Perhaps all people who live in poverty also live in invisibility. Ana lived in relative poverty and yet even she did not notice her. It was only when the old woman across the road said her name that Ana looked up. She was clearly in the grips of a grand fit trying to stop people walking by her on the street so she could say what she had to say to them. No one would even pause. She wore a skirt of an appropriate length according to the Orderic Laws of Female Decency but it had holes in it, probably because it was ancient. It was likely once a hoop skirt but it looked like a rag now. She had a makeshift shawl thrown over her shoulders which she clutched closer as if it could provide any resistance to the cold. Her boots were old and made from cheap leather, they were probably full of water from that puddle she keeps sloshing through, back and forth back and forth…
Nenavysta would have just left the poor creature to her misery and ravings, no use in getting involved in a lost cause but Ana wouldn’t stop watching her.
You’re going to get in trouble, Nenavysta said to Ana. Trying to draw her attention back to the pastry we’d been eating. She picked it up in her hand and stood leaving the patio of the bakery. Nenavysta sighed internally. We don’t have time for your bleeding heart. This is a bad idea.
The old woman spotted us and scurried over. She looked like a crab all skin and bones and pointy elbows draped in moth-eaten fabric. Poor thing.
“She strikes! She strikes closer to home than ever before!”
“Ma’am you need to calm down,” Ana said in a soothing voice.
“No, they won’t warn us, they are trying to cover it up! The Witch is near!” she hissed clutching our arm as if to keep us from walking away and ignoring her.
“Take this,” Ana said putting a coin and the remainder of the pastry in the old woman’s hand. “If you don’t calm down now those soldiers will come over here and remove you.”
Ana cocked her head in the direction of two men in official Legion uniforms standing on the street corner looking in their general direction.
“They are trying to cover it up! The Witch is here, in Unther! Nenavysta Hradi, the demon, the monster…”
The evil whore, the murderess, the blah, blah, blah, Ana sweetie we’ve heard this all before now walk away from her. You can’t help a crazy woman, she warned Ana.
“I know why she steals the eyes! She doesn’t want to watch as Death takes them! She doesn’t want the gods to see her disgrace, she fears Order’s judgment! It’s the men today, but a Witch has no pity in her heart. Soon it will be the likes of us as well, then the children! Be careful. A young pretty thing like you…” the old woman’s voice trailed off as she focused on our eyes. She frowned and her grip tightened. Ana placed a hand over hers and leaned forward.
She spoke quickly in a harsh tone trying to force the woman to understand her own warning.
“Ma’am stop shouting, you need to calm yourself, those soldiers are watching us. You are creating a public disturbance they will come over here and drag you off screaming and shouting into one of the alleys and beat your skull in without a second thought. You are old, you are female, and you are raving mad. No one will stop them from killing you and they will if you don’t shut up.”
“Green eyes…” the woman said touching our cheek. “My late husband said that the Witch had green eyes.”
Nenavysta pushed Ana out of body and pulled their hands away from the old hag. She pulled a small silver blade from a hidden pocket in her coat and thrust it into the folds of the woman’s shawl. She gasped and fell into Nenavysta’s arms. Excitement trickled inside her and she stabbed the hag again. Ana was screaming inside their shared mind. Nenavysta looked around no one was looking but the crone was bound to start screaming. She twisted the knife and pulled it out, hiding it up her sleeve. The woman stood there shaking as if in shock and Nenavysta strode away.
“DEMON! WITCH! HATRED’S DAUGHTER! ANARCHIST WHORE!” The woman’s screams could be heard down the street but we’d already disappeared into the crowd and no one would ever hear the old woman’s accusing words for what she meant them to be. The soldiers on the street corner strode past us, they wore the tell-tale scarf around their arms, indicating they too followed the Blood Plague Campaign Nenavysta started six years ago. She saw one draw a club from his belt. She turned at the end of the street, leaning against the wall of a building and watched as the two men seized the old banshee and dragged her off. Nenavysta listened to her shrieks in the distance until they died.
“It’s a shame when they go like that,” muttered a shopkeeper.
“Yes, it’s a real shame,” she said smiling to herself as she turned the bloody knife over, and over in their hands. She turned and continued walking down the street.
Perhaps Ana’s altruism wasn’t such a waste of time after all. Too bad we couldn’t finish with the hag…
Ana opened Guineviva’s door trying not to make any noise and peered inside. The house was quiet and dark. The blinds were closed to keep out suspicious glances. She took off her coat and hung it on the coat hanger. She walked into the living area and stopped when she saw Guineviva lying on the couch. She was breathing slowly, sleeping. Ana picked up a blanket from the floor and laid it on top of Guineviva’s sleeping form. She’s been up all night and worked all day selling her wares to those with the money to pay and serving bread and soup to those who didn’t.
You’re not giving me the silent treatment are you? Nenavysta asked Ana.
“Noralie, I’m home,” she said when she passed by the stairs, she didn’t say it very loudly so as not to wake up Guineviva. Noralie has excellent hearing, her body’s way of compensating for her blindness I suppose.
She walked into the kitchen and picked up a filthy dish and decided to begin the washing, clearly Noralie and Guineviva were exhausted. Ana took off her gloves and flexed her fingers, the bandage on her left arm was too close to her hand so she simply used her left to move the dishes, trying her best not to get it wet. She turned on the water and watched the sink fill. Ana stirred the water with the fingers of her right hand.
Was it hot?
Was it cold?
She couldn’t be expected to know the difference, not with her fingers. She touched her cheek with the wet fingers and determined it was cold water; Guineviva must have stopped paying for heating at some point. Ana observed the burns on her hands and sighed. It used to aggravate her to no end the lack of feeling, the loss of touch. Then standing in front of the sink in her current circumstances it seemed ironic, or perhaps poetic…
She’s done a good job of forgetting and moving on though. I can’t change the past and neither can she, they don’t feel anything in their hands, the nerves and skin were too damaged from the fire.
Do you ever think about the families of your victims? Ana asked after a few minutes of silently washing dishes, she was still thinking about the woman.
Did you kill the old woman’s husband?
You can’t expect me to know that.
That doesn’t answer my question, she said gripping the dish cloth tightly.
If he saw us and lived then no probably not, Nenavysta answered giving Ana a “friendly” reminder of who she was. She gasped and looked at the mental images Nenavysta pushed into her mind.
The blood, the screaming, the fire, the silence…
Please stop. She withdrew and the mental bombardment ceased. Ana got the point.
Don’t act so holy, you never think about the families either. At the very least you don’t care about the victims. Didn’t those boots you’re wearing belong to a noble from the North? You paid for your boat ticket back into Rest Shade with money you took off a corpse? Then the train ticket to Unther? Or did I imagine all those parts? I don’t have a care for money or items, I’m an entity.
It’s not the same, Nenavysta could hear the pleading in her voice. She didn’t just want to be different from me, she needed to be. She thought about the dead priest, the one that called the Legion to remove her father, about the cut on her wrist.
She needed to be different from Nenavysta. She couldn’t benefit from other people’s suffering. She needed her guilt. She needed to be the sympathetic one. Not that that takes very much effort. Nenavysta couldn’t care less.
She heard a door open and shut in the other room. Ana put down the dishcloth and walked over to the kitchen door as quietly as she could manage. She looked into the main room and saw the serving counter, the living area, the window, and the wooden floors.
“Guineviva is sleeping, we should be quiet,” the voice was male and very familiar. Ana jumped from the doorway and went straight for the pantry, she ducked behind it and curled up.
If you want them to stop treating you like a criminal, stop acting like you have something to hide, Nenavysta advised her.
No one knows about you yet, I want to keep it that way, Ana said clenching her teeth.
Very well, they’ll just go on believing you are the sadomasochist that hurt Tybalt and manipulated Ragnar it makes no difference to me, Nenavysta taunted.
“Where is Anaxandra?” asked Devlin.
“Who knows, she may have left town already, she might be upstairs sleeping, or she could be out…”
“I get the idea, Ragnar,” Devlin snapped. She heard the kitchen door creak and there were footsteps in the kitchen. Someone was opening and going through the cupboards.
“Do you know what Tybalt has been saying?”
“No, what has he been saying?” Devlin sounded tired, frustrated and angry.
“I overheard him saying to Kim that the Unther Cabal should put Ana on trial, like a proper criminal.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! The Cabal only exists so that its members are safe from prosecution and we can have safety. Putting Ana on trial and punishing her would send the wrong message,” Devlin said.
Ana flinched at his words, they were too cold, too analytical.
“She’s your sister, Devlin. You need to stand up for her because if the other night is any indication Ana won’t stand up for herself.”
“She tried to commit suicide, Ragnar. Ana has clearly given up on herself, so why should I care; all that is going to come out of this is suffering. She comes back here after years of no contact, not a letter, not a call, nothing. All that is going to happen is Noralie is going to get attached to her and she’ll go off and die or worse.”
Ana saw Ragnar’s feet as he walked past where she hid and she stiffened.
“I think we still need to hear her side of the story. You can’t judge her based solely on what Tybalt says.” Ragnar stopped by the space beside the pantry where we hid. He looked down at Ana and in his eyes she saw a fight. He wanted to be compassionate but he found it hard.
You should tell them. It’s not like they can turn us over to the Pharaoh and we have friends in the Legion if they did tell. They have a lot more to lose if they are found out than we do. I thrive on hate; you’ve withered into a useless twit. Let them hate me. I don’t care.
I fear it’s too late to blame you.
Ragnar walked out of the kitchen with Devlin. She heard the front door close.
Ana unfolded her clenched fists to see blood, her fingernails had been digging into her palms, enough so to draw blood, and she’d never felt it. Ana’s limp quivered and she bit it. She didn’t want to cry. Not hiding in the corner of the kitchen from her own family. She was too proud. She was also too scared of what those tears would confirm.
Ana’s head shot up at the sound of Noralie’s voice. She quickly wiped away the tears and stood up.
“Noralie, how are you?” she asked lamely.
“What did Devlin and Ragnar want?” she asked.
“Not much, they were just looking for… food; you know boys and their stomachs,” she said faking a light-hearted laugh. Noralie had her arms folded across her chest and tapped her foot.
The kid is too smart for you Ana, Nenavysta laughed.
“Where did you go today?” Noralie asked.
Ana thought for a moment before answering her, “The market.”
“I just wanted to go someplace to think.”
“You can think here,” she said. Ana blinked and looked at Noralie’s overcast eyes.
“I’m sorry, Noralie. I promised I won’t leave you like that again. Things are just… complicated right now.”
“I could hear Devlin and Ragnar you know.”
Ana sighed, “I figured as much.”
“What will you do if they do put you on trial? You will defend yourself, right?”
“Swear it!” The intensity of Noralie’s expression surprised Noralie. “Devlin may have given up on you but I know that you’re good! I just know it. Now promise. You won’t just take whatever the Nightingales throw at you.”
“Say it like you mean it,” Noralie demanded.
“I swear Noralie, if I’m going to give up and die like Devlin said it will not be because of scum like Tybalt Nightingale or his precious rebel society,” Ana snapped channeling the force and outrage she sensed coming from Noralie.
“That’ll do,” Noralie said with a weak smile.