They were gone.
The guards gave chase, of course–and their backs, in turn, were chased by flying bottles and slurred insults. The woman had threatened to kill the guards comrade–they would not let that go. …But the tavern master should’ve been wiser. It was a stupid idea, putting friends together at the same location. Had the injured guard been any other man, the mystery woman would not have had any leverage.
Personally, he hadn’t given the pair any thought when he saw them come through the doors from his seat near the bar. He was counting ticks in his head, marking the passing time. He was a man of clockwork, a man of rhythm. Under the flow of drink, the tempo slowed, but forever would it progress, and forever would he be mindful of it. It was his barrier.
–Tick, tick, tick–
It didn’t take much for the tavern to go back to its drinking, its music, its other licentious activities.
He passed through the main entrance, his dark eyes trained on the bobbing heads of the guards over the crowd. He wasn’t so broad, but his dark skin and black doublet made him seem slimmer than he truly was. His shoulders held power. He gave them a roll as if to shake off the feel of the tavern, his chainmail sleeves ground like teeth. Eyes darted this way and that before he crossed the road, against the flow of the crowd, to the other side, where he slipped into a small alley between a tailor shop and a bakery. Midway through, he stopped and waited, one hand reaching up to brush along his shaved head.
–Tick, tick, tick–
A moment later, a rope cascaded down, and the man took a quick look around before he set to climb against the building face of the bakery, coiling the rope as he went. At the top, he pulled himself onto a tiled roof, where the early evening sun made a wraith of him in the shadow of the chimney. Waiting for him stood a cloaked figure overlooking the street. They were crouched, with their hood up to block out the wind. They did not turn as he pulled himself nearer to the chimney, where the rope was tied.
He had long ago stopped trying to convince his companion to join him for his brief visits into average society. It was repulsive and unnecessary to them. In truth, it was repulsive and unnecessary to him as well, but sometimes he feared the thought of losing touch with the world altogether. Sometimes, he feared missing something worthwhile. He shared none of this. He had long ago stopped trying.
–Tick, tick, tick–
“Please don’t tell me you were behind that commotion I just saw.” A quiet voice. His partner was an individual who, like him, strove for control. It chilled him to say, that they were better at it than he. Much better.
The man shrugged off the coil of rope and moved away from the chimney, to escape from the smoke. “There were two women–”
“We already have a quarry, Hakeem.” This time the voice held more force. He focused on his counting.
–Tick, tick, tick–
“Why would you risk detection? Tell me your reason.”
“…Because they mentioned the chronicles.”
The hooded figure turned to cast their shadowed gaze his way. Peach lips barely moved as they spoke. “…That’s impossible.”
The cold words were gaining warmth.
–Tick, tick, tick–
“I heard them. The whole tavern heard them. They mentioned the characters by name.”
“But how would they know those stories?”
“That’s what I figured you’d want to find out.” He gazed levelly at his companion as he pulled out a black lacquer pipe, lined with a carving of a dragon on either side. From his vest pocket, he stuffed the pipe with tobacco, then procured a match. Striking it against the tiles, he lit the tobacco, puffing gently. The smoke that rose from his mouth curled before it seemed caught on a sudden breeze. But rather than fade away, the smoke created a moving figure–the woman from the Canon’s Punch, carrying her companion.
When this image was fully formed, Hakeem gave one last long exhale. Against the direction of the wind, it slithered northward before dissipating.
His partner said nothing. Then they asked, “How formidable are they?”
“One is a therian, but a young one, and not very confident. The other one, the redhead, looks like a trained fighter. She mentioned escaping a kingdom. There might be a bounty on her. Took down a guard twice her size and dazzled the whole tavern with the claim that she and her friend were behind righting Gamath. With the whole room on their side, the guards were too afraid to do anything, so that they slipped away through the main entrance. They left some of their belongings in their hurry.”
The hooded figure nodded. “Alright.” They pulled a medium sized pouch from within their cloak and tossed it over. Hakeem caught it with one hand, the jingle of coins tickling his ear. “Pay the guards and the tavern master to keep quiet. Get those belongings. They might hold a clue as to who they really are. When you’re done, meet me at the marshall’s.” Then his companion added quickly, “And get better tobacco. What’s the point of a pipe like that if a drunkard can see the smoke in a hazy room?”
“What will you do? What about our original target?”
“I’m going to head the women off. I think I can manipulate this situation to our advantage.” They held up golden rings. “We should put these on. We won’t achieve without these.”
Hakeem’s brow furrowed and his fists clenched.
“I dislike these. They’re dangerous.” He pulled out a similar ring.
“I know, but they’re necessary.”
“…How long this time?”
“Three days. Maybe four.”
“That’s pushing it.”
“You’re the one who told me about this!”
Hakeem’s jaw went tight. That change in pitch, that sudden outburst…maybe this wasn’t a good idea?
The figure bowed their head. “I’m sorry. I know I’m asking a lot, but please.”
The man sighed. He slipped the band onto his ring finger. Resisted the jolt that kicked through his nerves. He clenched. Growled deep in his throat.
His companion did the same. They were better at concealing their discomfort, but if their hood wasn’t up, Hakeem would’ve been able to see the pain in their eyes. The immediate sacrifice. He was tired of these toys and trinkets. But it was their life.
–…Tick, tick, tick–
“I’m off then.” The figure moved to jump down onto the street.
His partner paused. Looked back at him.
This was different. This was all different. Already, they were out of harmony. Already, they were deviating toward an uncertain end. What was wrong with wanting everything to be okay? What was wrong…in saying as much?
“…Come back to me.”
The other didn’t move. Then they reached up to lower their hood. A young woman with a creamy complexion and round azure eyes peered at him, their clear depths illuminated not by the light, but something Hakeem could not name. Her golden hair, that faded to honey at the ends, was pinned back in an impatient flip whose lifespan only continued thanks to the hold and protection of the woman’s hood. Her eyes, bright, even in the tired evening, shone curious and warm. A rare show. The peculiarity of this situation was certainly not lost on her.
She offered him a small smile, though she might as well have reached out and squeezed his hand. Such was the power of her congeniality.
“I will,” she breathed.
Then the hood was up, and Quincy was gone, just an illusory shimmer in the dying light.
–Tick, tick, tick–
They had to stray from the main road, because if they didn’t, then the guards would have caught up with them. A tipped merchant cart, a thick stream of people, and a discreet slip down a small road was all that it took to lose their pursuers. Not that hard, not in this big a city, even while under the influence.
The real issue, Elmiryn quickly found, was that she found it damn near impossible to track her way back. Exhaustion caught up with her fast. The warrior, with one hand gripping the sword belt so that Nyx seemed only to rest on her arm than actually be held, slipped onto a shadowed stoop of someone’s home. The door was shut, the narrow, crooked street quiet. She leaned against the building face and felt the peeling sky-blue paint scratch at her cheek. Nyx was in her embrace, back to the wall, her bag of meager belongings pinned between so that she couldn’t sink in all the way. Her head was curled beneath Elmiryn’s.
The woman hadn’t realized she had closed her eyes. The shadows and the black of her exhaustion seemed one and the same. Blinking her eyelids open, she shifted her head to gaze blearily at Nyx. Her eyes were dark slits, but her lips moved.
“Elle, I’m thirsty. I don’t want to sleep. I’m thirsty.”
Elmiryn kissed the girl at the hairline. Felt the sweat against her lips. “I know, kitten. So am I. It was all the excitement. It disagrees with the wine.”
“You don’t feel well either?”
“No I don’t,” The woman wrapped her arms around Nyx and sighed. “Bu’thas okay. Because we’re okay. …’Kay?” Her eyes started to fall shut again. She was feeling nauseous. Faint. Perhaps she had drank too much. Elmiryn couldn’t remember the last time that had ever been the case.
Nyx shifted in her arms, her petite hand clutching at the front of Elmiryn’s clothes. “Elle, what happened? Tell me what happened! Why’d you have to hurt that guard? Why did…I–I just don’t understand…”
The woman pried her eyes open. No, no, she couldn’t fall asleep. It was good to talk. Even if she felt like vomiting, it was good to talk. They couldn’t fall asleep here. “Shh. Don’t get worked up. Yer’ half-awake and your memories are making it into a scary dream. Scarier than it really was. Here, straighten up and I’ll tell you what I saw.”
The girl did just that. Elmiryn smoothed back the girl’s hair. “When I was reaching down to pick you up, I saw a rope wrap around my arm. Or, well, it could’ve been a snake. Or a centipede. Or a–”
Nyx frowned. “You mean you don’t know. You thought you knew. But you don’t.”
Elmiryn rubbed the back of her neck. “I guess not.”
“What convinced you? In your mind, what made you believe it was dangerous? That it was even there?”
The woman breathed deeply. Saw people in her mind, devoid of particular detail, and tables lit by fire in containers she could not recall in the slightest. She recalled ribs, beards, goblets. Then she saw the rope, the snake, the centipede make its way up her arm, swirling.
“It moved too smoothly.” Elmiryn finally said. “Like it knew where it was going.”
Nyx nodded and leaned back, her eyes now wide open and brows pressed together in worry.
“…And why would a rope know to slither towards you?” she murmured.
Elmiryn shrugged. “Or maybe I’m just crazy.”
The girl shook her head. Rested her head high on Elmiryn’s shoulder so that when she whispered, the woman could feel it on her neck. “You’re not crazy.”
She leaned her head to the side a bit to give Nyx a sidelong look. The girl squirmed when Elmiryn didn’t look away. “What?” she whined.
“I’d kiss you right now, but I’m pretty sure you’d taste like vomit.” Nyx went crimson red and turned her face into Elmiryn’s shoulder. The woman grinned. “That said, I think we should find a water trough. We both need it if we want to get out of the city tonight. Can you walk?”
The girl peered at her shyly. “I think so.”
“Then let’s go.”
Upward. Onward. Elmiryn felt more like she were floating, which was appropriate, in many ways–many multi-faceted, complicated, convoluted, ass-backwards sorts of ways that made her head hurt–and to the heavens, and on to the hells, she swore, if her eye stalks would just quit aching, she’d be just fine, but–
Upward. Onward. Downward. Vomit, clear and runny, all over the cracks and crags of the pebbled ground. Her along with it. Nyx along with her. More recycled wine–such a horrid smell. Yes, yes. She had too much, and by that token, so had Nyx. Poor girl. Elmiryn had over done it. Stupid desperation and confusion (wordsmashingtogether ” sans;syntax and holy-helly-heaven-Halward where was the punctuation when you needed it
windows and light
night had come and Elmiryn was on and on in a cloud that suffocated
A bucket of water Smells okay Let’s in
And in they went
It sobered her. The stark sensation. It did what she forgot to do in her tiredness, in her illness. It was cold common sense. Water in her sinuses, made her head ache. But things, simple things, well known facts that had slipped away in the mystery of her afterthoughts returned. Sensibility. Science, and rationale. Years of training and certain living. Living. Living. Living.
That’s right. She was living, and as a living thing, she could no more drift through walls than she could her own existence.
“Fuck. Fuck, I’m back. From where ever I was!” Elmiryn gasped, thrilled–not for her return, but for her incredible departure.
Who knew there was a place beyond definition?
Nyx’s head was submerged in the large wooden bucket. Water sloshed over the edges. She emerged, head whipping water, gasping like a fish. Nearly looked like one, the way her eyes seemed to bulge and her mouth made a great oval of an orifice. “Sweet Aelurus, that was cold! Is this water enchanted!?”
“Possibly,” Elmiryn said, pinky wiggling in one ear.
Nyx shook her hair out, splashing everything. The woman only shut her eyes to the assault. “Phew,” the girl sighed, smiling. “That felt good.”
“Too bad we didn’t think to drink a little before sticking our slimy heads in. It would’ve been good for the dehydration.”
The girl’s shoulders sagged and she stared into the water. It swirled, cloudy now. “That’s right…” she muttered.
Elmiryn chuckled and stood. “Don’t worry, Nyx. I could’ve said something too. We’ll find somewhere to drink, just fine.” She still felt like her limbs were a bit hollow, but she had better sense of herself–better energy. She could keep going and not stop.
Nyx stood with her. “Let me get up this building and try to find which way we’re supposed to go.”
“You sure it’ll be alright?”
“I’m only taking a peek,” the girl said with an unimpressed shrug. With a great jump up the brick facade, she had a grip on the edge of the flat roof. Hoisting herself up with a bit of effort, the girl peered up and over.
Elmiryn smirked and crossed her arms. She didn’t get how Nyx couldn’t see the bravery in this action. Didn’t she know that the guards were armed with crossbows?
Maybe she forgot.
Soon she came down, scalp intact, but a little breathless. She pointed toward the building before them, and to the left. “That way is north. I can see the main gate. We actually aren’t that far off.”
And they kept on, keeping to the shadows, where the guard towers could not see them. The girl led the way, not by request, but as if the situation brought her to the fore like a string to the front of a child’s toy cart. All the city had gone dark, and while there existed no curfew, only the seediest lurked about. These individuals were typically harassed by the city militia on principal. In light of this, Nyx did not move slowly, but kept her pace at a mindful speed, treading on the balls of her feet and with knees bent. She ducked when an armed guard, on patrol, would pass by, and Elmiryn would follow her lead, a shadow, an admirer, a pupil in her own right. The woman had her moments of stealth and espionage, but Nyx’s body was a poem that moved with such fluidity that Elmiryn felt crude in her attempts to read along.
Her favorite passage possibly came, when Nyx slunk low on a set of cool tiled stairs, and peered with all the cautiousness of a cat in foreign territory. Her body was taut, one hand hovering in contemplation over the ground as two guards, young but jumpy, conversed ahead. They slipped by without incident–all it took was a well tossed rock and light feet–but the beauty of the moment was in the slope of the girl’s back, the grace and self-control that had come over her body as she willed every muscle still. There was the feline in her that showed through the skin, even when she insisted on the separation of her sapien self and her bestial twin.
Elmiryn smiled as she and Nyx arrived at the Northern wall. They joined the thin crowd through the first archway, then the second, both heads down. When Tiesmire was a twinkling phantom behind them, both stopped to admire it.
The woman turned to look at her companion, her eyelids turned low. The girl wiped at her mouth and grimaced.
“I’m still thirsty…”