And Then There Was Silence: Part Six
VI: Life in Slow Review
The assassin has been slowly stalking the Scorchio through the bustling streets of Market Town, hiding in and watching from the shadows as the thief talks to every shady merchant he finds, desperate to find a buyer for the stolen goods. So far, everyone has turned him down with panicked faces, easily able to recognise the dangers that would come with purchasing the items, and the thief is starting to look more and more crestfallen with each failed barter. The assassin can't help but laugh and shake his head as he watches the Scorchio be turned down by another vendor, who gasps and shouts, "Did that belong to the Werelupe King?!" loud enough to get the townspeople whispering rumours.
This is almost too easy.
Although it would be easy enough to take the thief by surprise once he wanders carelessly into a lonely shadow, the assassin can't fight the urge to have a little fun first. The Scorchio's horrible attempts at selling his goods have already started to make the townspeople nervous, so the assassin grabs at the opportunity to stir up a little trouble. He puts on his best "scared villager" face, removes his hood and cloak, and lets down his long grey hair, letting it fall over his shoulders in thick, tangled strands. With his hair down and face uncovered, he's completely unrecognisable. He cracks his neck, fakes an intense terror, then runs into the crowd, desperately pointing at the Scorchio while shouting, "Stop him! He's a thief! He's stolen from the Werelupe King! He's doomed us all!"
Every pair of terror-struck eyes in the marketplace turns to the now panicked Scorchio. All it takes is one man's frightened scream, then the whole square erupts into cacophonic chorus of shouting and stampeding. Several knights charge from up and down the streets, heading towards the fray, and several Draik guards fly towards the thief from high above. The Scorchio is completely surrounded — he can't even flee into the sky this time. His only hope for escape is to follow the dark path that stretches behind him… He has no choice but to make a mad dash for the Black Knight's Keep.
The assassin ducks into the shadows and laughs cruelly as he watches the Scorchio trip his way out of the guards' sight, skidding behind buildings, knocking over fruit stands, and disturbing peoples' petpets. He quickly puts back on his cloak and hood, then, staying out of the sight of the terrified villagers and frenzied guards, runs towards the keep, staying as close as he can to the frantic thief.
The assassin rounds the corner of a building sharply just in time to see the Scorchio fly across a broken bridge and into the Black Knight's territory. The Market Town knights that were chasing him cease their pursuit, afraid of what may happen to them if they continue into the garden surrounding the shadowy castle. With disdainful grumbles, they give up and turn back towards the town square to try to calm the villagers, and the assassin takes their place as a pursuer. He teleports across the broken bridge, appearing in a cloud of smoke that evanesces into the thick fog that seems to hang over just the keep and the destroyed buildings that surround it. The mysterious mist makes tracking the thief more difficult, but still definitely doable. All the assassin has to do is listen for the Scorchio's angry mumbling in the distance.
Careful to stay close — but still out of earshot — to the thief, the assassin creeps in the shadows cast by the broken cathedrals and shrines, then watches, confused, as the Scorchio begins to climb up the ancient castle's walls, straight towards the Black Knight's chambers. The Gelert's expression turns completely puzzled as he wonders what the thief thinks he's going to accomplish by possibly disturbing the ruthless Skeith warrior, but, that's not really important right now. What's important is staying close. The assassin follows silently, eager to finally get his revenge. *
Finneus has managed to find a sturdy ladder that stretches to the top of the keep, which he climbs without question or hesitation. When he makes it to the top, he carefully climbs over the crumbling wall, then — left, right, left — darts inside the first room he sees, hoping to lose the knights. He has no idea that they had stopped following him long, long ago, or that he now has much bigger problems on his hands. When he finally makes it through the pitch black maze of halls and into a dimly-lit sanctuary, he looks around for any signs of danger — left, right, left — then, when he's sure the coast is clear, plops himself down on the ground, groaning and rubbing his aching feet. He never thought being a thief would be so exhausting…
But at least the shadowy keep has granted him some sort of reprieve. After massaging all the aches out of his tired toes, Finneus realises that it's been too long since he's stopped to fully check what condition his goods are in — and, after that close call in Bogshot, he should probably make sure none of the swamp's poisonous waters got into his burlap sack. He stretches his arms and legs, flexes his fingers and wings, then unties the sack and peeks inside.
Illusen's staff takes up most of the room, so he pulls it out first, checking to make sure everything looks alright — every petal is still in place — then places it beside him on the ground. He reaches into the sack and feels at the pieces of jewellery tangled at the bottom there, running his fingers over their smooth surfaces — also unscathed — then moves to run his fingers across the surface of the Negg. It's still got that nasty bruise from back at the guild headquarters, but otherwise, it's totally fine. Thank goodness. He's beyond thrilled that he's made it this far without knocking too much value off of his haul, but he can't feel too happy about the series of events which have followed, especially considering that, at this pace, he'll have to travel halfway to Shenkuu in order to escape his pursuers.
Speaking of which…
Finneus hears one careless footstep crunch on a piece of fallen stone, and he already knows who it is. He doesn't bother to look — just breathes in sharply and leaps into the air, clenching his sack of goods tightly. Unfortunately for him, though he was right in assuming it was the assassin who had entered the room, he had jumped to conclusions about the Gelert's motives. Finneus was expecting to hear the crash of a blade striking the ground from behind him, assuming that the assassin was going to follow the same sneak-up-then-strike pattern he has been following so far, but instead, the assassin has grabbed a firm hold of Finneus' sack of loot, and is yanking him back towards the ground forcefully.
Finneus screams his very uncool scream as the assassin pulls back hard, trying to tear the goods from the Scorchio's hands, but, surprisingly enough, Finneus' powerful wings seem to be an even match for the assassin's muscular arms. The two engage in a heated tug-of-war with the treasures before the assassin catches a glimpse of Illusen's staff still propped against the wall beside him, then completely lets go of the sack, sending Finneus flying across the room until he crashes into a sparkling chandelier that's hanging from the ceiling. He manages to stay airborne, but he's completely disoriented. He wasn't expecting that at all.
Finneus shakes the ache out of his head and looks to the assassin, just as a flash of bright green magical energy flies past him and hits the chandelier that sways precariously above him with a loud crash! He gasps as he realises he'd forgotten to grab the staff when he took off, and now the assassin is clutching it tightly and using it to channel Illusen's powerful earth magic, as well as use it as a conductor for his own dark magic. Finneus screams again as the assassin fires off another burst of magic, but he ducks to the side and manages to avoid the attack. The fully-charged shot hits the chandelier one last time, then it comes crashing to the ground in a rain of colourful glass and snuffed candles. Finneus, thankful that he managed to fly away before getting crushed, makes one quick lap around the room, searching for an exit. He sees a large stained glass window that's been shattered open across from where the assassin is now standing, but he stops before he takes off into the fresh air outside. A thought hits him hard in the back of his head. Is it really worth leaving Illusen's staff? That's the only item he has that he isn't being pursued for. It's also probably the only one he could come up with a good enough lie to sell. He makes another lap around the room while the assassin waits patiently for an opening to strike, then decides he's going to try to get the staff back before fleeing. It's only the assassin, after all. Those Werelupes are nowhere to be seen. What's he got to lose?*
Even though their clothes are now dry and clean, Apsy and Kamen still feel unusually uncomfortable and weighed down as they stare up at the Black Knight's keep. The fog that surrounds them on all sides is cool and crisp — definitely much nicer to be engulfed by than the poisonous gasses of Bogshot — but they still can't take solace in the cleanness of the air because they know of the dangers that lurk within the building's black walls.
The three are all positive they just saw the thief bravely enter the ominous tower that looms above them, with their dear friend the Gelert Assassin following closely behind, but they hesitate at the base of the castle, giving each other nervous glances and stuttered excuses. They aren't nearly as confident about entering the keep as the two they follow seem to be.
Kamen is the only one who doesn't seem completely hopeless at the sight of the crumbling stone walls, but the girls both know that his outward appearance usually doesn't reflect the inner. For all they know, he could be completely terrified. Still, he sighs, then stands tall hoping to evoke a sense of pride from within. "We should enter sooner rather than later," he says, trying to clear the hesitation from his mind by focusing on the task at hand. I need to do this for Father, he thinks as he looks the tower up and down. I need to finally make him proud. With that thought, Kamen sighs, then continues trying to convince Apsy to press on alongside him. "Four against the Scorchio will be better than one. We should try to join forces with the assassin again."
"You really want to help that jerk out?" Apsy says, her tone full of jaded cynicism. She really doesn't want to deal with that dumb Gelert anymore…
"I'm sure he has just as valid a reason for this… enterprise as we do," Kamen says, more to himself than to Apsy, then he begins to ascend one of the rickety-looking ladders that scales the side of the building, refusing to allow Apsy an opportunity to retort. He doesn't want her pessimism to discourage him.
Apsy pouts, tapping her claws against the ground angrily as she scolds Kamen. "Well, if you ask me, I think we should just wait for that stupid Gelert to get chopped up by the Black Knight, then we can go get the thief ourselves. I'm sick of that guy's attitude."
Ember has traipsed past Apsy and begun to follow Kamen up the ladder. "If it wasn't for 'that guy' and his attitude, Babygirl, you'd be a serpent snack," she says snidely.
Apsy stomps her foot. "Oh, why are you suddenly taking that lunatic's side?" she says, frustrated that her mother has taken such a liking to the Gelert for seemingly no good reason at all. "Seriously, I'm your daughter! You're supposed to take my side!"
Ember laughs. "I take whichever side annoys you most, Babygirl. Don't you know parents are supposed to embarrass their kids?"
Kamen laughs softly at the girls' bickering as he reaches the top of the castle wall, then hops onto the balcony, looking around nervously for any signs of the Black Knight or his guards. Ember follows suit, though she needs Kamen's help to pull her tiny frame up over the tall stone bulwark. Apsy grunts in frustration when she notices the others are patiently waiting for her, then quickly follows the two up the ladder and over the wall, knowing that, even if she wanted to keep arguing, she wouldn't be able to from the ground. The second her feet touch the cold stone floors of the keep, she's got her arms crossed and is glowering. This just makes Ember laugh even harder.
Kamen sniffs the air, then turns to the left. "This way."
Ember, seeming courageous as ever, skips merrily behind the Werelupes, examining every interesting piece of crumbling rock and glass she finds among the dust and dirt that coats the floor. Apsy ignores her and looks out over the busy towns and sparkling ocean waters, letting the realm's beauty relax her tense shoulders and frustrated thoughts. This tower appears to be taller than any other structure in the land, dwarfing the neighbouring castles of Brightvale and Meridell, and even making the Steppe Plateau appear dull and flat by comparison. The view is incredible, even though the mask of heavy fog.
Apsy is forced to return her focus to the keep and their quest as a loud scream comes echoing through the building's hollow halls. The three all sigh collectively at the sound. "Well, I guess our Gelert friend found the thief," Kamen says, twirling his hair casually as a loud crash comes from within the building walls.
"Yeah… seems that way…" Apsy mumbles, cringing at the frantic sounds coming from inside.
None of them move, though, despite the fact that the commotion can be heard coming loudly from within the doorway directly in front of them. They could be in there in two seconds flat, helping out, catching the thief, saving the day, but… they really don't want to get in the assassin's way.
Well… that's not entirely true — they're just incredibly tired of all these failed attempts, and their minds are jaded towards the idea of starting a new one. The two Werelupes stand there awkwardly, making up a million excuses about why they don't need to enter, while Ember examines the shattered hilt of a sword that she's found on the ground.
The explosive sound of shattering glass.
Finally, Ember lets out a frustrated ughhh and tosses the broken blade she's been toying with over the wall, pushing her way past Kamen and towards the bleak doorway. "Alright, I want to know what's going on in there," she says with a flick of her wrist. "You losers can stay out here, but I want a front row seat to this mess."
At the sound of Ember's calmly caustic voice, Kamen immediately has a change of heart, refusing to allow any more thoughts of reluctance to deter his bravery. "Okay, I'm right behind you," he says as something hits the wall beside them loudly, then quickly follows Ember into the blackness of the building.
Apsy doesn't speak. Her nerves are getting the best of her. She takes one more longing look out over the land that extends into infinity below her, then follows suit, not wanting to be left alone.*
When the three finally find their way into the room where the sounds of the fight are coming from, they're a little surprised to see that Finneus appears to have the upper hand.
Well… actually, "the upper hand" is a gross overstatement. It's more like, they're surprised to see he's somehow not dead yet. The room they’ve found themselves in looks like it might have, at one point, been a sanctuary, but it's long since been destroyed, its very appearance making a mockery of the name it once held proud. Finneus darts from wall to wall at Meerca speed, somehow managing to dodge all of the assassin's attacks. Though the thief is still clutching tightly to his sack of treasures, the three see that the assassin has managed to get a hold of Illusen's staff. Now that the determined Gelert has a reliable weapon to use for ranged attacks, the thief doesn't stand much of a chance. Once his wings tire, at least.
The three want to help out, but aren't sure what to do. The thief is moving around too fast, and the territory is too unfamiliar. They want to ask the assassin what they could do to help, but they are afraid to, not wanting to distract him. Still, the two's duel is progressing nowhere, so they need to do something. Kamen is just about to speak up when the assassin notices the group out of the corner of his eye, then, luckily, calls to them first, seeming surprisingly okay with the idea of asking for assistance. "You! Prince! Try to jump up and grab him!"
"Right…" Kamen pauses to identify Finneus' frantic flight path before reacting, then charges on all fours towards the thief with a vicious roar. The assassin fires off a few more blasts of earth magic, trying to direct the thief into the Werelupe's claws, but it doesn't work. Finneus dodges the attacks by flying up or falling down rather than taking the logical path of turning around. The assassin pauses in his assault and looks around the room for anything that may help put him at an advantage. When he sees the shattered window across the room, he realises that the thief is probably going to try to escape through there at any moment, so he yells to Apsy and Ember, "Girls, guard the window!" and fires off another powerful blast.
Apsy and Ember make a mad dash across the room without skipping a beat, taking position on either side of the window to cover as much space as possible. Just as the assassin had predicted, the thief was trying to escape out through the large hole in the broken glass and take off into the cover of the fog, but seeing Apsy appear before him makes him shout and spin around. Still, he can't escape. From behind, the prince has already leapt into the air, his onyx claws inches from the Scorchio's nose. Finneus panics, then gives his wings one powerful beat, using every ounce of strength he can muster to shoot himself straight upwards. He manages to escape the prince's grip without a scratch, but the Werelupe wasn't actually after him… Kamen's jaws have snapped shut around the long, dangling top of the sack of loot, and, as he follows through with his leap and his toes touch the ground, he drags the thief down with him. Bam! and they both clumsily crash and tumble across the floor.
The assassin's broken heart fills with an overwhelming sense of hope as he sees Finneus become grounded and lose his grip on the stolen treasures. He throws the staff to the side and sprints towards the Scorchio, who is now trying to pull the sack away from the Werelupe's jaws. The tug-of-war is futile, of course, since Kamen is easily twenty times stronger than the tiny thief — the Werelupe drags Finneus across the ground with ease.
Before the assassin can even make it halfway across the room, the sack breaks open, torn by Kamen's ivory fangs. He and Finneus both go flying backwards, Kamen tumbling painfully across the dusty floor, but the thief manages to steady himself with his wings, staying upright, his adrenaline giving him the last burst of energy needed to make it to the few pieces of treasure that are now scattered across the floor. Time seems to slow down to a painfully sluggish pace as Finneus takes one quick glance around the room to come up with a course of action. He sees the Werelupe prince before him, readying himself to charge again; the assassin to his right, only seconds away from reaching him; the girls across the room, now, too, beginning to charge towards him in a blind fury. There's no way he can get all of his stuff back… He should have left before when there was only one of them…
But Finneus refuses to give up. A good thief would never abandon a haul so easily, right? He grabs whatever he can from off the ground, then flies up and out of the four's grasps. They all painfully collide on the ground below him. Again. He would laugh at the sight of the four who are now groaning in pain and rubbing their aching heads, but he's too upset that he lost so much of his treasure in the fray. All he has left to show for his struggles is the practically-destroyed Negg and the worthless gold necklace. Still, it's better than nothing. The items will at least make for an interesting story to tell at parties. Finneus takes off, out through the broken window, swooping down into the clean afternoon air.
Ember is the first to realise the gravity of what's just happened. She sees the Scorchio escaping and frantically shouts, "Go! Get him! Quickly!"
Apsy and Kamen don't stop to think about the human's stern command. The second they catch their breath and their vision steadies, they charge blindly towards the window, leaping outside, hopping nimbly down the castle's walls and spires until they eventually land in the grass below on their strong Werelupe legs, unscathed and with ever-increasing momentum. They charge after the Scorchio as fast as they can, leaving Ember and the assassin alone in the ruined husk of a sanctuary.
The assassin walks reluctantly to the centre of the room where now only the Werelupe fang necklace lies, surrounded by a dusting of earthly ash and a few glittering shards of gold and silver from the shattered chandelier. He picks the necklace up slowly, brushing away all of the dust on its surface, then turns it over and over between his fingers, as if hoping it will magically transform into what he's lost. Ember watches quietly, not wanting to disturb him or derail his train of thoughts. It's difficult for her to keep her silence, though — he looks absolutely miserable. She wishes she could help.
After a few moments of smothering stillness, Ember begins to walk slowly across the room, her shoes crunching loudly on the broken glass and gold like a Cybunny's paws over fresh snow. She winds her way through the rubble towards Illusen's staff while the assassin sits down with a whimper of defeat. He holds his head in his hands, still clenching the Werelupe fang necklace tightly, as if it's the only thing keeping him tied to this miserable moment. Once Ember has the staff tucked snugly into her belt, she watches and waits for him to move, but he doesn't. He just doesn't have the heart for it, it seems. And, for once in her life, Ember doesn't have any snarky remark to say in an attempt to lift his spirit.
She decides to take a risk — inhales deep, then walks over to him. She brushes away some of the debris on the floor with her foot, then sits beside him on the cold stone floors, being careful to keep her distance. She looks over at him with worried black eyes, but he doesn't stop burying his face in his palms to meet her distressed gaze. His ears droop almost completely to the ground. It sounds like he's sniffling a bit, but she's probably just making that up in her head. He may be coloured grey, but he still wouldn't dare cry in front of her. He's much too proud for that… right? "What do you want?" he finally mumbles when she doesn't say anything.
Ember tries to think of a good response — one that would allow her the opportunity to broach the subject that's wreaking havoc in her mind — but it takes too long to come up with one. She doesn't want to irritate him. She doesn't want to hurt him. She only wants to help. Unfortunately, years of being snide and sarcastic have left her without fully knowing how to speak with pure, unfiltered kindness, free from her normal guise of unabashed derision. She stays silent.
"If you're going to crack any jokes at my expense, you should do it now while I don't have the energy to respond," the assassin says, his voice almost completely monotone, though quivering slightly with something unknown but funereal.
Ember looks down into her hands, still trying to think of the right words to say. Nothing she comes up with in her head seems right, but she can't fight back the urge to speak anymore. She holds her breath, fearing what he may do when she says this, but… "What was her name?"
The assassin looks up abruptly, a shocked spark appearing in his eyes, then turns his head towards her, not quite knowing how to feel about the question, but still hurting infinitely from the stab wounds her words have left in his chest. Still, Ember refuses to move in response — she just keeps staring into her own hands, lacing and unlacing her fingers, hoping for the best.
He has no idea what to say. Nobody has ever asked him a question on that subject before. In fact, nobody has ever even hinted at knowing before. He waits for her to meet his now incredibly troubled glare, but she doesn't. She looks solemn. Understanding. Patient. It's odd to see her this way… but strangely comforting. He feels he can trust her, for some ridiculously outlandish reason.
Eventually, the lovelorn pang in his stomach settles, and he looks to the fang necklace in his hands again, running his fingers down the length of the ivory tooth. There's no point in hiding it anymore. In fact, there's no point in hiding anything, or so he feels. "Seilyf," he finally chokes out.
Ember is relieved, albeit a bit puzzled by the incredibly foreign-sounding name. She finally looks over to him to try to read his expression. He looks strangely calm, but his eyes show a pure, unfiltered sorrow. "What an interesting name," she says.
He laughs nervously. "The name is common on Mystery Island, where she was from. She moved to Meridell because she hated the tropical weather down there. Humidity was bad for her hair, she always said." He pulls off his hood, laughing brightly at the memory, running his fingers through his tangled locks as he continues speaking. "People always tripped over the foreign spelling and pronunciation of her name. She got so irritated by that. She was forced to go by Leaf for most of her life here in the towns and on the farms. She got used to the nickname, of course, but not first without a fight."
He's speaking so much more enthusiastically than Ember ever thought he would. She wants to comment on the fact that he's just fully revealed his face to her for the first time, but she forces herself not to. She doesn't want to change the subject — not yet. She hums softly in contemplation. "Well, I think it's a beautiful name," she murmurs, unsure of what else to say. She's honestly surprised she managed to get any sort of response out of him, let alone such a vibrant description. "I love it."
The assassin shakes his head with a feint of a smile across his lips. "I don't," he says, shortly and soberly. Ember knows it's a lie, but she doesn't press the question. She lets her silence encourage him to keep talking. It does. "Too many memories come with that name now," he says. "I can't stand it."
Ember keeps looking into his bloodshot eyes, but it doesn't seem like he's going to say anything more. The sparkle that swam in his honeycomb irises only moments ago has completely disappeared. All that's left now is a wash of stagnating sadness. She sighs. "I guess my only suggestion would be to focus on the positive memories." Despite her best efforts, she can't fight back a snort and a snipe. "If you can even think positively at all."
Luckily, he isn't offended by the joke. He reciprocates the quiet laugh, but he never really smiles to match it. He just continues to feel the necklace in his hands restlessly.
Ember doesn't know where to take the conversation from there, but luckily, the assassin speaks first. "No," he says, raising his voice slightly, clenching his fist tight around the necklace, "Kanrik was right — I need to get over it." He says this almost completely to himself, sounding not at all in compliance with the notion.
Ember clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth and shakes her head. "No, no, don't do that," she says, turning her body to face him more. "Instead of 'getting over' it, I think you should just focus on truly learning to accept it."
"What's the difference?" he says with another nervous laugh.
The question was rhetorical, but Ember answers anyway. "One involves forgetting, and the other involves forgiving."
Her words hang in the air like petals on a breeze — beautiful on the outside, but still just a cruel harbinger for the coming of winter. The Gelert grows deathly silent again. The only sounds that fill the sanctuary are that of a Crokabek who caws loudly from outside, and a cool wind which blows into the room through the open window, scattering some of the colourful glass. The assassin looks up to the ceiling — at all the beautiful paintings that decorate it — and sighs softly. "Sometimes, I wonder what she would say if she could see me now." He shakes his head slightly. "How disappointed she would be in the monster I've become…"
"Don't think that way," Ember says abruptly and sternly, fighting the urge to lean in and place a comforting hand on his back. "I'm sure, if anything, the only reason she would be upset is because… she just wants you to be happy, and you're not."
Again, Ember's words fill the air with a sense of aching acceptance. And, again, the Gelert doesn't know how to respond.
The two sit in silence for what seems like an eternity, simply staring at the room, taking in its many intricate details rather than trying to continue speaking. The conversation seems to have met its end. Thankfully. "How in the world do you know so much about me?" the assassin finally asks, scratching the back of his neck anxiously.
Ember snorts. "I like reading about the villains of the realm. You're rather notorious, don't you know?"
"Apparently I don't know the full extent."
Again, everlasting silence. Again, another breeze blowing through the window. Again, another petpet flying by with a loud cry. Eventually, Ember decides to revive and reiterate an old question, figuring now is as good a time as any, and also getting the feeling she's not going to be able to get any more words on the previous subject out of him. "What's your name?" she asks, quietly and respectfully.
He continues to stare at the murals on the ceiling — at the stone interior decorated with portraits of the guardians and constellations of Altador, stained and worn through years of being forgotten way up here at the top of the Black Knight's keep. His expression doesn't shift, but he answers. "You may call me Simeon," he says, looking back down into his hands.
Ember's a little surprised he responded so genuinely. "Your name's Simeon?"
"I didn't say that," he murmurs with a sly grin. "I merely said you may call me it."
Ember giggles girlishly. "Because it's your name, right?"
He shakes his head and begins to stand. "I'll respond to it. That's all that matters, right?"
He extends his hand out to her, and she takes it gladly and humbly. "You just can't stop being cryptic, can you?" she says with another giggle as he helps her to her feet. "Just gotta maintain your edgy and mysterious exterior at all times, huh?"
He snorts and pulls his hood back over his sunken eyes. "I like you more when you don't talk," he says.
"Man, if I had a dubloon for every time I've heard that…"
They both exchange quiet laughs as Ember brushes the rubble off of her pants then begins to walk towards the broken window where the Werelupes had leapt out of. As she passes him, he places a firm hand on her head and tousles her hair aggressively. "You're alright, I guess," he says.
She slaps his hand away irately, then desperately tries to put the tangled curls back in place. "Alright is what I aim for," she mumbles.
The two walk quietly towards the ledge of the keep, spending a few more silent seconds looking out over the town, wondering where the others have gone. Then, they begin their slow descent.
When Ember and Simeon finally reach the wall that separates the keep from Market Town, they find Apsy and Kamen lying breathless in the grasses, mumbling to each other with intense frustration. "Y'all look like you just ran to Terror Mountain and back," Ember says as they approach the panting Werelupes, wondering what the two could have possibly just gone through that has left them this tired.
"Listen, Mum, I am in absolute no mood for your…" Apsy's voice trails off as she looks up, astounded when she sees her mother and the assassin walking together completely comfortably, him escorting her with her hand in the crook of his arm. Apsy's expression changes to one of unapologetic shock. "…Hello?" she says, confused, looking the Gelert in the face, as if unsure if he really stands before her or not.
He crosses his arms, forcing Ember to let go, though she doesn't seem to mind. "Hello," he responds calmly, looking directly at Apsy, but not quite meeting her eyes.
Everything grows uncomfortably quiet as the four give each other confused glances. Kamen, ever-brave, is the first one to speak, though his words are far from eloquent. "Does this mean… you're finally going to let us help you?" he asks, his voice, for once, sounding completely unsure.
The assassin doesn't respond to the question — just holds out the Werelupe fang necklace for Kamen to take. "I believe this is yours," he says.
Relief washes over Kamen's face as he eagerly takes the necklace from the Gelert's hands. He ties off the end that the thief had cut, then places the priceless piece of jewellery delicately around his neck. He grips the fang tightly, relieved to finally have the artefact back in his possession, hopeful that its return may quell some of his father's fury. "Thank you, sir," Kamen says, looking up at the silent Gelert with an intense gratitude, his eyes smiling almost more radiantly than his jaws.
The assassin gives him a small but honest bow. "My pleasure, young Prince," he says.
Apsy doesn't want to waste time dealing with all the how's and whys that are tangled up in this whole ordeal — she just wants to get this mess over with already. "Well, super glad to have you on our side, sir," she says with a level of sarcasm heavy enough to rival her mother's, "but we lost the Scorchio, have absolutely no clue where to find him, and he still has the Swamp Witch's Negg, so…"
"That's your cue, Simeon," Ember mumbles.
Apsy's temper comes to a screeching halt at the sound of Ember's words. Her eyes widen in shock as she turns to face her mother. "Woah, you managed to get a name out of him?" She says this as if the assassin is an object, not a person.
Simeon rolls his eyes, about to retort, but Ember beats him to the punch. "It's not his name, but he'll respond to it, and that's all that matters, right?"
Simeon punches her softly in the shoulder and mumbles, "Hush, you cheeky thing." Then they both laugh.
Ugh, they have inside jokes now, too? Kamen and Apsy exchange baffled glances once more, but neither of them are quite as astonished as the last time the other two's behaviour had caught them off guard. The exhausted Werelupes are getting used to the shock at this point. "Whatever, I don't care," Apsy says prissily, stretching her arms out to the side as if pushing away all of her questions and concerns. "Sir, you said you know spells that can track the thief down, right?" she asks Simeon, forcing herself to ignore all of the overwhelming negativity she feels towards him. "Where did he go?"
Simeon looks up to the sky for a second, as if searching the firmament for the answer, scratching his chin as he thinks. "We'll find him at the Steppe Plateau near Cogham," he says confidently, looking back to the young Werelupe, "but we will have to hurry."
Apsy huffs as Kamen stands up beside her. "Fine by me," she says. "Let's go."
To be continued…