Days had passed, days, and still his sleep went on troubled. Ever since that night, unfettered indignity would keep him awake. Remorse, the need to right the wrong, to make them sorry they ever said what they did, kept him awake. Seething. Boiling.
“Sir Jonah, what a pleasure to meet you again,” she almost gagged as the old pervert kissed her hand, giving him a nervous overwhelmed grin in order to mask the slight disgust she couldn’t help but show. It helped she didn’t have to look at him due to her greeting bow.
“It has been so long since you graced us with your lovely presence, Lady Sarah. Too long.”
Lady Sarah was her noble character for attending Neyerk balls and overall getting into contact with the Lady of Light. A performance she put on so rarely that only Andy knew about it. She was supposedly from the mainland, a country in the middle of a neutral nation which kept royalty around for the sake of having royalty and nice parades, but didn’t actually let them have any legitimate power. The Royals that were attending the party were going around, richer than most the world, talking honorably and politely and being overall bright-eye gullible happy bundles of righteousness. And she was one of them.
Jaime waved her hand in front of her face, slightly blushing in embarrassment.
“Oh yes, I know, my father worries to see me so far away from home, all on my own.”
“Well that is just silly, you’re so grown up already, no one would even mistake you for my daughter anymore.”
Oh, this dried up pickle did not just say that.
She smiled warmly.
“Oh, Jonah, you’ll make me blush. How is your darling wife, is she here?”
“Oh, I’m afraid she stayed home. Age has not been kind to her.” Unlike to him, his expression seemed to say. She fought the urge to kick him, and instead spotted an acquaintance she had made in the very first party she attended. She knew from the start she’d need someone in case she wanted to avoid other people, and Rachel had been easy to befriend.
“Oh, I see Rachel over there, if you’ll excuse me, sir,” she gave him a parting bow as he wrestled for an excuse to keep her attendance but came up too slow. She walked off, reminding herself not to run since she wasn’t wearing normal shoes.
Dressing up was stupid, and Jonah was a pervert that got on her nerves, but she still blamed his attitude on how she had to present herself. He would never be interested in the real Jamie, but whiten the skin a bit, curl the hair properly to form a tidy tent around her head which curtained over her shoulder, and suddenly she was desirable. There was also the dress, it included a bodice that accentuated her curves to a point where, if people were honest, it was faking them. Her chest looked bulgier than it would ever naturally look, and a stupid padding made her butt curvier.
That was what annoyed her, she knew, that it was all trying super hard to look desirable, maybe be. How anyone actually felt desirable with so much effort spent on misleading what they look like, she’d never understand.
Of course, she knew the real problem was dressing to get attention instead of to avoid it. It was very counter-nature.
The sweet black-haired girl turned around to face her.
“Sarah, I didn’t know you were here,” they held hands in-between them, “I would have sought you out. You look beautiful!”
“Aww, I see you haven’t changed, you are just the sweetest. And prettier, too, did you lose weight?” She had been disappointed to find out how easy it was to warm up to ball-going girls.
“Oh my, stop, you. Did your father allow you to come?”
“How else would I be here? Surely you don’t think I would just disobey him.”
Perish the thought.
“Oh, I know what you are capable of,” she winked, excited to know Sarah was capable of stealing food so she could eat more than she should, and also of exacting pranks on whoever was rude to them. As a sister to nine brothers, half of them bastards, Rachel had been more than happy to have a girl friend. Especially one who would stand up to them for her.
She was a hollow-head and beyond naïve, but she was good company to keep while she waited for the holy lady. And, at the end of it all, a nice girl.
“Oh! I must introduce you to my aunt!”
“Oh, the famed aunt,” Sarah lightly clapped, “yes, let’s.”
They crossed the very large ballroom, circumventing the very wide area of dancing partners, as well as groups. Her aunt had a dress on that was much like that of Rachel’s, both a red one-piece, though Rachel’s had a more pinkish hue which grew more evident the closer it got the chest. The aunt, however, it was a dark hue. Her white bodice and skirt stood in stark contrast to them.
“Auntie Auntie, look, Sarah made it to the party.”
“Lady,” she bowed before she had fully turned to her, so only she stood up did she find the very unwelcoming expression of someone who distrusted her.
The heck? What’s the problem?
“Pleased, darling. My sincerest apologies but I really do not have time at the moment, my dear.”
Oh, Jamie thought to herself, realizing she was just upset. She looked at who she was talking to, finding no one but the chancellor himself.
His voice sounded out surprised as if the fact that something happened that he did not expect meant he had no control over his nation.
That was often how he sounded.
“Sir,” she bowed and gave him a sweet smile, “such a pleasure to return here, you throw such beautiful balls.”
“Yes well, if only circumstances were better, my dear. I bid you stay clear of downtown, I know how you often want to help the orphans there.”
“Why?” She was legitimately concerned. “Did something happen? Please don’t tell me you evicted them.”
Whenever she was Sarah, in Neyerk, she would visit the home of the Scavengers. Nobody would recognize her and, like that, she evaded any suspicion that she had come from there. The general populace may be oblivious to the nature of her organization, but rulers are not. The best of the rich also are not. So when she decided to show up at a ball as an unknown little girl, she decided it was best to make sure her cover was iron clad.
It was never something she had had to worry about, but she was proud of her work. She had even found a Lord on the mainland, of a small city nation called Ashtreich, to claim himself to indeed be the father of a bastard daughter he loved very much, called Sarah. He was, as it turned out, in danger of losing his noble title.
You need to pay a yearly fee for those, in his home.
“An attack on our great city, focused on that location,” he shook his head in sadness, “I wish I knew why.”
“That’s terrible! Who would do something like that?!” Her indignation was truthful.
“Some ruffians who feel they’re above all laws,” he adjusted his spectacles, blabbering to himself, “but we’ll show them, oh yes we will.”
“None of it will matter if the dark ones keep coming,” the auntie argued.
“Oh, my lady, you press me too far on this subject. Very real threats fall upon my very real subjects, and you would have me worry about some over-bloated demon-spawns that are not even heading our way?”
“The threat is very real, Chancellor. Trust me, I come from the mainland.”
“And I feel for you, my lady, but each of us addresses the problems that concern us, not others. And especially not while ours are severely more pressing!”
As expected, he very much preferred to hide in his island, trying to find some lone pilots, than get involved in a war. She knew there was no way to turn him, you cannot really turn a coward unless you have a way to mislead him into misjudging the threat, on behalf of the possible gains. But there was no doing that with him.
His wife, however, was another story. The Street Rat knew the real night was about to start when the whole ballroom went silent.
She dressed in white, obviously. An intricate gown that no one else had ever seen, and that was because she made them herself, it involved a skirt long enough to cover all of her legs, and a scarf that curved over her bare shoulders and down to her waist. She also wore the tiara that marked her as the leader of the Covenant of Light.
All eyes were on her, the contrast evident between her dress and her skin, which was an almond a couple of shades lighter than her hair, which stretched down behind her back, combed to perfection.
“She’s so beautiful,” Rachel proclaimed with a dreamy voice. Sarah smiled, happy her friend was happy.
Jamie would not seek her out. The Street Rat knew the Holy Lady would come for Sarah, eventually.
“Now, now, everyone. I am certainly very flattered, but there is no reason to halt the party. Carry on, everyone!”
Rachel giggled as the ruckus and sound returned to the ball.
Now, everyone had stopped in part due to the fact that the band had stopped. The band also stirred all the guests back to actions and interaction. They had manipulated the ballroom expertly to emphasize the arrival of the Holy Lady, but only Jamie would have noticed that little manipulation.
“Come, I’m famished! Let’s not bother your aunt anymore.”
“Oh, ok,” Rachel agreed.
They skipped to the platters of food, the only real good point of parties like that, in Jamie’s opinion. They did a few rounds, then they went to the dance floor and had fun there. Rachel wasn’t very sociable, and not pretty enough that boys her age would seek her out, that would only start happening later in her life. But Jamie had opened up with Sarah and, together, they had fun.
Sarah knew it was the kind of relationship that left Rachel wishing they were sisters.
The Holy Lady found her there, on the dance floor.
They looked, surprised to be addressed directly by an adult.
“Oh my,” Rachel, flustered, quickly grabbed the hems of her dress and bowed. Sarah did the same, only instead of distance and worship, she manifested joyful surprise.
“What a joy to see you here, these parties get older and older as time passes by.” She was around the forty year mark, Jamie knew, even if she looked thirty while being married to the fifty-some year old chancellor. “Are you having a good time?”
“Yes, lady,” Rachel nervously blurted. She smiled, amused.
“Well good, good. Sarah, meet me later when you get the chance, we must catch up.”
“I would love to, my lady, thank you so much.”
“Oh, stop with that. You call me Amara, you know that.”
Sarah gave her a happy giggle and perked up.
“Yes, Amara, I sure will, thank you!”
She smiled content and moved on to talk to some other guests.
Rachel was curious, as ever, of how Sarah was so friendly with the Holy Lady, and vice-versa. Sarah didn’t know, she had said, and some people just accepted ignorance at face value, people like Rachel. Too trusting.
Jamie knew, however. The Holy Lady liked spending time with Sarah for the same reason Sarah liked spending time with Rachel, only in place of friendship or even sisterhood, there was mentorship or even motherhood.
It’s a need people like them feel the need to fill: a safe relationship with someone they’re sure they can control, not in the sense of manipulation, but in the sense of trust and confidence. The Holy Lady was making a mistake with Sarah, however.
Or maybe she wasn’t. Maybe Jamie was the one being played.
She watched Amara blessing someone, placing a hand under the chin with eyes closed in concentration.
What the Scavengers were in respect to beggars, Amara was in respect to religion. The Holy Lady was nothing else but her world-class thief codename. Only thieves called her that, or at least the ones who were deep enough into the underworld to know better. Scavengers, mainly, respected her a lot. Not only due do what she had accomplished but also due to the several joint ventures they had shared.
The Holy Lady won three Shadow Conclaves in a row, first one as a Scavenger herself. She stopped participating after the Sorcerer beat her the first time. She left the Scavengers after she won the first time, becoming the first member to ever leave by their own, they were usually kicked out.
With those wins, she cemented her place in the massive organization that was her church. And climbed up the ranks.
If reports are to be believed, it was the Shadow Conclaves’ busiest protectorate, as they had to save her from hundreds of assassination attempts carried out by either competitors or people she sought to replace as she climbed up the ranks of her church institution.
Along the way, she cemented a strong saintly appearance towards the rest of the world by committing all of her gains to the poor and afflicted, on several occasions. On all of those, however, it had really been the Scavengers to receive them. They kept a fourth of it all and gave the rest back to her.
She finished her prayer and the man she had been praying for, in controlled tears, grabbed her hands in a moment of real intimacy, and probably pledged his riches to her.
He wouldn’t be the first one.
Poor and rich alike, most flocked to worship her. She was different in that regard, while many Scavengers preyed on compassion and pity, some on intimidation and guilt, she had sought out worship. It was the most powerful thing to have, in the Holy Lady’s mind, adoration and worship.
Jamie disagreed, but there was no denying her success. And as corrupt as she was, not that the Street Rat would ever have a problem with that, she had made the whole church more welcoming to women everywhere, so it wasn’t like she was just increasing her riches and power. There was no arguing, however, just how much influence and power she had over the world’s rulers.
She had also saved Sarah’s life, and dignity. That had not stopped Jamie from working her, but she remembered the second time they met, the follow-up, when Jamie knew who she was…she had never been so nervous.
“Ah, Sarah, my girl,” she extended a hand, and Sarah kissed it lightly and respectfully.
“Amara.” She stood up straight and lightly leaned, “it’s such a joy to see you again, my lady.”
“Oh, the joy is mine, I really must convince your father to let you get out more.”
“I’m afraid it might be even harder in the foreseeable future,” she moped a bit, shaking her head slowly.
“What? How come?” She gave Sarah a sly smile. “Have you misbehaved?”
“Well no…it’s just–” Sarah fidgeted, “he was insistent in knowing why you had talked to me so much. You know how he uh…doubts.”
It had, of course, been one of the main reasons Jamie had picked him.
“And you told him? Of the ball where we first met?” Amara’s mood considerably diminished.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah whimpered, sad to have disappointed her idol, “I know you said not to tell him, you warned me he’d only block me further from…well, seeing you, but I didn’t know how else to explain.”
“Oh darling, no, please, it’s perfectly okay.” She left the circle of people she was entertaining to comfort Sarah, “come, let’s get some fresh air.”
Sarah gulped somewhere in the middle of a nod. Jamie was happy to be alone with the Holy Lady, it always made it easier.