And Then There Was Silence: Part Four
IV: No More Denial
"You stole what from who?!"
Kanrik doesn't look happy at all.
Finneus ducks to the floor, hands covering his head, and lets out a very uncool sounding "eep!" as Kanrik throws an empty bottle against the wall. It shatters into a rain of bluish glass that scatters across the ground. Finneus is afraid to look Kanrik in the face again. "What part of 'don't ever come back' do you not understand, Finneus?!"
"You said… unless I could get away with it," Finneus stutters, starting to stand back up, trying to avoid stepping on the glass that now dusts the floor. He's never seen Kanrik so furious.
"And did you? Did you get away?"
"Of course! I'm here, aren't I? Illusen has absolutely no idea!"
"I'm not worried about Illusen, you idiot! What about Sophie?"
"She… no, she didn't follow me, I swear!"
"And you weren't pursued? At all?"
"Y… N-no, of course… not…" Finneus is a horrible liar.
Kanrik's eyes narrow. "Think harder, Finneus."
"N… I mean, the Werelupe chased me for a while, but I got away, perfectly fine!"
"And you don't think the Werelupes will come looking here first? Just like those Ixi Raiders?!"
"The Werelupes wouldn't dare come into Meridell, Kanrik, not with Sir Tor around! And that… that was totally why I stole from the prince! Yeah! See? I thought it through!"
Kanrik throws another bottle against the wall, trying to get Finneus to stop spouting lies. This time, the bottle is full of some reddish liquid. It smells of cinnamon and apples. Finneus cringes — that was probably expensive… — but Kanrik's expression, surprisingly, seems to be settling. The Gelert begins to pace back and forth quickly, covering his face with one hand. "Are you sure that the witch doesn't suspect you or the guild?" he asks through clenched teeth.
"I'm positive!" …Well, Finneus actually isn't at all positive, but he's hopeful.
Kanrik wipes his hand down his face. "And the Werelupe?"
"He didn't even get a good look at me! The only one who did was that annoying Gelert Assassi—!"
Finneus instantly realises his mistake — slams his jaws shut and breathes in sharply, as if hoping his words will leave the air and return to his mouth without Kanrik hearing them. But, too late. Kanrik stops dead in his tracks, eyes widening, then menacingly turns to face the now-petrified Scorchio. "The… who…?"
Finneus swallows hard. "The, uh… nobody…?"
Kanrik glares daggers at Finneus and begins to approach, slowly and fiercely. "Please tell me you didn't just say what I think you just said…"
"Um…" Finneus trips backwards a few paces. "I… didn't…?"
Kanrik's steps quicken. "Do you mean to tell me that the most ruthless, merciless assassin in the history of this realm is after you?"
Finneus is backing up faster and faster the closer Kanrik gets to him, bumping clumsily into boxes and chairs. "He… I mean… he…"
Kanrik grabs Finneus by the shoulder and slams him hard against the wall. His golden eyes are molten with fury. "Why is he after you? What did you do to him?!"
"I… it wasn't a big deal…"
Kanrik draws his dagger and holds it threateningly in Finneus' face. "I asked you a question, Finneus: what did you do to him?"
Finneus swallows hard again. His heartbeat has climbed its way into his throat. "It's… it's just a stupid gold necklace… but it's total garbage! I don't know why he got so mad!"
Kanrik's expression turns to terror and he takes a quick step back, as if Finneus' words physically shoved him away. He throws the Scorchio to the ground, then storms to the table where the staff, the fang necklace, and the Negg are placed. He stuffs all the items into a burlap sack, ties it off tightly, and throws it with all his might at Finneus. It hits the Scorchio hard in the head as he tries to stand. "Leave!" Kanrik shouts. "Just take your junk and leave!"
"But… but Kanrik!" Finneus rubs his throbbing head as he speaks. "Those three items alone are worth a fortune!"
"But they are not worth the whole guild being murdered by the Gelert Assassin, or becoming dinner for a pack of Werelupes, or being turned to Blechies by the Swamp Witch! Do you have any idea what you've done?!" Finneus is trying to stand, but his head is aching from the impact of the faerie's staff against his temple. He sees Kanrik start to pace quickly again as he continues his tirade. "Not only are you now wanted by the most powerful witch around, and one of the cruellest monsters in Neopian history, but you have the most skilled assassin this realm has ever known hunting you as well… and you've come straight here! You are leading him straight to me!"
"N—… no! He couldn't possibly be following me anymore!"
"Do you have any idea how skilled that maniac is at what he does? For Fyora's sake, Finneus, half of his job is tracking people down!"
"I… I don't…"
Kanrik throws his dagger at Finneus, who yelps loudly as it hits and sticks in the ground a few inches from his nose. He stands quickly, grabbing the sack of loot and giving Kanrik one last pleading glance. Kanrik's expression is only continuing to sour. There's no hope for redemption. Finneus looks down at the sack full of all of his treasures, then back to the master thief before him, who stands breathing heavy with rage. Finneus' embarrassment then shifts to a burning anger. "Fine, Kanrik. Fine! I'll take my treasures and leave, and you can keep sitting around stealing pocket change! I don't need you or this stupid guild! I'm fine on my own! And… and you're just jealous because I'm better than you!" With those last words, and a firm nod of his head, Finneus flies up and out of the trapdoor above them, leaving nothing more than a foul fishy scent and a few fluttering papers as signs that he was ever in the room.
As the gust of air left by the Scorchio's wings settles, Kanrik shouts and slams his fist into the wall, causing the shelves to shake. An expensive piece of Osiri's pottery falls to the ground and shatters around his feet, mingling with the glass that's already scattered there. He doesn't know what he finds more infuriating: that Finneus has no doubt led at least one of the realm's most powerful villains straight to the guild's headquarters, or that he was just forced to turn down the haul of a lifetime for the sake of the other members. Kanrik groans and slams his head against the wall. "Why me?" he whines, then slams his head into the wall again. "Why must my life be constantly ruined by these idiots?"~
"See, why can't you be useful and smell the enemy like he can?"
Ember is walking a few steps behind Apsy, talking smack as usual. She's got a long branch in her hand that she's constantly thwacking loudly against every tree and fence and shrub she passes, for no other reason than just to be more irritating to her daughter. Apsy walks ahead of her, searching every star and shadow for signs of the thief, but so far, no luck. Kamen leads the group, ahead by quite a long ways, walking on all fours, sniffing the ground and the air for the distinct scent of Fish Negg and faerie dust.
Apsy doesn't even bother to roll her eyes at her mother's comment this time. She's so over dealing with Ember's attempts at being antagonising.
Ember slams the stick against a young sapling — thwack! "You're no fun," she mutters when she realises that Apsy isn't going to comment.
Seemingly without warning, Kamen stops and begins to look around frantically. He's temporarily lost the scent. He stands up slowly, then gets on his toes, lifting his nose as high as he possibly can, but it's difficult to tell the scent of the faerie's earth magic from the scent of just, well, boring old earth. Ember and Apsy both watch him curiously as he tiptoes back and fourth a few times. Eventually, he empties his lungs and begins to breathe normal again, relaxing his knees and chest. "For what it's worth, Apsy," he mumbles, still walking in small circles with his nose to the sky, "the scent is waning, and this method of… hunting is actually rather difficult, especially for normal folks not raised in the woods."
"Ha, see, Mum?" Apsy says, looking over her shoulder impudently, "I'm just normal."
Thwack! "Is that why you're so boring?"
"Are you implying that your annoyingness comes from you being a freak?"
"Girls, come on," Kamen says, getting back on all fours and turning down a narrow path to their left. For once, he isn't laughing at their bickering. In fact, he sounds uncomfortably serious. Apsy and Ember look to each other with worried expressions, both embarrassed and a little concerned. The prince's calm demeanour is incredibly humbling to be around, which the girls are practically accustomed to by now, but this new undertone of sombreness is actually somewhat intimidating. "He went this way," Kamen finally mumbles tiredly. He always seems tired…
The minutes begin to pass by quicker and quicker as the horizon starts to change colour from black to a deep indigo. The quickening pace of time's clock is actually incredibly discomforting. Kamen keeps periodically pausing, standing, wandering in small circles, then drastically changing direction, and the girls are worried he may be losing track of the thief's scent. Still, they try to keep faith — they're sure he knows what he's doing. Eventually, the dirt path the three have been following intersects the cobblestone road that spans several dozen miles southwest, connecting the Kingdom of Meridell to the Kingdom of Brightvale. Kamen stops dead in his tracks at the sight.
Apsy and Ember halt abruptly behind him, Ember stumbling into Apsy's back. Neither of them were expecting him to stop walking so suddenly. "Uh… you okay?" Ember asks, peeking around Apsy's shoulders to look at Kamen, who, for the first time since they've met him, looks a little frightened.
"I, uh… shouldn't go any farther," he says, his worried eyes fixed on the red and blue chequered flags that billow up and down the road. "It's… not safe, to say the least, for me to be around here."
"Oh! Oh, right, right," Apsy says, rubbing the back of her neck embarrassedly as she remembers the longstanding feud between the Meridell knights and the Werelupes. "Sorry, we should have figured."
"No worries, it's fine," Kamen says, standing up, clapping his hands together a few times to brush the dirt off of his palms. "We'll just have to… restrategise."
"I mean, are you sure he went into Meridell, not just through or over it?" Apsy asks, leaning over to examine the grand stone wall that encircles the city.
"Hmm…" Kamen scratches his chin as he thinks, then sniffs the air again. "Actually, no, I'm not sure" he says, checking up and down the cobblestone road, then crossing to the other side hesitantly. "We can at least circle the city's wall, and I'll see if I can tell if maybe he came and went."
"Sounds good to me," Ember says, singsong, quickly following Kamen across the road, though she sounds ridiculously unenthusiastic about having to walk around the entire city. Apsy follows behind her mother, proud that her simple suggestion was actually useful. But then, after barely walking a few feet into the trees that line the wall, the three's strategy flips on its head when they hear a loud commotion approaching from within the city walls, and see a small black figure fly overhead with incredible speed, frantically following the path to Brightvale. It's definitely a Scorchio.
Apsy gasps. "Oh my gosh, was that him?"
Then Ember. "That was totally him, right?"
Apsy: "Dude, he looked super panicked, what the heck happened?"
Ember: "That's exactly what I was thinking!"
Kamen has breathed in the scent of the air the shadowy figure's wings sent plummeting to the ground, and he snarls angrily. "That's definitely him. Let's go."
The three all begin to charge after the frantic Scorchio, following the city's perimeter until they reach the path towards Brightvale. They round the corner sharply, unafraid of who or whatever may see them in the road, sprinting as fast as they can. But then — Bam!~
Twenty minutes prior…
Kanrik sits at his desk, messily scribbling out an inventory checklist, his work illuminated only by two small but brightly-burning candles that are placed on a shelf before him. He's just finished sweeping up the mess of glass and pottery and Everlasting Apple elixir he'd smashed across the floor in his anger a few minutes ago, and immediately after, a newbie thief by the name of Dorian had brought in a small collection of decently attractive jewellery which Kanrik must now take stock of. All the exhausted Gelert wants is to relax his tired mind and escape the stress, maybe eat some comfort food and take a nap, but there's just too much boring stuff that he has to do first. A guild leader's work is never done, after all…
The flames of the candles begin to dance and flicker delicately, as if disturbed by a gentle breeze. Funny, though, since the headquarters is underground, and Kanrik is alone. That can only mean…
At least he was expecting this.
Kanrik sighs deep, clenching his eyes shut, then places his quill into the shallow jar of ink that's sitting on the desk beside his documents. He scoops the jewellery into the black sack they were presented to him in, then, unenthusiastically, he stands, drawing his sword, preparing for what he knows is about to happen. He slowly turns around, sighs again, then says, "Hello, old friend."
In the shadows cast by the dreary candlelight, Kanrik sees the Gelert Assassin standing before him, arms crossed disdainfully across his chest, his golden eyes and ivory broach glistening brightly from amidst the darkness. He's leaning against the wall, tapping his fingers against his shoulders impatiently, as if waiting for Kanrik to continue speaking. When the thief doesn't say anything more, the assassin takes a step forward and draws his own sword. "Hello, Kanrik," he says.
The two take a few cautious steps closer to each other, then stand their ground, clenching their weapons tightly, but still seeming peculiarly calm. Neither of them speak. Neither of them move. Neither of them attack. They glare into each other's eyes, creating a tension so thick that it makes the air taste stale. Finally, after an eternity of unblinking stares and shallow breaths, the assassin laughs, quietly but earnestly. "Fine, you win," he says, then slowly slides his sword back into its scabbard. "How are you doing?"
Kanrik doesn't match the laugh, but he sheathes his blade as well. "I'm doing what I can," he says with an impish grin.
"Aren't I always?"
The assassin laughs quietly again, then takes a few steps closer. "I'm assuming you know why I'm here," he says, his smile beginning to turn hostile.
"Maybe," Kanrik mumbles with a little shrug. He doesn't want to back away, knowing that, if he were to do so, the assassin would be able to see how truly terrified he is; so, instead, he steps to the side to gain distance. "Just in case, though, why don't you enlighten me?" he says. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"
The assassin shakes his head, his smile now completely devoid of all friendly playfulness. "No, no, take a guess, first," he scolds, his steps becoming threatening. "You know me so well, after all, don’t you?"
Kanrik is finding it harder and harder to maintain his confidant façade. He tries to think of something witty to say in response, but there's something… off… about the assassin's expression, and the question of what is wrong is wildly distracting. The assassin seems more desperate than usual — more deranged, somehow. It's concerning. Kanrik sighs, giving up on trying to stay cool. "He isn't with me," is all he says.
"So you do know why I'm here," the assassin hums, tilting his head to the side, feigning the curiosity of a confused pup.
Something is really wrong with him… "I have an idea why," Kanrik responds, "but, like I said, he isn't with me."
The candles above the desk flicker out as the assassin disappears in a cloud of black smoke, then reappears inches behind Kanrik, clenching the thief's jaw tight with his left hand, keeping his sword drawn at the ready in his right. "Don't play stupid with me, old friend," he hisses in Kanrik's ear as the firelight dances back to life. "I'll know if you're lying."
Kanrik's heart begins to race. The assassin can feel its beat in the thief's throat. Still, Kanrik knows he is telling the truth, and so long as he has nothing to hide, the assassin will have no reason to strike. Hopefully. He keeps his silence for a few more agonising minutes, hoping the assassin will eventually lower his blade, but it's taking too long, and Kanrik is beginning to sweat nervously. How embarrassing. He eventually decides to reiterate — takes a deep breath, then, slowly and affirmatively, says, "I swear on my life and my reputation, the thief isn't with me."
The assassin's grip on Kanrik's jaw tightens for a few more painfully long seconds, but he eventually laughs lightly, and Kanrik breathes a sigh of relief. "Fine," the assassin says, releasing the thief and sheathing his sword, "I believe you." He disappears and reappears across the room again, leaning casually against the wall, one arm wrapped around his stomach, the other holding his face, his fingers agitatedly drumming against his cheek. "But you do know who I'm talking about, correct?" he asks.
"Unfortunately, yes," Kanrik says, rubbing his aching neck, trying to steady his still-panicked breathing.
"So you can be of assistance, then?"
Kanrik looks to the ceiling in an exaggerated contemplation. "Hmm… what's in it for me?"
The assassin chuckles heartily again. "How does your life sound?"
Kanrik finally returns the laugh — shrugs his shoulders and makes a face. "Sounds fair."
The assassin waits impatiently as Kanrik walks to a bureau across the room and opens the middle drawer, digging through a mess of seemingly-useless items until he pulls out a long green belt, singed at the tips and looking incredibly worthless. He balls it up and tosses it to the assassin. "This was part of the ridiculous uniform that kid wore when he first showed up here and requested to join the guild. I said no to him immediately. He hasn't left me alone since."
"Aww, sounds like you have a little fan, Kani," the assassin mocks as he catches the Scorchio's belt. He unrolls it and runs his fingers across the fabric, as if reading the wannabe thief's entire life story simply by feeling the old garment.
Kanrik sighs, humming with the breath, then continues with his explanation. "He's already led a rogue group of thieves to our camp, and, more seriously, a mob of Ixi Raiders."
"You're telling me — that's the only reason we had to move back to this awful place." Kanrik smiles snidely then adds, "And now, worst of all, you're back because of him."
The assassin matches the grin. "Terrible, isn't it?"
"The absolute worst."
The two laugh again, the assassin still seeming genuine, but Kanrik's nervousness is returning. Its pressure is starting to take hold of his ribcage again, but he straightens his posture and tries to ignore it.
The assassin eventually balls up the cloth and tosses it back at Kanrik, who catches it and tucks it back into the bureau. "Well, I suppose I have all that I need," the assassin says, his voice suddenly sobered. "Although… do you have any suggestions on where I should look first, so I needn't tire myself with those irritating dowsing spells?"
Kanrik would snicker at the request, but, again, something about the way the assassin is speaking seems strangely unsettling — he's never behaved this peculiarly before, albeit this is only the third or fourth time the two have encountered each other. Luckily. Kanrik looks straight towards the grey Gelert, curious if whatever is plaguing his tone is visible on his face. It isn't. Regardless, Kanrik answers. "If he isn't down at the inn changing out of those disgusting muddy clothes, I will be very surprised," he says.
"He's that close, eh?"
"He just left here, actually."
The assassin's face sours. "And you're only telling me this now?"
"You didn't ask, my friend."
Kanrik is still trying to act strong, but he worries his sarcasm will cost him his life. It doesn't. Immediately, at least. The assassin stares him down, but finally snorts out a laugh. "You're alright, Kanrik," he says, "but I'd best be going now."
"Truly a pleasure seeing you again," Kanrik says, his eyes narrowing. "Honestly."
The assassin gives him a deep bow. "You as well."
"Although, I must say…"
Kanrik immediately regrets beginning to speak, but it's too late now. The assassin has completely paused in his casting of his teleportation spell and started glaring again. Whoops. But, whatever. Kanrik summons all courage within him and finishes his sentence. "…You should really try to get over her, my friend."
The assassin's expression turns to shock. He reaches to his chest — at the pendant that's no longer there — and a blush of embarrassed heartache settles across his cheeks, if only for a moment. He tries to regain his composure as fast as possible — clears his throat, then laughs nervously, mostly at himself, uncomfortable and frustrated that Kanrik managed to make his stomach sink with barely half a sentence. He lowers his gaze and shakes his head — again, at himself — then looks back to the thief with frighteningly unreadable eyes. "I like you, Kanrik," the assassin says, seeming both scared and angry. "That's why I went back on my contract to kill you all those years ago. But… that can all change very quickly. Don't push your luck." Then he disappears.
Kanrik waits a few seconds for the tension in the air to disperse with the smoke, then takes a deep breath, putting a hand over is chest to steady his quaking heart. He's honestly more than a little surprised he's still alive. "Sometimes, I really can't stand that guy…" he mutters to himself, running his fingers through his hair. Once his pulse finally steadies, he sits back down and returns to his long night of stocktaking.~
Finneus is glad he keeps a spare change of clothes hidden under one of the beds in the local inn, and that nobody's found and stolen his things yet. He's also glad that the innkeeper doesn't seem to mind who comes and goes, or when they choose to do so, as long as he gets his coin. It makes nights like these, when Finneus ends up stumbling in near dawn, covered in mud and reeking of sweat and fish, much easier.
Through the window, Finneus watches the sky start to change colour from black to deep indigo as he changes out of his muddy, wet clothes and into nice, warm, clean ones. He breathes a sigh of relief as he sits on the comfy bed in his now-dry outfit and, once again, examines his haul.
It looks like the Negg got slightly bruised when Kanrik threw it at him. How annoying. That's gonna shave at least a million neopoints off of its worth… but, whatever, the Werelupe fang necklace looks fine, and it's probably worth ten times as much as the dumb Negg. Finneus just needs to find a buyer… although, that's usually Kanrik's job, at least for the thieves in the guild. He doesn't have a clue where to start looking for someone who would want to buy stuff as hot as this…
But, no matter. All of that comes later. Right now, it's time for a much needed rest. He begins to tuck the items back into the burlap sack — first the necklaces, then, gently, the already-bruised Negg, then…
The door creaks open, and Finneus looks up just in time to see the assassin's blade descending upon him once more. And, once more, Finneus lets out a terrified, ear-piercing, very uncool sounding shriek.
He ducks to the side, grabbing his sack of loot with one hand and the staff with the other. The assassin's blade slices clean through the mattress and bedframe, and Finneus shouts again as he realises he could have been the one now lying on the floor chopped in half. Down the hall, the innkeeper's voice rings clear and angry, "What in Darigan's name is happening in there?!" and his heavy footsteps can be heard approaching quickly.
The assassin doesn't care about Finneus' screaming, or the angry innkeeper. This shouldn’t take much longer. He's got the Scorchio cornered. One last time, he lifts his blade and begins to plunge it down for a kill… but a flash of powerful earth magic hits him in the chest, and his own pain and shock disarms him.
Finneus, though he was cowering on the floor with no hope left, somehow managed to activate the intense magic hidden within Illusen's staff and use it to prevent the assassin's killing blow. The Gelert is too dumbstruck to fully realise what just happened. He fumbles on the floor until he finds his sword, then tries to stand, but Finneus clocks him hard over the head with the staff before he can get to his feet, again disarming him. The Scorchio laughs cruelly as the assassin falls to his knees, scrambling to get a good grip the sword's hilt. Again, the innkeeper's voice — "Whoever you are, you're never coming back if anything's broke in there!"
Finneus tries to charge the wand again, but can't seem to figure it out. The assassin is physically shaking with rage when he finally manages to stand, and Finneus' confidence deflates again. One last scream, and he slams the staff into the window above the destroyed bed, breaking it open. Glass scatters across the floor and into the garden outside as the panicked Scorchio takes to the sky. For once, the assassin is the one who ends up shouting — "This time, you won't get away! I know how to find you!"
"That better not be my window breaking!"
The assassin sheathes his sword and leaps outside in hot pursuit of the Scorchio. A few neighbours have poked their heads out of their windows at the sound of the screaming and shattering glass, and one lone knight can be seen running down the road towards the sound of the commotion, calling for reinforcements, but the assassin couldn't care less about any of this. He takes off running, and, somehow, manages to stay only a few yards behind Finneus, even though he has the disadvantage of travelling by foot.
Finneus can tell that getting away from the assassin isn't going to be as easy this time as it has been in the past, so he tries to outsmart him by changing direction, backtracking over the city. Ha! Now that dumb assassin will have to run through all of Meridell if he wants to catch me! …Unfortunately for Finneus, that notion doesn't seem to bother the Gelert. He spins around without skipping a beat and continues the chase, somehow managing to get closer and closer to his target despite needing to dodge houses and stones. Finneus realises then that trickery really isn't his strong suit and continues flying straight, on to Brightvale, hoping to find shelter (and maybe some buyers?) in the surrounding towns down there.
He just can't shake the Gelert, though, no matter how fast he flies, and no matter what obstacles he tries to put in his way. He starts to worry that maybe this will be the end. He finally makes it outside the city wall and begins to follow the path to Brightvale, checking behind him to see if he's gained any distance, but no luck. The assassin is still right on his tail. He turns away, swallows nervously, then keeps flying, desperately fast, squinting into the cold morning air. When the sun's light finally spills over into the cold valleys below, Finneus turns around to check again, but… he's gone? Wait, what? Where did he go? Is this a trick? Oh Fyora, where did he go?! The disappearance of the assassin makes Finneus feel even more terrified, so he continues on at his hurried pace, hoping to find shelter in the swamps of Bogshot…~
The assassin is finally catching up to the thief, and, though he is growing short of breath, he knows for sure he can catch him this time. He just needs to get a little bit closer…
As the Scorchio flies over the wall of the city, the assassin quickens pace, knowing that the thief doesn't stand a chance anymore now that his running is unhindered by the obstructions of the city. He's already a few yards down the path to Brightvale, but then — Bam!
A shout of surprise escapes through the assassin's clenched teeth, mixing with the sounds of what seems like three other voices all screaming at once. He's collided with someone. Again. The assassin trips and skids painfully across the cobblestone path, completely losing all momentum. He begins to mumble, "No, no, no," to himself over and over as he looks to the sky and sees the Scorchio getting away. Again. He screams furiously and slams his fists on the ground, then stands and turns to see who ran into him, only to be met with three familiar faces — the same three faces he met when he was stopped in Werelupe Woods. "You again?! I told you to stay out of my way! You've let him escape again!"
Kamen leaps protectively in front of Apsy and Ember, pushing them to the ground and out of the assassin's line of fire. He draws his swords at the same time the assassin draws his, and the two's blades collide with a flash of sparks and a loud clash that echoes through the city walls.
Kamen snarls in the assassin's face, threateningly baring his ivory fangs. "I've already said I don't want to fight you," he hisses, "so get away!" He kicks the assassin hard in gut, sending him stumbling backwards down the road.
The assassin manages to maintain his footing and not fall over, but his anger is still blinding him. "You stupid children need to ge—!"
An arrow suddenly strikes the ground at the assassin's feet, and he and Kamen both leap back in surprise. The shouting of several knights can be heard coming from the city — "There's Werelupes there!" "I think that's the king!" "That Gelert has a bounty on his head!" "Get them!"
The four all turn and look towards the city as the knights all fire off a wave of arrows. Ember manages to tackle Apsy out of the way before one strikes her in the leg, then the two leap to their feet, thankfully unscathed. Kamen ducks to the side and manages to avoid all injury. The assassin is the only unlucky one. He hisses in pain as one of the arrows strikes him in the shoulder, and the girls gasp audibly.
Kamen doesn't have time to think — just to react. He shouts at the girls, "Follow me, quickly!" then grabs the assassin by the wrist and starts running as fast as he can. The Gelert doesn't really have the option to fight back. The knights are too close behind them, and the Werelupe's grip is too tight on his arm. He has no choice. He sheathes his sword and runs alongside the prince.
The four of them run frantically down the path to Brightvale as the rising sun spills its buttery light across the grasses. They round a sharp corner in the path, temporarily disappearing out of the knights' line of sight, then Kamen ducks into a thick patch of forest with the others following close behind. The trees are thick enough to be sheltering, but not so much so that they can't all still run. The knights' heavy armour has weighed them down too much — left them following too far behind — so they don't see the four escape. They run right by, still shouting loudly, their swords and bows held at the ready.
Kamen doesn't stop running just because the knights' battle-hungry cries can no longer be heard. He continues to dart lithely through the trees until they reach a sunlit clearing that frames a small, serene creek. The area seems completely hidden away from the rest of the realm. Kamen finally slows to a stop, and the others follow suit. Everything is silent but panting breaths and pounding hearts. Apsy and Ember collapse by the banks in their fear and exhaustion. Kamen angrily lets go of the assassin's arm and shoves him away. "You're welcome," he says, his voice sounding surprisingly impassive.
The assassin tears the broken arrow from his arm and tosses it into the waters. "Thanks," he sneers. He couldn't sound less genuine if he tried.
"Where do you even keep coming from?" Ember huffs at the Gelert, staring him down with strangely confident eyes. "And why won't you just let us help you?"
Apsy worries her mother's bad attitude might just get her killed, but she sits and listens quietly.
"I said I work alone," the assassin hisses, taking one threatening step towards the girls and reaching for his sword. Kamen calmly but firmly grabs his arm again before he can get a grip on its hilt. The Werelupe doesn't say anything — just meets the assassin's honeycomb glare with the bright blue firmament of his own, unblinking and steadfast.
Curiously, the assassin finds he's able to breathe easier, and his racing pulse begins to steady. The prince's gaze is strangely calming. It's here, looking into the deep oceans of the Werelupe's eyes, that he realises he doesn't actually know why he doesn't want help. Kanrik was right, he needs to get over it…
No, no, not today. Not for this. He angrily pulls his arm away from Kamen's grip, then backs away from the three. "Fine, I'll tell you what," he says, crossing his arms spitefully as he backs away. "I'm going to track this guy down and get back what he took from me no matter what it takes. And, if the four of us happen to have the misfortune of encountering each other again, I'll let you retrieve whatever he took from you before I completely annihilate him. Sound fair?" He gives the three a quick, caustic smile, bows mockingly, then disappears in another cloud of smoke before anyone has time to respond.
Apsy and Ember both snort angrily, annoyed that the Gelert could be so ungrateful after Kamen just saved his life. "What a jerk," Apsy says with a prissy flip of her hair, standing up and brushing the dirt off of her clothes. "Show some respect, am I right?"
"He's got some serious issues," Ember grumbles, but there's an odd twinge of sympathy in her voice.
Kamen takes a few seconds to finish catching his breath, then yawns casually, stretching his arms. "I don't know how much more of that guy I can take," he says, his demeanour once again turning painfully nonchalant, "but I get the feeling this isn't the last we're going to see of him…"
To be continued…