Saun 39, 717”Are you sure of it?" Her chin lifted from the desk to look at him, addressing the man properly and with her full attention. Barlow Baynard was far from kind on the eyes, but Keegan needed to see his expression at it’s height. At it’s most candid. The drive to understand was ingrained deeply within the weave of her person, but it was not just the will of comprehension that removed her from her work now, attentions leaving the caged wasps atop her work desk.
The truth was, she was hurt, though her expression would not reveal it as such.
”Aye. Traveling in a pair is twice as many resources mexr, you will go alone.” For all that Baynard was, he had a low, gentle voice, but the words still cut into her deeply. A hot knife into exposed ribs, that’s how it felt to be sent away. And suddenly she was wondering if this decision had been made based on her lack of merit, or perhaps her impatience. Her chin dipped, and eyes fell back onto the wasps, though she would not see them. Not really.
They worked in silence for a long time after that. Venom milking was a tedious, drawn out process, one that Keegan lacked both the patience and finesse for. However dull, it still beat labeling jars, and the woman could be thankful that most of those days were behind her. A gaunt hand dipped into the bowl beside her, stretching the pig bladder taut across the wood frame. She worked carefully despite herself, until the organ was so tightly stretched it was nearly translucent.
She would dismiss her work then, pausing to remove herself from her station. Baynard did not wash his hands before setting the cage, but Keegan always did. Her hands dipped into the basin at the far end of the shop, rubbing her hands together in methodical, nearly mechanical movements. ”Is it because of the myrta buds?” She had wasted an entire batch of myrta dust due to her carelessness. Again.
But Baynard gruffed at that, unwilling to acknowledge this new task was of a personal nature. It was business. That was all. Keegan wiped her hands against the linens above the basin, and stepped back to her station without further protest.
The wasps were ready, and Keegan slid the bowl and bladder underneath the cage. The idea was to rouse them enough to make them sting, in which they would penetrate the bladder and get stuck to it. This immobilizes the wasp, and the venom then pours into the bowl easily, as long as the bladder is pulled thin enough. A vial was proffered from a canvas utility belt, Keegan promptly uncorking it. Then she sat, and waited.
There was still an ache in her weave, gnawing away at her. Her first finger trailed over the slightly raised imperfection on her palm, a scar that was given to her the last time she had been sent away by Baynard. Perhaps then, he was not sending her away out of spite. Perhaps the ache she felt was fear, and not pains of the heart. Perhaps she was just afraid.
The vial held the pheromones of a Queen wasp. And those pheromones said ”Sting.” The drones did as they were told, buzzing in a panic before falling right into the trap. They stung the bladder one by one, until the organ was lined with helpless, struggling insects. ”It would be quicker if we just ground them, Sizbax.” It seemed she had retired from second guessing her use to the old man, choosing to segue the conversation back to work. At least for now.
”Grinding wasps would dilute the venom, Keegan.” He seemed irritated at this, as if the sheer idea of it was offensive. ”And you do not sacrifice your drones, mexr. Your swarm is your well-being, do you understand?” But the girl had stopped listening, entirely fixated on the struggling legs and fluttering wings from the cage. She would need to smoke them into soothing before she removed them from the bladder, lest she desire a few hundred stings.
She did so without casualty, to both her own wellbeing and the drones’. This group would be re-introduced to the rest of the nest tomorrow, and a new group would be sampled, the process repeated. She was cleaning up her station when the pang hit again. Was he cross with her? Was it really only business?
”Sizbax." She was standing above him, though even at her full height she was not much taller than the seated man. He removed himself from the ledger, meeting her eyes. It was then that she threw her line, finding the greying man’s emotional weave and picking through it. Past the irritation of being interrupted, past the intense focus of his work. Past the —
”You will stop it, mexr.” The intensity in his voice disheveled her, so much that the threads were ripped, severing the empathetic connection almost immediately. ”You will leave me be.” He stood from his desk, piling up his papers before shelving them. It was not unknown that her empathy made him uneasy, if not because she could see his colors shift within his weave, than because of the way he shuffled his papers, nervous and busying.
“I would not need to use it on you, Sizbax, but it is just you and I in this room. This trial and the next.”
”More reason to go to Ne’haer, mexr.” His hands finally were freed from the papers, and he gestured her to follow him. ”Come. I have something for you.”
Barlow Baynard was not one for gifts, but Keegan followed without hesitation. He lead them through the small shop and out the backdoor into the alleyway, and the big reveal was, well, lackluster at best.
Standing next to the rotting crates and barrels stood… a dog. Keegan frowned.
A wolfhound by the looks of it, with wiry hair in a hue and texture that nearly matched that of Baynard’s beard. It was a leggy breed, standing nearly three feet at the shoulder, and much taller than the poisoner herself if it were to stand on it’s hind legs. It paid no mind to neither Keegan or Baynard, instead pulling against the lead around it’s neck and panting in the Saun heat. ”I do not want it.”
”You will need something for your travel. You will keep him.”
If Kee accepted this as an act of kindness from the greying man, it did not show on her face. ”What I need is a horse, Sizbax.”
”Buy your own damn horse. Here.” And a drawstring purse was dropped into her hands, the sound of coin clinking within it’s confines.
The two had made it back inside before they spoke again, Keegan preferring to leave the dog exactly where it was. She was sorting through her wages before she addressed him again. ”It’s short.” She was sure of it. She had counted it three times.
"Aye. By 50 nel, mexr. For the dog.”