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Njal stood at the window, her arms curled over her stomach, a faint tremble in her knees. Her eyes had a hollowed-out look to them again, her hair in dirty clumps. “How long do I have to stay here?” “Here” was his personal apartment. A pretty enough cage, she supposed. The view was good, at least.

“For as long as it takes to be sure you won’t do it again.” Mr. Melnik replied. He and Mr. Blackcinder stood near the door, as if both expected her to bolt.

“I won’t do it again.”

“You said that last time.”

She flinched. “Fine.”

She turned back to the window, watched the snow swirl away into the foggy night beyond. She just had to learn how to control herself again. How hard could that be? How long could that take?

“Until I’m certain you aren’t going to run straight across the canals again, you’re to stay here. The dog will bring you anything you need if I happen to be out.” He jerked his thumb at Mr. Blackcinder.

Njal nodded.

“You will not leave this apartment unless I tell you to.”

She turned  surprised look to him. “You’re joking.”

“I’m not. Have the dog bring some books up to you if you get bored. But I’d suggest you use this time to figure out how you’re going to not let that happen again. Because if it does, our arrangement will be terminated and I’ll have him,” her jerked his thumb at Mr. Blackcinder, “put you back in that hole he found you in.”

Njal squinted at him and…believed him. She’d heard that ultimatum before, but nobody ever carried it through. She reached into her pack and pulled out the book she’d borrowed from Rudyard a few days before and tossed it to Blackcinder, who caught it. “Better return that. It’ll go overdue.” Because apparently there was more to getting clean again than simply quitting the habit. She snagged a sheet of paper from the desk and jotted down a few titles she could think of and handed it off to Melnik. “I want these ones.”

He looked down over the list, eyebrows up in surprise then shrugged. “Anything else, Red?”

She pursed her lips. “Paper? Ink? A good pencil?”

He gestured to the desks. “Help yourself, anything not written on is yours to use.”

“Then that’s all I need. For now.” Until she decided she was done with this game and found a way to slip past Mr. Blackcinder and out into the city.

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  1. Scottie Melnik Scottie Melnik December 28, 2017

    The secret door slid closed and Scottie locked it before he descended the stairs of the bookshop, Mr Blackcinder stomping down after him. They reached the bottom and peered into the shop, listening intently. There were little ears in the bookshop these days, but once they were satisfied they were alone, Mr. Blackcinder broke the silence, “You were hard on her, weren’t ya, boss? After all she’s been through?”

    But Mr. Blackcinder, the first and quickest to defend Njal, didn’t say that with his usual gruff growl. It came across quiet and uncertain. Scottie shot the dog a glare, but the look on the big man’s face softened his own response, “I’m doing this to protect her from herself. She has to get this under control.” That was partially true. It was also to protect him. All of them.

    Scottie looked to the list of books and Mr. Blackcinder, tentatively, and very quietly, asked his next question, “You… you wouldn’t put her back in that hole, wouldja?”

    Scottie grunted, both at the last book on the list and that question. He shook his head as he carefully ripped the last book from the page and stuffed it into his jacket pocket, “No, I wouldn’t put her in that hole again. Never.” This was entirely true. No, he’d have to find a permanent solution, but he tucked that thought way in the back of his mind. It wouldn’t do if she caught a sense of that, perceptive as she was. He was resolved that it wouldn’t come to that anyway. This had to work.

    “You’re to remain on guard. She’s the priority. When you’re not here, I will be. I’ll have guards watching the front doors during that time to protect our other guests. I want eyes and ears on this place at all times.” The dog nodded and started to stomp back up the stairs, and Scottie called after him, “I’ll have the girls round up these books and have them bring you your meals. Don’t stray from that door!”

    The list of books seemed mostly innocuous; “Memory and the Old Masters”, a book of country architecture, a couple new books on ship building and rigging. And the last? He’d pick a few out himself, and read them before handing them to her personally. There were more than a few books on that subject, and she would need the ones with the most incomplete and unreliable information. He needed to prove a point about the nature of her quarry and the importance of control.

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