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There’s another party. 

These parties are insufferable. She’s always hated them, but when the Emperor Undying requests the presence of his saints, his most faithful Lyctors? She doesn’t really have a choice.

Harrowhark the First makes an appearance.

Goes in, stays just long enough to have her attendance noted, gets out. That’s how she survives these vapid, stupid affairs. Who are these people? What could they possibly have to talk about; what stimulating conversation would hold a candle to the things she's seen? The lives she’s lived? 

Her years ascended now outweigh her years on the Ninth and she knows now why Mercy called her ‘infant’. She had been dumb and stupid, just as these people are now, even the ones stooped and withered with age. There’s nothing for her here. 

She looks around the room. The bright lights twinkling off of the guests glittering jewelry hurt her eyes and the incessant hum of chatter from all sides is giving her a migraine. She spots God from across the ballroom and he gives her a nod. Her jaw clenches. 

She’s been here long enough. She turns to leave but not before “Oh, there you are Harry,” slithers into her ear, a hand gripping her arm and dragging her over to a group of people milling about. Harrow grinds her teeth, trying to drown out the sound of Ianthe Tridentarius prattling on about who knows what, the words washing over her as she contemplates the consequences of running the other woman through with a bone spike in the middle of a party. 

“Unhand me, Ianthe,” she says instead. “I am quite capable of moving on my own.” 

Ianthe pouts dramatically. “Oh? But Harry, darling. I couldn’t help but notice you were headed the wrong way. These lovely people,” she gestures to a small group of about six people standing nearby, watching the two saints with poorly concealed awe, “have just returned from a trip to the Ninth. Isn’t that just delightful?” 

Ianthe looks to the invited guests as if for confirmation and a few of them nod and smile awkwardly. Harrow reconsiders her decision not to impale Ianthe, consequences be damned. 

The Ninth. Harrow hasn’t been back; of course she hasn’t. But in his mercy, the Emperor had done what she’d asked. The Ninth was renewed. Just under five hundred souls he gave to her, gave to the Ninth. She couldn’t imagine it. But they must have been doing well enough. So much so that now they were entertaining tourists

Harrow's blood rushes in her ears. It almost drowns out the effusive babble of the guests who have started waxing poetic about their trip. The Ninth they describe is unimaginable to her. It’s a foreign mass, a lump, uncontrollable. For all that was given, the Ninth was renewed, but at the cost of her house. 

“…and of course they spoke very highly of you, their Reverend Daughter”- Harrow winces at the title - “but they had very little information about your cavalier. Would you mind telling us about them?” 

Her cavalier. In all her years with the Emperor, she never spoke of her cavalier. God himself had asked, very early on and after Harrow refused outright, he did not ask again. He knew the cost. 

Filling the silence like hot air, Ianthe says, “The Ninth cav? Ugh.” She drapes herself somehow further into Harrow's personal space, still clutching her as if they were going to share in some girlish gossip about the Ninth cavalier. “She was ghastly . Horrible table manners and so obviously untrained as a ca-” 

Harrow snaps. Wrenching her arm free, steps away and sends Ianthe a glare that would strip her flesh from her bones if Harrow had any inclination toward that particular branch of necromancy. 

“Ianthe,” Harrow snarls. “You will shut your mouth about my cavalier or I shall fuse all of your teeth together and extend the roots upwards until they pierce straight through your eyeballs.” 

All movement stops, every guest within earshot holding their breath. 

“Tch. Always so touchy, Harry!” Ianthe says, brushing off Harrow's threats with a chuckle. “I’m going to go see if there are any of those miniature quiches left, do you want me to grab you some?” After being met only with stony silence, Ianthe just shrugs, tossing a “suit yourself!” over her shoulder before walking away.

Harrow only unclenches her own jaw when she can no longer spot Ianthe’s greasy blonde head from across the ballroom. 

She closes her eyes, taking a deep breath to push down the rush of fury and adrenaline that always accompanies an encounter with Ianthe.

When she regains her composure, she is surprised to find the small group of guests still standing around her. She blinks at them blankly. 

They look a little uncertain, understandably so after witnessing one of His Hands threaten the other with bodily injury. One of them, the one who had been recounting her visit to the Ninth, clears her throat and says, “We’d still like to know of your sworn sword, your grace. If you’ll tell us.” 

Her companion added quickly, “Of course, we understand if you’d rather not. It’s just there’s so little known and well, we’ve been studying the last ascension event and well...” He hesitates. “Nothing compares to a primary source.”   

If their silvery attire wasn’t a dead giveaway, that last comment surely would have exposed them as scholars. Only a denizen of The Sixth would consider her utility as a primary source more important than her necromantic prowess as Saint. She’s reminded of another set of grey robes who would have thought the same thing. Harrow would smile if she were prone to that sort of thing. 

Of course, there’s no information on her cavalier. Without Harrow there to instruct otherwise, there’s no doubt that Crux denied her until his final breath. Did his best to wipe her from the record, as much as you can obscure the identity of a Lyctoral cavalier. It appears that he succeeded. These people don’t even seem to know her name.

Harrow aches. The number of people who had ever known Gideon Nav was now whittled down to two. Of all the terrible things to tie her to Ianthe, this was by far the worst. 

Taking her long silence as a rejection of their request, the Sixth woman inclines her head solemnly. “Forgive us for asking. We’re sorry for taking up so much of your time.” She turns to leave, her companions following suit and nodding respectfully before they depart. Harrow watches them turn away from her one by one and suddenly the words are spilling from her lips before she can stop them.

“Her name was Gideon.” Fuck. 

The woman looks back at Harrow, surprised. She can’t be much older than 30 and yet she seems to sense Harrow’s internal panic and gives her the slightest of nods as if to say, it’s okay. She should be furious that this nobody, this random woman from the Sixth feels it necessary to reassure her, but she has kind eyes that remind her of another young scholar she once knew. She had rejected the kindness then, perhaps it’s time she accepts it now. Harrow swallows down her panic and addresses the group that has reformed around her.

“She was a star, bright and all-consuming,” Harrow says. “It irritated my eyes to behold her. I lived in the dark and I tried to snuff her out at every opportunity, to no avail. She always shined too bright and I used to blame her for my own discomfort. Why couldn’t she just dim herself a bit? Just keep her head down, follow orders. Surely, it would have made her life easier and I could have ignored her and the fury I felt every time I saw her atrocious hair.” 

There was a smattering of laughter from her small audience. 

“She defied every command I gave her. Always stomping around the Ninth like an oaf, always saying the wrong thing, disrespecting the sisters and Drearburh itself, spitting on everything I stood for and believed in. I wanted to destroy her.” Harrow breathed hard out of her nose. 

“But we grew up together. We were the only children and it was inevitable, our forced closeness,” Harrow says, shaking her head gently. “You can’t imagine having no companions any more than I could imagine having any.”

She looks at the guests surrounding her, expecting to see pity. What she finds is a quiet reverence that she knows she doesn’t deserve.

“But I eventually realized that you can’t outlast a star; you’ll die waiting for them to dim. Light was in her nature just as darkness was in mine. It was a fruitless trial to try to change her and once I stopped trying I found myself adjusting to her, and her to me. It was clumsy but we were no longer butting heads at every turn, no longer engaging in childish attempts to murder each other. We were almost friends.” 

Harrow has to stop talking as a sudden rush of emotion overtakes her. It’s been years since she’d unlocked this particular chamber of her heart and she takes a deep breath to steady herself. She looks at each face before her, waiting for her to continue her story, hoping to hear some more of the mysterious cavalier of the Ninth. It was regrettable that Harrow couldn’t give them anything more. She locked eyes with the woman with the kind eyes but found she couldn’t hold her gaze. Not anymore. 

“In the end, she was everything to me. I loved her,” Harrowhark the First says. “And I killed her.” 

 

-

 

Harrow shot upright, gasping. 

She blinked away the glittering lights of a party that never existed and found herself in the dark. As she willed her heaving lungs to calm, she looked around the plain, sterile room trying to remember where exactly she was. She was damp with sweat and she shivered as it chilled her skin. Reaching for the blanket from where it had almost fallen off the hospital bed she’s currently sitting in, the crinkle of her stiff gown and the sight of her own bruised knees brought the events of the last 48 hours rushing back. Gideon, Cytheria, God. 

Please, Lord , she had said. And he had denied her. 

She felt the bile rising, hot in her throat. She managed to vomit over the side of the bed, narrowly avoiding covering herself with sick. She took deep breaths, eyes darting around the room to find something, anything to distract her from the nightmare she’d just escaped and the nightmare she’s currently living. 

It was too late. She’d done everything too late. She’d wasted too much time. If only there was a way to stop time, for her to go back and do it all again, but properly this time…

Her frantic eyes stopped at a stack of flimsy on the side table next to the bed. An idea was forming. It was insane and might not even work, but what else did she have to lose? She’d already lost everything that mattered.

...if aught but death part me and thee ,” Harrow whispered.

She reached for the flimsy and a pen and got to work.