You’re all laughing at me, I know, but I couldn’t care less. I’m enjoying this, as I bite into the offered chocolate. It’s wonderfully gooey, and I’m trying to see how long I can make the oozing caramelly strand stretch over my face, away from my lips, and I think that’s why you’re laughing. It has hints of smokey coffee, and my giggles sound like a child kicking through falling leaves on the ground in autumn. I’m a hundred miles away in Regario at a small coffee house that did all its business in imported espresso, and we could never get a table on Saturdays–
—this is what you meant, isn’t it? That tastes have memories, sounds have colours? This is what you meant, all those years you tried to explain to me, in tears, because others laughed at how you saw the world and it hurt you to not be understood. Why you wanted me to see with my fingertips and feel with my ears–
I stop and smile, a little sheepish, a little smug, and delicately lick my lips. But when I look at Sylvia’s eyes and catch her scales glinting across her amused brow, I realize just what you’ve given me, and I don’t know how to explain it to you. So I thank you for the chocolate, and comment on its coffee flavour, and know in my heart that –for a moment, just a moment– that I heard a different naga laughing with me.
She’s bundled up tightly in the wool cloak Adelina loaned her, sulking in the middle of the tent listening to the voices all around her. Laughter and ribaldry, teasing and torment, and the unique blend of Barossa familiarity that means she’s home amongst her leash.
And she’s miserable.
Arms are hugging her, drinks passed to her, and the sound and noise around her is bright, orange in the night. Card tricks and delight, gin and cheese (but not cursing, for that was last night) and Anguila being delightfully horrid to Simargl.
And she fidgets, runs her fingers between the rough wool and the scales on her skin.
“Vitória, are you–“
“NO I AM NOT OKAY WHY DID NO ONE EVER TELL ME THAT WOOL IS SO UNBEARABLY ITCHY??”
She smiles, grinning with Rodric so as not to frown, for her hopes at enjoying the season as a Naga are already dashed.
She jokes about over-preparing, so as to trivialise the weight of Vigilance, that only feels like a burden to her battered soul.
She lowers her mask, to hide from others just how a loyal ghost’s tears have devastated her, have humbled her, have left her praying that despite no longer being on the path of Loyalty, she would do the same –become a ghost for any family member left behind.
And as they emerge, joyously, from the Sentinel gate, Vladimir carrying her like a child on his back and her laughing loudly, it’s easier to hide how she feels from those worried about her, as they crowd around the gate and are relieved to see her.
There is a hole in her heart that she’s been ignoring for months, trying to fill it with duty, with vigilance, with courage. It was easier to ignore a virtue lost to her, so she remained busy, perhaps the busiest priest in the Pits, the priest with something to hide and something to prove.
It’s fitting that this tale ends with sharing the work of others, with sharing pride in their efforts to put virtuous souls to rest. It’s not hard to put this last spirit to rest once he knows. He would have gone willingly, and she doesn’t need to be here. She’s only a placeholder; it should be Ozren in her stead.
It’s cold comfort, that the last ghost she has to face in Ennerlund, is the kind of person she wants to be, and also the kind of person she used to be.