full disclosure this chapter went up two years ago, i just forgot about this website. it feels dirty to upload this now but w/e
an uncharacteristically quiet day in Os Alta. But it isn't peaceful. Nikolai has seen too much and too little for this quiet moment to somehow also be peaceful.
It had been years, but Nikolai still remembers the attack. It's one of the few eventful things that's happened in his life so far.
He remembers the Fjerdan drüskelle and the Ravkan peasants, marching on a shared superstition, a bitterness toward Grisha that the Fjerdans carefully nursed. Their threat is not only to the Grisha, but the nobles too if they step out of line.
Nikolai stays in line.
The only Grisha nearest him is his mother's Tailor. She's some years behind Nikolai and almost as pretty. She wears servants' white and even the Grisha in the Little Palace look down on her. But she's Grisha nonetheless, and that puts her in danger.
In the rush of the other nobles to escape the ballroom, Nikolai grabs her by the hand and runs. She follows him with obvious reluctance, as he pulls her through a narrow door and even further down into an empty corridor until finally they slip inside a dark room.
"Your Highness?" Genya asks, though it goes unnoticed. All Nikolai can hear is the clamor of voices in the hallway, the loud pounding of his heart. He shoves his shoulder against the door so that it won't open. (To say the least of the strength of a teenage boy.)
"Hide!" Nikolai hisses. The door rumbles violently behind him. She understands quickly and dives under a divan.
The door bursts open moments later and Nikolai goes for the first thing he can get his hands on, throwing a samovar at whatever or whoever just entered the room. They say something, possibly, but Nikolai's ears refuse to pick up the sound.
The next thing Nikolai sees is the butt of a rifle approaching his face, something to keep him in line.
When he comes too, he's lying on the divan propped up on pillows. He can feel light and cool fingers gliding down his forehead, highlighting a spot he could feel was sore. Sunlight streams out of the windows, and fresh snow falls out of the sky.
As his vision comes to focus, he can see that it's not really snow. It's dark, grimy; it's raining ash. It isn't snow that's falling, but soot.
Nikolai looks up at the Grisha girl tending to his head. Her hair is ratty in places, no longer as well-put as it was the night before; and her eyes seem to gloss with tears. She seems to have changed out of her evening kefta, as well.
Nikolai sits up quickly, blood rushing painfully up his head.
"You Highness—" she protests.
They spend the rest of their morning exploring whatever is left. The Grand Palace was looted, trails of dried blood lead out the door, tell-tale signs of bodies being dragged out to the gardens.
Nikolai's family is nowhere to be seen.
He takes that fact well, all things considered. And a lot better than Genya takes anything else. They barely make it ten minutes in the Little Palace before she bursts into tears and runs outside, ash and soot trailing after her.
He finds her sitting by the lake.
"Why did you drag me away?"
Better he dragged her away than the Fjerdans, but he can't tell her that.
"You're Grisha." As if that explains anything.
She looks away, back to the lake that is the only calm thing between them. "I'm the only one left, aren't I?"
He couldn't answer that, and she couldn't stop crying.
It stays like this for a while.
They never leave Os Alta.
There are still some things for them to do, and nowhere else to go.
What takes the longest is the cleaning. There are no servants to order around, or Grisha to help, but the aftermath of the winter fete is not something either of them want to look at for long-term. It goes against their talents, but cleaning up gives them both something to do.
Sometimes, Genya will tailor Nikolai, and he'll go out to get supplies and food or news from outside. Sometimes, she'll even join him. (Rarely, because of the risk.)
They'd spread rumors of the ghosts living in the Palaces, the Grisha of the winter fete. In truth, it's only Nikolai and Genya wandering around too loud. The superstition and rumors keep any possible visitors at bay; Nikolai and Genya still wait for the day someone will arrive. No one ever does.
It becomes so frequent for Nikolai to go outside the gates of Os Alta that he fashions his own alter ego for whenever he leaves: Sturmhond, an enigmatic young man of never-ending wealth and eccentricity. And yes, he gets into the barfights that Nikolai Lantsov never could.
As far as the rest of Ravka is concerned, Nikolai went down like the rest of the Lantsovs.
He and Genya will leave Os Alta one day, they're sure of that. They're not sure about how they'll get out of Os Alta, more so where to go from there.
"Genya!" Nikolai hisses loudly. "Genya, where are you?"
He doesn't know why be bothers to ask. The walls of the Grand Palace carry sound like no other, especially now that there are no other people. But Genya isn't in the Grand Palace. Nikolai knows exactly where she is.
The Little Palace. As always.
He pushes the door to the Fabrikator workshops and finds Genya sitting on the floor. He shouldn't have expected anything else.
Genya jumps slightly at the sound of the door opening. The fear and shock in her face melts into softness and guilt.
"'I shouldn't come here'," she quotes him. "I know."
This isn't the first time she's been here, and it isn't the first time he's said those words to her. Nikolai is used to finding Genya in the Fabrikator workshop at least every other day.
There's a distinct clearing of ash on the floor, from the number of times Genya wandered her way here. They haven't really gotten to cleaning this place up, honestly.
He smiles sadly and makes his way to sit next to her on the floor. Enough ash has been cleared away for the both of them.
She sighs, "I miss him." Her head falls onto Nikolai's shoulder and he likes to think that he understands.
He leans over subtly, just to get a glimpse of Genya's face.
Her eyes are red and puffy, dark circles from the weeks she hasn't used her power. Her hair looks like it hasn't been brushed in a few days either, having lost its shine. But she's beautiful no less, a Grisha through and through.
He stands up and holds a hand out to her. "Let's go through my mother's closet."
The most garish pieces in the queen's wardrobe were stolen during the attack, and of the dresses that remained, Nikolai and Genya had ripped apart. ("This would be so much easier if you had saved a Fabrikator instead.") They used the gold threads and various jewels and gems sewn into them in the markets.
There's no good use for them these days, but they'll always fetch a pretty penny.
After they had cleared out the Queen's collection of clothes, they overturned the servants' quarters for actual clothing, anything that wouldn't earn them strange looks at best and a few bullets in the chest at worst.
"Today, we shall be Sturmhond and his intimidatingly beautiful assistant, who is much too good-looking to be working for him." And she can Tailor again.
Her eyebrows knit together. "It was supposed to be just you today. And besides, I can't be too—"
"Yes, you can't be too beautiful. I am grateful you care so much about my ego, Genya."
She looks at him blankly. "Being too beautiful is how Grisha get caught."
"I'm aware. Looking sickly is also how Grisha get caught."
Her smile is almost bitter. "Well, we didn't win the war, did we?"
It wasn't much of a war, but they don't dwell on the topic.
At the very least, she is smiling when they walk out of the room. It's something.
Genya gives him the red of her hair, transforming him into the rugged Sturmhond. She steals the brown of wet dirt to mask her own. They stand together in front of the Queen's impractically large mirror as Nikolai smooths out his coat.
He adjusts one of his cufflinks before turning to face his companion. "You should come out with me more often if it means you always look this excited."
She scrunches her nose as she wraps a belt around her burlap coat. "The excitement dies eventually."
"That's why this is an on-a-good-day sort of activity," he tugs at his lapels. "Shall we?"
Genya tucks her arm in the crook of his elbow.
The doors and gates to the Palace are boarded up and chained. Thankfully, there's more than one way out.
As unbecoming as it is for most princes, Nikolai admits he's become familiar with every crevice and alleyway in Os Alta. The city has always been his home, but before the Fjerdan occupation, the Great Palace and the inner area were the most he's even seen of it. His world has since expanded from the walls of the Palace to the walls around the city.
There isn't much difference between either end of Os Alta these days. The skies are always some shade of gray and the color has faded from every wall. Once the city of nobles, it's nothing less than a city of rumors and hushed whispers now.
The price of revolution is painted all over the city.
They go on walking as the busiest area of the marketplace unfolds before them. Nikolai gazes across the sea of merchants, his ears ringing with the sound of shouting voices. He becomes Sturmhond and he feels somewhat at home.
He saunters off to survey some wares, and a herd of several women pass by, whispering animatedly among themselves. The conversation is difficult to overhear, easier for Genya from where she's standing. Nikolai picks up every other word and fills in the rest with what he can guess.
"Have you heard? The Darkling is alive. And he's taken Os Kervo."
"He had an army. All the Grisha survivors, and then some. They were hiding in Kerch all these years, I heard."
It's been years since the attack on the night of the winter fete, but the fact that the Darkling is alive, that he would make his move now…
"He'll take all of west Ravka next, cut the country in half."
"He won't make a move. Not until he has the Sun Summoner."
"I thought she was already with him. Is she even still alive—?"
Nikolai shoots a glance at Genya. She shrinks into her coat, but he knows she is alert and listening. He keeps his ear trained as he keeps walking along the stalls, but there's not reason to. There's no avoiding the gossip. The Darkling's move on Os Kervo is all anyone is talking about.
"I heard they've taken control of the Fold, too. No one in or out unless they're Grisha."
A soldier passes by and the whispers cut off quickly. It doesn't matter. Nikolai has heard all that he needs.
Genya keeps her head down and manages not to draw too much notice. She looks contemplative, staring in the distance all too often. Nikolai has to pull her out of it when it's time for them to go back to the Palace. A thousand things to say brew underneath their eyes.
"Os Kervo, The Darkling. Who else do you think could be alive?" It's not a question for Nikolai, and not one he can answer anyway.
A silent moment passes between them. "I have to get out of this city, Nikolai."
Nikolai holds her hand and squeezes lightly. "We will."
They go back the way they came, and miss the sight of the boards at the door pried open. Today is the day someone arrives.
this isn't abandoned i'm just a horrible person. 'painted wings' is just something that happens sometimes, and i love it dearly. just... life i guess.
stick around if you want to. sometimes things will happen.