Gates

Prelude: The Deal, Part 1

In Which Nasti is Bullied

posted by Darth Krzysztof

Harady :Theater, Caliphas, Ustalav
4710 AR

“How’s it going, Nasti?”

Nastassia found Pietrek blocking her path to the orrery; his shoulders seemed to brush each side of the doorframe, reinforcing her certitude that the Ustalavic oaf was as wide as he was tall. Why am I the shortest elf alive? she wondered, and not for the first time, though she knew full well that there wasn’t an elf anywhere on Golarion like her. She also felt sorry for all those people (numerous though they may be) who found a man like Pietrek attractive, and rued that she knew him too well to ever feel anything but contempt for him.

She noted Pietrek’s loyal stooge, Bazyli, just to his left, grinning; she heard Slippery Kamilla slide behind her to block the doorway she’d just passed through. Her only exit was now the theater’s back door, at the far end of the room.

The way out is through, Nastassia told herself. She knew she could outthink Pietrek, and figured she could outtalk him. But, with Valeska away, she had to tread lightly. This already felt like something more than their usual harassment.

“I’ve told you, Pietrek. My name is Nastassia.” Her Ustalavic accent was even stronger than his. Though she layered her tone with the honey and smoke her voice carried, she couldn’t quite disguise the steel beneath it.

Pietrek shook his head. “A monster doesn’t get to tell me what to call it. And you ARE nasty.”

“Wow, that works on… two levels!” She was through with letting him get a rise out of her with the m-word. “You must have been tops in all your classes, with a wit like yours. Your parents must be so proud.”

“At least I have parents, you fork-tongued bitch.” Bazyli made an ooo sound, his greasy dark hair gleaming in the light of continual flames.

“Good one, Pietrek,” Kamilla called from behind Nastassia.

That stung; she shouldn’t have set him up like that. Nastassia’s mind flailed around for a comeback; when it came up empty, she simply stomped toward Pietrek, hoping he’d clear a path. But the lummox did not budge.

Instead, he smirked. “Something the matter, Nasti?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I need to get to the orrery, and I don’t have time to chart a course around this land mass in front of me.” Do not let him hear how much he is pissing you off! cried the inner voice she could barely hear.

“Oh. I’m sorry. Am I in your way, Nasti?”

The knives she glared at him would have killed a small animal. “Yes,” she managed, through clenched, pointed teeth. Keep calling me Nasti; see where it gets you.

“Do you need me to move?”

“You know that I do, Pietrek.” Her blood thundered in her pointed ears.

He leaned down, peering into her eyes, until she could smell the garlic sausage on his breath. “Then maybe you should ask me nicely.”

Swallow your anger. Nastassia heard Valeska’s voice, as surely as if she were here. It’s not worth fighting him. He’s not worth it. Choose your battles.

She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Lifted her chin. Looked him in the eye, and called up all the innocent charm she could muster. “May I please go to the orrery, Pietrek?”

Nastassia felt the sting on her cheek before she even realized that he’d slapped her, hard enough that she nearly lost her balance. Kamilla and Bazyli burst into laughter, but Pietrek only managed the slightest smile.

“So polite when you’re threatened, aren’t you, Nasti?” he purred.

Swearing in Abyssal, Nastassia turned to face him again – but the gleaming dagger Pietrek now held in his hand kept her from lunging at him.

He raised the blade between them. “Now, see, here’s your problem, Nasti. We don’t want you here. We never have. It’d be bad enough to have any girl parading around here, reminding us every time she opened her sassy little smart mouth that she’s the smartest person in the Order. But to hear it from you? A pitborn wretch, with your purple skin and your beady yellow eyes and your horns and your godsdamn tail?” He waved the point of the dagger around at the elf-tiefling, as if ensnaring her in a little magic circle. “It’s intolerable, is what it is.”

He’s been waiting a long time for this chance, Nastassia realized. This isn’t bullying anymore.

As if sensing her thoughts, Pietrek said, “And now that your mommy and daddy aren’t around to protect you anymore, and Valeska is way down in Magnimar, there’s no one to stop me from kicking your ass out of here.”

You have no weapon, and you can’t fight. But you can outthink him. You may even be able to outtalk him. It’s your only chance. She studied her hand and played her first card. “That seems very short-sighted,” she said, taking one step back, hoping she sounded nonchalant. “I mean, it’s not like you’ve kept it a secret that you hate me. I even know the real reason why.”

“Is that a fact.” It wasn’t a question. He exchanged a glance with Bazyli laced with … concern? Worry?

An opening! Attack! “It is. You have the faintest Sarkorian accent. Your ancestors were driven from their lands by the Worldwound. And that’s what you see when you look at me, the demons that hurt your family. But I’m not a demon.”

“You might as well be.” He thought you were going to say that he fancied you, but that’s a button you know not to push. Kamilla’s boots scraped the floor behind Nastassia, but she didn’t dare take her gaze away from Pietrek’s.

Change your stance. “Even so, that isn’t all I am. I’m also an elf, and I’m a scholar, and an occultist, and … If you only focus on how we’re different, you’ll never see how much we’re alike.”

“I am nothing like you.” His knuckles whitened on the dagger’s hilt.

Fuck. You’re losing him. Skip ahead. “We both serve the Palatine Eye, Pietrek. I may have been born into it, but I still choose to be here. I’m doing the work, same as you. The Aucturn Enigma is coming! Before this decade is out! The entire Inner Sea region will be gone if we can’t find a way to stop it. Together. I know that the true silvered thrones value my work as much as they do yours. Valeska does, too.” Translation: The upper echelons of the Order will note my absence, but it’s my mentor that you should really worry about.

He took so long to answer that she almost repeated herself. “If you really think,” Pietrek finally said, “that the true silvered thrones give a damn for a pitborn bookworm, or her half-grunter tinker friend, then you’re nowhere near as smart as you keep telling us you are.”

Insult me ‘til the stars go cold, but don’t you dare insult Valeska. Erupting into burning, liquid anger, Nastassia’s heart took over and she threw herself at Pietrek – and the knife sang in the dim light, carving a jagged, searing line across the bridge of her nose. The tiefling fell to her knees, her left hand clamped over her bleeding face while she feebly held up her right hand to defend herself.

“Hey, lookit!” Bazyli said, tittering. “Her blood’s red after all!”

“So much of it, too,” Kamilla mused. “Guess I owe you a silver piece after all.” She drew a dagger of her own, still minding her exit. “One thing I never could figure out, though: how come she’s got four fingers on one hand and five on the other?”

“Because pitborn are asymmetrical,” Pietrek said, now grinning enough to show his teeth. Nastassia wondered if his skull had any curves, or if it was cubical under all that useless meat. Under other circumstances, she might have laughed at this observation. She was rather proud that she’d been able to think through the pain at all.

Pietrek crouched beside the tiefling as Bazyli moved into the doorway he’d been blocking. “I’ll offer you a deal, Nasti. Since we’re such good friends and all, I think it’s only fair. You can leave Harady Theater right now. In fact, you should leave Caliphas altogether. Right?” He glanced up to gain the assent of his lackeys.

When he turned his attention back to Nastassia, Pietrek spoke low in her ear and pressed the tip of his knife against her carotid artery. “Right. Leave Caliphas right now, and never come back, and in exchange, we won’t kill you.”

He’s even further past rational thought than you are. This was Valeska’s voice again, like icy water dousing the fires within Nastassia. Get out of here. Get out now.

She nodded, her face now streaming with tears and blood. Apparently satisfied, Pietrek stood up and removed his dagger from her throat, waving toward the exit with it. “See you never, Nasti,” he cooed as Nastassia Rainstrider-Kaneshiro left the only home she’d ever known.

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