A Trek With the Boys
Gizmo sent a picture of where she was perched to Leah’s ocular augments, but that wasn’t necessary as Leah was discovering that Gizmo was now like a beacon in her mind: she could always find her. Beathen is awesome!, Leah thought, and silently leapt between high branches before descending a massive tree to the thick branch on which Gizmo lay. Effortlessly moving along the branch, she whispered, “Have they done anything weird?”
Gizmo turned its head, almost no light came from her eyes “They’ve just been waiting there.” No words came out of the thing’s mouth but Leah could “hear” them just the same. She turned towards where the three muscular teens were waiting. They were playing a casting game with sticks and stones, but without the usual cheer and banter one would expect from young men engaged in friendly gambling. Instead, the boys seemed to be loosely focused on their game.
Leah lept to a distant branch and deftly dropped to the ground. Allowing her steps to be heard, she rounded a large tree and made her way toward the boys. They looked up as she came into view, each of them standing and dusting the dirt from their trousers. Each of them wore a small backpack and David had a leather-sheathed dagger strapped to his waist.
Their leader stood on the far right of the three. He approached Leah first and held out a friendly hand. Drawing nearer, Leah glanced down at the hand nonchalantly and moved past him. “What have you found out?” David said, smirking, “Do you know where our thief is?”
“Ha!” Leah chuckled, You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”
“I was hoping for something from you,” David raised a hand to his head in frustration, “two property coins is nothing to scoff at.”¶
“I want to see the coins first.”¶
David raised a hand, signaling one of the boys to come near. The young man produced a rather shiny property coin from a pouch at his waist. “See this!” David said, “You can see the other when I’m sure of your information.”
“Leah chuckled again, “Then how about this? There’s a girl who lives in the upper side of the market district. The family she lives with is wealthy, but she’s adopted. She has green eyes.”
“What makes you think a girl who lives in a wealthy house is a thief?”
“She’s adopted! Who knows why she really lives there. Those kinds of people are always up to something sneaky.”
“I’m not convinced. There’s no reason why I’d just go up to her and demand what was taken from us-”
“Of course not.” Leah retorted, pouring on the feigned exacerbation, “Your description didn’t give me much to work with. I want to show you the most likely candidates, and she was at the top of my list.”
“The top huh? How many ‘candidates’ have you discovered?”
Leah put up a chastising finger, “One at a time, Friend. If this one isn’t your one, then we’ll move on to the next one.”
David thought about this for a second, then said, “Fine, where can we find her?
“She likes to visit a pub in the gardens. Likes to slum it up with the rest of us poor folks. I saw her there earlier tonight,” she lied. “She gets really drunk, so that might give you the chance to ask her some questions.”
“Well, then we better not waste this chance.”
David began making his way to the eastern edge of the forest; the other two boys followed him. Leah started at a swift pace to catch up with David. “If you talk to her, and she is the one you’ve been looking for, what are you going to do?”
The tall teen in red didn’t break pace, “Ask her kindly to return our things, of course.”
Leah thought his grim smirk was all too telling, “And if she doesn’t?”
“Then we’ll have to convince her.” Glancing at Leah, “What’s it to you, anyway? You’ll get paid either way.”
“Not if you get yourself into enough trouble or get taken away by the Badges. …Or worse, the Force.”
“The Patrician Force. If they lock you away, the last thing you’ll be worried about is some stuff some thief took.”
“The Patrician Force…?” This time, one of the other boys spoke up. Leah recognized him as Chris from the conversation on the rooftop.
“They’re an elite group of constables run by the wealthiest families of the New Republic.” Leah said, “They stretch all across the cities and townships in the NR.”
“I know who they are,” returned Chris, “why would they care about anything we’re doing? I doubt the local constables would care…”
Leah took a quick moment to review the things she’d said. Did she give away anything that might suggest she knew more than she’d said? They were making their way slightly north, along a path that led into the Gardens District. Thick trees made the moonlight spotty on their path. She could sense Gizmo nearby. If she focused, Leah could get visions – like moving snapshots – of Gizmo’s perspective as she followed them silently through the trees. “I don’t know what you guys are into,” Leah interrupted, “I just want to know I’ll get paid.” She glanced at David to notice that he was watching her. “Is something wrong?” she poured on the sass.
“We’re following you, right?” He was wearing that insufferable smirk as he spoke. Leah half thought that he wielded the expression like a weapon.
The walk to the Garden District’s series of pubs was short, and Leah identified the one they were heading for. It was one of four small buildings set apart from any others despite being surrounded by L-shaped plazas. It was obvious that it was a pub, because of its large gray and red sign with “Nabila’s Pub” in green lettering. Cheap and common quattours sat around its entrance, each in a sleeping state with its eyes dulled.
People were coming and going from the feudal-styled, wooden building and a large burly man sat at its entrance like a sentinel. Leah hoped that she’d find the woman she was thinking of inside. Cameron of the Bricks was here so often, Leah had bet on the possibility of finding here with confidence. Still, if Cameron happened to not be here tonight, she had a few other options for their wild goose chase.
Although she didn’t frequent this particular bar, her line of work kept her aware of who was generally where. She recognized the pub’s bouncer, though she didn’t know his name, and her party entered the pub with little more than a curious glance from him. Inside, the place was less crowded than usual, and Cameron was easily identified sitting at the bar.
“There she is,” Leah said, “at the bar.” She pointed at the pale-faced auburn-haired woman dressed head-to-toe in black, skin-tight cottons. David moved past Leah to approach the woman, but Leah grabbed his arm, “She only respects people who are direct.”
“That’s something I can handle.” David waved for Chris and the other boy to take seats at a table near the bar and went to sit by Cameron. Her hair was long and pulled back in a single braided ponytail. Four empty glasses sat in front of her and she sat with her head face-down on the bar between her folded arms. David spoke softly, “ I need your help.” She didn’t respond. After a moment, David tapped her on the shoulder. Cameron started, and her head shot up and groggily turned to look at David. Her deep, green eyes were the first thing David noticed on her face. She was in her late twenties, but her facial lines expressed a face that had seen many hardships.
“Who are you?” Cameron blurbed. “I’m not going home with you…” She turned as if getting ready to flop her head back down.
“I need you to help me find a stone. The pay is good.” David gave her two hard taps on her shoulder again. “It’s really important to me.”
Cameron froze, staring at the wall on the other side of the bar. Finally, turned back to David, her head seeming to clear, “How valuable?”
“Extremely. It’s a brown stone that glows with a strong light.”
“What?!” Cameron looked genuinely confused? “Like a gem?”
“Well, yes. …it looks more like a ragged stone. But you wouldn’t miss the glowing light. Haven’t heard of this, huh?” David was eyeing her carefully, she didn’t seem like someone from a high family. She was dressed like someone who wanted to move freely and go incognito from place to place, but didn’t get David the impression that she was the one he was looking for?
“I don’t understand… Is it a stone, or is it a gem? And why wouldn’t I just sell it if I found it? What is it, some kind of energy source?” Cameron was interested. To David, all her questions seemed to be genuine. This wasn’t who he was looking for, and he was afraid he might be giving away too much with his questions. He raised a hand to get the bartender’s attention.
“Two for us,” David motioned to indicate himself and Cameron. Turning to Cameron, “If you hear anything about it, you can meet me at the edge of the Zellwood forest at 11 at night for the next three days.” He threw a few foodcoins on the table, downed his drink, and walked out of the bar without another word, and his gang mates followed immediately after him.
Leah was seated at a table in the far corner of the room. Besides coming in with the three strangers, she didn’t want to associate herself with them any more than she had to. Due to her augments, she could clearly hear everything they’d talked about. It was clear that David had determined that this wasn’t his thief, but she was surprised to hear him mention – even describe – the stone. That could draw unwanted attention, especially from the Patrician force headed by her father. She waited for a few moments after the others exited, then left the pub.
The thugs were waiting outside near a small patch of trees to the left of Nabila’s Pub. When Leah approached, David greeted her with a grimace, “She’s not the one, how many more do we have to go through?”
“It’s like you said,” Leah replied levelly, “there can’t be too many green-eyed thieves even in a city as big as this. There’s only one more I know of with green eyes; the last has gray eyes, but we may as well check if Tamilan doesn’t work out.”
“She’s a really poor thief, that’s why she wasn’t my first choice. Let’s get this over with.” She started back for the main road, but David caught up to her and grabbed her by the arm.
“Can she scale a building and creep through a room of people without being caught!?” David’s voice was angry and impatient, but not loud, “Does she have some way of getting miles outside of the city within a few hours?!”
Leah shook herself loose, “I. Don’t. Know! You’re the one so sure of all the details…” David glared at her hard before stomping back towards his companions. “Are we going or what?” Leah was getting impatient fast. The three teens ignored her as they whispered to themselves. Then, they stopped and trudged toward her with dejected looks on their faces.
“I’m sorry about all this,” David’s expression was truly sorrowful, “we need to find that stone. You can’t imagine how important it is.” Before he was finished, Chris and his companion darted to opposite sides of Leah while David charged her swiftly with arms spread in a combat stance. Fools!, Leah thought, and instantly rolled to her left and closer to Chris. Surprised, he threw a mild punch in her direction, but she ducked it and jabbed his side hard with her elbow. Chris stumbled backward in pain but recovered quickly. His companion tried a more carefully directed punch and received the same treatment. David tried to dive for Leah, but he was much too slow to catch her. She spun to the side and leapt backward as he crashed face-first into the dirt.
Chris tried to sweep Leah’s legs but she stepped over his attack and kneed him into a clumsy roll. From a prostrate position, David tried to kick her legs from under her as the other came at her front. Leah spun sideways and pushed the boy tripping over David’s body. She backed up a few paces and assumed a fighting form as they collected themselves.
All three boys were eyeing her warily while Leah danced deftly in a boxing stance. Normally, this would have been when she would make an escape, but the thrill of tossing these arrogant strangers around was exhilarating. Leah was having fun.
chapter 16 < > chapter 18
Special Author’s Note
These guys don’t know what they’re getting into. They are grossly outmatched, not even counting Gizmo. My hope was to begin to physically illustrate their desperation and resolve. How will either party be able to turn these events to their advantage, and what part will Leah’s half-brother end up playing in all of this.
Also, where is Jake?