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You Taught Me
Returning from scouting, Naeri took the passage that Garo had shown her years prior, the one that ran alongside the sewer system. As far as she knew, Rami and the others didn't know that the passage existed, though all the good assassins were acquainted with it. The passage was perpetually silent, as the only people who used it had long since learned not only how to walk without sound but also why.
Naeri was shocked to hear a boom just ahead. Were assassins fighting? Impossible. They were hemlock-and-dagger types, the lot of them, not fistfighters like common pickpockets.
Garo's training screamed for her to turn around, but, in her heart, Naeri had yet to learn the art of caution. She padded forward as quickly as she could without making a sound.
"Naeri," a voice gasped when she was nearly to the place where she'd heard the boom.
Naeri crouched instinctively when she heard her name, reflexes overriding her Trionnen-may-care attitude. Then, slowly, she sat and relaxed, recognizing the voice that had spoken.
"Go home! You should have run when you heard—" He stopped.
"What was it?"
There was a sigh. "Go home."
Naeri crossed her arms, although the passage was darker than Trionnen's soul and there was no way for Garo to see her. "Garo. Something's going on."
Garo gasped; Naeri heard it, though only because he had taught her to inhale equally quietly. "Something's going on with you or Rami or the kids?"
"No. Something's clearly going on with you."
"Garo . . ."
"Fine." Naeri could feel Garo's shoulders rising and falling by the way they moved the passage's still air beside her. "You know my parents died. Obviously. Otherwise I wouldn't live with you all, scraping by behind a bakery and playing at being a father when I could still use one myself. But you don't know how it happened, do you?"
"No. But it was about 20 years ago, so why—"
"It makes sense in the end. Anyway, I was born and raised—well, as raised as I ever got—in a tenement on Rubbish Row."
"There aren't any tenements on Rubbish Row. It's all slum tents. You know that."
"As you pointed out earlier, I'm talking about 20 years ago." Garo's tone wasn't quite impatient, but something in it was close to breaking.
"Sorry," Naeri whispered.
There was a pause. "One night, when I was seven, I got sick from something in the water. You know our wells are awful, and my parents were Underlings, not Shadows. They didn't know who to bribe or where to buy smuggled purifiers. That night, my mother shooed me outside to the privy. What else could she do? I spend almost half an hour in there, absorbed in my misery. I came out and noticed flames licking the roof of our tenement—and they were sprouting from every other tenement on the block, too. I ran back to the building and was trying to find the door when I passed out. I awoke the next morning the only living person in earshot, and I went to Cobbler's Lane to beg. Mama had told me to do that if anything happened.
"There's a rift in the Shadows now, Naeri. Some think we need to start obeying the laws in order to deserve our rights. Trionnen's hounds on them, I say! The rest of us think we need to overthrow the Royals and the Nobles to get any recognition. All the other classes are against the Underlings and the Shadows. The Merchant who owned the Rubbish Row tenements knew the buildings were kindling and he didn't care! That's how they are, all of them. We're not even human to them."
Naeri turned this information over and over in her mind, but finally she asked, "What was the noise?"
"The one that told me you were here."
"I punched the wall."
Naeri bit her lip. "Why?"
"I'm still angry about it. People decide that other people deserve to live in fire traps and that's it; Underlings live in fire traps, just waiting to die. And I take it out when I kill. And I know it's stupid and the people I'm killing are mostly Shadows anyway and don't have anything to do with any of this, but it's how I stay sane, killing. And it drives Rami mad and it should because it really is that bad, and I don't want to be this."
Naeri reached over and fumbled for Garo's hand in the darkness. When she was holding it, she said, "You're not. You're my older brother and you're the one who brings dumplings and wrestles Hom and stops Rami from suffocating us with her 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts' and teaches me everything I need to know and--"
A slight hiss, like the sound of a dagger being pulled from a well-made stealth sheath, came from beside Garo and made the two scramble to their feet and sprint almost silently to the passage's nearest exit. Garo found the ladder by memory, pushed off the fake cobblestone tile concealing the exit, and scrambled into an alleyway. After helping Naeri climb out, he replaced the tile and removed a grappling hook from his belt. Beside him, Naeri was doing the same. When they had scaled the nearest building, a former smithy that was now mostly used by Shadows, Naeri turned to Garo and said, "See? You taught me everything."
As the pair watched a hooded man emerge from the passage two stories below them and glance around in bewilderment, Garo smiled.