding. As far as he could tell without tin-enhanced senses Lord Aaron seemed to grasp the concept, and Winston wasn't sure if he could simplify the exercise of transposition any further.

Winston efficiently stowed away the papers that he used to display transposition and returned to his note book, and began to point out each of the other letters. "These letters underwent a substitution of sorts. Some people call it alphabetical frame shift." Beneath his own transcription of the text Winston began to write out the alphabet in a circle, similar to a clock face exception being that the numerals were replaced by the letters of the alphabet such that '12' became 'A', '1' became 'B' and so on (of course with far more points than the traditional twelve points). "This particular frame shift substitution is what I term as two to the left." Winston's pen moved again writing another alphabet circle surrounding the first, lining the two up so that in the 12 o'clock position was the letter 'Y', in the '1' position was 'Z' and in the '3' position was 'A'.

"This is the pattern that was used on each of the letters that remained stationary." Winston pointed to the last third of the page left in the notebook, "You have all the tools that you need to accomplish the task at hand milord." Winston handed Lord Aaron the notebook and pen with reverence as he hoped that Lord Aaron would be able to finish the code on his own for once, if only for the future of House Elariel.

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 29 Nov 2012

Aaron sighed and took back the notebook, setting it on the lip of the wall and holding it there with his hand so it would not fall off, though he was tempted to let it fall. No, he told himself. This time you have to get things right. This was his life now, and he had to live it. Trying to escape or ignore his new destiny would likely only make things worse later on. Or get me killed, he reflected. This was Luthadel after all, and such things were not unheard of. He could be killed just as easily as Mikhail had been, if someone felt removing him would further their own ambitions. True, he was well protected, but Mikhail's protections hadn't stopped Daerra.

I should just hand this all over to her. She's the one who really wants it. I should let her have it and get on with my life. Aaron shook his head, clearing it of the thought. While Daerra might dream of leading House Elariel one day, now was certainlly not the time for her to step into the spot light. Even though he was a layabout, he could see how much more appealing he was to both his father and uncle as a future leader than Daerra. To them, he likely represented a blank slate they could mold to their desires, while Daerra obviously had desires all her own. Desires she was willing to kill to achieve.

In that moment, up on the wall, Aaron realized he had absolutely no idea anymore of how far his sister would go to get power. Perhaps he had never known.

She would never have me killed, he told himself. Aaron and Daerra had been eachother's entire worlds growing up. While Daerra had drifted into a world of her own as they grew, the twins had always shared more with eachother than anyone else. Mikhail may have been her blood relation, but Aaron was her family that had to count for something, didn't it?

Focus! What Daerra did, or wanted, or wanted to do was none of his concern anymore. If she wanted to throw away everything they had ever had, that was her business. Lord Ruler knew she had a good enough start of it. For now, Aaron was done getting involved with her plans and problems. He had his own issues to worry about.

Right there, in the moment, his current issue was the code he was staring at, trying unsuccessfully to translate. Winston's rules and patterns seemed to slip around in his head, refusing to stay still. Every time he felt he understood one pattern, he would realize he had forgotten another. Trying his best to remember everything, Aaron took his pencil to the page, and began to tease a meaning out of the random letters. He worked slowly, making frequent revisions as he went, but as he worked, familiar words began to emerge. As he pain-stakingly manipulated the letters, using the rules rather than thinking about them, the patterns suddenly began to stick in his head, and he found his speed began to improve with time.

He was still aware of how slow he was going, and how unimpressed Winston must be. Aaron still hadn't forgotten the look on the young man's faced when he realized the Elariel heir knew nothing of his house's coding system. Aaron tried to pick up the pace several times, but he always seemed to make a mistake when he did. He avoided looking at Winston at all costs, afraid of the condesension or disappointment he saw there. Instead, he kept his gaze downward, eyes glued to the page in front of him. Winston, Luthadel, all of the stresses and problems of the world, even the wonder represented by the view outside the wall, seemed to vanish from his mind. Right then, it was just him and the page.

It was so simple.

As he neared the end of the page, Aaron's pace suddenly quickened as he realized what the passage was about. Having a general idea of what letters and words would be before he wrote them helped him not to second guess himself, which improved his speed and accuracy considerably. Finally, he sighed and straightened his back, noticing the stiffness that came from bending over the page for so long.

"There it is," he said, brandishing the translated passage from House Elariel's family history. "All done." He hoped Winston wasn't too disappointed with his performance.

Winston Elariel's Photo Winston Elariel 30 Nov 2012

Winston had watched the House Heir with the same attention that he paid to all things around him. Diligently. In watching the heir Winston had seen the transitions twixt melancholy and despair and what might be a glimpse of hope for the future of House Elariel. Competence. After a while of struggling Aaron had finally settled into a groove, what some of Winston's teachers and fellow cryptographers called the zone. It was a state of mind that a man occasionally found where they were far more capable than normal. He remembered is own humiliation when his peers had managed to decrypt one of his ciphers while in that state of mind, it was a humbling experience.

If Aaron was truly in the zone, then Winston wanted to test his lordship's current limitations. He replied with a neutral, "Well done my lord." and graciously retrieved his notebook from the heir's hand while swapping it for the original coded text. "If we could move onto the next section?"

At that point Winston noticed a change in the guards around them, their attention was being diverted elsewhere. Whatever they were looking at right now was unfortunately obscured by the stone battlements, stairs, and other various fortifications along the wall. But based off of the guards reaction, the nervous tensions and their more professional posture either an inspector of some sort had appeared or someone else of rank. Yet somehow that conclusion didn't seem quite right.

"If you would continue my lord, I would like to investigate something. I'll return shortly."

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 06 Dec 2012

Was that approval on Winston's face? Aaron couldn't quite tell. Sometimes it seemed like the young man gave less away than Daerra. Aaron was beginning to wonder if his cousin related better to numbers than to people, for he certainly seemed to be more adept a creating codes than putting people at ease.

Aaron took the book with a sigh, but was distracted from getting started by whatever had captured Winston's attention. What is going on over there? At first glance, Aaron didn't notice anything odd around them, but then Winston was far more observant than he was. From his path, it looked like he was approaching a small group of guards. Just what was he investigating?

Not wanting to be empty handed when Winston returned, Aaron tried his best to decipher the next code. Every time he felt like he got going, he felt his curiosity itching, urging him to try to figure out what Winston was up to. Finally, unable to resist, Aaron shifted position slightly, so he could ostensibly be working while watching Winston at the same time.

Winston Elariel's Photo Winston Elariel 03 Dec 2013

As Winston got closer to the guards he started to occasionally look down towards whatever had gotten the guard's attention, at least as much as his natural cadence allowed. From what he could tell there was a young lady climbing up the battlement stairs, which may explain their ... distraction. Still it was not as if it were Viridian ascending the stairs in one of her showy outfits that highlighted all things feminine. It was. Her, the young lady that he had met yesterday morning who was quite apt at math. His mind began to race to think of what to do, before settling on a vague plan of action. This was perhaps not the best surprise, but he would make of it what he could.

He gestured to the guard in charge and spoke quietly, "See that she is treated courteously. She is not to be bothered. However, if she expresses the desire to leave, see that something blocks her path unobtrusively for a while like a porter with a large package blocking the stairs, and you and your men will have heavier pockets today."

With that he turned back towards Aaron so that he would be by the heir's side when she reached to top of the wall.

Marisha Nathar's Photo Marisha Nathar 31 Dec 2013

The walls of Luthadel were majestic, powerful structures, going back centuries to when there had been real wars, real threats to the Lord Ruler's sovereignty. Marisha studied the stone as she climbed slowly, the blocks and mortar between were ancient and worn in places, everything blackened with centuries' worth of ash stains, but these walls looked like they would stand forever. She hadn't come here to look at the battlements themselves, though, she had come for the chance to be above other things, to breathe a little easier and try to get some kind of perspective on everything that had just happened. Halfway up she paused and turned back to overlook the city, her eyes scanning out across the towers and rooftops.

Marisha had no choices, not really. Going through it all in her head did nothing to help, and yet she did it anyway in the hope that maybe she might land on some small advantage, something to spin in her favor. She could not have refused Sureau, and in making the bargains she had ensured as much as she could that they would be safe... Nerid would be used. There was no getting around that. She had known from the start that in the end she would have to sell him. What would the Sureaus make her innocent brother do? How would they try to twist him?

It had to be better than falling back into their father's hands. Anything would be better than that. Stefan Sureau was better than that. The idea of the man as her husband, the thought of sharing his bed, was repulsive. He could protect Marisha and Nerid, though, from so much worse. He could protect them from Nathar, from Elariel, from everyone who might hurt them. It was beyond anything she could have hoped for, and she could swallow her disgust and pain, accept what she had to. She would live with her guilt. Sacrifices had to be made...both hers and Nerid's.

The voice of fear would not be silenced, however. The bargain was too good. How could this happen? Sureau was a Great House, ranked first in all Luthadel; Stefan Sureau was the Lord. He could have pawned her off on anybody and yet when Marisha asked for a husband in order to secure their place, he had named himself. She was under no illusions that he was particularly drawn to her. If he had chosen he could have married any number of powerful, beautiful women that would be more of an asset to Sureau than Marisha was. She would not have tried to fight the offer of a lesser member of the house, Lord Ruler she would never have dared to even ask for anything more than that. She could not think of a reason for it.

Rumor held it that half the members of Sureau were insane. Some people said there was a curse on the House. Was this part of the madness, and if it was...what did it mean for Nerid and Marisha in the long term that the leader of House Sureau was so unpredictable? Or desperate, a quiet part of her mind responded, that was possible too...that they needed Mistborn so badly that they would trade almost anything to get their hands on Nerid.

Marisha shivered, pulling her shawl closer around herself. Even halfway up, the drop was dizzyingly far, she was not afraid of the height but it felt like a physical reminder of how close they were to a more dangerous edge. The bargain with Sureau had given her back the hope that had been utterly crushed on the night of the Casuana Ball. But it hadn't been her doing, it had been luck or madness, no matter what answer she chose events were still out of her control.

She climbed higher, to the top of the walls, and it was there that she spotted them. Marisha might have been wrapped up in her thoughts but not so much as to ignore her surroundings. They were not far away from her. First and foremost she saw Aaron. His hair had been cropped short from the wayward locks he'd worn at the ball, but she knew his features immediately and her own face went grey. Instinctively she backed up a step, her eyes darting around for Daerra too, fearful and apprehensive. Between them the twins had completely smashed her self possession, even the thought of Daerra left her shriveling inside.

Next to him, of lesser importance but still recognized was the man she had met in Ahlstrom Square and exchanged riddles and mathematical challenges with. He'd never given his name but she knew, with perfect certainty, seeing him standing there that he was an Elariel. It was the only logical conclusion.

Marisha backed away another step and then turned to flee right back the way she had come. She found that she could not, there was a man coming up the stairs with a large burden on his shoulders that blocked the entire way. He was saying some sort of apology that Marisha didn't even hear. She had to get away. Lord Ruler she couldn't handle the Elariels.

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 31 Dec 2013

It was her. Aaron knew her instantly, and as soon as he saw her, all thoughts of pretending to learn Winston's codes were forgotten. He dropped the book, not noticing as it spiraled off the edge of the wall down the the barren ground below. It appeared Marisha had seen him as well, for she was already trying to leave. "Please," Aaron called, "Don't go!" He could not lose her now. If he did, he might never see her again, and never get the chance to . . .

To what? Apologize? Was that what he was hoping to do? What could he say to make amends for what he had done, how he had used her? He had managed to patch things up with Lucille, but he had not hurt her the way he had hurt Marisha, and he still wasn't sure if Marisha would have Lucille's innate ability to forgive. But he did want her to. Everything else was uncertain, but Aaron knew he wanted to repair things with Marisha, whatever the cost.

"Marisha, please," he said again as he neared her, desperation evident in his voice. "There's no need to run away, let me talk to you. Unless, of course, you really don't want to, I mean, I don't want to force you to... but you really should consider..." Aaron trailed off as his usually quick tongue failed him. What could he say to her that he had not said already?

"We're uh... we're working on some codes," he said more quietly as he caught up with her, gesturing to Winston and acknowledging him for the first time since he had seen Marisha. He was lucky, as it seemed that the only reason she was still there was because a man carrying a load was blocking her path.

"Would you like to join us?"

Marisha Nathar's Photo Marisha Nathar 01 Jan 2014

She couldn't get past the porter, who kept up his apologies but seemed unable to move out of her way. Marisha spun at Aaron's voice behind her, looking for another avenue of escape. There were other staircases leading down but they were all far away from her. Too far away to reach. She backed up, into the parapet, as far away from Aaron's approach as she could get. Only when she felt the cold, ash-covered stone against her back did she stop. She grasped her own arms with her hands, hugging herself, and she couldn't meet those grey eyes anymore.

His voice had a strange note, almost desperation in it, and she could not understand why. Why he would corner her like this, were they not done with her? How much more did he and his sister intend to torment her and why! Between them they had brought back all the pain and fear and helplessness she had felt in the Far Dominance, before she had found the courage to take Nerid and run away. Daerra had broken her down into a pathetic spectacle and Aaron...Aaron had set her in the path of Phyra Venture's wrath! Marisha had heard, oh yes she had heard about Phyra's rampage that night and if the woman hadn't been stopped...Marisha had seen the hatred in the mistborn's eyes, for her role in Phyra's public humiliation. She might well have killed Marisha.

The casual familiarity with which he used her name, the mock desperation, the mention of codes...none of it made any more sense to her. Did he think she would believe anything he said? Ever? Did he think she would fall into more Elariel traps? That he could smile at her again and she would once again be a fool? The thought brought back her shame. She was almost ready to scramble up onto the parapet behind her to get more distance between herself and the Elariels.

There was a long, wordless moment of silence before Marisha answered. "Why?" Her voice was both fearful and bitter. Even though she had her protection now, protection of a sort, they could still hurt her and she knew it. "What should I consider, my Lord? The chance to be publically humiliated again? The chance to bait another murderous mistborn ex-girlfriend of yours? How do you and your sister want to make use of me this time?"
Edited by Borborygmus, 01 January 2014 - 03:20 AM.

Winston Elariel's Photo Winston Elariel 01 Jan 2014

Aaron dropped Winston's book. Winston was entirely distracted from Aaron's reaction to the girl as he watched his notebook fall off the battlements and onto the distant ground below. The implications of the security breach were passing through his head like a stampede of horses. Winston immediately realized that in his current situation he would be unable to recover the notes, and all he could hope for was that the security of the codes would hold water for a couple minutes until he could safely retrieve them. As long as Aaron hadn't scribbled any of the keys into his notebook things should be okay.

The security crisis put on hold he turned his attention back to Aaron and the girl. From the way that both of them were acting they knew each other. Then to Winston's unrealized horror Aaron told the girl exactly what they had been doing. And to top it off invited her to join them in learning codes.

He saw that the girl was speaking, seemingly to Aaron, and while he ought to be paying attention to the conversation that his assignment was about to have, instead Winston found that his mind was preoccupied with the primer at the bottom of the wall.

Simultaneously his mind was racing coming up with new codes and ciphers to 'teach' that wouldn't compromise the House code security. He decided to stay silent and continue to contemplate how to keep the codes secure. The back of his mind listening to the conversation between Aaron and the girl.
Edited by Lanscaper, 02 January 2014 - 08:57 PM.

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 03 Jan 2014

"I... well.." Aaron looked down at his shoes and raked his fingers through his hair, at a loss for what to say. What should he tell Marisha to consider? He could hear the bitterness in her voice. He had humiliated her, and at her first ball in Luthadel too. She was justified in expecting it to happen again. What must she think, him calling her out the first time he saw her, and in front of other people? It was no wonder Marisha thought he was still playing games with her.

"You have no obligation to listen to me Marisha, so if you want to go, I guess you can go." Idiot, now what's stopping her from going? "But I am asking you," he continued, after a brief pause, "To have mercy on me, and hear me out. I don't want anything from you but a little of your time, and a chance to say I'm sorry. I'm not going to ask you to do anything, try to embarrass you in front of anyone, or try to blackmail or coerce you in any way. I know you have next to no reason to believe me, but I felt something when we first met. We had the potential to develop a real friendship, something that's rare here in Luthadel at least, and I think you know it." Glancing over at Winston, Aaron lowered his voice, knowing that Winston could hear anyways, likely even without tin, but hoping it would make Marisha feel more comfortable. "We can talk right now, or some time in the future; in front of him, alone, or in front of the High Inquisitor for all I care, all I'm asking is that we talk."

Marisha Nathar's Photo Marisha Nathar 03 Jan 2014

"I don't understand." It hurt to hear what he was saying and understand that every word was a lie. She wanted to escape. What was the point of their games? She couldn't see a purpose to making her a pawn again. Were they just sadistic, enjoying the attempt to pull the wings off insects as Daerra had called her? Aaron wanted to build her up for a bigger letdown? "I don't understand why you will not...I...have not..."

Was he simply testing her after what Daerra had said, to be sure she had been put in her place? "I have not put myself forward," she said finally, hoping that if she submitted, if she showed she had been broken that she would be left alone. "Not to you. Not to your cousin. Nor to your sister. I have not stepped from my place. I - Lady Daerra was mistaken. Please. If this is part of that, I have already - I - " She could not even speak properly. She could hear her own voice catching; she had to regain control of that. Somewhere, she found the determination to hold it steady although she could not speak in a natural tone.

Marisha stared at the ground. "I understand," she said in a carefully controlled, strained monotone, "that I am an insect in comparison to the Elariels. I understand her warning that what happened at the ball was a swatting. It is not necessary to crush my brother and I."
Edited by Borborygmus, 03 January 2014 - 02:12 AM.

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 03 Jan 2014

Daerra's warning? What was Marisha talking about? No, Aaron told himself. Even Daerra would not stoop so far as threaten someone like Marisha, would she? Even as Aaron thought it, he knew that he was wrong, and Daerra was exactly to think even someone like Marisha was plotting against her, and would do anything to get rid of those plots at the source. He felt his breath quicken as his anger towards his sister grew fresh again. What right did she have to do these things, to play with people like her pawns, and treat them like nothing when it suited her? What right did she have to take someone as smart and competent as Marisha and turn her into the frightened woman Aaron now saw in front of him?

"Winston," he said, his tone dark. For the first time since he became heir, Aaron found he did not have to strive to sound commanding. "Leave us, and see that we are not disturbed. By anyone. If Lady Marisha wishes to leave at any time, she may do so, but other than that, no one is to enter this area without my leave."

Once the area was clear, Aaron continued, speaking directly to Marisha. "Whatever Daerra said or did to you, Marisha, I am sorry for as well, but please know I had nothing to do with it. I know what I did was wrong too, and I'm willing to take full responsibility for it. I know that you'd likely rather never see me again, and that's fair, I can understand that. All I want you to know is that I am truly sorry, and would like to remain friends, if you will take me."

Marisha Nathar's Photo Marisha Nathar 03 Jan 2014

Marisha heard the hiss of Aaron's intake of breath, and her gaze flicked back to his face in alarm. The anger tightening his features was obvious, though she did not know what she had said or done to cause it. It was just as clear in his voice as he commanded the 'accountant,' Winston, to clear the area. Her alarm ratcheted up several notches, why did he want to corner her alone and get rid of the onlookers? Did he mean her some kind of physical harm that he did not want them to see? Marisha could see no reason for him to threaten her and yet she could see no reason for any of what they had done!

The possibility helped her to calm herself, begin to think logically and separate from the tangle of fear and hurt. She had the training to handle that. On the parapet behind her, she could get out of Aaron's reach and escape to either side; 'Winston' was headed towards the guards on the stairs she'd come up by, but she could get to the farther staircase down the wall. If he really did attempt to hurt her, she had the chance to run. Marisha did not stare at the ground anymore, but watched Aaron as a potential adversary as she tensed.

He did not move to attack her at all, but only repeated his apologies, serious and shaded with absolute sincerity. This time she wasn't looking away, because she was watching him so carefully for a threat. Daerra's gaze had been hard, cold, reptilian... Aaron Elariel's eyes didn't look like his sister's at all. They were the same color of grey, and that was where the similarity ended. A gentle, earnest look had replaced most of the anger. Marisha's brief clarity left her in the uncertainty of this discovery.

Remember how they treated you! She couldn't trust this! It was all a lie, like everything else in Luthadel, layers upon layers of lies. Aaron Elariel would turn right around and hurt her again as soon as he had reeled her in. It didn't matter how much she wanted it to be true, how badly she wanted a friend, Marisha couldn't trust anything he said. Only what he'd done. Sorry didn't repair any of the damage.

His eyes shook her belief in that. Her mouth opened slightly as she stared up into them, forgetting to watch his center of mass, but the words to defend herself didn't come out. What happens if you play the game? some treacherous part of her mind asked, what happens if you just pretend? Marisha couldn't hope to hide the emotion from her own eyes. "I..." She swallowed, "W-why?"

Aaron Elariel's Photo Aaron Elariel 03 Jan 2014

"I just wanted to say I'm sorry," Aaron started, seeing the way Marisha's look hardened. "I used you Marisha, and I feel awful about it. I made a terrible mistake, and now I'm trying to make ammends." Aaron shook his head. Lord Ruler, what could he say to make her believe? "I truly am sorry Marisha. If you don't believe anything else I say, please believe that..."

Aaron vaguely noticed Winston hurry away, and remembered the dropped code book. While doing so had made him look foolish, he was glad it had happened, if it meant a moment of true privacy. His attention was quickly diverted back to Marisha. He could see fear in her beautiful eyes. Fear of him. How had things come to this, was he truly so intimidating? Or worse, had he really hurt her this badly? Her hands were trying to tie themselves in knots, and she whose speech had been so eloquent and profound in their first meeting was having trouble with a single word. Aaron raised a hand to run his fingers through his hair, but stopped and scratched at his head awkwardly when he realized most of it was gone. He was still getting used to Odairn's handiwork. He had to admit, the new hair did make him look more dignified, and serious. He just wasn't sure if that was how he wanted to look.

"I'm not trying to intimidate you Marisha. You don't have to be afraid. I'm not trying to play games with you. At least, not anymore. You can talk to me. Yell at me, embarrass me, I don't care. No matter what you do or say to me here and now, I promise there will be no repercussions. It's just that... well, I'm just a foppish lazy, fool of a nobleman. It's seems silly that anything I could possibly do on my own, however horrible, should destroy something as promising as..., well, our friendship. Youíre different from other people here in Luthadel, Marisha. Had Colette Hasting gone missing, there would have been a huge search, but do you really think nobles from other houses would have risked their lives when there were soldiers to take care of things? There's something special about you, something that we don't see here in Luthadel. You have an uncanny ability to draw people towards you. Some people, like... like my sister, see it as a threat to be dealt with."

Aaron paused hesitantly. Had he really just said that? Before the Casuana ball, he had never in his life even thought criticizing Daerra, let alone in public. His earlier anger was still there, and allowed him to see that what he said was true, and so he continued.

"There are some of us though, who.. I donít know. I guess we know we're missing something. Even surrounded by all the wealth and power of the great houses, we're all missing something. And it's something you have Marisha. If you have any doubt of that, just look at the way your brother looks at you. He might be... different, from the rest of us in some ways, but I think he's better for it. He sees things for what they are, not what they could or could not be. When we found you that night, I don't think I've ever seen someone so happy. You and Nerid, you have this... vibrant light inside of you. I don't think I could ever forgive myself if I were the one to snuff it out."

Marisha Nathar's Photo Marisha Nathar 03 Jan 2014

Marisha was once again silenced, with no idea what to say, how to react, or how to even understand what was rising up within her. She did not trust him. She did not, she knew she did not, and she wanted to trust him, wanted what he had just said to be true. No one had ever said anything like that. Why did she want a lie to be true? Why would she ever want to trust or believe someone who had hurt her, who was certainly saying this as only part of some scheme too subtle for her to imagine? In the next moment or the next day or the next week he would slide in a knife. How could he look at her like that?

Her breath was caught in her chest. No one else had ever told her she had anything within her at all, let alone a light. No one had ever looked at her like that. He lied to you, he hurt you, put you in danger. You stupid, ugly little woman, what would anyone ever really see in you? She couldn't pull her eyes away, somehow he'd found exactly the right bait.

Marisha had to choose something. To walk away, or to play the fool's part he meant for her, but she could not stand here in between the two. She should walk away, but she was still standing there. Did the lie mean anything at all, even a small amount? Would it be so bad to pretend it meant something? Would it be so bad to take comfort for a little while in a lie, and just pretend she had a friend? Before everything came crumbling down. She already knew this would lead her back to where she'd been at the ball. And Lord Ruler help her, Daerra would come after her, and that was a terrifying thought.

But she wanted to play his game.

"I...accept...your apology," she said haltingly, "th-thank you, my Lord."