Of Silence: a Home for the Holidays: Part Two
II: Read Between the Lines
T his might just be the worst idea that Kanrik has ever had.
Scaling the side of a mansion? Not a problem. Doing it in the dead of night? Child’s play. The fact that the mansion in question may or may not belong to the most notorious and feared assassin in the entirety of Neopia’s medieval realms — perhaps even the entirety of the planet as a whole? Well...
But if there’s one thing that Kanrik is not, it’s a coward. If there’s a second thing that Kanrik is not, it’s lacking in confidence in his charm. The thief figures, if he gets caught, he can easily sass or sweet talk his way out of what, unfortunately, would probably be the literal face of death. He knows what makes Simeon laugh, and what makes him feel guilty, and what makes him let his guard down. The thief has faith that, if something bad were to happen, he could easily just put all of that knowledge to good use. He’s known Simeon for years, after all; and, in all that time, the assassin has only tried to kill him once. Or, twice, rather. Okay, maybe three times. Uh, that fourth time doesn’t count...
Well, no, no, Kanrik can’t think of any of that right now. They’re friends, right? And that’s the whole reason he’s doing this in the first place: because Simeon is his very dear friend, and he’s currently acting rather... strange.
Not like that man hasn’t always been a bit peculiar. Whenever he’s not complaining about something, he’s pretending like there’s nothing he wants to complain about. He either talks to much about what he thinks of the world, or hides his each and every thought behind an impassable wall. He’s either an endless cascade of cursewords, or as stoic and stone-faced as a statue. To be fair, on any average day, the man tends to fall more into all of those first categories; but, on the rare occasions when he does fall silent, and the rivers of his eyes flow sombre, and his pride seems to start crumbling at its base, well...
Maybe Kanrik’s thoughts are only racing this much because he didn’t realise just how worried he actually was until right now — worry being an emotion which he, as a notoriously cold-hearted thief, still isn’t exactly used to dealing with... when in regards to the wellbeing of people other than himself, that is. Kanrik still isn’t sure what the knotting in his stomach that he felt when talking to Simeon those twenty-four-or-so hours ago meant, but what he does know for sure is that he wants to find out. And besides, someone’s gotta look after that grumpy old man, right? Why should it not be the most cunning, dashing young rogue in the land?
So up the building wall Kanrik ascends, using his every ounce of skill at thievery to hop nimbly up the frozen stone pillars and scramble onto the frosty window ledges. He’s been doing this for so many years now that it feels hardly any more challenging than a brisk jog on a sunny spring day.
Figuring out where Simeon lived actually proved to be rather easy. That said, though, even right in this moment, as Kanrik hops his way up to what he thinks he’s counted to be the building’s third story, he’s in a bit of disbelief that this is actually the place. Not like he’d really bothered to give much thought to what Simeon’s living conditions were probably like, but just judging by the man’s career and character, Kanrik had just naturally assumed that Simeon lived in some dingy cottage somewhere hidden away, or maybe just travelled from inn to inn, or perhaps never even had a bed in which to rest at all, but this...
This place is huge.
Atop a seaside cliff, overlooking the oceans off the north-western coast of Brightvale, here stands a castle-like mansion that’s covered in climbing vines and the buds of sleeping flowers, the dull greens of the plants tucked safely away beneath a blanket of soft, fresh snow. From within the building, through each pane of chill-frosted glass, Kanrik can see shelves upon shelves lined with books — fuller than even the royal library of Brightvale, which the thief so often loves to “borrow” from — and enough magical trinkets to supply an army of mages. Though he can’t see too well through the fog of winter, it seems as though everything inside is decorated plainly and peacefully — paintings of what looks like seascapes and meadows, magical fires burning brightly in each room and hall, the gentle flames painting the oaken furniture in charming golds and yellows... The colours are just so bright and charming. This whole place just feels just like... home.
Maybe Kanrik wasn’t giving Simeon enough credit in terms of aesthetic and class. As the thief peeks through another window — tries to open it, finds it firmly locked, then continues his ascent up the mansion’s façade — he finds himself laughing a bit at his own thoughts — thoughts that he never really realised he’d had until now. Simeon is an assassin, after all, so the biggest part of Kanrik’s subconscious had just filled in all the holes about the man’s life with whatever fit the stereotype. He’d assumed that whatever the man would keep as décor would be just as eerie and disconcerting as his profession, like the skulls of beasts, or weapons of all sorts, or biting spellbooks, or enchanted guard gargoyles... He had assumed the architecture would be spooky and gothic, and that the furniture would be wrought-iron or Neovian-inspired, but...
Well, he shouldn’t have treated his friend as such a poster boy for evil, he supposes.
Or... maybe this actually isn’t the place. The courier whom he’d asked to give him Simeon’s address — “asked” meaning “held pinned to a wall several feet off the ground while holding a knife under his chin and demanding answers,” of course — might very well have just lied to save his fur; and, despite the fact that Kanrik had seen Simeon himself leaving this very building not too long ago, it’s not like that man isn’t in and out of random people’s homes all the time for work-related purposes, so maybe...
Eh, well, the good news is, even if this isn’t the right place, there’s so much neat stuff he can steal.
Finally, after climbing for what seems like hours in this wintry near-midnight blackness, Kanrik has a stroke of incredible luck. With one leap of faith — quite literally — the thief manages to grab hold of the ledge of what seems to be a semicircular balcony, high up on what must be the fourth or fifth floor of the building. With every ounce of strength that his near-frostbitten muscles will allow, Kanrik hoists himself up over the guardrail, takes a deep breath as his feet finally rest upon solid, snowy concrete, then approaches the tall glass doorways that rest a few feet in front of him, mumbling a too-loud, “Oh, thank you, sweet Fyora...” when he finds that the doors are unlocked.
If it were anyone else, Kanrik would call them a fool for leaving such an incredible place open and unguarded.
But, well... Simeon is far from a fool. Plus, not everyone can scale the side of a mansion the way that Kanrik can, especially not in this unforgiving weather.
As silently as the breath of a Beekadoodle, Kanrik opens the large glass door, then leans halfway inside the building to get a good look around. He’s completely confident that he’s alone here, since Simeon is definitely gone, and he’d seen absolute no signs of maids or servants, but... well, he still hasn’t quite abandoned that whole “enchanted guard gargoyles” idea yet. He’s honestly somewhat afraid of being attacked by... something...
But, luckily, the coast seems to be clear.
Thankful to finally be escaping the Christmas cold, Kanrik steps his way inside, closes the doors behind him, and then, finally, exhales calm.
The first thing that Kanrik notices is that every thought he’d had about the homeliness of this place upon peeking through the frosted windows was an understatement. Everything — within this room, at least — is as warm and brightly lit as the essence of summertime itself. A fire obviously controlled by strong pyromancy dances in a fireplace against the wall to his left, the warmth filling the room with the scent of maplewood and oddly misplaced holiday cheer. The thief honestly can’t believe that a single person could own so many books — or that this many books even exist in Neopia — and the trinkets covering the shelves and desks, though still clearly magical, are all pleasantly so — jars of sparkling faeriedust, sweet-smelling restorative potions, statuettes of faerie guardians, petpets sculpted in rainbow glass... To Kanrik’s right, there’s an ancient-looking violin resting on the messily upturned sheets of a bed that’s big enough for two, and a half-melted candle and two books with tattered pages tossed clumsily onto a nightstand beside it. To Kanrik’s left rests a simple writing desk, and beside that, what looks like a table one would use for alchemy or potionmaking, again covered in surprisingly not-death-centric magical ingredients — colourful flowers, sweet-smelling broths, tasty-looking berries, a basin of pristine healing springs residue... There’s a seascape painting hanging on the wall above the fireplace, the blues and greys contrasted beautiful by the rich oranges and reds of the furniture and wooden walls. There’s an open door across the room which leads to a hallway outside — a winding staircase barely visible in the shadows. A bureau with a drawer of clothing is cracked open to the left. A bowl of fresh fruit, untouched, sits patiently on the desk.
Once the shock of the delightfully welcoming interior finally wears off a bit, Kanrik finally starts to realise... oh. This... is probably Simeon’s bedroom...
That’s... a rather personal space to be in, when uninvited.
But, well, if ever there was to be something that hints at what’s been wrong, Kanrik supposes that it would be in here. Perhaps, if he digs around through enough dressers and drawers, he’ll find old contracts detailing targets that may have gotten under the grey Gelert’s skin. Maybe he’ll find letters detailing troubling family ordeals — wait... does Simeon even have family...? — or threats of arrest or destruction. Maybe he’ll find broken weapons, or broken keepsakes, or signs of a further broken heart. Maybe he’ll find journals, or artwork, or music, or...
Well, now his curiosity is getting the best of him.
And he’s still sure that he’s alone, though he isn’t sure for sure how long, so...
Kanrik takes a deep breath, claps his hands together loudly, mumbles a soft, “Alright...” then gets right to work.
The first thing that Kanrik does is check the papers on the desk beside the alchemy table, disappointed to find nothing but simple to-do lists, and to-buy lists, and to-kill lists. What an odd combination. This really must be the place... But, well, that’s just more reason to dig deeper — and faster. Next, the thief opens the desk’s topmost drawer to reveal nothing but writing utensils, then shuts it with just a bit too much force. The next drawer holds nothing but empty vials — slam shut. The next, a small stack of blank papers and envelopes — slam shut. The last...
Well, Kanrik doesn’t have time to check the last before he feels the unmistakable pain of sharp teeth chomping down tightly on his tail.
With a rather unfortunately girlish scream — especially for such a deep-voiced man — Kanrik takes a hold of the desk’s edge and desperately tries to pull himself back onto his feet — trips, slips, then lands smack on his back on the floor as whatever tiny monster is attacking him starts clawing angrily at his boots. The thief’s first thought, of course, is, Oh Fyora, I was right about the gargoyles, wasn’t I? But then...
As Kanrik finally manages to prop himself up on his elbows, then reaches for the dagger that’s holstered to his belt, a blurry flash of purple and orange leaps up into his face, and he finds himself being headbutted hard by what seems to be nothing more than a little petpet with a big personality. Still panicked, though, and without really thinking, Kanrik grabs the little nuisance by the scruff of what feels like a mane of fur around its neck, then tosses it to the side with an angry grunt, again trying to scramble to prop himself up and figure out what the heck is going on.
The little creature skids into the side of the desk, letting out a pained whimper as its tiny shoulder collides with the wood. Now finally sitting upright, and at a bit of a distance from the petpet, Kanrik gives a few irritated shakes of his head to clear away the clouds of confusion, then finally takes a good look at his attacker. He’s surprised to see that it’s not a gargoyle, nor really a beast at all. Rather, it’s just a small faerie Gallion, fluffy and well-fed, seeming irritated and scared at the same time, a red ribbon tied around its neck and a strong sense of dedication in its seafoam green eyes.
The little petpet whimpers a bit more as it shakes some of the ache from its flank and shoulder, but then steadies its footing and attempts to try to fight on — or, it seems now, just to protect its home. With a rather endearing little growl, and a few buzzing flaps of its delicate faerie wings, the Gallion takes a mighty leap, aiming to snap at Kanrik’s muzzle... but finds itself being caught in the thief’s strong hands — strong hands that are also, unfortunately for the Gallion, protected by thick, fur-lined gloves, and impervious to even the hardest of bites.
It’s here, holding the little petpet in his hands — though still at arm’s length away — that Kanrik is finally able to laugh.
“Well now, who are you, little one?” Kanrik muses to the petpet, trying to hold it as gently as he can despite all of its wriggling and whining. “You’re rather cute, aren’t you?”
The Gallion, strangely enough, almost seems to understand Kanrik’s every word, and gives the thief an irritated narrowing of its eyes at the sound of the word “cute.”
Kanrik finds himself chuckling again, thankful that talking seems to be calming the little terror down. He loosens his grip a bit more, trying to show the little petpet that he means it — and this home — no harm, then keeps on talking in a genuinely pleasant tone. “No, wait... okay, I’m remembering now,” he says, thinking out loud as he and the Gallion meet eyes. “Simeon’s mentioned you once or twice, I think. Well, he’s mentioned having a Gallion, at least.”
At the sound of Simeon’s name, the Gallion’s entire demeanour seems to drastically change. Even if it can’t understand everything that Kanrik is saying, it definitely does recognises its owner’s name — a name that Kanrik is sure the petpet is used to hearing coming solely from people that can be considered friends, since Simeon is pretty adamant about remaining “nameless” as far as the general public is concerned.
Kanrik smiles a bit warmer, glad to see he’s quickly winning the Gallion over, then rests the now-calm-seeming petpet in his lap. “Simmy’s mentioned your name once or twice,” he says, again thinking out loud, “though... I can’t quite remember. It was something like... Kat? Or Kitty? Or, uh... Katy?”
The Gallion’s eyes immediately widen at the sound. Its wings perk up a bit.
And Kanrik laughs again. “Ah! It’s Katydid, right?” he asks, almost as if expecting an actual response, though he doesn’t actually wait for one. “Now I remember. He talks about you as if you were his daughter. He always calls you his ‘little girl.’ ”
Well, at least the Gallion seems almost completely trusting of him now... though still somewhat hesitant to get too close. Her eyes now sparkling with interest, she takes a few slow, clumsy steps down Kanrik’s legs until she sits on the floor by his feet, then gives him an attentive but still judgemental stare — kind, curious, but still definitely cautionary. Just like her owner, it seems.
Kanrik slowly pulls his legs up and crosses them, leaning over slightly to meet the petpet’s eyes once more. “Well, not that I’m quite as special as you are,” he says, “but maybe he’s talked about me.” The thief then sits a bit straighter and points a finger towards his chest. “My name is Kanrik,” he says. “Do you know the name Kanrik?”
Not like she could answer him in real words or anything, but she tilts her head knowingly at the sound, her wings fluttering just the slightest bit and her tail giving a strong, excited swoosh.
Kanrik smiles a bit brighter. Huh, she recognises my name... “So he does talk about me, huh?” He doesn’t bother to ask to whom exactly Simeon talks about him to, but... well, at least he does. Kanrik is flattered. More than flattered, honestly. “Well, I’m definitely glad,” the thief then adds, deciding to scoot a little closer.
Katydid doesn’t move as Kanrik approaches. She tilts her head to the other side, and her tail wags faster across the ground.
Kanrik gives the petpet a puzzled sort of half-smile, then asks a soft, “So... truce?” as he removes his gloves, then holds a hand out for the Gallion to sniff.
Katydid recoils just the slightest bit in tentativeness once Kanrik extends his hand out so closely to her, though the thief’s calm confidence helps her to feel almost immediately secure once more. Her bright, wide eyes dart quickly between the thief’s face, back to his fingers, back to his face, then...
Then she gives his hand a few gentle sniffs, then buries her scaly nose into the warmth of his palm.
Kanrik hasn’t felt this smug since he managed to lift an old tome off of King Hagan himself...
Tilting his hand to give the Gallion a few scratches on the fur under her jaw, Kanrik allows a pleased giggle to escape him, then begins to stand up again, pocketing his gloves and letting out a relaxed sigh, trying to shake the last few twinges of pain from his tail — that nip really was rather nasty. “Well, I’m glad,” Kanrik says as he stands up tall, then casually stretches his arms — flexes his now-naked fingers, trying to adjust to the change in temperature.
Thankfully, Katydid doesn’t seem at all bothered by Kanrik’s standing, and instead uses his pausing to stretch as an opportunity to rub her head gently against his leg, as if to ask for more pets.
Kanrik happily obliges, kneeling back down both to give the Gallion a few scratches behind her horns and to finally check the last drawer on the desk — which, unfortunately, only holds more useless garbage for writing.
“Well, I guess it’s no secret, then,” Kanrik begins to tell the Gallion, glad to have someone to talk to — and also, honestly, to have an excuse to hear his own voice, “I’m rifling through your, uh... father’s things.”
Kanrik glances down at the Gallion, and is met with clearly annoyed eyes, but still, Katy doesn’t seem too terribly angry about Simeon’s stuff being messed with... by Kanrik, at least. She stares for a few unblinking seconds, huffs out a little sneeze-snort when Kanrik’s expression doesn’t change, then decides to simply rub against his leg again.
The thief once again snickers. “I’m glad you don’t object.”
Turning slowly on his heels, careful to not accidentally bump into the loving Gallion, Kanrik begins to walk towards the fireplace, just to see if there’s anything on the mantel. When there’s nothing there to find, he admires the painting on the wall for a few seconds, then crosses the room to examine the bureau.
The thief huffs a bit as his search continues to turn up nothing — there’s nothing but trinkets and books on the top of the bureau, and just some neatly folded clothing in the drawers. “Well,” he begins to say, still half to himself and half to the Gallion by his feet, “you more than anyone would probably know that Simeon’s been in a bit of a miserable mood, huh?”
He turns to look down at Katydid again. Her eyes read understanding, like she knows what he’s saying.
Feh, well, it is just like Simeon to keep a petpet that’s completely fluent in our language... Kanrik hums a bit in contemplation, deliberating something in his head. Then, “Do you, uh... know what’s wrong?” he asks the Gallion, immediately feeling silly in doing so as he hears the words echo back to him. Sheesh, am I seriously asking a petpet for the answer to such a complicated question...?
But, oddly enough... it really does seem like she understands. In fact, the sparkling in her eyes almost reads that... she feels the same as he does — worried, and nervous. It’s a solemn looking expression, recognisable even though she’s just a little petpet, and it honestly makes Kanrik’s heart sink a little. Katy gives the thief a few quick blinks, curls her tail around her toes, then looks towards the books resting on the nightstand, her gaze staying determinedly there, as if she were telling Kanrik to go look.
And the thief, once again, doesn’t object. He hums a bit in contemplation again, then begins to walk towards the bed.
Kanrik hears a soft buzzing sound come from behind him, which he can already recognise is the sound of the Gallion’s delicate faerie wings, then he feels her land gently — albeit still clumsily — on his right shoulder. He doesn’t mind her doing so, really, though the weight feels awkward at first. The thief’s too busy staring at what he’s now starting to realise looks more like journals than actual books to be terribly bothered by her dull claws and clumsy paws. Plus, it seems that Simeon’s beloved petpet — whom Kanrik is now remembering being told had once belonged to Simeon’s wife, and whom he’d sworn to protect in her honour — honestly wants to help Kanrik out in his little endeavour. She’s probably seen her owner’s strange change in demeanour, too, and even more openly than Kanrik. Maybe she, too, just wishes she could help, but simply lacks the ability to.
With those thoughts now whirring loudly in his head, Kanrik quickens pace just ever so slightly, then examines the books on the nightstand.
Yeah, these are definitely journals.
And, for what again feels like the first time in his life, Kanrik actually pauses before opening the pages to ask himself, Should I really be going through this stuff...?
But, well... then he remembers who he is.
With the deepest breath the thief can muster, and while refusing to allow any more hesitant thoughts to take root in his head, Kanrik opens up the journal at the top of the stack to a page that’s bookmarked by a red ribbon, flips back to a few pages before it, then begins to examine the text.
The book seems to be a diary of sorts, the entries labelled with the date and, presumably, the time of day written. Simeon’s handwriting is absolutely gorgeous, Kanrik soon discovers; and his words, too, seem to be poetry in their own right. He begins to read entries as Katydid settles comfortably into the crook of his neck.
No matter how many hours of these snowy days that I spend watching the seconds tick past on the clock, it still feels as though time itself is passing too slow and too fast all at once. Though every new blanket of snow erases the footprints of each other person’s past, it’s poetic, in its own sense, I suppose, that I still feel as though I’m seeing the same faces reflected again and again and again. It’s as if I were trapped in some mirrorlike, crystalline purgatory, forever frozen in the frost from those fourteen years ago.
But perhaps that’s just me, after all.
She always used to joke that I was odd.
Kanrik pauses at the end of the entry, pursing his lips a bit in almost-regret. Is he... talking about his wife’s...
I really shouldn’t be reading this...
But, well, he’s come this far, and this is exactly the type of thing he was looking for, so...
Kanrik takes a deep breath, then continues to read.
It’s amusing to me, truly, how many winters it seems that I’ve counted since the day that the world turned coldest; and amusing, too, that despite all these years, I still can’t bring myself to scribe the event’s true name.
Therein lies the universal pondering, though: “What is in a name?” Through time, I have learned that the answer is naught, though perhaps the knowledge of the constraints of the verbal is what keeps these images so wrought in flesh. I do sometimes wonder how these years would have passed had I written the deed’s title on the flyleaf of the first of these dozen-or-so diaries. Would it feel as though a weight had been lifted, or would the pages themselves then feel just as concrete?
Honestly, the largest part of me screams that acknowledgement is the best offense; but the loudest part, I’ll admit — though shamefully so — is still too terrified to try.
Perhaps one of these winters I’ll find the courage to document her demise.
But this year is not that year, I’m afraid.
The snowfall came too late.
Still feeling too deep to stop, and now also feeling like a reader engulfed in a faerietale protagonist’s journey, Kanrik turns the page to the next day’s entries — what looks this time like a series of scatterbrained events, less than twenty-four hours ago — and continues.
It never ceases to amaze me how much business increases during these supposed days of mirth. The holidays seem to be the busiest time for shoppers and sinners alike.
Six people came to ask for my assistance today.
They’re all disgusting.
I feel disgusting.
Sometimes, I still wonder how I ended up living in this horrible dream.
I suppose that I could read back upon my own journey through past writings, but th
I just want to be left alone.
I still remember the way that I’d felt when I first asked why this had to happen. The irony, then, I suppose, is that I got the answer in the form of a new path in life.
Does that mean that this has all just been some sort of sick cosmic joke? If I had held my tongue while staring into fate’s mirrored eyes, would I have kept a piece of who I once was? Is the curse of this reputation that I now forever bare simply backlash from that one foolish choice? Could this all have been avoided had I tried?
Hardly anything astonishes me anymore, I’m often proud to say, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true.
I’d spent so many years cursing that wretched man’s name that I neglected to watch myself become akin.
So, maybe then, the current irony actually lies in the fact that I still separate myself from him and the others as if I were a Babaa lost in a Zebie’s herd. I suppose that now, after all this time, the name of the assassin’s trade only seems cruel form a third person’s perspective; and I, of course, am but a pathetic widower writing my own first person narrative.
Therein lies another irony, though, as literary device often dictates that the “villains” see themselves as righteous, yet I can’t even remember the last time I saw myself reflected as anything other than vermin.
It’s started snowing again.
I hate that the sight still sometimes makes me smile.
I hate that I’m such a hypocrite.
Am I really going to do this on Christmas Eve?
I don’t want to do this
I’ve learned to stop keeping track of yearly tallies, but tonight brings the month’s total to somewhere around twenty-four(?)
It’s far too many, in far too short a time, that’s all I know for certain.
And the worst part is that only remorse that I feel anymore lies in the knowing of how disappointed she would be.
I am so, so sorry.
There is one last page left to turn before Kanrik can’t hold back his tears any longer. He hesitates, and then...
Happy holidays of silence, as stood the last fourteen years.
Your seat by the fire is still warm.
Below this last entry, dated barely an hour ago, though Kanrik can hardly see through the haze of his own empathy’s sudden manifestation in his eyes, seems to be some sort of poem, written in rushed, frantic handwriting, and littered with splotches of bleeding ink.
The thief feels drawn to the words like a Lightmite to a flame.
He reads on, desperate to learn his friend’s story, trying his best to decipher the wordy code.
o snow! How you taunt me with shimmering word
painting pictures of years I still wish were deferred
still enraged, barred by mem'ries of days
when the threat of this grey was a cry left unheard
and it still haunts my dreams, the mere sight of her face
reflecting the white of that final embrace
o cruel hour when this cheer became sour
holidays that were ours were forever erased!
it has been fourteen years, fourteen hours, and four days
since the love of my life was forced off and away
and the waves!
the impact was as solid as fact
but the flesh stayed intact through the threat of the grave
and so now, here in silence, in nightmares and dreams
upon soundscapes and wishbones, through whispers and screams
that these years remain salted by tears
and in cruel truth I fear I cannot be redeemed
yet I still utter prayers far up into the light
to be able to shun the foul stench of that sight
to take flight!
off in woe, and so sweetly so
to set blaze to the snow in the dead of the night!
I just wish for one winter of forgetting fate's theft
where when cometh the night I am no longer left
with no breath
o cruel mistress of life, please just listen
just grant me one Christmas without remembering h
The last words remain incomplete, though Kanrik feels that they don’t really need to be.
And besides, even if it were written in full, he wouldn’t be able to read it. At least, not before he hears a voice ring clear from behind him:
“What are you doing in my home...?”
Well, he probably should have seen this coming.
To be continued…