Sunday 8 April 2012

024 - Sneak

 “Frida, did you get lost?”

The familiar voice startled her. She should have expected him to be here, attracted by the power and influence of Ironhaven. He offered her his seat, waving her towards the deep red leather chair. She remembered him as a younger, exciting, adventurous man, a charming cad dressed in his lavishly brocaded shirts. This older version had lost none of the sparkle, his broad smile increased on seeing her recognize him. She felt affection for him, tempered with caution after their last meeting.

“Silvarno ! “ She said, surprising herself at the high girlish pitch the words left her mouth. She hugged him, kissing his cheek.

“Was it you who vouched for me?” She asked, observing his reaction.

“Not just you, we cleared your friends as well.” His reply dropped her to the soft seat cushion. Her friends were safe. She would find them in the city tomorrow. She knew any debt with Silvarno was best paid quickly, before the interest doubled.

“Thank you, I..” Her voiced choked her. The experience in the prison had unsettled her, she longed for human company and friendship. Just when she needed it, Silvano had appeared. She knew his connections ran higher than just being a Master Wiretap, he maintained the secrets of Ironhaven and all the regions the lashlines ran, from the feral sea to the great boarder. She kissed his cheek again, without him she may well be hanging on the garrison scaffold along with her strange companions.

Silvarno had been a suave upper echelon fixer when she had first met him. Even then he had plans, or more precisely as he had once explained; a destiny. She had joked about it being written in the stars. She recalled how seriously he had looked at her before replying that it was. They never spoke about it again. Now he rides in to rescue her, maybe their destiny is shared.

“And Gravity is stabled here, at the lodge, along with your friend’s horses.” He barely controlled a snigger at her mounts ridiculous name. He may have a destiny written in the stars, but Frida knew he thought she just had her head in the clouds.

The evening went quickly, in comfortable surroundings, talking to an old friend with a little drink inside her. It struck her as so different from the previous day, it felt years away. She tried to bring up questions about why her companions were captured and who ordered the interrogation. Silvano politely bounced the questions away, suggesting he knew but it was enough that she was out and safe.

“You’re friends are in trouble, but I granted them a release.” He said.

“ You?” Frida questioned his authority. He bit his bottom lip, looked down, his foot crushed something on the carpet. He whispered quickly.

“They are going to be used to flush out the various strands of our enemies, both external and domestic. An errant priest, an outlander and a wild girl, it was an opportunity not to be missed. This city is riddled with spies and secrets; there is something wrong with the outlying territories. You must have noticed the lack of communication from the East. Lashlines are down or compromised, we are at war with an unknown enemy.”
Frida recalled the lashline eavesdroppers outside of Fairfield and the words of the Domorrah. She described what she had seen and knew to Silvano, he nodded.

Between them there was silence. Each waited for the other to speak, Frida sipped the warm whiskey. Silvano looked up and smiled, then burst into a rendition of an old song. A song that predated the cataclysm, that had given hope to many people, if a song can survive, so can we.

Silvarno had already left when Frida woke the next morning. She remembered the room from years before, the window faced the early morning sun. She stood on the carved wooden balcony, the city of Ironhaven spread before her. Somewhere in the mass of buildings were her friends and they were in trouble. They needed to know what Silvano had explained to her. In telling her, he had put himself in jeopardy. However that was soon forgotten last night. She had once laughed at his destiny written in the stars, but she believed it now, he was making it happen.

Frida dressed smartly, wrapping her guild scarf round her neck. It revealed her wiretap status; it also granted her a certain amount of freedom. Citizens would acknowledge her today, unlike the untouchable snot faced tear stained wretch she had been yesterday.

She walked down the staircase humming the song they sang the night before. She headed towards the market; she could find it by smell alone. There she purchased a few odds and ends, including a pencil.
On a pamphlet handed out by a league activist she began to draw her own map of the city. The activist shouts his demands, for a fairer world, for supporting eachother, for a return to old values. Behind him two Ironguards appear. Seeing this, Frida folds the pamphlet away into her pocket and disappears into the crowd.

She began to hunt down her friends, using vantage points that overlooked the city.

She observed Cassidy enter a bar, which according to Silvano, was frequently used by Ironhaven agents to exchange information on the outlands. She wondered if she should hold back till Cassidy has finished. She trusted Cassidy.

During that day Frida briefly followed a man who looks like Jacob, losing him in the maze of alleys near the citadel. Silvano had been correct, she should be more cautious, her friends appeared less trustworthy than she thought. Then she realized she was the one spying on them, sneaking around because of the little seeds of doubt planted in her mind by Silvano.

That afternoon her doubts were confirmed, when she had finished her search without finding Nelya. She was seated on one of the long benches near a busy riverside inn, when she spotted the distinctive banded armour with it’s emblem of gears crushing a human.  There, in plain sight, chatting amiably with the Grinder mercenary, stood a man who resembled Garth, their fifth horseman.

She had to tell Cassidy and the others, she had to find them again.

There was something Silvarno had said that morning that she found disturbing. A comment made by her friend just before they parted. She replayed it in her mind, weighing up the consequences.

"You didn't like them did you?" Silvarno asked, “Best not to get too attached. Shepard's who treat their flock as equals find taking them to market very difficult."

Sunday 1 April 2012

023 -Favours

Her days in prison blurred together. What they had given her to make her talk had done something to her, something unpleasant, and she spent those days in a place neither here nor there. Sometimes she heard arguments outside her cell, though she couldn't pick out more than a few words. Other times people brought her scanty bowls of foul slop that she couldn't keep down.

Some days after the interrogation – she wasn't sure how long- men came while she dozed and dragged her out by her arms. They gripped her tight enough to bruise, and barked rules at her that she barely understood. They brought her to a door.

"I want you t'know I don't like letting you out. If there's any sort of... weird trouble, I will track you down," said one of the men. She nodded, but he just rolled his eyes in disgust, and opened the door.

 Nelya was shoved through the door into an empty street washed with the colourless half-light of early morning. Her legs felt wobbly, and she was aware in a distant sort of way that the long spell in prison had added an extra pressure to a body already exhausted by limited food and lack of sleep. This was less than ideal.

She'd never been so weak or sick before, but she could manage it. For at least a little while longer. Enough to find her way around. Enough to fix this mess.

On pure guesswork, she turned left and walked down the street, using her last scraps of pride and self control to keep her walk steady and straight. 

A few more turns made more out of instinct than forethought, and she was in a large open square. Even now, before dawn broke over the city, it seemed full of people. People putting up wooden stalls, setting out produce, talking, arguing, stringing banners up between the houses.

This was an unexpected thing. Best to watch and learn. In a shadowy corner was a bench where you could sit and watch the square without being overly on show, and Nelya sat down on it with gratitude. From her new perch, she watched the proceedings with narrowed eyes.

But that focus didn't mean she didn't notice the man approaching her flank. She whipped round with startling speed and glared at him. He raised his hands and smiled.

“Woah, now. No need for that,” he said, with no sign of fear. She remained tense and poised for fight or flight as he approached.

“Can I sit down?”

She nodded, but watched his every move as he did. It was something of a shock to realise he was watching her just as closely. In her experience no-one outside of her tribe looked at things like that, like they were examining every inch to find threat or flaw. She didn't like it. There was something about the way he smiled, like he was expecting something, waiting for something... it was unpleasant, to be so off balance.

“Do I know you?” he asked.


“I know most people who come and sit on this bench.”

“I'm... new.”

For a brief moment he looked like he'd just confirmed something to himself. He leaned back on the bench and, his scrutiny apparently at an end, rummaged in his bag to produce an apple.


She took it warily, and sniffed at the fruit. It smelled fresh and sweet and juicy and her stomach growled.

“It's not poisoned,” he said.

“Then you taste.”

He took a small bite and made a big show of swallowing it.

“All safe, dear heart.”

“We'll see.”

They sat in silence for a while, Nelya running her thumb over the smooth surface of the apple and thinking. She'd clearly stumbled into a situation here, one with social rules she didn't know. Would it show weakness to ask the rules? Or should she risk offending him by blundering...?

“I'm Cal. I like the monosyllabic and mysterious thing you're trying with me. Very intriguing, but it does take up rather a lot of my time. Shall we get right to it?”

Nelya stared at him. She hadn't understood half those words.


“Ha! You're amazing!You actually think you can bluff me, and you're even doing quite well! As if a recent releasee would just happen to wander in to the right time and place she could get exactly the help she so clearly needs... did one of the guards tell you? I'll have to have a word. They aren't supposed to send me people like you...”

Nelya's temper snapped. She took a deep breath and summoned all the words she knew. She was about to use a lot of them.

“I don't know what you're talking about. I don't understand what you say, but I think you said I lie. I don't. I am not stupid. I am not weak. I am not afraid. And I don't know what you know of my people,” she bared her teeth “but my lack of weapons would not stop me from killing you so please explain.”

He blinked at her, then laughed.

“My word, you really are a complete innocent-”

“I have killed thirty-two people.”

“Ah. Really? How... fascinating, dear. I suppose I should best explain, I have no wish to join your collection. As I said, I'm Cal. I help people, Money, information, goods... anything. People come here when they need me. Simple, honest, friendly. So,” he leaned in close to her, his smile even broader “What help do you need?”

Weapons. Food. Friends.

“What do you want in return?”

“Oh, little one. For you, out of the goodness of my heart,” he said, pressing his hand against his chest. “I'd hate to see something like you crushed by this city. Believe me, it is very good at crushing people, and you clearly don't belong here.”

“None of those things are true. “

“I'm sorry, sweet girl?”

“This city will not crush me. You will not help me out of kindness.”

“Well, perhaps you could owe me a favour then, if you won't accept kindness...”

“I will not enter a trade when I don't know the full price.”

“Why on earth not?”

“I don't trust you. You think me stupid enough to walk into your claws? I, the best hunter my people ever saw? You think I never saw a predator's smile before?”

She glared directly into his eyes for a while. He smiled back, but there was something in his eyes, some emotion she couldn't put a name on.

He looked away first. She'd won. For the first time in this upside down and backwards world she had won. It was almost enough for her to smile. Almost.

“That hurts me. I am probably the closest thing to a friend you'll have here, and you refuse to trust me. Well, should you change your mind, just come here at dawn and have a little chat with me, will you?”

Nelya watched as he got up and sauntered away, handss in his pockets, bag slung over his shoulder. She waited till she was sure he wouldn't see her before she devoured the apple, core and all.