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Let The Rites Commence

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“Reader!”

By the Scribes, not again. The door to your apartment creaks open and even though you’re in your room and have no clear view, you know that the Archjustice has just burst into your place. He never cares to knock, only to preface his entrances by screaming your name.

It’s not even a name, either. You used to do public readings of old literary classics, and the Archjustice happened to show up to each of them. He called you “Reader” from then onwards, and the only reason you address him by such an absurd title is that he has blatantly refused to speak his true name, or to hear yours.

“Reader!” He screeches again, and you distance yourself from the old city records you’d found yourself lost in, rising from your chair. Bones crack and pop as you do, and perhaps you have been sitting there for a little too long. The sun wasn’t that high in the sky when you started the book.

 

With a grunt and a moan, you stretch your arms up as you drag yourself into the kitchen, where the Archjustice himself is waiting, fridge door open and letting out a chill. “You have no milk here, Reader. No way for a man to make his coffee, nor his cereal. It must be the work of the Nightwings, no doubt.”

Ah, the Nightwings. They’re your other roommates, Hedwyn, Jodariel, and Rukey. The Archjustice has never seen eye to eye with them, although your little ragtag group of friends don’t really like the man. You’re the only one who does find him tolerable, and even that changes with the stars above.

You find yourself telling him that no, the Nightwings are not responsible for your lack of milk. You drank the last of it yesterday, and had not gotten around to shopping for some more. In fact, Hedwyn was out getting some for you right now.

He doesn’t seem to really care though. “Bah! Curse on those Nightwings.” The fridge is slammed shut and although nothing breaks, you can hear condiments rattling around inside. It makes you flinch, although the Archjustice doesn’t notice. Now he’s just rifling through your cupboards in search of something. “Do they not know the courtesies of keeping a house stocked?”

Amused, you ask the Archjustice if he knows the courtesies of knocking before entering. He turns to give you a look before returning to his search. His gaze does nothing to you, but you know he was trying to at least make you back down. He is not great at accepting criticism, or being proved wrong.

Your friend, Sandra, insists you should critique his flaws at every passing moment.

 

It has been five minutes and the Archjustice is still rifling through. You ask him what for. You weren’t curious to start with, but the fact he is relentless in his search does bring about a sense of mystery.

He grunts in response, but sensing you will not accept it as an answer, he relents. “I had stored some things here for such an occasion as this.”

This means the Archjustice has been through your pantry and cupboards before. You ask when.

“When you were asleep, dear Reader,” he responds in that softer tone he uses when he’s trying to be charming. Most likely he’s trying to not aggravate you. Too late. Your arms are crossed and he spares a glance, only to quickly return to his task. It does not take much longer, as he withdraws from the corner of your cupboard with a box of long-life milk. It had been nestled among the baking pans that Rukey’s mother had gifted you all, but none of you had committed to using.

With a flick of his wrist, the kettle is boiling, and soon he is pouring himself a coffee. Just as you voice your own longing for a cup, he begins pouring another. “You should look after yourself, Reader,” the Archjustice assures as he presses the cup into your hands. It has sugar and milk, made almost perfectly. You suspect the Archjustice is a barista, although if you asked him he’d just dodge the question. “A rested mind takes on words far easier than one stretched to its limit.”

 

For once, the Archjustice is being very polite. He is not often, due to the fact you hang out with your roommates (“Blasted Nightings!” he would roar,) and you have contact with Volfred. He has anger with them, and it is then projected onto you. Now, it seems as if he sees you as someone separate; the Reader from the library, as opposed to the friend of those he opposes. It is a momentary peace, but as the two of you stand there in the kitchen, at what you theorize is the late afternoon, after staying up all night reading the ancient history of this town, you’re grateful for it.

This peace does not last long though, as the apartment door creaks open. The Archjustice pays it no mind at first, as if he does not hear it, but as Hedwyn staggers into the kitchen with shopping bags, the Archjustice grumbles.

“Archjustice,” greets Hedwyn politely, bowing his head. He turns to you and smiles, setting the shopping onto the dining table. “I got milk, along with some drinks for us, and a new book.” He holds up a thick tome with the words “Titan Stars” emblazoned on the front. Beside you, the Archjustice is shaking with suppressed rage, trying very hard not to cause a scene, or throw his coffee cup. He has done it once, and cleaning up the tiny shards of porcelain took up much of your precious time. “I saw this book and thought of you! It’s very old, so I was hoping you could maybe explain it some more.”

You agree. Your friends love to hear you read, and seeing as none of them really took to literature, they turn to you for help. The Archjustice sets down his cup on the table gently, and you spare him a look. He seems to be gently fuming, and it seems he is about to make a quiet and subtle escape.

Of course, this is the moment your door slams open. By the Scribes, those people need to learn to use doors properly. This is why Hedwyn is your favourite friend. Now you hear Jodariel speaking, voice low but gentle. It seems as if the Stowaway is with her; a girl who changes her name with every passing moon, and befriended you by sneaking into your moving truck. Now she is called Tae, but she might change her mind later.

They enter the kitchen and the Archjustice hums, crossing his arms and trying very hard to be civil. If he were not prideful, you would compliment him on his composure. He has been driven to lash out at the mere thought of the Nightwings, let alone being in a room with two members, and their honorary entourage.

However this does not seem to be the end, and quietly you wish the Archjustice had the decency to phone ahead, lest you avoid these awkward confrontations. Pamitha is currently kicking off her shoes, and Volfred is helping Sir Gilman into the house (although you’re not sure where the Sir part came from, only that it suits him too well.) Bertrude has pushed her way into the kitchen for a cup of tea, while Rukey is loudly chatting to Ti’zo, Volfred’s parrot that insists on going everywhere.

 

At this point, you’re not even sure why everyone is here. The most likely reason is that everyone invited themselves over for a story night, or perhaps to watch some bad movies together. Either way, there are nine Nightwings, honorary and first Triumvirate, and the Archjustice looks like he is going to snap, temper thin as a strand of twine.

You do try to ask everyone to quieten down as they pack into the kitchen but it is too little and far too late. A loud shout of “Nightwings!” stuns everyone into silence long enough to realize that, shit, the Archjustice was standing there the entire time, and now he’s probably going to fight us all.

“Oh! Hello, Mister Archjustice, are you staying, here longer, I mean?” Tae asks with boundless enthusiasm. You bite your lip uneasily, fully expecting an outburst of anger.

Instead, the Archjustice merely sighs. “No, Tae,” he says with a voice of exhaustion. “I was just about to leave, having my rather enjoyable coffee disrupted by this rabble.” Hedwyn frowns at this, and you very subtly assure him that he and his friends are not in fact, rabble, as the Archjustice says. Tae is not disturbed by the insult, while the rest have chosen to ignore his words, adjusted to how the man speaks. Without much more, he marches through the crowd and out the door, and to his credit, does not slam it. A silence descends over everyone, and you grasp your new book and hold it aloft in an attempt to break through, asking if anyone would care to listen, only to hear a resounding ‘Yes’ in response.

 

You have never personally visited the Archjustice. You keep finding excuses, such as your roommates wish to hang out with you, or teach you their basketball hybrid (which the Archjustice actually likes but refuses to admit), or even that you’re not entirely sure that he’d welcome you with open arms. The Archjustice is a constantly fluctuating individual and you’re never quite sure how to approach him.

Now though, you do find the effort to visit him, and are mildly horrified to find out you were making so many excuses to avoid going to the apartment immediately to the left. Still, you aren’t one to back down from a choice, as you find yourself knocking on the door.

There is some silence, and you think that perhaps the Archjustice isn’t home. It’s probably for the best. He doesn’t really enjoy your company now you’re associated with your little Triumvirate. The moment to back out has vanished however, as the door opens and you find yourself staring up into the stony glare of the Archjustice.

“Good afternoon, Reader,” he greets politely, which does catch you unaware. “What brings you to my humble abode?”
You hold up some milk and the book Hedwyn brought home; detailing Titan Stars and their mythic connections to something beyond you all. The Archjustice laughs heartily, and you find yourself smiling as he bids you welcome.

 

The day is spent with his complaints of the Nightwings, scattered between book readings, and a personal tour of the Archjustice’s personal library. As it turns out, he is quite the bookworm himself, and the small snippet he reads from a book rivals that of your own retellings. With each passing moment, every cup of coffee, you feel a strange bond growing between you both. It is weighed down by your affiliations, whom the Archjustice has a long and troubled history with, but still remains strong.

As you pack up for the day and make your goodbye, you get the sense that the Archjustice may genuinely want to associate with you, but your entourage makes it difficult. You appreciate the effort he uses though, although his methods of communication and friendmaking leave much to be desired. With some thanks, and the promise to come again, you head back home to find your friends all eagerly awaiting your return, with news of how they have triumphed against The Accusers in the local “Basketball Hell” contest. It was a close one, but as they recount it, you can’t help but be proud. You wish you could have been there, but the thought of leaving the Archjustice to just mope around his home weighed heavy on you. Perhaps sometime in the future, you can convince him to attend the games, maybe even commentate. He’s got the voice of an announcer, best he put it to use, in your opinion.

The thought leaves your mind soon, as dinner is served up. It was Jodi’s turn to cook, and it looks heavenly. Conversation about the day’s events fills the night and creates a warm atmosphere, something that fills you with ease. It is at this you realize something; the Archjustice’s home did not have this cosy feeling, and even with your conversations earlier, the moment you’d started to leave, the sensation of comfort you’d brought about had vanished.

Maybe the Archjustice is just desperate for friends, and you are the only person he can stand.

 

It takes much encouragement from Jodariel, Rukey, and Hedwyn, but you find yourself before the Archjustice’s door again. You do not knock though, in fact, you are mustering the courage for something far greater. Your apartment door creaks and Rukey sticks his head out to offer you a thumbs up and a smile, hoping you go through with your plan.

The door opens, and you scream a word into the apartment. “Archjustice!”
Inside you hear him scrambling but you pay no mind, making yourself welcome as you march to his fridge, opening it. The Archjustice does have milk, juice, and water in there, but as you withdraw the milk carton and set about making yourself a coffee, you notice something.

You shout about the lack of sugar, the poor hospitality, the lack of manners, pulling out every little nitpicked insult the Archjustice has ever served you, even making a point to touch on the lack of biscuits to be served alongside said drink (although you ate them all yesterday in one go so technically that’s your fault and not his) making sure to dress up and elaborate on every word. By the time you’re done, the Archjustice is standing in the kitchen, arms crossed, face stony.

You fear you’ve ruined it.

But then he laughs, and his arms drop to his side as he leans forward to try and not collapse. There are genuine tears in his eyes, and his stupid, curly hair bobs with his movements. “R-Reader,” he stammers out eventually, “I did not know you had it in you to command such authority.”

Pride wells in your chest. You’ve made him laugh, and he’s not mad, so that’s great. But the real joy comes from that comforting sensation, the one you had yesterday, both with him and with the Nightwings. The Archjustice is struggling to catch his breath as he opens a cupboard and pulls out a fresh box of biscuits. “Unlike you and your careless friends, I happen to keep stock of everything,” he assures, taking some deep breaths as he tries to smother the few remaining chuckles. In the same cupboard is sugar, which he hands to you with a smug grin.

Both items are accepted, and you make some elaborate and elegant speech about making houseguests look or ask for the expected materials needed for the ceremonious coffee all friends should have when visiting. You at least make him a coffee while you complain (white with six sugars, Scribes watch over him,) and offer him a biscuit as you grab your own. It makes him smile, and it persists as you both sit at the dining table to drink and speak.

 

Your peaceful coffee is momentarily interrupted as a loud thump comes from next door. From what you can guess, Rukey threw the ball too hard, and forgot to warn Jodariel about it. It cuts through the conversation and you stiffen, expecting the Archjustice to yell as he always does.
“Sorry, chum!” comes Rukey’s shout, more or less owning up to the act.

Before you, the Archjustice sighs, scratches at his head, then raises his voice to speak. “Do be careful, lest I take that blasted ball away and force you all to practice with tumbleweeds.”
It’s an odd threat but it’s taken by the others, who quieten down.

The pride from earlier wells in you again as he attempts to offer you a smile, sipping his coffee as he does. Maybe this is a step in the right direction. Your friends and the Archjustice have history, this you know, but perhaps he is willing to work through it, with some help. It seems as though he’d like to. You offer to have him around for a book reading, perhaps even the both of you telling a story, and he seems to shift uneasily, unsure of what to say.

 

When you first befriended the Archjustice, you had been reading a book on Liberation Rites, a magical ritual said to have occurred long in the past, to cleanse a soul of all sins. People cast themselves into the fire in order to better themselves, and move away from their past actions.

It is for this reason, you found great amusement when he offered you a hand, and in response to you shaking it, spoke one thing.

“Let the Rites commence.”