It crosses her mind, momentarily: the captain must always go down with the ship. Her slaves lost to the tides, the sky set alight—how easy would it be, surely, for her to become another lost soul? It would maybe be her last glory, to be born on the sea and to return to it in death.
Redglare and her dragon cut trails of smoke across the sky—a mere neophyte she may be, but Mindfang cannot bring herself to feel disdain. Redglare has brought her fleet to its knees, dissected her mighty ships to mere driftwood, and for that—for that, Mindfang is almost impressed, if grudgingly so. She clutches at her stump, breathes in ash through her nose, thinks: no. This is not how it ends, Redglare. How utterly ridiculous of me to even consider it.
Redglare smiles down at her, so haughty, so disgustingly triumphant—her teeth are sharp to a point. Mindfang thinks of her slave-girls, with their warm touches and trembling hands, tentatively working undone the buttons of her jacket. But do not think I will go easily. Even now, let it be made known: the Marquise submits to no-one.
She awakes to searing pain. Her eye twitches uselessly in its socket, seeing nothing but red; her arm has been cleanly sliced away at the shoulder. Redglare has certainly left her mark. Mindfang supposes that it hardly matters, now—she is mostly likely destined for death either way. She cannot pretend otherwise. The sea is a capricious mistress, and it has finally tired of her—for all her treasures and conquests, she is, in the end, entirely alone with the things she has done.
She will await her trial with dignity. They have left her unbound, free of irons or chains—they have left her a symbol of submission. The mighty Marquise, the ruthless queen of the seas, brought to her execution as easily as a rustblood to culling. Her death shall be a love letter from draconian law; she expects Redglare will seek her out soon to deliver it.
Very well. Mindfang considers the shadows of her cell in silence, and waits.
She is right; Redglare visits under the guise of announcing her sentence, something they both know to be entirely unnecessary. It's naught but a flimsy excuse for Redglare to lord her victory—any reminder of her loss the courts can make, they will. She is Marquise Spinneret Mindfang, the terror of the high seas, and here she lies, dead-eyed and bloodied in a prison cell, finally bereft of her ships and her slaves and her empire; she is the Marquise, and she has nearly lost, but not yet, not quite.
The door creaks open after: a minute, an hour, a day. Mindfang finds nothing to measure time by, in here. Yet another thing she has lost—the star-spattered night sky, the sweet siren light of the Alternian moons, the rocking of the tides in accordance with their phases. She watches Redglare watch her and thinks that regardless of whatever else she has lost, they will not take this: her memories of glorious sweeps past. They will not take her pride.
"I suppose I am to be put to the gallows," she says; not even a question. Her voice rings in the emptiness of her cell. There will be a way. There is always a way.
Redglare regards her proudly, teeth bared in a ridiculous grin—Mindfang finds herself almost preoccupied with how they shine, a stunning white against the grey of her skin. "You are to be put to justice."
"My, so incredibly earnest—then, is this truly where your loyalties lie? With this pathetic crowd of fools that you wish to call kings; this mob of primitive peasants baying for blood that you dress up in formalities and call a court? This is what you will swear yourself to?"
"Always," Redglare says, lightning-quick. Mindfang laughs and laughs, and doesn't stop even as Redglare crosses the room in two strong strides to backhand her across the face; she laughs as Redglare leaves her once more in darkness and in silence, and the sound of it echoes forever. She traces the blossoming bruise on her jawbone with her nails and laughs until she is breathless.
She knew from the beginning that Dualscar was destined to cross her. He was a bitter, miserable man, always insatiable—she had never been his alone, and for that he resented her. She recalls the dangerous shine of his eyes as she would guide some shy, lowblooded young slave's shaking hands to the buttons of her jacket or the hem of her skirts; one of those very same slaves, she would later find dead by Dualscar's own hand, a herald of his betrayal.
She cannot say that he did not have potential as a kismesis; but in the end, he had failed her. There was never to be any other end to their story. He is—was—weak. Mindfang will not mourn him.
"Were the two of you not a handsome black for one another?" Redglare says, hands resting idly on the handle of her dragon-staff, voice a curious purr; Mindfang finds herself considering these small things more and more, lately. She mentally traces the curve of Redglare's throat as she speaks and almost loses herself in the thought of how wonderfully she would be sure to gasp as Mindfang pressed her fingers into its soft flesh. "Can you truly not dredge up a single display of mourning for the loss of your dear kismesis? Or is this merely the extent of your hatred, even in death?"
Mindfang snorts. "My dear kismesis—what absolute nonsense. He double-crossed me out of sheer pathetic desperation, unable to handle the level of hatred I inspired in him. I am quite frankly not saddened in the slightest for news of his death; truth be told, I have in fact been harbouring my suspicions ever since I heard of the visit he paid to the Grand Highblood. But I daren't have hoped them to be true until now."
Her dead socket aches, sight a sea of red. She thinks of pulling off Redglare's glasses and tearing out her eyes, forcing her nails below the lids and easing them open; the frenzied fluttering of her eyelashes, the sweet teal of her dribbling blood. Mindfang watches Redglare's fingers drum against the handle of her staff, and thinks.
"Is that so," Redglare muses, corners of her mouth barely picking up. "I see."
Mindfang has not fought back once since her imprisonment. If there is one thing she has always been particularly good at, above all else—it is biding her time. It is planning. She knows better than to act blindly in a situation like this. She is the Marquise, and she will always find a way.
"Neophyte Redglare, if I may be so bold as to inquire—at any point during my transportation to this awful cell, did you, perchance, take a look at my journal?"
Redglare's smile forms, slow and thickly. If only she could tear it straight away from her face and keep it with her always, Mindfang laments—the beauty of it surely does not belong on a troll of the courts, a devoted Legislacerator. "I did."
"I thought so," Mindfang says, feeling as though she could laugh herself to tears. "Then, I will ask you only once more: does your loyalty truly lie with the courts, and the courts alone?"
"As I said before: always." Redglare's teeth glisten, striking-white in a black mouth. Mindfang gives it a moment or two before leaning over the immeasurable distance of the gulf between their worlds to kiss her.
Against her, Redglare's all jutting angles and rough hands, heavy breath and warm spit—their teeth click together, their hip-bones bump. Mindfang leans back onto the floor, arm slung over Redglare's shoulder; in here, everything echoes. She closes her eye and savours it all: every rustle of fabric, every short, sharp breath. This, here and now, is to be the crux of her victory. She will take Redglare to pieces, she will dissect every inch of vulnerability she can dredge out of her. She will win.
Redglare pulls away; a line of spit strings between their lips, and she breaks it with her tongue, slowly and deliberately. There's a watery shine to her face, a bruised rawness to her lips. Mindfang dreams that in another world, another life, she would be considering the quiet fury of Redglare's form as she traces the soft lines of some young trembling girl—oh, how the very thought of it sets her aflame.
"Do not think this means anything, Marquise," Redglare says, voice a breathless growl and hands on Mindfang's chest, pinning her to the floor. "You are but a desperate troll whose delusions I will indulge out of my own mercy; you are still a criminal. You are still to be put to death. This changes nothing."
Mindfang laughs breezily. Her think pan floods with countless tiny, half-formed fragments of thought—
(don't make a single mistake, don't do this wrong; don't give them an excuse; a slight, disconcerting pressure on your throat, a little choke nestled in your chest; that could be you, the next day or the next; any day now, you'll have outlasted your usefulness; a light-headed feeling, the sky above you glittering and gleaming, the rush of the wind filling you with entirely false courage;
another wanted poster, a raise on the reward money; the sharp curve of her face, her jawbone, the ridge above her eye where her brow forms; an inexplicable heat rising in you;
yet another attack; villages left in ruins, inhabitants presumably taken as slaves; the Grand Highbloods muttering their dissatisfaction; your lusus' tail curled around you protectively; this is it, you say, this assignment is what decides it; a coin, spinning in the air, catching the light, looking almost like a star; you hate her, you hate her not;
ships aflame, trolls screaming; her, in the middle of it all, clutching her torn arm, gritting her teeth; you smile and barely feel it at all;
the crimson glaze of her dead eye, almost identical to your glasses; isn't this what you wanted? then where is the sense of satisfaction, the triumphant feeling of a job well done?;
don't touch her; don't let yourself go; your work should always come first, after all—)
—and she's heard enough, now. She allows Redglare to hold her down, grants her the impression of control; she lets Redglare touch her however she pleases. Her neck burns blue with remainders of toothy-kisses, her lips glaze over with spit, and every touch throws her further into Redglare's mind; every touch is a step towards victory. She is the Marquise, and here she lies pressed against the cold floor of a prison cell and folded-into the rough kisses of a Legislacerator, and she has won.
In the end, it comes easily—luck has granted itself to her once more. The turn-out to her execution is far more than she dared to hope. For the most part, they are lowblood peasants; weak-headed and impressionable, particularly susceptible to her manipulations.
In the end, all it takes is a quiet nudge from think pan to think pan, a simple operation. It's so easy that Mindfang is left entirely under-whelmed. This is the most they will give to me? This is truly what my life truly hangs in the balance of? How pathetic.
She watches the crowd swarm around Redglare, scrambling at her with their filthy claws, throwing the noose around her neck—she closes her eye and listens to Redglare scream, and dreams of her other world where they are now running free together, where they have thrown open the court doors and let the wind take them where it takes them, where, upon the high seas, they are one another's scourge.
"If I am being honest; this is not what I wished for you. It is merely a tragic necessity," Mindfang says, leaning down to pick Redglare's staff from the floor where it had been wrenched from her hands. "For you told me yourself—you swear to the courts and the courts alone."
Redglare looks at her then with such sheer hatred that Mindfang's heart could almost crumble. Her throat comes close to seizing as she speaks. "Alas, my plans are to bring the courts down from their very foundations; if you continue to stand by them, I am afraid that leaves me no other choice."
The crowd surges around Redglare, closing the noose tightly; her screams have begun to sound a little breathless, now, but all the same, she does not stop. Even when her throat must surely be raw and aching, she does not stop. Mindfang wishes she could kiss every one of those screams to silence. If she could, she would give her all that she had to give; every dreg of hatred and every violent want. In another world, she supposes that she maybe did. It's but a slight comfort.
"After all," she says quietly, once Redglare's screams have finally, finally, died to nothing, "the captain must always go down with the ship."
In the end, she feels nothing but stereotypical in her last move: she is the Marquise, and she regrets.