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Warning: there are violent scenes of torture/death.

The Stray Dogs - 12. No Ordinary Love

Sara could feel Lydia eyeing her from behind the piece of parchment in her hand; she was using it as a sort of partition to block Lydia’s face from view. Given the dangerous circumstances they had faced before arriving at Miffland, Sara had momentarily forgotten her anger in relief that they had survived. But now that they were here, she could feel it mulling in the space between them. She was just as angry at her lover as she was at Rake for how she treated Crow: always with cold indifference or boiling contempt. On their journey home Lydia had made several comments about why the Eurchurch had been right to try and eradicated practitioners, always making sure to do it within earshot of their very own practitioner.

We are so different, Lydia and I, Sara thought, trying to concentrate her mother’s neat, loppy scrawl; she had tried reading the same paragraph at least half a dozen times but could not concentrate. Not only do we come from completely different quadrants of the ‘scape but we have different ways of dealing with anger. She can’t restrain herself and lashes out and I close myself off. It’s a wonder we haven’t killed each other yet.

She reflected briefly on how little she knew about the woman sitting across from her. In truth she knew only of Lydia’s crime: As a girl she had murdered a Eurchurchman in his sleep. The act had been brutal in its violence and rage; brutal enough for Lydia to have the choice of facing the noose or giving ten years of her life to D-Squad. Lydia had no made mention of the crime, why she had done what she did, and Sara did not ask. Lydia had also made no mention of her childhood, or her parents, or where she came from. Their relationship was a strange one, there was no denying it. Sara wondered how it could be that she had fallen in love with this coldhearted woman. She set the letter aside. She would try and read it later when her mind wasn’t so preoccupied. She felt Lydia watching her from across the room they shared.

“Wha do you want?” Sara snapped.

“Just wondering what’s got you all upset this time?”

“It’s that bastard, Rake! You wouldn’t believe the shit he was saying to Crow! How can someone be so judgmental…?”

Lydia nodded. “Yes, I know. We’ve had this conversation before.”

Sara got to her feet and began pacing. “And I don’t know how you can treat Crow the way you do either.”

“Because he’s a practitioner and all practitioners make me uneasy. They possess a power not everyone has, making them very dangerous. But especially Crow because he can’t always control himself. You saw what happened at Fort Erikson, Barghast had to knock him out to get him on the bus this time. What if he loses control and hurts one of us?”

Sara shook her head. “He wouldn’t hurt us. You hate him because he has mana in his blood and yet you’re with me. You don’t hate me, do you?”

Face softening, Lydia reached out and took Sara’s hand. She could be a hard woman, almost as tough as Rake, but underneath she could be tender and loving. The tenderness mostly showed itself when they were home, in a more domestic setting. . Like now, Sara thought. It’s the softness, which occasionally peeks out from underneath the granite, that made me fall in love with Lydia. Because when it reveals itself it’s breathtaking. But when they were out on missions Lydia was more primal, more her true self. They all were, Sara suspected.

“I could never hate you, Sara. But you’re not like him. You only use your powers to help. His cause pure destruction. I think the Eurchurch was trying to do the right thing by exterminating all the Practitioners.”

Lydia’s last words rang in Sara’s head, shaking her to the core. She couldn’t have said why it angered her so much, only that it did. Before she could stop herself the words were flying out of her mouth. “Perhaps they should’ve just executed you considering the things you’ve done, like killing that Eurchurchman! Perhaps then the world would be a better place!”

Lydia’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped into a comical mask of shock; she looked as if Sara had just backhanded her. “Sara...”

Before Lydia could finish what she was going to say Sara slammed the front door open, pulling on her jacket at the same time. She couldn’t stay in the room with Lydia for another second. If she did things would get physical. Arguments between them had rarely turned into physical fights but when they did…

She shook the thought from her head. She didn’t dare brood on it.

It was raining. Rainwater splattered against the worn cobblestones of the city’s narrow streets, trickling down gutters. Merchants were quickly trying to put their products away to keep them from getting wet. Instead of putting up her hood, Sara kept it down. The feeling of the rain against her flesh felt like a cooling hand against her brow. She breathed in the smell of rotting trash, listened to the clatter of horse hooves on the cobblestones. After the desolation of the Okanavi desert and the Daminion Highway it was a relief to be around civilization. Here she could be Sara the healer. She didn’t have to pretend she was a Red Wraith or anyone else.

Tonight’s weather reminded her of her childhood in the Javacial Flatlands where it had rained more often than not. How different her life had been back then. Back then I was just a farmgirl. I wonder what Mama and Papa would think now, if they knew I was running around with cutthroats, assassins, mercenaries, and a young practitioner, risking my life everyday.

For the past eight years she’d led her parents to believe, via the letters she’d sent, that she was an anointed nun of the Eurchurch. Why she went on with this lie she couldn’t quite say. Perhaps it was because she could picture the matching looks of disappointment on their face (especially her father, who she’d always felt a special kind of love for) if she told them the truth: She’d fallen in love with a woman and had joined D-Squad to make sure the woman lived long enough to be free from her sentence. What would happen the day Lydia went free again. Had giving up her life to become a nun been worth it? What would she do if Lydia decided to ditch her for her old life?

Sara didn’t want to think about it.

She turned onto the brightly lit street of Larrson Avenue, now lost in the memories of her past. She found herself remembering the day she’d discovered she would become more than just a farmer. The memory was vivid - it had been a day filled with revelation for it was also the day she became a woman.

It had happened on a rainy day in the middle of her eleventh year. Her father, Granath, had sent her into town to pick up a bag of bird feed - she fondly remembered he’d scrounged up enough coppers to get a chocolate from the sweets store. She was walking back home from town, the bag of chicken feed in one hand, the taste of chocolate and hazelnut still on her tongue. It had been raining on that day like it was now.

She’d stopped, coming across four boys. They were standing in the middle of a dirt road kicking at something: an injured cow. The cow was injured in some way and was trying to get up but couldn’t. Something had happened to its legs, for two of them had snapped. The boys were laughing at it, kicking at it from all sides. It was the first time Sara remembered human beings could be cruel without the help of a demon’s influence. Especially children.

Somehow - this part of the memory was fuzzy to Sara because it was irrelevant - she’d managed to chase the boys away from the cow. She’d dropped down beside the cow, not caring she was getting her pant legs wet. The cow eyed her warily, mistrustfully. In her eleven years Sarah had never seen anything so pitiful. She knew most cows were raised for food and what happened to them in the end. Once she’d watched the cow on her father’s farm give birth to a stillborn. But this was different because she was awestruck by the inhumanity of those four boys and furthermore, by the human expression within the cow’s eyes.

And somehow, Sara thought fourteen years later, now in the middle of Larsson Avenue, I could sense it was dying, those boys had beaten it so. I could feel it in the center of my chest, like a heavy weight. I also knew, without being sure of how I knew, I could save her. I could take her pain away and heal her anew. The same time I put my hand against her side was also the first time I bled down there. Ironic that the discovery of the mana within me and the giving of it should trigger my first stage of womanhood.

She stepped through the narrow door of a tavern at the corner of Stygas Street and stepped inside. In her melancholy mood she could appreciate the dim lighting and the low, mournful music a man played on the violin. The tavern was practically empty on this night. Good, she hated crowded places. She took a seat at the counter and ordered a whiskey on the rocks. I’m getting drunk tonight. I’ve fucking earned it.

She had just finished her drink and was about to order another when she heard familiar laughter coming from the room behind a curtain: it was deep and thundery and familiar.

Barghast?

She was more than certain it was him. She got off the stool, face already flushed from the drink, and pulled back the curtain.

Sure enough there was Barghast, sitting in a wooden chair and someone was straddling his bucking lap. Sara laughed. She couldn’t help herself. How else was she to cope with such an unexpected sight?

Barghast’s eyes widened when he saw her but he did not stop thrusting into the prostitute. “Sara, what are you…?”

Still giggling, Sara said, “Come have a drink with me when you’re finished, Okanavian.”

Moments later Barghast came out from behind the curtain while in the process of buckling his breeches. Sara had returned to her perch at the counter and was well into her second drink. She winked roguishly at him. “Did you have a good time?” she asked.

“Charlie always provides a good time,” Barghast said, his voice slurred and grating. From the way he struggled to ease himself on the stool next to her it was clear he was already quite drunk. “And I make sure to pay him for it too.”

“Order whatever you like, it’s on me.”

“I’ll have whatever she’s having,” Barghast said to the bartender, hooking a thumb at Sara.

Sara downed the rest of her whiskey and slammed the glass down on the pocked countertop. “And Charlie just happens to look like a certain young practitioner.”

Barghast looked away. She’d never seen him look sheepish. “I wish you wouldn’t put it in such a way, but if you expect me to be honest, then yes. This is how I spend my time off between missions: Drinking and fucking.”

“Only the whole time you’re imagining yourself with Crow?”

Barghast, downing three-quarters of his whiskey in one gulp, grunted in reply. “Feel free to laugh. I know it’s pathetic. I’ve gone from being a bank robber to a lovesick prisoner. I was the best at what I did: robbing banks, making the Eurchurch look stupid. And now I’ve been reduced to...I don’t know what I am...and I’m pining for someone who probably looks upon my scarred visage and sees me for what I am: a hideous monster who will go straight to the Infernal Depths when death takes him.”

Sara felt her heart plummet. Aren’t we just a sad bunch, us Stray Dogs? We may not all love each other but we sure belong together.

“Where’s your other half?” the Okanavian asked.

“We got into a fight.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. It was over Crow. She said something I didn’t like and I exploded.”

“So I’m not the only one who cares about him.”

She smiled up at him and said, “No, you’re not.”










 

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