Chapter 21: Lyn

The rumors were true, but thankfully not widespread as of yet. Lyn’s targets were foreign-born, their dark black skin unique in a sea of whites, tans, and reds. Lyn had spent the last several evenings trying to learn more in preparation for the assigned theft. Today marked the first time she sat within earshot of the couple; she’d paid a nice sum to have a nearby table cleared in one of the largest and busiest taverns in Fortright, the Cat’s Eye. Gwyn sat down first, back to the couple, and Lyn joined him several minutes later. She sat hunched over the small table, hands wrapped around a drink she sipped at occasionally. In addition to her clear view, she could easily discern most of the nearby conversations, despite the din in the bar.

“No. This isn’t a waste of time,” said the dark man forcefully. Lyn gave him the name ‘Smirk,’ in light of the near-constant half-smile on his face. He was young and beautiful; his exotic dark skin and agile movements were otherworldly and alluring. His demeanor and stature were confident. He clearly wasn’t oblivious to the rush of staring eyes in the tavern. Rather, he held himself as if the stares were natural and appropriate. He was not unused to attention and seemed to bask in it, drawing energy from the watchful eyes. Lyn’s quick assessment of the room found many patrons already impaired to the point of rudeness and bravado. A mixture of emotions and challenges that on any given evening would inevitably lead to a brawl of some sort.

“But what have we accomplished here? Your recklessness almost got us killed on the road, and now you antagonize even more dangerous strangers when our goal here is to find friends? Have you forgotten why we are here?” said the obsidian young woman, her tone exasperated. She was nervous, her hands pulling and twisting at the long dark braids that wrapped around and over her shoulders. Like the man, she was beautiful and young, but her face was scarred or tattooed, Lyn couldn’t tell which. Thin pinkish lines ran across her face, drawing attention to full round lips and large dark discerning eyes.

“Nor, I didn’t start that. Be fair. These idiots are uncivilized. They interpret stray looks or a light brush of their shoulder as a mortal affront. Their honor besmirched, these fools think they must act to bring so-called balance,” he replied.

“You didn’t stop the fight,” she answered.

“Did we come to actual blows?” Smirk questioned.

“Not yet,” she replied. Lyn decided to called the woman ‘Teach.’ Her tone, her commanding countenance, her firm insistence and self-righteousness; these all reminded Lyn of holier-than-thou advisers that trafficked in absolute certainty and sanctimony. Teach might be the nicest person on Ares, but Lyn’s instinct was to dread anyone whose dogma was so readily apparent.

Smirk turned towards the bar, making and holding eye contact with the topic of conversation. Lyn didn’t recognize the man at the bar, but she knew the type. Young, strong, self-assured, and mildly attractive; young men of his ilk were wont to congregate in groups and use strength and numbers to wreak mild havoc for fun. This fool appeared to be alone, but that was likely to change as the night wore on. Smirk didn’t seem to perceive the potential danger accurately.

“Can you hear them? What are they saying?” Gwyn said in a loud whisper. Lyn sighed and glared at him.

“I can’t hear them or understand them if you are talking to me, now can I?” said Lyn.

“Sorry. I’m curious,” said Gwyn.

“So am I, but my curiosity isn’t trivial, like yours. I have a job to do, and your job is to help me do my job,” said Lyn. Gwyn shook his head apologetically and took a large swig of his drink. Lyn had grown to enjoy Gwyn’s company, but that was mostly because she relished the flirty banter they often engaged in. That wasn’t appropriate this evening, and she’d made that clear to him when Bedo had insisted he accompany her on the job. She turned her attention back towards Smirk and Teach and found Smirk in the middle of a diatribe.

“I don’t care anymore about some stupid mission. I’m not going back,” said Smirk.

“You can’t be serious. You hate these people. You just said they were uncivilized idiots,” said Teach.

“That they are. Dirty, stupid, uncivilized barbarians. But don’t let those traits fool you Nor. These people are alive. They live on the cusp of death and daily harm and that forces them to focus on the here and now, on actually living. I love that feeling and I won’t go back to the staid never-changing miniature world of Coran. Not now, not ever. We need a new plan,” he said.

“Look around you Rey. This building, the roads, the city itself…they’re all falling apart. People don’t invest time in the future when it is utterly uncertain. These people look no further ahead than the next day. How can you build anything for tomorrow when you aren’t confident tomorrow will come? How can you create something meaningful and lasting? How does one truly live if your sole concerns are staying alive and having food to eat. These people live only slightly better than animals and you’ve already witnessed the cruelty and pain they are willing to inflict on each other,” she said.

Rey and Nor, those were their names, thought Lyn. What mission were they talking about? Despite spending time with Gwyn and some of the other minor nobles recently, Lyn swore she’d never heard such snobbery and disdain. Where these two came from, despite whatever was causing the current disagreement, they both believed that that place and those people were infinitely superior to anyone they’d encountered here. They should meet the Kal. They’d fit right in, thought Lyn.

“But look at how many of them there are?” said Rey. “This city alone has hundreds of thousands of people, more than have lived in the entirety of life on Coran. They must be doing something right.”

“There are countless rats in the streets too. Animals can breed. It doesn’t make any-”

“What are they saying?” interrupted Gwyn. Lyn glared at him.

“Can you not hear them?” she said.

“No. All I hear is glasses clinking and muffled voices. Do you know what they are talking about?” said Gwyn. Lyn pondered this for a moment. She was further away from the couple than Gwyn and he wasn’t deaf. Was her hearing better than normal? Did other people not hear all the things that she did?

“Shhh!” she said. “Yes, I can hear them, but not when you are talking to me,” she continued.

“I’ll go get us another round of drinks,” Gwyn said. He lifted his empty glass and moved for hers. She jerked it away from him, spilling a fair amount of ale on the table. Gwyn turned his head to the side and lifted his hands up in surrender. Lyn shooed him away toward the bar. Rey had just said something that had upset Nor and they both sat quietly, staring over each others shoulders, refusing to meet each other’s eyes. After a couple moments, Nor broke the silence.

“I’m not giving up. Our people need us. So what if we can live like royalty here, back home everyone has plenty, including you,” Nor said.

“Noria. You don’t understand. This place,” Rey said. “This place is on the verge of some,” he hesitated, searching for the right words. “Some…some moment or something. I don’t know. I can feel it walking the streets. I know you can too. Things are happening here, things that are bigger than us and our problems back home. And I feel like we have a role to play, I’m just not sure what it is. You have to understand me. I won’t leave you and I know you won’t leave me, let’s find our fate here together.”

Noria sighed and looked up into Rey’s eyes. Lyn could sense love and affection here, but these two didn’t act like lovers. The answer seemed obvious now. They were family, likely siblings. Their beautiful features mirrored each other, echoing a cohesive bloodline and shared parentage. As Lyn pondered the implications, a small shape flew into the room and landed gently on Noria’s shoulder. Was that a tiny owl? What is it doing in here? Noria’s head turned toward the owl and she gently stroked the tufts of feathers on its back with a single finger.

“Hey! Get that thing out of here!” came a holler from behind the bar. The general din grew softer and many more eyes than before turned toward the couple. The emerging silence was shattered by breaking glass. Someone had hurled an empty mug from the bar toward Noria and owl. The owl had darted up and out toward an open window and Noria had been quick enough to duck the errant throw.

“You missed,” came a surly voice from the bar.

“The next one won’t,” the response was accompanied by a second glass that shattered on the table between the couple. Razor sharp shards flew in all directions. Noria dropped to the ground, ducking and covering her head. Rey stood defiantly, as most of the nearby patrons did the same. Lyn could see his hands hovering around his thighs, clenching and unclenching mechanically, preparing to grasp something nearby.

Lyn had to move quickly to defuse the situation or this was likely to end in a bloody mess. She looked to the bar and made eye contact with Gwyn, who was pushing his way through the crowd back to the table. Her eyes darted back and forth from him to the floor where Noria lay, several times. She hoped he’d receive the message. She then slipped out of her seat and slowly began to position herself behind Rey. As his hand moved toward his side with real purpose, Lyn grabbed his wrist and held as tightly as possible. She was behind him and he was incredibly strong for someone his size. He didn’t jerk away or make a sudden movement. He just stopped resisting and with eyes still intently focused on the looming crowd, he turned his head towards hers.

“If you want to live through the night, come with me. Now,” Lyn whispered.

“But Noria,” Rey said softly.

“We have her too. We don’t have much time. I promise you, no matter how strong you think you are or what weapons you have at your side,” his eyes widened in surprise at that comment. Lyn noted the reaction and continued. “If you don’t leave with me now, you will not leave this bar alive,” she said. He nodded his head quickly in agreement.

“This way,” Lyn said and she ducked with him into the crowd. “Stay low and don’t let go of my hand,” Lyn said. They were jostled several times uncomfortably while making their way to a side exit, but they emerged in the side alley, to find Gwyn and Noira hunched quietly against the building. Their cloaks were pulled up to cover their heads and faces and Rey and Lyn did the same.

“Let’s meet at the High Table,” said Lyn. “We’ll split up. Take only side alleys and back roads. No major thoroughfares. Something is wrong. You can feel it in the air. Meet me there Gwyn, as soon as you can, Go!” There was a moment of hesitation in Noria. She was reluctant to leave, but loud pounding on the side door that Lyn had quickly barred upon exiting provided enough impetus for action. The two pairs took off at a run and Lyn considered that her new companions weren’t likely to be what Bedo had intended for her to steal.