A squeaky, hoarse voice hit Zaren squarely in the eardrum. She repressed the urge to grab her ears and plaster them to the side of her head as Kieran looked up at her eagerly. He was taller now than he had been when she’d last seen him, and was currently at that awkward stage in life when a boy’s voice is utterly unbearable to listen to for more than about two consecutive seconds. Nevertheless, the pain had to be endured. Ena had asked her to look after him as a personal favour, and Zaren wasn’t in any position to refuse her. Even if she was still angry the boy’s identity had been concealed from her.
“Not ‘Inquisitor’ anymore, Kieran,” she sighed as she glided over to him to look at what he was pointing at.
“Cousin, then?” he asked, looking at her with what he probably thought was an innocent smile, but what Zaren thought was more of a conniving smirk. He looked eerily similar to Morrigan when he smiled, which only made Zaren’s mood worse.
“Absolutely not,” she grumbled. “Address me as Zaren or nothing at all.”
“Alright...Zaren,” he said, as though testing the word on his tongue.
Zaren rolled her eyes and looked around for whatever it was he was trying to point out to her. “What is it?”
“Look!” he said, all excitement once again, and this time Zaren had to reach up and flatten her ears to her skull. “There’s a secret passageway!”
“Not so loud, I beg of you,” mumbled Zaren, squinting at the outline of a doorway in the severe stone wall. A normal person probably wouldn’t have spotted it, but of course, neither she nor Kieran were anything approaching ‘normal’ people. “And I suppose you want to go down it.”
Kieran nodded vigorously.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she asked. “I take it I don’t have to remind you of the chaos you caused last time you did something like this.”
The memory of the eluvian and Not-Mythal controlling her limbs still made her shudder at times.
“But it’s nothing like back then,” he insisted, and for a moment Zaren thought he was going to stamp his foot, but he pulled out of the action at the last second. “I have you with me. And She isn’t calling me.”
“I suppose that makes it alright then,” said Zaren, raising her eyebrow in a highly disapproving manner. “After all, then both your mothers can blame me when something inevitably goes wrong.”
“Correct,” said Kieran, as though that settled the matter, before pushing the door open. “But you don’t have to come with me. Not if you don’t want to.”
“Why am I always on damage control duty?” Zaren muttered under her breath, as she followed Kieran into the passage. “You’d think they’d know better by now, but noooo…”
“It’s because they trust you,” said Kieran, cheerily. Uncanny hearing, that boy. Perhaps because of Ena… “I’d be flattered, if it were me.”
“Fortunately, you are not me,” said Zaren, feeling less and less happy about being in this ‘secret passageway’ the longer she spent in it.
It had clearly been abandoned for some time, the walls slick and slimy with moisture, and the torches that lined the walls were so damp it would probably take baking them in a furnace to light them again. She conjured a ball of light to her fingertips so they could see where they were going, and Kieran, noticing this, quickly moved to copy her.
The two steadily made their way along the passage, Kieran forging ahead, while Zaren remained a pace or two behind him, looking out for any danger as they walked.
“You seem happier now,” said Kieran, completely out of the blue.
“Than when you were Inquisitor,” he said, looking back at her with wide, dark eyes. “There’s less darkness in you than there was back then. Well done.”
“Thank you?” said Zaren, a bit bewildered.
Kieran had always had an unusual knack for saying things that were essentially true in the most uncanny way possible. She’d just about gotten used to it, having spent the past few days in his company, but occasionally he still came out with statements like that that made her jump. He was right, of course, she was happier than she was back then, for many, many reasons, but she was somewhat at a loss for how exactly he might have picked up on this change. And she had no idea what to make of the ‘darkness’ statement. Deciding that, as with all things that defied comprehension, it was best to ignore them, she just continued walking behind him, resolving to have a word with Ena about her son’s penchant for the eerie.
Eventually the silence was broken again, but this time thankfully not by Kieran’s abominably squeaky voice. Instead the boy began humming to himself. It was a tune Zaren recognised, because it had been sung to her many times around the campfire when she was a little girl. Doubtless he’d learnt it from Ena at some point. She was very fond of humming.
It was a quiet, soothing melody, often used to quiet the unruly little ones as it got towards nighttime, and Zaren could still remember how a quiet hush would descend over the camp whenever one of the Hahrens began to sing the tune. It was bittersweet too. She knew it would probably be many years before she heard the song sang like that again. Perhaps she never would. It was calming, though, and Kieran seemed to think so too, if the way his movements began slower and more controlled were any indication.
After a moment of hesitation, she began humming along with him, if only to correct the melody where he inevitably stumbled over sections. He turned back and smiled at her as she did, and she irritably rolled her eyes at him, but continued nevertheless. Between them they managed to create a moderately acceptable approximation of the song, and Zaren actually felt something akin to a...connection with the boy. It was strange, and her impulse was to shrug the feeling off as a fluke, but still, it wasn’t entirely bad. She wouldn’t be clamouring to look after him again anytime soon, but perhaps it would be a little less excruciating when she did get tasked with it.
And so, they continued through the passage, and though it was cold and dark, with the light from their fingers and the quiet melody echoing off the walls, it wasn’t nearly so bad as it might have been.