The Old Switcheroo: Part Three
Guided by her considerable experience in Hanso-hunting, Brynn walked at a brisk pace in the scorching heat of Tyrannia, keeping an eye out for Reptilliors. Her instinct led her to the edge of the Tyrannian Jungle, where several stone stairways climbed through the forest and up to the Plateau. The many pathways and the dense vegetation provided ideal cover for anyone who might want to sneak in and out of the shopping district right below the Plateau.
Using her sharp Kougra senses, Brynn soon found Hanso's trail. Cautious as always, he had taken different paths and climbed up a few trees to sneak through the vegetation. He had dropped his hair tie, though, an unusually careless gesture for him. Brynn guessed which path he would choose for his return trip and waited behind a tree. She could definitely hear him coming up. The sound of his footsteps was so furtive that it blended in with the rush of leaves and the various noises of the jungle, but Brynn could have recognised that sound anywhere.
Brynn stepped out of her hiding place and they were face to face. Even though he looked surprised to see her, he seemed relaxed. If he hadn't been so sneaky, she wouldn't have found anything suspicious about his behavior.
"Hey, you!" she said. She meant to sound stern, but her tone showed that she was relieved to have found him. "So this is where you are. Care to explain what you've been up to?"
"Brynn. Hello. I just thought I would indulge in a little tourism," Hanso replied calmly.
"And a good thing you did, because that's what we're here for. You didn't have to sneak out all night without telling anyone where you were going!"
He took a little too long to reply. "I had some errands I wanted to run."
Brynn was getting worried. Hanso wasn't smiling or chattering, and she was starting to think that something bad had happened to put him in such a mood. "Secret errands?" He remained silent. "You can tell me if there's something wrong, you know," she said in a softer tone. "I mean, I don't want to meddle or anything, but you look like things aren't going too well..."
With what looked like stupendous effort, Hanso lifted one corner of his mouth, then the other, and put on a small smile. "Everything's fine, thanks. If you want to search me, you can always check these." He opened the front pockets of his coat to show that they didn't contain any loot, just like the good old days when he would let her place him under arrest.
Brynn chuckled. "Yeah right, like I still need to search your pockets." For old times' sake, she took hold of his coat and gave it a shake. She knew exactly where to grab it: not the parts with visible pockets, but near the sides of his chest, under his arms, where the real loot pockets were hidden.
She was startled to feel that the coat was a lot heavier than its fabric should be, with a metallic clink coming from the hidden pockets.
She stared at him with wide eyes. "You... did... not!"
Hanso shrugged out of her grasp. She was appalled by the coldness in his eyes. "I am only transporting a few items," he said in a final tone. He had taken a few steps back. Brynn noticed that he was shifting his weight to one side, as if he was preparing to run off.
"And those items will be safe with their rightful owners as soon as you're done transporting them, won't they?"
"They will. Now, if you'll excuse me." With those words, Hanso turned and walked away at a brisk pace, disappearing into the jungle once more.
Brynn had opened her mouth to say something else, but he was already gone.
Kanrik had miscalculated. Sneaking around as Hanso had been a lot of fun at the beginning and he had done his best to play his part, but there had been too many people to talk to and too many bad jokes to make. Even his smirk wasn't quite as aggravating as Hanso's. At least, the fans hadn't been too suspicious, and some of them had been wearing valuable watches and trinkets.
Kanrik had also underestimated Brynneth. He should have known that Hanso was travelling with her and that she had noticed his absence. Hanso may have let her catch him easily in the past, but she was still very familiar with his habits and tricks. At least, now that they were partners, she wouldn't try to arrest him. Kanrik knew that he could have put more effort into his Hanso impression. He had probably hurt Brynn's trust, but being stuck in the Ixi's body didn't make him responsible for keeping Hanso's lady friends happy. They would get over it.
He had acquired a neat little stash of valuables. Now that he was satisfied, he would need to get rid of the loot as soon as possible. It had been a narrow miss with Brynn, after all. The Guild leader knew all the shady corners and hangouts of Tyrannia. Once he had put enough distance between Brynn and himself, he changed directions again and went back towards the Plateau.
He was heading for a small cave where Tyrannian burglars had recently set up their version of the Smugglers' Cove. There was rarely any loot worth mentioning in Tyrannia, but after the Guild had settled near the Obelisk, more and more thieves had begun to use this place as an easy way to dispose of their loot. The cave was decorated with Krawk Island banners and patronised mainly by Tyrannians in pirate costumes who spoke a curious local version of pirate talk. There were even posters of the Krawk Island Yooyuball team.
It was far below Kanrik's usual standards, but it would fit his purpose nicely. He pulled up the collar of his coat to conceal Hanso's face, though he doubted that petty Tyrannian bandits would be fans of the charming rascal. There were only two bandits in there when he arrived, scruffy locals so picturesque that they could model for a stamp or a travelling guide. They gave him a suspicious look, but they relaxed after Kanrik showed that he had no weapons at hand.
Before he had a chance to bargain, however, a dreadful scream rang out and echoed against the cliffs.
Kanrik whirled round, grabbing one of the daggers hidden in Hanso's coat. He was startled to see Brynn standing on a flat shelf of rock right below the cave. She looked positively furious, with her fur all bristled and her tail swishing. She was holding a kind of giant Tyrannian hammer that she had probably borrowed in a hurry, for lack of a better weapon. What impressive tracking skills.
The Tyrannian robbers had scampered off the moment they had caught sight of the Kougra warrior. With a sigh, Kanrik jumped onto a rock slightly higher than Brynn's position.
"Yes, that's me," he replied to her shout.
"I won't let you cause trouble while we're in Queen Fyora's service and representing her in Tyrannia," Brynn said firmly. "I want you to take these items back to wherever you stole them from, right now!"
Kanrik felt his temper rise. No servant of the law could order a Master Thief around. He jumped down from his perch and took a few leisurely steps towards Brynn, looking thoughtfully at the contents of his pockets. Then he looked straight at her. "Nah," he said.
Brynn flinched at his cold tone, but she raised the hammer without faltering. "In that case, I'm afraid it's my duty to place you under arrest." She reached for him, but he jumped back. "Please don't make me take you by force!"
Kanrik took a fighting stance, hopping lightly on his feet and playing with a dagger in his pocket to provoke Brynn. She gripped the hammer tighter. It looked almost bigger than her, but Kanrik decided that he had already underestimated Brynn too many times for one day, so he prepared to dodge. This was the Kougra who had battled Oblivion, after all.
He jumped to the side to dodge the first swing. Brynn was faster than expected. The weight of the hammer didn't seem to disturb her, and she used it to her advantage, shifting her posture to keep swinging effectively. Kanrik had to dodge blows from all sides as Brynn swung the hammer relentlessly. She was forcing him to go backwards, towards the cliff. He leapt onto a rock, but the hammer nearly caught his legs as he did so. This was becoming annoying.
At the next swing of the hammer, Kanrik caught it by the handle and gave it a tug. Brynn stumbled forwards and he nearly managed to kick her, but she leapt over the hammer's handle and managed to kick him in the chest. They both fell and stood up in unison, then they were back into the fight. Brynn's rageful swings were powered by months' worth of bottled-up anger at Hanso. She wasn't about to stop.
The chase went on. Kanrik leapt nimbly up the rocks, and Brynn brought him down with smashes of the hammer. With one particularly powerful downward swing, she managed to break Kanrik's footholds and he tumbled down several feet. Kanrik had had enough. If Brynn wouldn't give up or let him retreat, he would have to end this himself.
The next time she swung the hammer at his legs, he leapt high into the air, kicking against the cliff to give himself more momentum. Brynn was familiar with Hanso's flips, and she was already predicting at what point he would land. Kanrik, however, cut the acrobatics short by pinning his limbs to his body. He dropped like a stone, slid down the handle of Brynn's hammer and straight towards her bewildered face. His knees hit her squarely in the chest and he finally pinned her down, grasping her wrists tightly above her head.
Brynn was protected by the light, supple armor that she wore on her days off, but she still got the wind knocked out of her. Kanrik would need to knock her unconscious quickly, as he had no doubt that she was strong enough to push him off. If he left her deep enough in the Tyrannian wilderness, he would be rid of her for a while.
Now that she had finally stopped trying to squash him with a giant hammer, Kanrik had a better view of the Kougra's face. She was still breathing fast from the exertion. In her eyes, he recognised many things that he knew only too well. Exhaustion, defeat, the disbelief that comes with the betrayal of someone close to you.
Kanrik was amazed to see that despite all that, she showed no sign of being about to cry. It was a pity that they were fighting on opposite sides of the law. Brynn had displayed incredible strength, tenacity and patience, qualities that he valued. Not to mention that she was doing the world a huge favor by dealing with Hanso on a daily basis. He had never really wanted to hurt Brynn. It wasn't her fault that he was stuck in Hanso's life. He had got carried away. Was it too late to make amends? He definitely couldn't tell her the truth. He had to tell her something.
"You really hate me right now, don't you," he said. "Would you believe me if I said the circumstances are really exceptional?"
Brynn raised an eyebrow. "If I had a neopoint for every time I heard that one," she muttered. "Let's hear what it is now."
"I know it doesn't look good, but you know my past, you know what I am -" Kanrik nearly bit his tongue. He sounded so stupid. He had never had to deal with ladies that way. Hannah would have marched right up to him and obtained an explanation by any means. He was no good at the whole talking thing.
"You promised," said Brynn. "Stop making promises you can't keep. I'm running out of trust. I'm so tired of it all. We're supposed to be partners, but it's like I'm alone. Nobody forced you to come along, Hanso. If you want to resign and get back to your old life, you can just tell me. You don't have to trudge along behind me."
Kanrik was alarmed by her morose tone. "No, don't go and assume all these things! Look, it all happened because the Guild is near here. I have history with most of the thieves, and I have some scores to settle." That was technically true. He knew that he sounded sincere, because Brynn looked slightly less sceptical.
"I'm not in the best situation right now," he continued, "but I can fix this. I will fix this." He hesitated, then added: "First, I need to find Kanrik."
Brynn sighed, looking away from him. "If you could at least tell me about it before you run around and pillage..."
Kanrik was getting uncomfortable. "I really have to go, Brynn. As soon as I've found Kanrik and fixed this, I'll explain. I promise. That is something I can promise."
Kanrik stood and offered his hand to Brynn. She took it, but she didn't lean on him to stand up.
"I don't know, Hanso," she said. "I really don't know. I'll probably regret it, but I'm giving you until tonight. We'll see what you have to tell me then."
"Fine. Tonight. Good. I'll see you then." Kanrik was looking at the ground. She let go of his hand, slowly. He couldn't find anything more comforting to say, so he nodded at her and left without further ado.
Hanso. That guy needed to be found, and to be told a whole bunch of things.
To be continued...