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puppets held together with string

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“C’mon kid. Stop crying.”

“Leave me alone!”

“Riz, you did great! Considering it was your first kill, you were amazing”

“...”

“Stop crying. Only babies cry. You are not a baby, are you?”

“I am not. I am eleven”

“Take some deep breaths. See, isn’t that better?”

“No, it’s not”

“You are a natural, kid. Your father would be proud of you”

“Y-you are lying”

“So, and what if I am? It’s my fault, trying to make you feel better”

“There was so much blood”

“You didn’t get any on you, right? No? Good boy. Now wash your hands. There is gunpowder on them”

“Okay”

“And like usual, this stays between us”

“Yes, Kalina”

“Chin up, kiddo. You better get used to it”

~~

“You are frustrated”, Kalina remarked as Riz entered his room and loudly closed his door behind him. “I thought you would be happy. Your friend is okay”

That was a trap.

“She is not my friend”, he growled.

No, Kristen was not his problem. His problem had a different name.

“Is this about that school bully?”

Ragh fucking Barkrock. 

“You know I hate leaving loose ends”, Riz said through gritted teeth.

“Kiddo, relax. That pawn didn’t know anything, he made that clear. No need to deal with him”

Deep breaths, Riz. You’ve got this. Don’t let her know.

“I know. Maybe I overreacted”, he said carefully.

Kalina inspected him for a second.

“I like you kiddo, because you are able to keep your cool. Don’t act stupidly”

And she disappeared.

Riz let out a breath but didn’t do any sudden movements. He could never know if Kalina was watching. Every waking moment he had to keep up a facade. He couldn’t afford to have Kalina know about things he cared about. Not after Penny.

But, wow. He was so fucking angry. 

At fucking Ragh Barkrock. That idiot, that pawn, that freaking bully was spared. He threw Kristen’s bible into the barrel of corn, he had made fun of Adaine at least twice and he was spared ?

What the actual hell?

He hated Ragh. He hated that he was comforted, that he would start therapy, he hated that he was given a second chance. And what he hated the most is that if he was in his place, Riz would be dead.

Dead like Doreen. Dead like Johnny Spells. Dead like Coach Daybreak.

Because in Riz’s case he was no pawn. He manipulated people, he manipulated his own party. The second they would find out they would attack him, they would kill him, they…

Riz closed his eyes and willed his tears not to come out. He was losing control. He was thinking irrationally. The party was too stupid to even suspect they had a traitor amongst them. Everything was going fine. So why the hell was he so upset? 

Don’t feel. Don’t cry. Kalina might be watching.

He didn’t do his homework that day.

He stayed curled in his bed and fell asleep, grasping his brand new briefcase.

He couldn’t think of battle scenarios that night. Fuck it. Whatever. Let’s plant a bomb and blow everyone up. Everyone dead, before they realised that he betrayed them. 

~~

He woke up from a text from Adaine;

can we meet at basrar’s before school??

pls

He looked at the text puzzled.

sure

are u ok?

He got a reply in a few seconds.

not really

i wanna talk to someone

“Mom, I am going out!”, yelled Riz. “I am meeting a friend”

“A friend? Oh sweetie, I am so happy. Have fun, I’ll try to come back home early today. Maybe we can have dinner together”

“Yeah, that would be nice”, mumbled Riz. “See ya, mom”

~~

Adaine looked like a mess. Objectively speaking. She was in a booth cutting her ice cream scoop into smaller pieces in a rage.

Riz sat opposite to her while realising he was awful at comforting people. He hadn’t had a real cry for almost four years. Not repressing emotion was new terrain for him. But the oracle was useful and he was supposed to help her and also it was kind of upsetting to watch her be so sad.

“Is something wrong?”, he asked lamely.

She shook her head.

“Nothing unusual. Just my family. Being fucking. Awful”, she enunciated each word with another stab on the ice cream. “Ugh, it’s my fault. It’s my fault for thinking they would react normally for once”

“Don’t say that. What happened?”

“I told them I need to buy new clothes for school. I had that giftcard that Fig’s dad gave me. I thought since I wasn’t using their money, that it would be okay”

“Fuck, did they take your giftcard?”

“No, thank gods, I didn’t have the time to mention it. The second I started talking they immediately interrupted me. Said that since I was a member of the family, I represent them at, and I quote ‘the atrocious mess of a school’ I go to. That I haven’t earned the right to ‘be trusted to have a respectable fashion sense’”

“Oof, that is horrible! Didn’t your sister do anything?”

“Oh, she did! She told me in front of our parents that maybe if I focused on my studies instead of killing people with ladles, then she would let me borrow a T-shirt from time to time. And she said it so condescendingly. And then I had to watch my parents congratulate her on how good a sister and wizard she was”

“S-she really did that?” Riz tried to connect the Aelwyn he knew with the person described. 

“Of course she fucking did”, Adaine replied furiously wiping tears away. “It’s just a lot. Watching Fig and her dad. He knew her for less than a day and he showed her more affection than my family in years. I just- I just want someone on my side in this hell of a house"

Riz remained silent. He didn’t know how to help. How to bring comfort to people.

“Why did you text me ?”, he asked as an afterthought. 

“You said you get nightmares. I started getting them too”

Prophetic dreams for sure.

“I went to sleep yesterday and I saw you in a dream. So you were the first person I thought to contact. Also, you are a calming presence”

“Calming presence?”

“Yeah, you might not always be nice, but you are truthful and brave and reliable. You know?”

She was wrong about all the things she said, which meant that Riz was doing his job as a spy right. But he still felt a small ping of guilt for not being the person she needed. But-wait! A dream about him?

“What did I do in your dream?”

“I-I don’t remember. You were talking to someone. You were scared. I think you were in danger”

Oh wow. Fuck me right?

But at least the dream didn’t indicate anything about his true identity.

“Dreams are weird”, he said.

Adaine snorted.

“Yeah. Let’s go to school. And after that, I am gonna buy new clothes”

“For real?”

“Yep! I think jeans would suit me nicely”

~~

Riz could feel rage building up in him. He felt it at school when Adaine gently helped Gorgug with his Elven Language 101 homework. He felt it after school, at the clothing store, when she gleefully tried on a T-shirt and a jean jacket. And he certainly felt fury when he saw the oracle’s mood decline when it was time to part ways and go back home.

He did what he hadn’t done in weeks. He contacted Aelwyn Abernant.

~~

“Haven’t seen you in a while, dude. Did the cat want you to do anything?”, asked Aelwyn. 

They were again in the park. The last time they were there, it was Riz’s first day at school.

“Nothing from the cat I am afraid”, Riz said. He was fuming. “Did you know your sister was the elven oracle?”

“Oh, is that the reason you are here? Did you just find out? Are you mad I didn’t tell you?”

“Nonono, I am just trying to understand you. You knew Adaine was the oracle?”

“Of course I did”

“And you sold her out?”

“Excuse me? Wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?”

“You are not supposed to sell out your family!”, Riz snarled. “What are you getting out of this, Aelwyn?”

“Riz, lower your voic-”

“You know what I get? I get to keep my mother, my family safe. I have spied and I have assassinated and I have done unspeakable things to make sure no harm comes to my family”

“Don’t you mind that Kalina might hear-?”

“Oh, she knows. You bet she knows how I feel about her, and this whole thing! But it’s my fucking job and I do it to help my loved ones. Not like you”

“What are you insinuating?”, she asked, her voice icy cold.

“I am not insinuating anything! I am spelling things out for you! I thought we were the same, I thought we had some kind of agreement. But now I know we are nothing alike. You are doing this all for yourself. You have one good family member, your sister, and you treat her like shit”

Any hurt on her face was carefully hidden but Riz knew to recognise the signs. She was blinking rapidly like she was close to tears and she was digging her fingers into her arm.

“You know she might die at the end of the year if she keeps getting involved in this. And you. Don’t. Care.”

She stayed silent for a second, looking for an argument. And then-

“Fuck off, Riz”

And she stormed off.

Riz left as well, his heart heavy. He didn’t care if Kalina saw the whole thing. 

He was supposed to protect the oracle after all.

~~

He was doing an essay on pickpocketing when he heard the door open.

“Hey, mom”, he said without lifting his head.

“Hey, kiddo”, she replied as she left the keys on the kitchen table. “I wanted to show you something”

“Can it wait? I am almost done with this essay”

“You want to see this, kid”, Kalina whispered in his ear.

“It’s important, Riz. It’s about your father”

He stood up.

His mom walked to the wall and pressed at a certain point, opening a hidden door. His dad’s secret office.

She is finally telling me the truth about dad.

“Your dad wasn’t an accountant. Far from it. He was a secret agent”

I knew it for five years.

Kalina showed me this office four years ago. 

“He was very brave, and he loved you a lot. But… he was killed on a case”

Why didn’t you tell me before? Why did you let me trust the wrong people?

He examined the room silently. He had searched it extensively when he first found it. He had read all the files on the desks. He found a photo of his dad and Kalina at a special event. He sat on his dad’s chair, his small legs dangling in the air. 

“Riz, are you okay?”, he heard his mom asking

“Riz, tell her you are glad to know”, whispered Kalina in his ear.

“I-I am glad to know, mom”, he echoed. He plastered a grin on his face. “We are a family of certified badasses”

His mom teared up and wrapped her arms around him.

“Yes kiddo. We certainly are”

He had one question to ask. One question that was burning him up for years.

“Mom? Was dad a good person?”, he whispered.

“Oh honey”, she hugged him tighter. “Of course he was. Of course he was”

They stayed like this for a while. 

Riz couldn’t shake the thought that his father would be immensely disappointed in him.