Games are the most elevated form of investigation
“This is a stupid game, Fedya,” Ivan said, taking a long swallow of the ale left in his tankard, setting it back down on the table lightly, which startled David more than if he’d let it land with a thump. Or maybe David had been startled by Genya’s bright smile, her unabashed greed as she reached for the dish of lamb-filled buuz. It was hard to say and Fedyor, deliciously tipsy on his third glass of ale, didn’t care.
“You think all games are stupid, Vanyushka, so it doesn’t matter,” Fedyor said. Zoya, the darling girl, poured him a fourth glass, properly, without any foam. Ivan did something with his face that was supposed to indicate disapproval but it didn’t make a difference, because he was still adorable.
“Then this is the stupidest one,” Ivan said.
“Is that even a word, stupidest? Isn’t it most stupid?” Zoya said.
“It is most stupid,” Ivan agreed, as if Zoya had been supporting him. She’d rather just gossip, they all knew that, even if it had to do with the General, who was generally considered off-limits when it came to rumors and innuendo.
“I’m not listening to you, either of you, tra la la,” Fedyor said, ending with a trill. “What if—”
“What if we stopped playing this most stupid game?” Ivan interrupted.
“What if—” Fedyor tried again, undaunted and now frankly drunk. Ivan gave him a long, slow smile and Fedyor thought, fleetingly, that the game was stupid and Vanyushka, in their bed, in nothing but a sheet and the shadows and that entrancing smile, was the farthest thing from stupid, but there were principles to uphold, Fedyor was fairly certain he’d thought that around the second glass of ale and David looked puzzled and intent, as if the game were a problem to be solved, and Genya was still reaching for dumplings.
“What if what?” Genya asked through a mouthful of buuz.
“What if there had been two Sun Summoners for the General to choose between?” Fedyor said.
There was a unanimous groan as if he’d said what if Baghra were your mother, a degree of unity he hadn’t anticipated.
“That’s not a good what-if,” David (David!) declared. “Because there’s no tension when you try to come up with a response. It’s too easily resolved.”
“I don’t see how—” Fedyor said, but Genya talked over him, gesticulating dramatically. She didn’t seem to notice David sidling closer to her, within striking distance of her slender white hand.
“The General would have made sure to train them equally well and accommodate any discrepancies in their abilities. He’d have seen to it they were both completely loyal to the rest of the Grisha. He would have readied the Gaisma suite along with the Vezda, presented them at court at the same time, had identical keftas commissioned.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Fedyor said.
“He would have looked for more,” Zoya said. “Two means three, four, seven. It means being a Sun Summoner is simply rare and not unique.”
“He would have asked me whether they could Summon in tandem without an external equipment and then he would have asked me to build a device to multiply their power,” David said. “It’s an intriguing question, if you consider whether paired power amplification can ever match merzost and don’t only rely on Sankt Ilya’s writings…”
“I mean, about the General and Alina—” Fedyor tried again.
“Nothing would be different,” Ivan said. “He’d still, Saints help me, be in love with her—”
“Oh, Vanya’s right,” Genya said, David confident enough to nod along, his shoulder touching hers, just barely. “There’s no what-if that changes that, how he feels about Alina.”
“That’s crazy,” Fedyor said.
“No, it’s not,” Ivan said and now Zoya nodded along. “He doesn’t love her because she can Summon the light. Or the Sun, they’ve never made that part clear—”
“Because she said no to him, when every other Grisha has said yes for as long as anyone can remember,” Zoya said, a little bitterly. It suited her, a little bitterness, but no one called her out for it. It wasn’t shameful to play to one’s strengths and she played so very beautifully and she had been the General’s favorite before that fateful crossing of the Fold.
“Because she is an artist, because she looks around her and draws what she sees. Because she sees what she draws,” Genya offered.
“Because she was willing to sacrifice everything for someone she cared about, even when they didn’t care for her the same way,” David said, shockingly au courant on Alina’s personal history for someone who barely left his workroom. “Because she was ready to go into the dark for her friend, when she had no idea she had any light within her.”
“Because she listens to him and sometimes, after he’s spoken, she laughs. At him,” Ivan said. “That’s why, Fedya. That’s why there’s no what-if to consider. There could be a thousand Sun Summoners. Alina has no rival for the General’s affections. Not in this world or any other.”
“Well, then, if you’re all so convinced you’re right, how about this? What if Baghra knew the General loved Alina with all his heart?” Fedyor said. Zoya and Genya grimaced and David closed his eyes for a moment, bowed his head as if in prayer. Ivan grunted, then pushed Fedyor’s glass away.
“This is supposed to be a fun game, miliyy,” Ivan said.
“What—" Fedyor said.
“Stupid can be fun. Nothing about Dame Baghra could ever be fun,” Ivan said. “Nor, for better or worse, could she ever be said to be stupid. If she knew how he felt—”
“If Baghra knew—” Genya echoed.
“It is not that incredible a scenario,” David said. “In fact, it’s one we should consider likely. And prepare for accordingly.”
“How can you prepare for the end of the world?” Ivan asked. David shrugged.
“That’s what I thought,” Ivan said. “But sealing that secret door to the General’s War Room would be a start.”
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vengeance is a dangerous thing
the crows are all grown up, living their best lives, but then someone decides to take revenge on them by kidnapping their children
TW: mention of kidnapping and drugging, crying
big thanks to @emmaannaelisabeth who inspired me to do these series and let me borrow her wonderful characters, the crows' children that she had brought to life so well
Jordie ran around the huge room, a wide grin plastered on his face, almost knocking an expensive looking vase over. He giggled and stared at the tall, pointed ceiling, at the enormous glass windows, at the small plants with spikes that were called cactuses.
“Jordie, calm down!” Kaz shouted as Jordie almost knocked over another vase. Jordie ignored him.
“For Ghezen’s sake, Jordie, get here this instant!” Kaz raised his voice even more and Jordie finally looked at him, a pout forming across his face. He ran up to Inej and climbed up in her lap, burying his face in her chest. Inej glared at Kaz.
“What?” he asked, pushing back his dark hair from his face. Before Inej could answer, a voice spoke from behind them:
“You’re not supposed to shout at children, you know, Brekker.” Zoya said, slumping down on the velvet couch across from the one the seven sat on. She wore a summer kefta that looked like it was made from lace, but Kaz didn’t let the looks deceive him; he knew fully well the characteristics of a kefta.
“Zoya only knows so because I explained it to her after she traumatised a little boy that accidentally ran into her.” Nikolai said, joining the group. He wore a satin shirt, its top buttons unbuttoned, looking relaxed as ever, a smile painting his lips.
“What can I help you with, my dear friends?” he asked, pouring himself a glass of kvas and leaning back. He studied the group, noticing Jordie snuggled up in Inej’s arms. He looked around again, as if he was looking for someone, then frowned.
“Where’s Ava? Or perhaps she has grown too old for traveling?”
Nikolai and Ava had grown fond of each other after Ava’s first visit to Ravka. Ava sneaked up on him and stole one of the important documents he left at his desk, hiding from him the whole day. When Nikolai asked Kaz to help him with finding them, because he tried on his own and he just couldn’t, Kaz spared one glance at Ava and said: “I know exactly where they are.”
This was just another reason the words Kaz was about to say would be so painful.
“She’s gone.” he said and Nikolai’s frown deepened.
“She’s been kidnapped. They’ve all-They’ve all been kidnapped. Melinda, Eskil, the twins, Ava...Jordie’s the only one left, he hid in time.” Inej explained and Kaz could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Nikolai stared at them both, Zoya leaning in closer as if this was all just a horror story and she wished to hear the end of it. There was a silence, then Nikolai repeated:
“They’ve been kidnapped.” Zoya said, leaning back again, her expression unreadable.
“No, I understand, I just-What?” Nikolai said again, running his fingers through his golden hair.
“Who kidnapped them?” Zoya asked, taking Nikolai’s glass of kvas and drinking it all, receiving an annoyed look from the king.
“We don’t know.” Wylan said from the end of the couch.
“But we think they’re here, in Ravka.” Nina added, fidgeting with her heavy coat.
“We have cause to believe they’ve been kidnapped by a huge Slaver ring. The way they’ve been kidnapped, it all fits the slavers’ usual way.” Inej explained.
“It’s the one of the few slaver rings Inej hadn’t been able to bring down yet.” Jesper added.
They all looked over to Matthias, in case he wanted to add something, but he was preoccupied with glaring at Nikolai.
“Nina, sweetheart, how much does your husband want to kill me?” Nikolai asked, moving a bit away.
“Uhm, average?” Nina suggested. Nikolai’s head snapped to hers.
“What do you mean ‘average’? People don’t usually want to kill me.” Nikolai replied.
“Eh,” Kaz said at the same time as Zoya let out a laugh. Nikolai stared at both of them.
“Anyway,” Inej said, bringing the theme of the meeting back to its original matter.
“The point is, these particular slavers hold their bases here, somewhere in Ravka. So we were wondering if you could maybe help us find our children.”
Before Zoya could even say a word, Nikolai exclaimed:
“Of course we’ll help you!” the group turned to Zoya.
“We’ll help you.” she confirmed.
“Let’s see. I’ll ask Tamar to bring together a few guards and spies that could try and find some information on it, we’ll need some Grisha too and... do you have any idea where they might be?” the group shook their heads.
“That’s alright, we’ll find them. We’ll find them and we’ll bring them back.” Nikolai said with confidence Kaz hadn’t felt for a long time.
“If they’re not dead.” Jesper muttered.
“Let’s hope they’re not.” Kaz said, standing up with the help of his cane.
“It’s obvious why we should hope so, but since I think you’re about to make a dramatic point I’m going to ask you anyways. Why, Kaz?” Jesper asked. Kaz placed his hat on his head, running his fingers across its brim.
“Because if they are, I will kill everyone that has ever as much as looked in their direction.” Kaz said, walking out of the room.
Ava woke up, her mind clouded. Whether it was from the throbbing pain in her head or some drug, she didn’t know. She sat up, flinching at the pain and nausea it brought her. Her sight was unclear, like she was looking through a thick fog and the place she was in was dimly lit.
She looked around, trying to figure out where she was. That’s when she noticed them. On one side Melinda with her tanned skin and blonde hair falling down in waves; the twins, their hair the same colour as their mother Nina’s, mischievous expressions even as their eyes were closed. On the other side she noticed Eskil, his light hair a mess. They were all asleep. No, that wasn’t right.
They were all drugged.
The memories came down on her like an avalanche, sudden, suffocating. The men that dragged her out of her own house in the middle of the night, Jordie’s scared face, the handkerchief pressed against her nose and mouth until she passed out.
Suddenly she was aware of the rocking of the place she was in, of the sound of waves crashing; suddenly she was aware of the fact that she was on a ship.
Tears started running down her cheeks, sobs emerging from her chest. She wanted to go home, she wanted to hug her parents, to play with Jordie. She continued crying, trying to silence herself by pressing a hand against her lips, so whoever took her wouldn’t realize she was awake. She looked up, trying to blink away the tears from her eyes. The Saints, Ghezen, Djel, she prayed. Anyone. Please help us. Please.
She had always thought of herself as an atheist, someone who did not believe in any faith, but right now that didn’t matter.
“Please,” she whispered with a sob, closing her eyes tightly and repeating the few prayers she could remember over and over again, first in her mind, then in a quiet whisper.
“Please. Can anybody hear me?”
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