I still see her there in my mind: a scrawny, skinny thing with a smudged face and a skittish demeanor, crouching behind a silken couch. It was Illenna who cornered her there, a cat toying with a broken-winged bird, in the corner of the Silvermoon Inn, and Stavier who coaxed her out to talk to us… but somehow I was the one who fell into her cunning green eyes and still haven’t found my way out. Even then Kuvasei was bright, perceptive, curious and tenacious; a survivor with a sweet face and a ruthless edge hidden behind layers of dirt and rags and the walls she’d built to protect herself. When Stavier showed her his mechanical squirrel, her face lit up with delight – followed promptly by wild curiosity, and moments after that she had it apart and giggling at the intricacy of its design. In that moment I looked at Kuvasei and I saw potential, limitless potential… if she didn’t fall to ruin first. If only she had someone to aid her, to guide her.
I saw immediately that she was damaged. And like any injured creature, she was fearful even of those who meant to help her. Thus I was careful not to move too fast or too fiercely. I resisted the urge to sweep her up and take her home with me immediately, realizing that the shock of moving from a life of scrabbling on the streets to an existence of luxury in my manor would be too much for her. And evidence suggests that my instincts on this count were right; to this day Kuvasei prefers sleeping on the floor beside her bed to sleeping on it, and the things she chooses to eat turn my stomach.
So in those early days I came to her when I could, let her come and go, let her get used to me on her own terms before inviting her into my world. I endeavored to tame her slowly and gently, as one might a wild fox… because I thought it would be best for her. Though some things she did – and some of the company she kept – concerned me greatly, I thought it better to allow her her freedom than to drive her away by holding too tight. Had I known then what I do now I would have snatched Kuvasei up, taken her home and boarded her up when I had the chance. She might hate me for it, as my sister does… but as with Cearalaith, she would have been safe.
For someone else saw potential in her at this time as well. Sejia Stillheart, however, had no time or patience or even consideration for what might be best for Kuvasei. Sejia saw a tool she could use for herself, and she took it. She took Kuvasei, and she imprisoned her, and she tortured the already damaged child until Kuvasei broke in precisely the way she wanted. And then she used that break to make Kuvasei love her.
It didn’t take long, perhaps a week or two. Kuvasei often went off on her own for days during this time and I thought she was merely being more reclusive than usual; I took my sewing with me to some of her usual haunts around town, and I waited, and was I patient. And as I was counting stitches Sejia was showing Kuvasei her tongue collection.
When I saw Kuvasei again I had no reason to think anything at all was wrong – she was lively and happy, and told me in effulgent tones of her new lover. She came and went as always, and so I had no way to know that every moment she wasn’t with me she was with Sejia and her damned Black Oak Company. As I was teaching Kuvasei poise and grace and eloquence, Sejia taught her stealth and poison and assassination. As I gave Kuvasei her freedom in the hopes that she would flourish and grow in the light of a bright future, Sejia was dragging her back into darkness and depredation by invisible chains. As I held Kuvasei and attempted to heal her heartbreak over Sejia taking a new lover, I had no idea that Sejia was deliberately pitting her lovers against each other, encouraging them to fight for her own amusement. The first clue I had that something was wrong came the day I encountered Kuvasei and she was shaking. No big deal, Kuvasei told me; she simply hadn’t had her medicine that day. Sejia would provide the medicine. The medicine stopped the shakes. Shakes I knew for a fact she hadn’t suffered before Sejia began giving her “medicine”.
Kuvasei’s withdrawal from the mana-laced drug Sejia had hooked her on was not the worst I’ve witnessed. Still that thought wasn’t exactly comforting as I sat by Kuvasei’s side, helpless to do anything but hold her hand and brush her hair as she shuddered and sweated and cried out in pained delirium. That was over a year ago now and Kuvasei has had little craving for the drug since (as far as I know).
Her addiction to Sejia, however, has been another matter entirely. I was ready to chain Kuvasei to a bed, if necessary, while the chemicals in her system worked their way out… but this emotional dependency is something Kuvasei can only overcome on her own, and only if she wants to. Kuvasei truly believes in her heart of hearts that only Sejia can help her reach her true potential. Only Sejia truly loves her. Only under Sejia’s ‘tender care’ can Kuvasei truly be happy. This need Kuvasei has for her abuser goes into hibernation at times… for a while she will listen to me, and she will flourish, and she becomes the lovely young lady I see inside of her at all times. Then something breaks and she’s back where she started, or worse.
In the last two years I’ve gone from considering Kuvasei an interesting side project to loving her very intensely. That’s why I agreed to adopt her as my daughter – to give her the family she’s craved and I know she needs. It’s been challenging, even before the Sejia issue is brought into play – at seventeen, Kuvasei is both child and adult at once, with the most frustrating aspects of both –she has killed, and she has loved, and she has given birth, and I can’t just ground her when she disobeys. And I know it is difficult for her as well – she wants boundaries and guidelines, just as she is driven to rebel against them, and she so deeply fears being alone that she is willing to go to absurd lengths to keep from losing any individual in her life… even at the cost of her own safety, or the security of those around her. I can’t actually convey to Kuvasei how terrified I am that she will end up yet another trinket in Sejia’s cabinet – another tongue for her collection. I went so far as to try to scare Kuvasei with images of what could happen to Breelyn if Sejia made the connection between Kuvasei’s hidden infant and Stavier Luminiar’s adopted child of the same age, though such tactics appall me. And it worked… but only briefly. I don’t know what I shall do when it stops working entirely.
A year and a half ago I held Kuvasei in my arms as she cried and shuddered with fear as the radio on her hip buzzed with messages from Sejia and Sejia’s flunkies who were looking for her. She didn’t want to answer, but she knew that eventually she would. She felt she didn’t have a choice. She won’t listen, when I tell her she does. I was ready to cry too, for I had no idea how to help her. I held her as tight as I could that night, but I could not escape the feeling of her slipping through my fingers regardless. And even today, just when I think she is finally safe, she starts slipping again.
And I don’t know what to do.