Turnip kept a close eye on the fruit-vendor as they scurried through the crowded streets. A maid from one of the noble houses would be passing this way soon, and she always stopped to pick up a fresh orange. Cobbles said that the fruit-vendor was sweet on the maid, and that meant her otherwise watchful gaze would be distracted away from her produce; the perfect time to strike. Timing was everything–the slightest hesitation could cost you your life. Or worse.
Turnip slipped around a crate to the left, reflexively following a gut instinct, and a guard jangled past to the right. Turnip offered a brief prayer of thanks to whoever was listening. It was an odd habit they had picked up from Tusks; she believed that there were still gods out there who cared about people. Turnip wasn’t so sure, and had started doing it to poke fun at her–but there was something sort-of reassuring about it.
“Ah, good morning Miss Dolomite,” the fruit vendor said, a certain tone to her voice. The maid had arrived.
She’s too early. Something’s wrong.
Unable to shake the feeling, Turnip moved to get a better view of the exchange. Miss Dolomite, the maid, seemed shaken. Cobbles signalled from the other side of the street–go now! Turnip signalled back–caution!–and scanned the crowd. Guards–too many of them. Something was not right. A metal hand clamped down on the elf’s shoulder, and Turnip froze.
“Get out of here, kid,” the guard hissed. “Don’t come back here today.”
Turnip hesitated, uncertain. The guard–a male dwarf with a jagged scar across one cheek–looked them right in the eye. “I mean it kid,” he said not unkindly. “You shouldn’t be here. Don’t make me arrest you.”
Turnip nodded. “Thanks,” they said as they slipped away, and surprised themselves by meaning it. The guard’s tone had been pleading, rather than threatening; Turnip felt sad for him, suddenly. I guess we all have to do things we don’t want to do.
“You missed all the excitement,” Cobbles told them when they got back to the hideout. “Half the market got arrested and taken in for ‘questioning’.”
Turnip raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yeah. Word is that the maid and the fruit-vendor are actually spies for an enemy of the state. Everyone they’ve ever talked to is being arrested.”
“Must be some enemy,” Turnip said.
“Yeah,” Cobbles agreed. “Anyway, orders are to keep ourselves scarce until this blows over. Derrick doesn’t want any of us getting nabbed.”
“Like he actually cares what happens to us,” Turnip said derisively. “He’s just worried we’ll turn him in.”
Naeris ducked into an alleyway, the hard thudding of boots not far behind. “Hacha!” they swore as they skidded to halt in front of a wall. Behind them, a guard blocked the only exit.
“Give it up, elf,” the guard growled. “There’s nowhere to go.”
Naeris drew their short-sword and dropped into a fighting stance. “I think you meant to say that the only way out was through you.”
“Moradin’s beard,” the dwarf spat as he readied his axe. “I was hoping you’d just give up.”
Wait a minute…
“Moradin’s beard? I wasn’t aware the Divine Regent tolerated blasphemy from his guards.”
“Coal calling the charcoal black,” the guard pointed at Naeris neck. “That’s quite a collection of illicit goods you’re wearing there, elf.”
“One of the perks of being a criminal, dwarf, is that I get to ignore the laws that I think are terrible.”
“Like murder and theft, I bet,” the dwarf sneered. “You’re all the same; opportunists profiting from the misfortune of others.”
Naeris’ expression went dark. “You don’t get to ride the high-horse in this situation,” they said flatly. “Enforcing brutal laws. Arresting and executing children. I may be a criminal, but only because your beloved regent thinks that doing the right thing is a crime.” They shook their head. “I can’t believe I was considering sparing your life for a minute there. But I guess you are just another cog in the Regents machinations after all.”
“Are we done talking?”
“I think so. Now, flee.”
“Was that spell supposed to do anything?” the guard asked, as he narrowly missed Naeris with his axe.
“… yes,” Naeris responded as they cut a new hole in the guard’s tunic, but grated off his chain-mail. “You were supposed to run.”
“Didn’t you just say you were going to kill me?” the guard said, his axe slicing open Naeris’ left arm.
“I’d prefer not to, all things considered,” Naeris’ said. “Killing’s not my game; not my bosses’ either.” A waved hand and a muttered spell healed the damaged arm.
“And, who,” the dwarf asked between axe swings, “might that be?”
“Someone who believes in second chances,” they said. “And it’s pretty hard to offer those to dead men.” Naeris’ blades hit something soft and fleshy.
“Urk,” the guard bubbled and fell to the ground; his helmet falling off as he went.
“Umrhach,” Naeris cursed.
“Oh good,” Naeris said, “you’re still alive.”
The dwarf blinked, and looked around at the small, featureless room. “Where have you taken me?”
“Somewhere safe,” Naeris shrugged. “Don’t try to stand; I haven’t finished tending to your wounds.”
The guard looked distrustful. “… why are you helping me?”
“Because,” Naeris said as they started casting a healing spell, “a long time ago, your sense of decency stopped you from arresting a child. I wanted to thank you–and to see if you were still a decent person, under all that armour.”
“Oh.” The dwarf regarded Naeris carefully. “I thought you seemed familiar.”
Naeris smiled faintly. “You know, if you had just arrested me then and there, you could have stopped one of the most wanted criminals in the city without ever knowing it.”
“Moradin’s beard, you’re Naeris?” The dwarf was incredulous.
“The one and only. Regretting letting me go?”
“… not at all. I’ve heard the stories the common folk tell about you.”
“Just trying to help people out. Someone has to,” they paused. “No offence.”
“No, that’s fair,” the dwarf sighed. “It wasn’t always like this, you know.”
“It doesn’t have to keep being like this,” Naeris said. “Help me.”
“… what do you want me to do?”
“There’s someone I’d like you to meet; that boss I mentioned earlier. I think you’ll like her.”
A drop of water landed on Naeris’ forehead, and interrupted their trance. It feels like it was all so long ago, they thought as they pulled up their hood. I hope he found peace, in the end.
Naeris sat quietly in the tree they had been sleeping in, and watched the rain.