Hm, it seems our secretive rogue from Strike Team Beta has had some of her past catch up with her. I wonder, what sort of person will this Evelyn be? Well, we might get a taste of what's to come from this little snippet from Autumn's past.
This corner of Yartar was a dump, and the dust-and-delusion-heavy bar in front of her stood like a monument to the district’s celebration of being that dump. The sign in the window proclaimed it to be the Wit’s End, with blocky letters promising that three shots of the house whiskey would remove all thought processes from one’s brain. The pane itself was too filthy to reveal much of the interior, but Autumn didn’t have to look to know that her target was in there.
It had been weeks since she’d stumbled home from an errand to find the hideout abandoned. No one’s things stashed in their corners, no snoring from beneath blankets as Percy or Forrest napped, no arguments over cards or coin or drinks – or all three. It had been empty, full of echoes that made no sound at all, the quiet smashing into her like an arrow to the chest.
At first, she’d thought they’d been attacked. There was no sign of struggle, but it was the easiest explanation for where her merry band of partners in crime had wandered off to. She had gone off half-cocked and nearly gutted Perenia for the deed before the stubby rogue had convinced her of her innocence, insisting her men had no interest in taking out the competition. Or pissing off Evelyn.
They’d built a reputation as a decent crew. One that the others respected, one that always got the job done if the coin was right. One whose leader wasn’t to be crossed unless you wanted a knife shoved between a pair of vertebrae. Their reputation was so good, in fact, that not even one of the other crews had thought to step up to them. She’d paid them all a visit, gleaning nothing but shrugs and reports that some of her friends had been seen leaving town in different directions. There was no aggressor that had done a hit while Autumn had her back turned. No attack, no struggle, no theft of life or load.
They had just…left. With no reasoning, with no notice, no letters to illuminate the commencement of their sudden vacation. Autumn had left home one morning to steal some book for some creepy caster, and by the time she’d returned, her whole life had decided to leave her behind.
There had to be something she was missing. There had to be answers.
She’d dedicated herself to the effort of tracking them. When that proved too difficult, she rededicated herself to tracking one of them. The one most likely to have answers. The one she most wanted answers from.
Now she stood in front of the door that led to her.
She was not one for wasting time on preambles, so she took a breath and smacked the door open, the hinges screaming in protest at the abrupt motion. Inside was a room whose very structure seemed an homage to depression, even the ceiling sagging as though it didn’t have the energy to continue living. Dirty glasses lined the shelves, half-empty bottles were stacked in disarray just about anywhere they would fit. The floor hadn’t seen a mop in at least a few decades. The whole bar had sunken well below disrepair and found itself floundering between hovel and ruin, and every inch of it reflected that.
Every inch save for the ones that Evelyn occupied.
She was perched at the edge of her barstool, long legs crossed and tucked to the side. She was tall and lithe, but the way she sat left her looking coiled, a predatory cat only feigning ease. Her copper hair was the brightest source of light in the room, falling down her back in a silken curtain. She was dressed for riding, and if Autumn hadn’t known better, she could have mistaken her for a noblewoman who’d wandered out of her element and into this one. She had a regality that was immutable, as though it didn’t matter where she had come from; she was royalty right down to her bones.
She wasn’t. She was less noble by birth than Autumn, but she could have fooled anyone. Taller, nobler in posture, longer in limb, more graceful in movement, more breathlessly beautiful in appearance. She was everything that Autumn had always failed to be. And for a time, she had thought they completed one another. Where Autumn fell short, Evelyn filled in the gaps. Where Evelyn needed recognition, Autumn held her aloft on the pedestal. It was a team effort. A partnership. A relationship.
Evelyn spared a glance at the door when it popped open, her face unmoving in reaction, though Autumn didn’t miss the slight twitch of her arms as her hands hovered over her daggers. When she saw it was her, the hand moved away again, but her expression remained impassive as she turned back to her drink.
The blood in Autumn’s veins grew cold, as icy as the tiled floors of a bathroom somewhere far away. Whatever it was she had expected – a smile would have been nice, a hug, a pat on the back for going through the trouble of tracking her down, any sign at all that she meant anything – she found that the lack of recognition was a shock she wasn’t equipped to handle.
“What the fuck, Evelyn?” she blurted, loudly, earning a glower from the bartender, who made himself scarce as he sensed the tension in the air. She would have liked to phrase things with more finesse, but her tongue cracked like a whip before she could stop it. Evelyn had that affect on her. Disarming her in several ways that she had found enjoyable on other occasions.
“Autumn.” Evelyn nodded without looking at her, as though that was all the greeting necessary, as though they’d never worked together, as though they’d never slept together, as though not a damn thing had ever passed between them but their names.
She waited, but no further comment was made. “So, that’s it? That’s all you have to say?” she walked to the edge of the bar, placing her hand across it so that her arm set up a perimeter around Evelyn’s space. She wanted to wrap herself around the other rogue, to bring her nearer in ways that words never could – they had always talked better with flesh than voice – but she held back. The distance between them was impossible to cross, thick and sharp, and this was as close as she could get.
Evelyn arched an eyebrow. “Should I have more? I’m not sure what you expect here.”
“You…you just…” Autumn grabbed a handful of her sloppy curls, pulling them away from her face as it heated in fury and embarrassment. “You left without a fucking word, and I jump through every hoop in the book to find you again, and all you have to say…is my name?”
“I’d have even less to say if you hadn’t come in to interrupt the first drink I’ve had all day.”
“I deserve an explanation. You owe me that much.” Autumn spent a reserve of her patience to keep from stomping her foot, the frustration in her system demanding an outlet she refused to provide. She wouldn’t show her cards this early, not to this frosty reception.
Evelyn laughed, light and musical like bubbles from a ringing glass of champagne. “I don’t owe you anything.”
“Fuck you. Stop pretending like you don’t give a shit about anyone or anything.” She sighed, reigning in her tone, wishing her composure weren’t hanging by such a tenuous thread. “Why did you leave?”
“Because I wanted to.”
Evelyn sipped her drink, her nails tapping on the side of the glass. She flicked her eyes to Autumn, then back to the bar. Her expression didn’t change, her posture didn’t change, and she made no move to explain further.
“I did everything for you. Everything you ever asked. Everything was going fantastic, we were making names for ourselves, we were having a good time. Why leave? Why leave…” she swallowed, wishing that the end of her unfinished sentence wasn’t so damn pathetic. Why leave me? What did I do wrong?
“Oh, for fuck’s sake Autumn, stop acting like such a fucking child.” Evelyn spat, looking annoyed beneath her veneer of confidence.
“What…what do you mean?” Autumn exhaled slowly around the lump forming at the base of her throat, her hands shaking enough that she bothered to clench them into fists to stop the unsolicited movement.
Evelyn sighed, rolling her eyes and giving the shorter rogue a look that one might give a thick child who had worn thin her patience. “You seem to be under the impression that we were some kind of family or something. Honestly, I don’t know who trained you, but they obviously failed to teach you the most important lesson: nobody is on your side. Nobody gives a shit about you.” She lifted the drink that was leaving a ring of condensation on the bar top, downing the last of the whiskey in one swallow before snapping the glass back down. “This wasn’t anything more than a professional association. Now, that association is no longer beneficial for me. You’ve outlived your usefulness. Be glad that all I’m doing is leaving. Not all you encounter will be so thoughtful.” She stressed the last word, like it was a gift designed to make Autumn grovel, like such thoughtfulness was unparalleled and unearned.
After that she got up and waltzed out of the bar, the sun outside catching her hair so that she was glowing as she disappeared. Her hips swayed, her steps were sure, her unrepentant gaze was gorgeous, and then she was gone. Leaving Autumn to stare at the empty space with the weight of those words crushing her slowly, pounding her into a small, shaking wretch that had never had anything at all.
No safety. No kinship. No love.
“No one will…ever…treat you better…but it’s not…what you deserve.”
“Gutter trash. You deserve all that you get.”
“You’re a fool, just like your mother. I should beat you blind and throw you on the streets, let you become the beggar you truly are. Mark my words, girl, if you didn’t have an ass that I thought might make me some coin I’d have given you the fate you truly deserve. Stop crying and clean up this fucking mess before I decide you’re not worth the trouble.”
She had been acting like a child. As naïve as the blushing bride who had thought herself about to be free of the prison of her nobility. What in her life could have possibly taught her to have hope that things would turn out better? Where had she found this notion that there was a sun still waiting beneath the storm? Perhaps she had her mother to blame for that, filling her head with all those stories of knights and valiant heroes and happy endings. She’d had a library full of lies, making the truth all the more painful to the simple idiot that had believed them.
She broke people. She took things that were light and lovely, things made of laughter and heartbeats, and she broke them. She made them turn on her, made them beat her, made them leave her. She was the scorned daughter of a crooked nobleman, the murderous widow who had callously abandoned her past, the nervous thief who wasn’t worth an explanation.
She was alone again, sagging as much as the bar around her, and perhaps it was meant to be that way. Perhaps that was the fate she was meant to find, the legacy she could look forward to. Better to be alone than a poison. Better to be distant than to turn others into…into…
Into someone else that she loved that would hate her.
A tear slipped from the edge of her eye, scaling the red-hot fury of her cheek to fall uselessly onto the dusty floor. She shook her head, pushing it all down and away, forcing it back because the tide of it would kill her. She wouldn’t think about it, wouldn’t look at it. She would run from it, as fast and as far as she could go, and she would never stop moving and never look back again.
Idiot children could waste their time crying about the past. Autumn would ignore it, having learned well the lessons that it could impart. That she was trash that would sour the entire well inside a person if she drifted near enough. That she was a liability to kindness and care. That she was expendable. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. She wouldn’t dwell on it, she would just accept it. And so long as she never forgot these lessons, that she was made to be alone, she’d never have to think about any of it again.
Written by Zom