“Lockpepper. Geeze.” The nomad girl winced, peeling a long spicy scab off the back of her arm.
“Nasty stuff,” said Chael, watching her closely.
“You know, if they just soaked the chillies in saltwater before grinding them it would take the edge off a bit,” she said, looking at the fresh, pink skin underneath.
“Kobolds seem more interested in putting the edge on,” said Chael.
“Right,” said the girl, “They probably soak them in, I don’t know...”
“Fire,” said Chael.
“Yeah. Fire,” agreed the girl.
Chael watched as she ran her fingers along her arm. She seemed lost in thought, enchanted by the new patch of smoothness. Then without warning, she stopped and looked up.
“Why are you here?” she said.
“I…” Chael started. Chael realized they knew this nomad girl. It was the town witch, the one who had killed all those dogs. Most of the townsfolk avoided her, including the old lady Chael had been assigned to as guardian, so this was by far the closest Chael had ever been to her. She was so young. Chael shrugged. “Same as you. Got snagged.”
“No,” said the girl, “Why are you here.” She gestured abstractly in a way that Chael recognized instantly to mean all around us.
“I’m…I’m on vacation,” said Chael, smiling slightly, “First in 15 years.”
The girl looked skeptical, “So now you’re just…”
“Seeing the sights.” said Chael, “Taking in all the material plane has to offer.”
The girl looked around at the gravel stretching for miles. “Right,” she said. “Can’t you just, you know, walk out. Through the bars.”
Chael stopped smiling. That ability, walking through walls, was one of the prized secrets of the Black Mantle. Chael had rejected it along with everything else the Black Mantle offered. Instead they had spent their time learning to break safes, pick locks, scale walls, hide in shadows, and everything else you need to know to get into restricted areas without just walking through the walls. It would be cheating, Chael told themselves. They were a thief. It was a matter of principle. But that wasn’t it. Chael knew that now. Everything a thief did was cheating. It wasn’t principle that made them turn down the mantle. It was the cost.
“Did your familiar tell you that?” said Chael, eyeing the little demon still sleeping across the cage.
“Your, uh, little helper over there,” said Chael.
“Hey,” the girl sputtered, “H-Hey! He’s not my familiar, okay? He’s my friend!”
“Well, is your friend going to cause trouble when it wakes up and sees me?”
“You killed his mom, so yeah mayb — “
“Whoa! I never killed anyone’s mom. What are you talki — “
“Not you. You.” Again, she gestured abstractly. “Angels. Angels killed his mom. Angels have been attacking his village since before he was born. They could attack again any day now and his wife and kids are there without any protection, unless, unless I get him home!”
She yanked on the wooden cage bars.
Chael watched her. Demons had killed angels too, of course. That’s what a war was. Two sides killing each other. But Chael knew she was right. This last campaign, crusade as the archons of The Celestial Court called it, had been going on for decades now, and if anyone out there wanted it to end more than Chael, it would probably be some little dretch.
“It’s no use. Those bars,” said Chael. “They’re made of some kind of special wood.”
“Bakershoot,” said the girl, pulling on the bars one last time. “It’s called Bakershoot. Cured, probably. Light, but unbreakable.” She reached through the cage and lifted the padlock to look at it.
“Kobold lockwork” sighed Chael, “Even if I had my tools, I might not be able to open it.”
The girl narrowed her eyes a bit, still trying to figure Chael out. “Okay Mr. Angel Locksmith…” she stopped herself, “Or wait. Mrs. Angel Locksmith?” She swallowed awkwardly, “Or Miss? I, uh, I didn’t see a ring but — ”
“Captain Angel Locksmith, actually.” Chael said, taking a sip of water from a tin cup.
“Okay, Captain,” said the girl, “Where do — “
“Chael,” said Chael.
“I’m Chael,” repeated Chael.
“Oh. I’m Mahani.”
“I know.” lied Chael, who had never heard the girl referred to as anything other than that nomad witch. “I actually did a little time in Houndworth. You’re the, uh, healer, right?”
Mahani nodded slowly.
Chael took another sip of water.
“Okay Captain Chael. You seem to know, like, a million things. Is one of them where they keep the keys? Or your tools? Or any of our equipment. Or — ”
“Or your Summoner’s Glove?” said Chael, pointing out between the bars.
A few yards away, scampering around on a large sorting tarp, a yellowish, moulting kobold in charge of picking through plunder was pulling a beautiful leather glove onto its hand.
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