The Behemoth’s Heart
Osii watched the King’s parade wind its way through the great city of Athoes from her balcony, the cheering and the music drifting up to her spot in one of the tall spires of the palace. Without glancing at the shorter women by her side, she asked grimly,
“Do you feel it too?”
Kacia didn’t look up at the Boecian, her eyes fixed on the parade but looking past it all to the shifting of the other world.
“The heaviness? Yes, I fear we may never again be in the good King’s company.”
She felt a hand lay gently on her shoulder and she finally looked up at the other woman to find her expression as dark as she imagined her own was.
“We must always seek the light in the darkness. The King may yet live, we may yet be simply chasing shadows.”
She had meant to console her new friend, to give her hope, but her voice betrayed her true feelings. Kacia nodded slowly, casting her gaze back down to where the parade had finally reached the city gates.
“What of the boy?”
Osii snorted as her hand fell from Kacia’s shoulder and she crossed her arms over her chest.
“Which one? The De’huel lad seems honest enough, naive even, but he seems like good stock. The other one though I don't like. Did you see the way he looked at me when he saw me? Like I'd just killed his father in front of his eyes and then asked him to serve me his finest ale!”
Kacia’s slender fingers curled into the loose strands of her hair, twirling them round and round as she thought.
“Yes, I had noticed. Maybe he has something against Boecians? In any case, something about Robert gnaws at me, something that's so obvious every time i look at him and yet i can’t seem to place it.”
“You’re frustrated.” Osii stated, a sly smile in her voice. “Must be hard having such a juicy mystery dropped into your lap; a mystery even you can’t solve!”
The ambassador from Ob rolled her golden eyes before turning from the balcony and retreating into Osii’s chambers to escape the growing cold. The giant followed soon after, closing the doors and sauntering over to her desk where Kacia was writing something.
“Hey, don't you have your own paper in your room?” She chided, snatching the extra paper and ink pots from the table.
“Oh please, you have plenty of paper.” She retorted, eyes never leaving the delicate figures she wrote.
“Not after you went through half of it on the way here!”
“Stop exaggerating. Here,” she blew gently on the drying ink before folding the note and handing it to Osii, “since you’re so invested in what happens to your paper you can deliver it for me.”
Kacia stood as Osii stared at her dumbfounded and headed for the door, “please get it delivered to the dungeon before the dinner tonight and no peeking!”
The soft click of the door closing was the only indication she had left as Osii still stared down at the note in her hands.
“Hells, that woman will be the death of me,” she grumbled, shoving the note into her pocket and beginning to arrange her desk again.
Kacia tried desperately to keep still at her place of honor at the King’s table, tried to make her scans of the room discrete. She had to clutch her hands in her lap tightly to stop them from going to her hair and twirling the loose strands. The chair beside her, the one for Osii, was empty. Still. The next seat was occupied by the King’s advisor, then Robert, and finally a stern looking man who bore a striking resemblance to Robert. Kacia assumed it was his father. She looked down at the lower tables and found Sinclair sitting alone in a shadowy corner of the hall.
Finally she spotted her silver haired friend enter with the last wave of guests to enter the hall and take their seats. Osii quickly and gracefully made her way up to the table and sat down with a huff. A small nod was the only sign she gave that she’d managed her task. Kacia gave a quiet sigh of relief and began to relax as food was beginning to be brought out and set in front of her. She thanked the servants as they left and began eating.
One thing about Athoes that had certainly captured her attention was the food. It was bursting with flavor with every bite she took, no matter the time of day or the course. She found herself unconsciously humming in delight at the tenderness of the duck and the sweetness of the deserts. Food in Ob had been reduced to its most basic, flavorless forms for time and convenience. She briefly wondered how she could ever go back to the flavorless nutrition packets after tasting chicken in a gorgeous orange glaze, or fish smothered in exotic spices and then fried in oils.
She pulled herself out of her revelry long enough to take another look around the room, trying to note who was sitting with who, which nobles seemed aloof as well as those who seemed more down to earth. Her gaze flittered over to Sinclair and she felt her heart skip a beat when she found his orange eyes looking at her. There was something smouldering in his eyes, she couldn’t tell what exactly, but it made her skin break out in goosebumps. He gave her a smile and looked back down at his plate, where his food remained untouched.
It took her a moment to realize she’d been holding her breath, and her lungs were beginning to burn. She let it out as quietly as she could, still earning her a raised eyebrow from Osii, although when she shook her head gently the giant simply shrugged and went back to eating and drinking. Kacia briefly marvelled at how much food the Boecian was packing away but reasoned she must need to eat more because of her size.
She let her eyes wander again until they landed on Robert. The young man looked absolutely miserable, and was staring into his wine like it held the mysteries of the universe. The stern man sitting beside him was talking low, and quick, glancing at Robert every now and then before scowling and elbowing him rather hard, before he started talking again when he had the lad’s attention. Robert's gaze always returned to his wine however, and eventually the man made a show of throwing up his hands and storming away from the table.
Kacia frowned as she picked up her own drink, a steaming cup of mint tea, and sipped it thoughtfully. She pondered the interaction for the next few courses, and was finally drawn from her thoughts as the King’s advisor stood and thanked everyone for coming and that if they wished, the guests could move to the northern ballroom for music and drinks.
She stood and adjusted her dress, glancing at Osii and mouthing ‘my room in an hour’, before descending the stairs as gracefully as she could muster in her copious layers of robes. Luckily she managed to keep her footing and made it out of the hall mostly unnoticed. As calmly as she could, she strode down a few of the more populated hallways until the crowds were gone and the only other people around were the occasional guard patrol.
Kacia reached beneath her layers to the large bag she’d hidden there earlier and ducked into an alcove. Working quickly, she stripped her outer layers with well-practiced motions until she was wearing sea-foam green leather breeches, a black and gold waistcoat, and her white flowing undershirt. With deft motions she folded the ridiculous amount of robes into the bag and peered out of the alcove. Once she was sure no one was coming, she dashed from her hiding spot and jogged silently in jade green slippers down the long winding hallways, ducking into alcoves or around pillars when someone came her way, until she finally reached the door she needed.
Osii had indeed done her job, as there were no guards standing at the door and when she pushed against the reinforced wood, it swung open with a loud creak to reveal a spiraling staircase going down into darkness.
Kacia took a deep breath, readjusted her bag on her shoulder, and dived into the darkness.