Limyaael

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03:10 pm: "Soul-Sellers," OC ficathon fic
This was written for the original character ficathon [info]tsuki_no_bara held, for [info]willowanderer.

The challenge:

I'd like to read about a non kinky hetro relashionship. I'm always up for werewolves, or other shapeshifters, and because I'm a bitch, I wanna see something without Violence, angst, or romance.

So it came out as humor. Or maybe horror, if you read the main character as having something very badly wrong with her (which she probably does).



Soul-Sellers

“Well, you were supposed to guard them.”

“I didn’t know that. I thought we were supposed to share responsibility.” Coudin folded his arms and matched his wife’s glance.

Keladin met it for as long as she could, and then collapsed across the railing of the ship, giggling. Coudin sighed. “Can’t you be serious for a moment? If someone did steal those trunks, then we could have trouble on our hands. They’ll probably sell them on the open market, and you know what that’ll do to our standing with the guild.”

Keladin had recovered enough to roll her eyes at him. “And of course that’s the only thing you’re worried about, and not the fact that someone stole two trunks of souls.”

“Hush!” Coudin gave a glance around the deck, as though the crew members might huddle listening nearby instead of regularly cursing them to get out of the way. Keladin had listened to his suspicions for their fifteen years of marriage, and still didn’t understand the basis of all of them. “Let someone hear you, and we’ll be in trouble that will make the trouble from the theft look small.”

Keladin caught her breath and stroked his shoulder. “Calm down, Coudin. We’ll find the trunks.”

“How do you know?”

Keladin touched the ruby pendant that hung at her throat. “I made this to track them.”

Coudin’s face contorted. “Why would you do that? Do you know how much trouble we could get into if someone finds out you did that? The guild especially?”

“I was anticipating theft,” said Keladin brightly.

Coudin blinked, obviously tried to think of something to say in response to that which wouldn’t make him look like a fool, and settled for, “Oh,” instead. Keladin chuckled. He still hadn’t learned that it was his expression that made him look like a fool, not his words.

“Come with me,” she said, almost skipping towards the cabin that had been theirs for the duration of the voyage. She hadn’t thought anything interesting would happen. It would just be another dreary visit to Marior: a few days of negotiation, a few days of settling souls with buyers who had already paid for them, a feast glittering with strained smiles, and then the voyage home. Now, they might track down thieves and do all manner of interesting things. “We need to fetch our trunks and get off the ship.”

“I quite agree.” Coudin cast a glance around and shuddered.

Keladin shook her head. He never changes. Sometimes I wonder why I married him. It’s not as if I love him.

Oh, that. Of course.


~*~

“Bad luck,” the sailors were saying, almost in a row, as Keladin passed them dragging her trunk. Coudin followed her. He would be glaring fury at all of them, of course, but not daring to actually say anything. Few ships would transport soul-sellers if they even suspected what they were. There were even fewer that would wait for them the sevenday they needed to complete their business in Marior. They needed the Undaunted and all her crew.

Keladin knew he knew all that. It wouldn’t keep him from complaining at her later, even though he was the one who had chosen the ship in the first place. She shrugged and kept walking. One of the many risks of doing what they did.

The jewel around her neck abruptly pulsed with warmth, and when Keladin looked down, it was flickering with light. She touched it, and at her fingers the light reformed into a map of Marior, the harbors and alleys and rich houses she was familiar with. Of course, the trunks were moving into a part that she wasn’t familiar with, a street so high-class they’d never actually sold souls there; the nobility of Marior liked to pretend they were above such things.

Keladin turned around, and bumped into Coudin, who had been busy enough glaring that he hadn’t realized she’d stopped. They tumbled down the boarding plank, to the snickers of the sailors and the open stares of the people watching from the harbor. Keladin sat up and rearranged her skirts, then pulled her husband up. “Are you well?”

“No,” said Coudin, feeling the bloody lump on his head and glaring at the ship. “Who pushed me?”

“No one,” said Keladin patiently. She recognized this talk. They’d had lots of them before. “You just slammed into me, and tripped down the plank. It’s almost a tradition by now, isn’t it?”

“That seems to happen a lot.”

Keladin let him prattle on as they moved through the harbor, and the mixed crowd there—though considerably less mixed than Keladin had seen before she started letting the guild send them to Marior. The Jade City liked to keep up the pretense that it only allowed humans through the gates, and only humans with money to spend at that. Everyone wore clothes at least a step up from sailcloth, and spoke mostly in quiet, refined voices. Beggars and dogs were chased off the moment the harbor guard noticed them. Even the gulls seemed more subdued, circling the ships more than the docks; the ships were more likely to have garbage for them.

The glares coming their way grew progressively icier as Coudin refused to stop complaining, and Keladin refused to stop smiling and nodding to everyone they passed, whether she knew them or not. By the time one of the harbor guard noticed and approached them, Keladin couldn’t hide the grin at all. Even better, this was one who didn’t know them and so hadn’t played with them before. Oh, this was going to be so much fun.

“My lady,” the guard said, with the barest of bows, to make it clear that she wasn’t such a lady to her. “I’ll need to know why you’re here, and to have your names before you take one step further into Marior.”

“Why?” Keladin asked.

The woman looked at her blankly for a moment. It seemed an extension of her natural expression. Then she shook her head and said, “We are very protective of our secrets in Marior. For the sake of our customers, you understand.”

“I understand,” said Keladin, and took out the other chain that hung around her neck, the one with the guild token of the crossed daggers on it. She held it solemnly out for the other woman to look at, and waited. This was the best part.

The woman looked, and promptly gasped. She stepped away, bowing, and babbled, “I’m sorry, my lady, so terribly sorry. I’ll call someone to escort you at once, of course.”

Keladin was about to accept, with all due guild graciousness, when she remembered she couldn’t, not this time. “Actually,” she said, and lowered her voice. The guard leaned nearer, caught, as Keladin had intended she should be, by the tone. “We need to visit just one special customer, this time. Can you tell me the way to this house?” She held out the red jewel and tapped it two times, hard. The map spun and then fixed on the house where the trunks had been taken. The focus was so sharp this time that she could make out the raised crest on the house’s pennant, a dragon holding a sword.

The guard gasped again, but this time, when Keladin looked back at her face, it looked like genuine fear. She nodded gingerly, as though merely talking about the crest would bring the sword down on her neck, and said, “It will take some time, my lady, but I will call an escort.”

“Thank you,” said Keladin, and leaned against a customs booth to wait while the guard scuttled away. The other harbor-goers still looked at her strangely now and then, but as long as the guards weren’t actively chasing her out, they seemed to assume they had no right to do it, either.

Coudin leaned against her, and made a suggestive sound low in his throat.

“Not here,” said Keladin, gently swatting at him.

“But it’s been so long.”

“And I might need you later,” said Keladin, and scratched the back of his neck, since that would sometimes do. Coudin made a contented noise and almost burrowed his head into her shoulder. Keladin kept on scratching, and wondered whether they should take the time to stop at an inn before they went to the noble house, for the sake of the trunks and Coudin’s libido.

No, she decided at last. The guards would probably want to take them straight in, especially if they thought they were guests of the lord and lady of the manor. Besides, Keladin doubted they were going to solve this with a few pleasantries, or a swift attack, either. It would be best if they went in with Coudin on the brink of losing control.

“Keladin…” he almost purred.

“Not yet.”

He would have whined, but he couldn’t do that, so they remained, Keladin scratching his neck whenever he seemed particularly bad. She serenely ignored the glances coming their way, though she was a little disappointed that Coudin wasn’t alert enough to notice them. His complaining amused her, one of the only reasons they had been able to stay together so long.

~*~

“Here you are.”

Keladin looked up—and up. Her eyebrows shot up as if trying to compete with the height of the towers on the house. It was violently obvious that no one around her noticed anything wrong, since the houses in Marior were not supposed to stand above a certain height, but she could see the misty, gleaming towers that shone there, and the pacing guards on them. The guards looked down, aiming their bows as if they were used to strangers approaching the doors. A few others were waiting near the doors themselves, though they wore deep red clothes, as if they were used to dragging away visitors who splashed blood all over the steps as they died.

The harbor guard hovered anxiously around them, completely blind to the extra protections. The marching guards in the dragon-and-sword livery stepped with absent expertise around the red-clad watchers, as though they had learned long ago not to make their presence known to others. When they reached the door, they turned and bowed with all due courtesy to the harbor guard.

“Thank you for making the presence of our visitors known,” one of them said to the harbor guard, who blushed profusely. “The Lady Adivino will want to thank you for this.”

The guard bowed, overwhelmed, and hurried away. Keladin watched as two of the house guards drifted after her, going misty and invisible as they walked. Coudin growled, not that anyone paid enough attention to him to notice. Keladin lightly slapped his arm, and he stopped.

They were probably going to kill the harbor guard, Keladin thought.

Oh, well.

She waited patiently while the guards stared at her, and Coudin growled in his throat, and Keladin waited for them to realize the inevitable and let her in. Finally, she cleared her throat ostentatiously. “Don’t tell us that we came all this way and then Lady Adivino doesn’t want to see us?” she asked.

“You know that you are not supposed to be here,” said the guard on the left, lowering her spear. “Why have you come?”

Keladin sighed and pulled out the guild token again. Really, using it more than once a journey was tiresome. “We’ve come from the Soul-Sellers,” she said, and used her free hand to scratch Coudin on the neck. “Will you be quiet?”

The guards exchanged glances, and then one of them said, “The Lady Adivino is in the middle of entertaining guests at the moment. Surely you can come back in the morning? She will receive you then. She is always pleased to do business with the honored guild."

“I would be honored to come back in the morning,” said Keladin, and the guards relaxed, at least until she continued. “But I suspect that by then all the souls will have been used, and that is our shipment. So opening the doors now, so that we can gather what remains of our souls, and money compensation from Lady Adivino for the ones gone forever, would be an improvement.”

The guards looked abruptly panicked. The one on the right tried, “It’s not that kind of entertainment.”

“Of course it isn’t,” said Keladin kindly.

“The Lady Adivino does not indulge in such games,” said the guard on the left, who really should have kept her spear aimed at Keladin’s breast if she wanted to inspire fear. “She would never tolerate such a corrupt practice used in her home, even by guests!”

“Oh?” Keladin raised her eyebrows. “And yet you just said that she would be honored to do business with me in the morning.”

“Which doesn’t involve the selling of souls!”

Keladin rolled her eyes. “What else do you think the Soul-Sellers do?” She watched the guards for a moment, and saw them still exchanging glances, as if they could really stand in her way should she choose to barge in. She sighed. This was losing its amusement value. “What do you think would happen if I went to the City Council right at the moment and told them about what I think is happening at Lady Adivino’s house? They can’t ignore that. A member of their own nobility smoking souls, tsk. They can tolerate our smuggling, since it brings in money, but a noble using souls? That would have to be put down right away. I suspect the fine, to be paid to the Council and the guild both, would be rather hefty.”

This time, they couldn’t even meet her eyes. Keladin rubbed Coudin’s neck, and stroked his hair when he leaned against her. She hoped that the gestures wouldn’t seem too contradictory to the threat she’d just made. She didn’t mind a laugh or two, but it could be fatal in this place.

They didn’t pay attention, thank the sea. They turned away and opened the doors instead. The woman vanished inside, while the man looked as tough as he could. Keladin rolled her eyes, then turned to Coudin. “They’re going to let us in. If I don’t need you, then I promise to take you back to the inn as soon as we’re done here and let you take me as hard as you want. All right?”

Coudin made a distressed sound. Keladin rolled her eyes again. She had been with him for fifteen years; she knew when he was really in need, and that sound was just a counterfeit.

The female guard came back and said abruptly, “You’re welcomed in. But Lady Adivino insists that you not tell anyone why you’ve come, that you speak to her and leave as soon as possible.”

Keladin nodded agreeably. She had every intention of doing what was needed to get her souls back, and if it was more than what the Lady seemed to think was necessary, then she would do it. But it couldn’t hurt to start out in good graces with the lady of the house.

She half-embraced Coudin as they passed through the door. He was staggering, and Keladin supposed that most of the people in the room beyond would think he was drunk. Let them think that. It could only work to their advantage in the end.

The room they entered took up the entire front of the house, all the way up to the peaked roof, which Keladin had half-expected. One heard tales about the nobles’ homes, even if a Soul-Seller wasn’t usually invited to enter them. This one had sparkling windows, made of rippled glass in which tiny embedded chips of mica flashed in the light of the drifting golden globes. Padded chairs and stacks of cushions one step away from beds crowded the floor, and in them lay the nobles in long, loose robes, their pipes bubbling with what could have been transparent smoke, if you looked at it without realizing what you were seeing. Keladin shook her head. It appeared that more than half their stock had been smoked already.

We’ll take our payment in coin, then. Or otherwise if the Lady is unwilling to provide that.

“Welcome, my lord, my lady.”

Keladin looked up. She would have expected Lady Adivino to be leaning on the couches with the others, but she leaned against the wall instead. Keladin sighed when she saw the gleam in the woman’s eyes, and the way her lips curved, a way that looked wrong for her lean face. She knew that soul. The woman had smoked it all at once, and now Keladin would indeed have to take payment in the other manner. One couldn’t just steal from the guild.

Still, there was the faint chance…

“My lady,” she said, with a nod.

“I am not my lady,” said the woman, with a haughty toss of her head that would have been suitable to much longer hair than she had at the moment. “I am my lord.”

Keladin grimaced. She had told and told the others that actually taking elven souls and mixing them with the regular human stock wasn’t the best idea, but did they ever listen? She sighed and lifted out her guild-token. “You know what we’re here for,” she said quietly. “You will be ordered to give back all the souls that you haven’t used yet, and to pay monetary compensation for the ones you have. Or we could do it the easy way right now. Give us back our trunks, and pay us at least a thousand silver pieces out of your own personal assets, and we will leave.”

The woman—the man, really—laughed. “Of course not! I am free at last, and I intend to enjoy this house and this body.” He ran his hands down his chest, though he looked a little disconcerted when he felt the breasts under his robe. “Why would I simply yield to you?”

Keladin shook her head. Stupid people, smoking them all at once instead of just enjoying a few pleasures of memory. “Because of what will happen if you don’t,” she said. “I know that you couldn’t have destroyed Lady Adivino so fast. What does she think of all this?”

The face flickered, and a trace of what looked like a usual Marior noble came back into its eyes. Lady Adivino was smiling the generous smile of the soul-drugged. “He can do whatever he wants,” she murmured, “as long as he lets me see those memories of him in the baths.”

The elf’s soul gained control again, from the way the face flickered. “You see?” he asked triumphantly.

Keladin sighed, then turned as Coudin whispered, “Keladin… I can’t stay this way much longer…”

Keladin knelt down beside him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “It’s all right,” she murmured, as he fell to all fours and transformed. “I need you this way for right now.”

The guests who had an almost complete soul bubbling above their pipes were the first to notice, and scream. The others blinked, struggling to rise from the haze of their memories, but took much longer. The elf in Lady Adivino’s body seemed so enthralled with examining his own feet that he didn’t look up until the transformation was almost finished.

Keladin stroked Coudin’s shoulders through it, murmuring soft words of comfort as his bones cracked, shifted into place, and mended themselves again. His clothes tattered, of course; normally Keladin removed them, but that would have taken too long here. Golden fur rushed like water across the skin she was petting, and transparent fairy wings burst from Coudin’s back. He gave an unhappy yowl and pulled away from her, a full-grown leopard in form—except for the wings, of course, and the pink glittering face that identified him for what he was.

He sniffed.

“Why did you bring that thing in here?” the elf asked dangerously. “If you intend to attack my guests, be aware that I have guards ready and waiting.”

“There shall be no bloodshed,” said Keladin, smiling at him. “But you seem unwilling to let us collect on our debts, and the guild and our customers do so hate it when we’re late.”

Coudin sniffed. A soul that looked like a transparent image of a human peasant woman in a shawl, only her feet consumed, tore itself loose from the pipe it had hovered over and flew up his nose. Another sniff, and an elven soul pulled free of the hapless guest who was trying to put it in his pipe and joined the other one in Coudin’s nostrils. Keladin waited patiently while Coudin sniffed out and gathered all the undamaged souls he possibly could. It was a pitifully small amount.

He looked up at her with radiant green eyes, and Keladin nodded.

“You can’t do this—“ the elf was saying again, but he still hadn’t done anything, and now he wouldn’t get a chance to do anything.

Coudin sniffed, and beat his wings. Keladin felt no wind, but Lady Adivino’s body shivered as though it were nothing more than a blanket in a strong breeze. Then it simply collapsed as Coudin blew her soul free. The elven soul managed to pick it up a moment later, but by then Coudin had already snorted the lady’s soul up his nose. The elf stared at Keladin through eyes that had once been Lady Adivino’s.

“What am I supposed to do when my strength runs out?”

Keladin shrugged. She didn’t know what happened to souls when they were used up completely. It wasn’t the business of Soul-Sellers to know. She glanced over her shoulder, noticed that some of the guests were trying to sneak out the doors, and sighed. “A windstorm this time, Coudin.”

Coudin faced the entrance and flapped his wings, hard enough to create a soft buzzing sound and make himself rise from the floor. A silver mist enveloped the crowding nobles, and a moment later cleared away to reveal a stream of light flowing towards Coudin and an enormous group of bodies on the floor. Coudin swallowed them all, and Keladin nodded. They could leave now. The guild headquarters would give them trunks and appropriate bottles without question. This was a valuable harvest, impossible to sell in Marior but able to bring them whatever they asked for elsewhere. There were plenty of people in the Sapphire Islands who thought that smoking a noble’s soul would give them some kind of special breeding.

“We’ll summon the Council,” said one of the guards standing at the door, who looked very pale.

Keladin shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Marior is ruined as a market, but I doubt that our guild will care, unless you try to keep us from leaving.” She glanced at Coudin, who bared his teeth and snarled.

The guards stepped back hastily. Keladin marched past them with Coudin trotting at her side, and wondered when they would notice the change in their mistress.

I suppose, she thought, as two screams and a happy laughing voice rose from the house at the same time, right about now.

~*~

“You do realize that we cannot sell in Marior again.”

Keladin dropped her eyes demurely.

“But since you are going to give half the harvest to the guild, then we will forgive the debt,” said the guildmistress magnanimously, sitting back on the judges’ bench.

Coudin, at her side, might have growled at that, but he was tired from a long afternoon of sneezing souls into bottles and only lay with his tongue hanging out instead. Keladin was just as glad of that. Half the harvest would still bring them countless profits in the Sapphire Isles, and the guild had promised to cover their travel fees.

Above all, it meant not coming back to dreary Marior.

“Now,” said the guildmistress, standing, “we will give you leave to attend to your husband. There is a bedroom down the hall on the right.”

Keladin stood, bowed, and left through the righthand door, hearing the impatient click of Coudin’s claws behind her. She looked down as they arrived at the door and said, “I promise that I’ll bed you the moment I get into the room.”

She opened the door, turned around, and found him already human again; the transformation back was always quicker than the other way around. He attacked her without saying anything, probably due to his sore nose and throat. Keladin grinned as she fell to the bed beneath him. His idea of love talk was far too pretentious, fussy, and rich in purple language to be interesting anyway.

I don’t love him, no, she thought as she wriggled beneath him in interesting ways, and he gave her an even more interesting response. But there are compensations.

~*~

“Admit it.”

Keladin glanced up from watching the dolphins leap next to the ship. The guild, to no one’s surprise, had put them on the Sunrise, the most expensive ship that would carry Soul-Sellers. Keladin could lie in a chair and watch dolphins if she wanted, and she didn’t see why Coudin had to interrupt her. “What?”

“You hated Marior,” said Coudin, flopping down in the chair next to her.

Keladin laughed. “I don’t need to admit anything about that. You already knew I hated it.”

“But I didn’t know you hated it enough to leave the lock on our cabin loose,” Coudin muttered, leaning his head on her shoulder and purring when she scratched his neck. “Or to talk about our being Soul-Sellers to the improper people late at night, even if they were drunk sailors. Or to risk the loss of all our profits, just on the off chance that we’d make enough from taking back the souls to get us out of going to Marior forever.”

Keladin scratched his neck more fiercely. “What are you complaining about? It worked.”

“Yes, but it so easily might not have,” said Coudin, sitting back and gazing anxiously at her. “Did you think of that? We could have lost—“

Keladin relaxed, and let his talk wash over her. Combined with the sunlight on the water, and the dolphins leaping up and smiling at her, it was enough to put her right to sleep.

Hmmm. Dolphins really did smile so sweetly.

I shall have to talk to the guild about looking into dolphin souls, Keladin decided, and fell asleep.


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