Velour the shade of crusted blood is draped across the walls, blocking out the only way to track the time inside this wretched “dining room” – although, as no food has yet been served, I am left to conclude that it is only a torture chamber with a long and useless table.
Here, on Daba’s shoulder, I’ve lost count of the minutes we’ve waited on this hyped-up Darius Carmen, who had damn well better be worth my patience. He’d better have incandescent wings, or hands that spin feathers into gold, or an infinite cornucopia from which flows the greatest fount of carrion and birdseed that I could possibly demand.
I don’t like having time to fill because that’s generally when I have vexing little memory attacks, flying up at me like sentimental mosquitoes. I don’t like to think about being an elf. Sometimes I don’t even like to look at Vilig, lithe and silly and too close to what I once was.
Instead I stare down at the cuisine-less table, with the faint scratches in the wood grain peeking out from underneath a candelabra, and I remember Taney Ruk. Nothing about her was sentimental. I’d rather think of worse times, and she was worse.
But I was with her the last time I sat in ostentatious chambers such as these.
I’ve lost the greater circumstances, even the name of the city. It’s the strange, miniscule details I remember, like the ridiculous blue peacock feather that erupted from the rich man’s puffy hat. I remember his name, I think. Don something. Don…
“So you can see why I would be in need of your services,” he mumbled, but somehow still impressively, cutting into a piece of chicken.
It was a bit too close to my present form for me to stare at comfortably, so I craned my neck to stare at my mistress instead. She was not eating, but, rather, squinting across the dining room at the man with the puffy hat. Don Clemenza?
“No,” she deadpanned, with no humility or humor. “I’m afraid I do not see.”
Don Whatshisname put down the fork slowly and dabbed his lips – they seemed overly full, I remember – with a cloth napkin, then, with an aggressive snap, ordered his servants out of the room. They were all little girls, I remember, mousey and ill-washed with uniform cream-colored aprons, and at the sound of the snap they flinched and ran like one hunted organism. He put down the napkin and spoke, more clearly then.
“Has there been a miscommunication? I’ve been told you’re a death witch.”
“I am a death witch.”
“Then you can make some death happen.”
“I am not, however, an assassin.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Such that neither of us have time to explain or listen to at present,” Taney retorted, calmly. As she pushed back from the table and stood, I flew to her arm.
The Don…Salvatore?… stood up to face her, clearly growing angry, his face the color of his wine. His reputation was such that I knew he was unaccustomed to being refused.
“I fail to comprehend why it’s so difficult for you to end this one man.”
“I fail to comprehend why I should.”
He stalked towards her, slowly, almost gracefully. She stood firm. I was not so firm, and glanced at the window to see if there was an opening for me.
“Barzini would be easy for you to kill. I just need someone else to do it for me.”
“That’s not the point, Don Tattaglia,” she said – Tattaglia! That was his name. Fuck me.
Anyway, he edged ever closer as she raised one talon in the air in front of her, continuing.
“I’m not some death whore that can be rented out for parties,” she spat.
Tattaglia was within a foot of us now, his face contorted into a wry grin of condescension. He raised his own hand in the air, poised to snap a command at any second.
“There’s a purpose to what I do. And it’s not Barzini’s time yet.”
He shrugged, an odd gesture from such an expensive-looking person.
“Then I guess it’s yours.”
But before he could snap, in an instant Taney’s talons were cupping his face, almost with tenderness, like she held again the child she never got a chance to know. His smile was erased like smudgy chalk and his eyes widened as he collapsed to the floor in a decidedly plebeian thump. It was as satisfying as it was horrifying.
She spun in one swift movement, her robes brushing up against the chairs, and walked with ease through the door and down the staircase. I could not share her steadiness.
“What in the name of Irunae just happened back there???” I whispered into her ear.
“His heart stopped. Massive coronary. Too bad. What can you do.”
“You mean what are THEY going to do to US when they find out you killed him.”
“I think them girls’ll be a lot happier,” she said, and suddenly I felt ashamed for my oblivious apathy. I don’t generally care about, well, anyone, but I knew I should have deduced it. My embarrassment crept into my tone wearing the face of accusation.
“You can’t just go around – "
We stopped in a hallway close to a back entrance we’d noted during the initial tour of the house. Before I knew it, her hand was around my ribcage, pinning me to the wall, splat.
I remembered then how frail I was.
In her irritation, her clipped professionalism from upstairs had evaporated.
“I can’t? I don’t have to justify shit to you, you fucking bird. You are a fucking bird with a waterfall for a mouth. All fucking day you babble, absolute non-stop. What the fuck did you even do to get stuck in this body? I will end you like I just ended Tattaglia, do you understand me? You are replaceable. You are alive by my grace, and don’t forget – "
“I…have…your spells,” I gasped.
She dropped me, and, forgetting I had wings, I flopped on the floor, trying to breathe again. She gazed down past her beak, blinking hatred, at me and everything.
“I didn’t ask for this fucking job.”
She paused, then after a few seconds picked me up and placed me on her shoulder. “It was his time.” She turned to look at me. “Why the fuck’dyou even think I walked in here today.”
It wasn’t really a question, just a reminder not to question her – ever. But I didn’t answer because in my periphery I’d seen one of his little girls, gaping at us, blocking the door.
Taney took three long steps and grasped her on the shoulder.
“Get all ya’all and get the hell out of this house. Now.”
The girl, already smarter than I was, knew not to ask too many questions and scampered away as fast as her feet could carry her. Taney Ruk just opened the back door of the mansion and sauntered out into the winter sunshine, pulling her hood over her face in one quick oft-repeated mannerism, and we were gone. Nothing else ever came of it.
That’s what happened the last time I was in a dining room like this.
I glance down at Daba, bored almost to her own death, rubbing her temples in small circular patterns. There are footsteps now, barely audible but coming closer to the room. My only hope is that Darius Carmen is not as vile as Don Tattaglia, but a hope is not an expectation. We’ll see what happens. I know for a fact that Daba doesn’t have Taney’s touch spells yet, so any disagreeable outcome could present a more tricky situation to escape.
But she doesn’t have Taney’s rage fits, either, so – all things considered – in whatever occurrences are about to transpire, I’d rather be with the younger Ruk.
Now let’s see if Darius Carmen was worth the wait.