It wasn't supposed to have gone this way. That was the thought that kept running through Ceres's mind as she hurriedly wrapped bandages around her bleeding arm, over and over again like a mantra that she couldn't quite stop. It was supposed to be a simple job: break into the home, evade any guards, steal the documents, and get out quietly. She and Maya had done it dozens if not hundreds of times over the years. How could it have gone so wrong, so quickly?
Lord Liadon had lied to them.
It wasn't the first time that thought had popped into her head that night. The moment she had realized that the entire Jassan family was home, not away from their manor like Lord Liadon had sworn they would be, she'd wondered if it was a mistake on his part or a purposeful lie. The more she thought about it, though, the more she suspected it was the latter.
Nothing she had seen had made it seem like the household had returned from a trip unexpectedly. And a family that size, there would have been some sign. No, they'd clearly not been away anytime recently. Which meant that fucking elf had stared her and Maya in the eyes before lying to their face. And lying well, because neither of them had been foolish enough to trust him at his word. They'd been watching for a sign that he was planning something, and they'd missed it.
He'd meant for this to happen. Or, at least the very least, he'd meant for something to happen. Maybe he hadn't meant for a child to end up dead, for so many innocents to be killed, but he had to have known it was a potential outcome. There wasn't any way he couldn't have realized it.
Her hand slipped, putting more pressure on one of the cuts on her arm than she'd meant, and Ceres grimaced. She pulled her mind back to the present with some struggle. It had been some time since she'd had to deal with an injury the old-fashioned way, without any magic or potions to speed up the healing. But a sword thrust to the side was much more of a risk than glass shards in the arm, so Maya had gotten the last of their potions.
Damn it, it wasn't supposed to have gone this way.
Ceres forced herself to breathe more slowly, pushing aside the rising panic she could feel building inside her. She needed to think. Gods knew that Maya wouldn't. If Ceres knew her, and after this many years she thought that she knew Maya pretty damn well, her mind was already a hundred miles away, running through various escape plans and figuring out the fastest way out of Lyrengorn.
"How's your arm?"
Ceres glanced up as Maya leaned over her shoulder to take a look at the bandages she'd just finished wrapping. "I'll live," she said dryly. "Liadon set us up."
"Probably," Maya agreed with a shrug. "There's nothing we can do about that right now. We need to leave the city tonight before word starts to spread."
The rest remained unspoken, but both of them could almost hear it. Burglary was one thing. Murder was another entirely.
"You say it so matter-of-factly," Ceres said quietly, the words slipping out before she could stop them.
Beside her, Maya went still. "What else is there to say?" she asked almost curiously. Like it was just another day. Like both of them weren't splattered with blood, some of it their own but a lot of it belonging to other people. "There's a lot of bodies back there, and we have no idea if any of the people still alive saw our faces."
Ceres's mind flashed back to that hallway, the tiny body dropping to the floor at her feet and the startled gasp coming from a nearby doorway. She hadn't gotten a good look at the other child, not even enough to guess their gender. All she'd noticed was a pair of wide eyes as they stared straight at her. Her hood had been up, hiding her face in shadows, but she suspected they'd gotten a clear view.
She reached up to tiredly rub at her eyes with her good arm. "That's a good point," she agreed, careful not to look at Maya as she did. It was easier to tell someone was lying, even if it was only by omission, when you could see their face. "Damn it, this whole thing turned into a clusterfuck."
Maya leaned in and pressed a kiss against her cheek. "That's an understatement," she said, a hint of humor in her voice. "Finish packing. We need to get out of here."
Ceres took in a deep breath, holding it for a moment before letting it out. Then she did it again. Maya was making a good point, and she knew it. They were fucked if anyone had gotten a good enough look at either of them to provide a description. If they were going to save their own skin, they needed to head south and stay there, at least for a while. It would be the wisest course of action, and she knew it.
More out of habit than anything, she reached up to rub her fingers along the scar tissue that cut across her face. It didn't hurt, not anymore, but she could feel it tugging just a little every time she spoke or smiled or even breathed too hard. It was a constant reminder that she wasn't nearly as wise as she should be sometimes.
"Ceres, hurry up!"
She glanced over her shoulder. Maya was almost finished packing, both her own bag and Ceres's resting on the unmade bed. The sheets were still wrinkled from earlier, the two of them releasing some of their pent-up energy before leaving to go rob the Jassan manor.
In her mind's eyes, Ceres saw the small body hit the ground again. Two dark eyes stared up at her, blank and sightless, set into a face that was much younger than she'd expected it to be. She'd thought that it was a halfling or maybe even a gnome, another guard like the ones that'd taken out earlier. The family wasn't supposed to have been home. There shouldn't have been a child there in the first place.
It wasn't supposed to have gone this way.
"Damn it." Almost before Ceres could blink, Maya was kneeling beside her again. "Don't you go and get a conscience on me now," she snapped. "Yes, tonight sucked, but we need to get out of here. It was an accident."
"No," Ceres said slowly, "it wasn't."
Maya blinked at that, a flash of confusion darting across her face. "What?"
"I didn't know it was a kid," Ceres said quickly. "I don't mean that. But it wasn't an accident. I knew what I was doing when I pulled out my dagger."
"You thought it was a guard!" Maya snapped at her.
Ceres shook her head. "What about the others?" she asked. "Not the guards. The ones there at the end. They were unarmed, they—"
"They were trying to stop us," Maya said, cutting her off mid-sentence. Ceres recognized the look on her face. It was the one that she wore when her patience was wearing thin. "It was us or them. Damn it, Ceres, we need to go. This isn't the first time we've killed people. Does it really bother you that much this time?"
"No." Ceres could hear the bitterness in her voice. "No, it doesn't. That's the problem."
Maya muttered something under her breath in a language that Ceres didn't know. She was fairly certain she got the gist of it, even without speaking whatever it was. Cursing was easy enough to recognize, after all. "What are you talking about?" she finally snarled out, switching back to Common.
"You said it yourself," Ceres said. "There are a lot of bodies back there. I should be upset. I should be guilty. I should be—" She trailed off and gave Maya a weak smile that she doubted came close to reaching her eyes. "All I am is angry at that bastard for setting us up and worried about what's going to happen if we get caught."
Maya threw her hands up in the air. "Then why are we sitting here having this conversation instead of getting the fuck out of this city?"
"Because I just killed a child, Maya, and the only thing I'm upset about is what it means for me," Ceres shot back at her. The words tasted like ash in her mouth. "What exactly does that make me?"
"Intelligent!" Maya snapped. "I'm leaving. If you're coming with me, get your ass up now."
She stood up, whirling towards the bed to grab her back before making a beeline for the door. She stopped in front of it and glanced back at Ceres expectantly.
Ceres stayed where she was.
Something flickered across Maya's face, some emotion that Ceres couldn't quite read, but it was there and gone so quickly that she didn't have a chance to focus on it. Then Maya narrowed her eyes, her expression growing guarded. "You're really staying here?" she asked. "After all these years, you're throwing away everything we are just like that?"
"Only if you make me," Ceres said softly.
Maya stared at her for a long moment. Then she lowered her gaze, a quiet sigh escaping her lips. Something deep inside Ceres's chest ached.
Then, without even a glance back at Ceres, Maya opened the door and slipped out. The soft click as it closed behind her almost echoed through the room.
Ceres stayed where she was, blood slowly soaking through the bandages on her arm, as she stared at the door for longer than she should have. Then she let out a shaky sigh and stood up, her good hand reaching towards the small pouch at her side where she'd stashed the proof that Lord Liadon had hired two people of less-than-savory reputations to break into the Jassan family's home.
It couldn't undo what had happened. But she was going to do her best to make certain that smug, lying bastard regretted ever setting his eyes on her and Maya.
And then, well, she'd see what the future held for her. To the south. Or the east. Or the west. Or anywhere that was away from Lyrengorn.