Kayn woke in a temple bed, his nurse indicating to someone behind him that was is okay to leave now, and as the warm room enclosed him, coaxing him back to physical existence, he found the air perfumed and heavy with incense, the mellow lighting soft, and low. His bedding quilted with fine duckdown, he was confined by it in the most fabulous and familiar way. Stirring, trying to get a foot out of the covers, she noticed his eyes watching, and her voice came to him, relaxed, easy. “It's okay. You're in a temple. You're safe. You know me? You've seen me before? Can you tell me where you are?”
“Mmm... At Maggs'. Coldwater Pond?”
“That's right. And you are?”
“Sixteen.” He groaned, realising the agony he was in. “Obbe's flames I feel like I've been trampled by a horse.”
“Easily explained. It's because you've dislocated your arm in two places, though the morphine you're on will soon take care of that. You've got a decent medic there. Hang on to him. You know what happened to you at all?”
“Oh, the good stuff? Mmmmm... That's why your eyes are like moss on a rainy day.” He took a while to answer, the pretty lady's smile doing some kind of hypnosis on him. “It's happened before. I had another attack.”
“They're called seizures. How many have you had?”
“Two.” He admitted. “And then this one.”
“And your friends don't know? You've hidden it? Okay. I'll help you explain to them, but you can't do that anymore.”
“Because they're worried sick about you. You and your friend, ah, active together? Either of you need testing?”
“My friend?” He wondered who'd left before he'd had a chance to see.
“The Black kid with the green leather? I couldn't get rid of him. Slept on the floor for 3 nights solid. I say floor, but he begged all my cushions off me. Paced up and down for days wearing out my good stone slabs.” She refused to be evasive, telling him outright.
“Oh, no no. That's Axel? He's just a bit like that. He's our leader – I don't think he likes me like that.” Sal tracked the smile that tightened on his lips, yet caught the warmth which still met his eyes while he thought of him. “I'll take a test though. It's been a bit since the last one.”
“Good. I'm pleased. Any of the others?”
He eyed her, suspicious. “I'll send them on to you.”
“Suit yourself, but see you do. You've not been at Maggs' long then?”
“Just passing through. It's nice here. We thought about sticking around a while, since there's an empty cabin not far up the road. I'm fixing the roof, and no one's told us to fuck off yet.”
“Did you fall...?” She reached for her pen.
“Nah, it was way too hot to go up. The last thing I remember I was in the woods, I think?””
“I know it. Its on my father's land.”
“It's fine. Put it out of your head and just concentrate on healing for now. You've got some nasty bruising there. So tell me, when do they get worse? When you don't eat? When you don't sleep?”
“When I don't sleep, I forget to eat, so.”
“Sounds about right. Someone or Something on your mind at night?”
This time, her tone indicated she knew more than she was prepared to say, but Kayn was not having it. “Yeah, aside from how the joinery will work out, how am I gonna pay for all this?”
“Oh, but treatment is automatically gratis to friends of Maggs. Not to mention the cottage repairs you're completing for my father just now. It was quite unlivable before – a real rat hole – you must be doing a good job if you want to stay there.”
“Well, you know. It's gonna take even longer now. Might end up costing you.” He laughed, only half joking.
She pulled a face. “Don't even worry about it, you don't owe anyone here. Ready? Sharp scratch...”
Waiting for Kayn be finished with his stint in the sickbay, Jed was in the Lion, the bar warm and bright in the late afternoon, lanterns still an hour away from being lit, beer flowing. The atmosphere golden as the setting sun streamed through it's windows, the beams illuminated the ethereal nurse in a halo glow. Staring at her again, no, not so much staring, as unable to tear himself away, this is the third day in a row that he'd been in, leaning back on his elbows against the counter, trying to get her to notice him.
These past days, she'd worn a fine silk dress, or the pristine, plain cotton Temple uniform, but today it was leather trousers and boots, an impossibly intricate corset and a long cape which dusted the floor as she walked. A mass of red mermaid curls tied tight in a bun on the top of her head, her hair was restrained and out of the way today, showing off cheekbones for days. Eye make up which screamed, 'I fucking dare you, come on...'
Ready for action and far too busy to see him, she was preoccupied wholly with the street outside, and the barkeep is jovial, watching the way he'd been eyeing her up. “You keep looking at her like she's some kind of prime rib and you haven't eaten in days. Which I know is bullshit, because I fed you not an hour ago. I'll tell you something for nothing, You've no chance with that one.”
“I wouldn't be so sure, Norm. I haven't been turned down yet. 100% record.”
“You know that's not a girl, right?”
Jed's eyes widened, but his brow furrowed as he turned, displeased. “Did you just out her?”
“N-no no, not without permission...” Norm scrambled awkwardly at his offended glare, his soul close to leaving his body.
His wife interjected. “She likes us to, ah, inform people beforehand if we get the chance. Not that it's any kind of secret here, mind, but it's better that me and Norm bounce you out of the door than she does.” Dill watched his face change back to rapt admiration now that his eyes rested on her again.
Recomposed, Norm explained more. “The locals are alright, and we're proud of our community here at Coldwater Pond, The Baron up the hill sees to that, but lately?” The steward sucked air through his teeth. “Not everyone new who wanders through here is as... enthusiastic as you.”
“Yeah? Well fuck 'em.” He stood, and smoothed himself over, “That's why I'm the one who can't stop staring.” Checking, he gave Dill the look he intended to use. Nerves showed, and he was glad of her nodded approval, already passing drinks for him to take.
“Just, mind your manners, yeah?”
“Shit, I know that.” Jed whispered back, grinning in his way. He gave Norm the same once-over, which made him chortle with a shiver and provoke him into making a wager with his wife, betting against him.
Dill checked back and forth, highly amused by her husband's reaction to the lad's flirting. “Alright then. I'll back this horse all day long. Not that you'll need it, I'll even help you out. Her name's Sal.”
Staring out of the window into the early dusken street, she felt him make his move, watching him in the glass. Her patient was still on his drip, and would be for another day or two, and while she'd heard everything there was to know about Axel, she hadn't had the pleasure of this one's name yet. For three days he'd been glowing in her peripheral vision, and now he was peeling himself off the bar and making his way to her table. Of all times, now. Now, when her concentration needed to be elsewhere. Now, when she needed to be ready.
Dressed in black as ever, the smell of woodsmoke followed him wherever he went. Most of the leather in his ensemble was studded with silver. Ear piercings riddled with it. Close fitting bangles fused shut around his wrists. Burns where he'd done it to himself.
Vampire. Fire type. Clearly not typical spy material. Nothing immediate to be wary of... An odd mixture of tamed and wild, she wondered how it was possible to saunter, swagger and slink all in the same footstep. His smirk sat down before he did.
Full of confidence, arriving at her table uninvited – backwards on a chair for Obbe's sake – not missing a beat he told her straight out about his wager, zero filter to him. “Alright? I've been staring at you from across the room for three days solid. Norm and Dill have a bet going. Dill says I'll be able to take you home and get into your knickers.”
She answered him without looking away from the window, distracted from the scene outside by the reflection of Dill's palm smacking her forehead. Without so much as a glance, two knives embedded themselves into the oak in front of her, and cider slopped out of the nearest cup. “I've got a pair of knives that say you can't.”
Her voice was cut-glass to him, prismatic. “Yeah... I mean... Ahem That does seem fair enough.”
Standing, struggling to maintain his confident air as he took the hint to leave, he sauntered past the window she was scouting from, and up the street still under investigation. And as he made his way across the main road, her lips slightly pursed when her eyes narrowed at keeping a coy smirk away from Dill, while she idly wondered what else might be pierced.
Seconds later, he is back in her eyeline, running hard, chasing down a man who is splattered with entirely too much blood. Catching him, knocking him to the ground – and hitting his own head in the process – he righted him onto his feet and out of nowhere, Sal is directly in front. “I think you'll find, you have something there that belongs to me?”
Jed looked the man up and down while he stammered, panic-stricken at her advance, and desperate to get away. Wincing as the pain finally spread through his brow, he addressed his squirming charge. “Is that right?” The blood-soaked man's speech is barely coherent out of fear and he denies it, which invoked a raucous laugh. So does the fact that he bursts into tears and begs him for his life as he is cuffed. “Ohhoho dear. Not such a big man in front of the ladies now, eh?”
A curt nod of thanks in his direction as he waved his goodbye to her captive, and nothing more, she left him there. Intrigued, though, he cannot help but follow. Telling himself he shouldn't while he meandered through the alleys at a decent distance behind, this man obviously knows what is coming to him, and he cannot fight the urge to find out what that is.
And he watched intently from the alley that concealed him, coals aglow as in one swift movement and without pause she removed his bloodied mantle, secured the long line of a heavy grappling hook to him and continued to march him over the harbour wall. The Cardinal slipped into the depths with a smooth and satisfying plop, never to see the light of day again, the cumbersome hook taking some effort to push into the oily brine after him. The marine life would take care of the rest.
Overcome with anger and relief, she took some time to calm, pacing and muttering a long while, and as she walked out of the alley, she was grim when she noticed him standing there. Annoyed now by his hubris, irritated at being seen so affected by her actions, it was obvious by the look on his face that he had seen everything. “The fuck d'you want?” Spite came first. “Same as him?”
“I... aah, I just... Well. I thought you might need a drink after all...”
“Several bottles might cover it.”
“What'd he do?”
“A lot of bad shit.” She sniffed, composing herself. “How come you chased him?”
“He upset the girls up the road. They were screaming.” As his brain ticks over, he realises. “Shit. There was a lot of...”
Sal closed her eyes at the onslaught of images that danced in her mind, leaning against the wall to compose herself. Holding a hand up to stop him talking further, as he took heed, he realised the extent of what had just happened, fire leaving him and rational thought returning.
“And how d'you know about them? Going for a quick visit yourself, were you?”
“A friend just started there.”
“Shit. Then you'd better start praying that she had a lucky escape.”
“He... I was letting Maggs know he'd still be at the temple for a bit...”
“Ah,” she nodded. “Then he definitely did. And too many others haven't. That fuck has finally paid his price. Now, about that bottle.”
“Yeah... Alright. Ah, Let me just go back and see if he's... you know.” Falling in step he began to to fret. “I heard... Maggs said... Look, I just need to put my mind at ease, and I need to ask her what I thought I heard.”
Sal paused, a few strands and curls had worked loose, as she crisply folded the evidence she'd collected from the unforgiven man. Pulling at the pins of her bun her hair sprang loose, tumbling around her. She wiped at her face, pocketing the handkerchief, and asked if she looked okay. He gave her a once over but could barely nod and she saw the panic intensifying in him. This wasn't that same swaggering boy from The Lion now...
“By all means. I should check in with Maggs myself. I'll patch up that eye for you too. Name?”
“Jedrek Blackwood. Call me Jed.”
“Salvador Clancy. Let's go.”
Thank you for reading, here's my carrd.
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Copyright © 2021 by BB Chapman