Seven Kingdoms: Seowyn's Crossing

Where The River Left Them

I.

“Here she comes,” the older boy whispered, keeping his head low. The roof over Bayard’s stables was an ideal place from which to watch the comings and goings along Taverner’s Row. Stretched out on the side away from the street with only their heads peering over the roof’s peak, three urchins were doing just that.

“Twixt thinks this is a bad idea,” the girl beside him said. She was a full head shorter than the older boy and of a smaller frame, but quite wiry, as was the silent boy on the other side of her. All three were equal though in scruffiness and the ragamuffin look of their cast-off clothing.

The older boy ignored her, his gaze intent on his target. He had been shadowing the oddly-dressed ranger ever since she first set foot in Taverner’s Row. It had been obvious from the way she walked and gawked about that she was a stranger to the city. Probably some yokel from the outlands taking in the sights, he thought with a silent snicker. The elven style of her clothing in itself was not odd, being of the kind that many rangers tended to favor; it was simply odd on her as she was so clearly not of elven blood. More peculiar were the strange short blades at her sides, not so much swords as lopsided curved knives. The only thing that mattered though was that all of it, from the fine quality of the cloak to the crafted armor and footgear, looked expensive. Which meant money.

“I think it’s a bad idea too,” the girl went on stubbornly. “And Twixt says….”

“How come Twixt only says these things to you?” the older boy shot back, sparing the girl an annoyed look.

“’Cause you yell at him,” the girl muttered, looking back down to the street again. “That’s why.”

“I do not yell at him!”

The younger boy flinched but kept his gaze on the street. At the girl’s reproving “See?” look, the older boy blinked, then scowled, lowering his voice. “Well, not as much as he deserves anyways.”

“But why her?” the girl asked, nodding down towards the woman who was almost past the stables now. At that moment though the woman suddenly paused, as if sensing she was being watched, then looked up. Three young heads immediately ducked down below the roof’s peak.

“‘Cause she’s got money, that’s why,” the older boy hissed as they hunkered down out of sight. “Did you see the way she’s dressed? And those fancy blades she’s carrying? That stuff costs money.”

“But…” The girl hesitated, chewing on her lip.

“But what, Tween?”

“She’s a shifter,” the girl said, frowning, the markings on her face growing darker even as her longish ears lowered along the side of her head. “Like us.”

“She’s not like us,” the older boy growled, his own facial markings darkening as well, highlighting the differences between them. While the girl’s face matched the younger boy’s in pattern and slightly darker coloration, the older boy’s face was lighter and bore a distinctly different pattern. “None of ’em are,” he went on fiercely. “None of them give a damn about us. All we got is each other.”

“But Fish…”

“No!” The older boy glared at the girl. “I told you not to call me that. It’s a silly, stupid name and I don’t want it anymore. Fish get caught. And cut up and eaten. I’m not gonna get caught.” His jaw set with adolescent male certainty. “I’m fast and I’m quick and I’m gone before they ever see me. That’s why I’m—”

“She’s gone,” a small quiet voice said. The older boy and the girl looked up to see the younger boy peering over the roof peak.

“Why didn’t you say something?” the older boy growled, scrambling up to get a look himself. The street was still thronged with comers and goers, but the woman was no longer among them. “Dammit!”

“It’s okay, Twixt,” Tween said, crawling up between her twin and the older boy. She looked up and down the street herself, then turned to the older boy. “So what do we do now?”

“We find her again,” he muttered, moving down along the roof to the edge where it was close enough to the ground for them to jump.

“I still think this is a bad idea, Fi—” At the older boy’s warning glare, Tween sighed and began again. “I still think this is a bad idea, Ghost.”

II.

One of the things Ghost like about towns were the abundance of new things to see, taste and smell, which is why she liked to wander around and explore. And as usual people were frequently coming up to try and sell her things, like the rather scruffy looking urchin holding up a large but visibly rotting mudfish for her examination.

“Fish, miss?” The boy – a shifter child, she noticed – chewed his lip, looking embarrassed. “It… it was fresh a couple of days ago.”

“More than a couple of days, I think,” she said quickly, her nose crinkling at the putrid reek emanating from the thing. Probably the reason the boy hadn’t just eaten it himself, she thought, noting with how pitifully skinny he seemed under the layer of dirt and rags. The boy couldn’t be more than nine or ten. She wondered where his people were. “If you’re hungry,” she said, reaching for the purse at her waist, “I can—”

Instead of looking hopeful, the boy’s expression became even more embarrassed. “Catch, miss!” he said suddenly, tossing the fish to her. As Ghost caught it, the boy turned and bolted, yelling “I’m really sorry, miss!” over his shoulder as he disappeared into the crowd.

“I’m really sorry too, miss,” another voice said suddenly. Ghost turned to see another urchin, this one a shifter girl, her face noticeably similar to the boy’s, not only in look but in its woefully apologetic expression. The girl turned to where a large bearded barbarian was heading their way, angrily wiping fish off of his face with one hand and making a fist with the other. He was accompanied by two equally large barbarians with bits of rotting fish strewn in the fur fringes of their armor. The girl sighed, stepped back and pointed at Ghost, shouting a wide-eyed “She did it!”

In the heartbeat that Ghost realized she’d been set up, the girl had turned and disappeared into the throng as well. “I didn’t do—” was all she could get out before the barbarians howled and charged, hurling startled merchants and shoppers aside as they fell upon her.

At least they hadn’t drawn weapons, Ghost thought with relief as she instinctively blocked the first barbarian’s fist from reaching her face and shoved another back with a kick to his hide-armored midsection. She wasn’t really intending to hurt them – even when one of the managed to grab her from behind and another delivered a painful punch to her ribs – until a skinny arm snaked in between them, snatched something from around her neck, and slipped out again.

“It wasn’t me, you idiots!” she snarled, jamming her elbow hard into the one holding her and then hurling him into the one in front of her. She only had the barest glimpse of a figure fleeing into the crowd, the strands of a broken thong dangling from their fist, before Fish Beard was on her again, slamming his massive knuckles into the side of her head.

“I… keep… telling… you…” Ghost was saying moments later, punctuating each word with angry kicks to each of the groaning and bloodied barbarians lying sprawled in the street, “it… wasn’t… me!”

“Frothgar believes you,” Fish Beard said, wincing as he held up a hand to ward off any further kicks. He frowned, looking around at the circle of curious townspeople keeping a respectful distance from the combatants. “Then who is throwing bad stink fish at Frothgar?” he demanded, looking for a new target for his wrath.

Ghost felt for the missing pouch which had been jerked from her neck, then narrowed her eyes in the direction she had seen the culprit fleeing, the markings in her face darkening visibly. “The unluckiest little thieves in Idyllrise,” she growled, a path in the crowd opening before her as people took one look at her face and hurried to get out of her way.

III.

Twixt and Tween were waiting when Ghost made it to their hideout under the back steps that led to the upper floor of Blue Jerik’s gambling den and brothel. The twins looked up anxiously as he scrambled beneath the steps to crouch beside them.

“I got it!” Ghost said triumphantly, digging his prize out of his tunic and tossing it on the ground between them.

“That’s not her purse,” Tween said, frowning at the small leather pouch with the broken thong. Beside her, Twixt was looking away, his arms wrapped around his knees as he hugged them to his chest.

“I couldn’t reach her purse,” Ghost said defensively. “She was turned the wrong way and I only had a second. Anyway,” he shrugged, “this is better. They usually keep the valuable stuff around their neck.”

“So, what’s in it?” the girl asked, curious in spite of herself.

“Don’t know yet,” Ghost said. “Didn’t want to chance opening it till I got here.” He picked the pouch up again and weighed it in his hand, fingering it lightly. “It’s definitely got something in it though.”

“Well, open it already,” Tween said impatiently. “I’m hungry. And so is Twixt.” As if on cue, the younger boy’s stomach growled, but he only hugged his knees tighter and buried his face against them.

Pulling the thong strands loose, Ghost opened the pouch mouth and upended it. Two small dark objects fell out, clinking metallically against each other as they hit the ground. The two young shifters stared, and even Twixt peeked up a bit over his knees.

“Arrowheads?” Tween picked up one of the sharp-pointed things and turned it over and over in her fingers, then turned her gaze on Ghost accusingly, bitter disappointment welling up in her eyes. “We went through all that for a couple of arrowheads?”

Ghost picked up the other one and examined it from different angles, hoping that it would somehow turn into gold or silver, but the thing remained crude dark iron. “Maybe… maybe they’re magical,” he offered, desperately clinging to the first straw that came to mind. “Maybe…”

“She was gonna give Twixt money for food,” the girl said sullenly, throwing the one she held back to the ground. “I heard her. We could’ve been eating by now!”

“They’ve got to be worth something,” Ghost insisted, his jaw setting stubbornly as he picked hers up and returning the two of them to the pouch. “Why else would she be carrying them around with her like that? Huh? Answer me that!”

“We gotta give ’em back,” the younger boy suddenly said, his voice barely audible.

“Are you crazy?” Ghost said. “After all the trouble we went through? You want to give ’em back? This…” he gripped the pouch tightly in his fist “…this is all we got.” Shoving the pouch inside his ragged tunic once again, he crossed his arms and hunched over, glowering at the ground. “The only way she’s getting ’em back is if she pays us for ’em.”

“She’s gonna come after us,” the younger boy went on, shivering as he spoke. “And she’ll find us too.” He hesitated, then looked to his sister. “I… I think she was in that dream I had. The one with the big cat that walks between.”

“I don’t wanna hear about your stupid dreams and your stupid cat,” Ghost shouted, slugging the younger boy in the arm. To which Tween responded by fiercely slugging Ghost twice in his own arm. “You leave my brother alone!” she growled, her fist up and ready for a third strike.

Ghost was silent and tense for a long moment. “I’m gonna go get some food,” he grumbled. “Wait here.” He started to crawl out, then hesitated, seeming to shrink in on himself as he looked back. “Don’t worry. I’ll… I’ll figure something out. I promise.”

When the older shifter boy had gone, Tween put her arms around her brother, holding him close. “He doesn’t mean it,” she murmured. “He just doesn’t understand, is all.”

“Ghost did something wrong, Tween. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I can feel it.”
Twixt looked up at his sister with wide, worried eyes. “We gotta fix it somehow, even if it makes Ghost mad.” He shivered again. "We gotta, or the cat won’t come.

IV.

It would seem, Ghost thought to herself, watching the pursuit coming hell-bent up the street below her, that Idyllrise was suffering from a veritable plague of feral shifter youngsters turned thieves. This one, a boy of about twelve or so, was attempting to make off with an entire shank of mutton over his shoulder, hotly pursued by an irate dwarven butcher shouting and waving a cleaver and by what she assumed was the butcher’s wife, cursing and waving a nasty-looking skinning blade.

Concealed behind racks of drying meat strips atop a neighboring butcher shop, Ghost had been watching for the two shifter urchins who’d set her up. And while this boy clearly wasn’t either of them, she’d wager a crown to a copper piece that he probably knew them. Which made him worth following. And catching.

Moving quickly from the open drying bins out onto the roof itself, Ghost began running parallel to the pursuit, leaping nimbly from rooftop to rooftop over the narrow spaces between the buildings. Even laden as he was with his ill-gotten shank, it was clear that the boy would soon either outrun or outmaneuver the butcher and his wife. Which he did only two blocks later, ducking sideways into the shadowed entrance of a clothier’s shop and hiding as the furious pair ran past, cursing and brandishing their cutlery until they vanished around the corner. When the boy finally reemerged, Ghost dropped silently from the roof to land right in front of him, startling him almost to the point of dropping his prize.

“That would’ve been impressive,” Ghost observed drily, grabbing the boy’s upper arm in an iron grip, “if you’d gotten away with it. But you didn’t.”

The boy’s eyes widened as he looked up at her face, the wiry muscles in his skinny ragged-clad arm suddenly tense beneath her fingers. But then his jaw set stubbornly and his eyes narrowed as his ears dropped back along the sides of his head. “I’m not giving it back!” he growled, trying to sound fierce even though his voice cracked embarrassingly on the ‘not’.

“I don’t want your pilfered sheep’s leg, boy,” Ghost said, waving a dismissive hand at the hefty shank still resting on his shoulder, “though I imagine the butcher folk you stole it from feel differently about the matter.” Tightening her grip on his arm, she nodded back in the direction he’d come from, keeping her eyes intent on his. “Let’s go find out, shall we?”

“Huh?” The boy blinked, confused for a moment, then tensed again, testing her grip this time. When it became clear that there was to be no slipping out of it, he immediately stopped. “Give you half to let me go,” he offered, biting his lip and looking desperately hopeful.

“A generous offer,” Ghost replied, her mouth quirking wryly, “but no. I will, however, make you a counter-offer.” She leaned in close so that her face was barely a finger’s length from his. “I’m looking for two shifter kids. A boy and a girl, maybe nine or ten years old. Look a lot alike. You help me find them, I’ll pay the butchers off and you keep the leg.” Standing straight again, she slowly eased her grip on his arm, though not completely letting go. “Help me find them before nightfall and I’ll give you enough money to eat anything you want for a month.”

The boy’s eyes met hers, wary but searching for a long moment. It struck Ghost that there was something familiar, in his look, in his face, even in his posture. She began to study him, trying to see beneath the unkempt hair and skin fur and the layers of rags and grime. The boy was distinctly uneasy with her sudden scrutiny, but remained still. When her grip eased just a little bit more though, he exploded into a wild fury of twisting, scrambling, kicking and clawing, filling the air with cursing half the words of which even she hadn’t heard before.

“Okay,” Ghost muttered, hefting the screaming struggling urchin up bodily and securing him – stolen leg and all – under one arm as she began heading back up the street. “The butchers it is, then. Cleavers and skinning knives and all.”

V.

From the shadows of a buttress of the temple of Shandaleen, the twins watched as the visibly annoyed shifter ranger made her way up the street, a struggling and cursing Ghost locked securely under one arm.

“I told you she’d find us,” Twixt said gloomily, retreating further into the shadows. “Now we’ll never be able to fix it.”

“We gotta rescue him," Tween whispered, watching in anguish. At her brother’s uncertain look, she dragged him back out again to where they could watch the shifter’s approach. “He’d do the same for us,” she said fiercely. “You know he would. And he’s right about one thing…” her brown eyes locked with his, intent and determined "…all we’ve got is each other.”

“But what’re we gonna do?” Twixt asked, his ears flicking anxiously as their angry victim came ever closer. “She’s stronger and faster than all of us together. And Ghost can’t help us.”

Tween looked up and down the street, her face stripes darkening as she frowned in desperate thought. It was actually getting hard to think with all the chanting and noise coming from the other end of the street. Where a religious procession was emerging from the temple, priests and monks and incense-wafting thurifers, carrying their most holy relic on its noon-day public display route. Her eyes grew wide as she looked back to her brother. His grew wide as well, but for completely different reasons.

“No, Tween!” he cried, his dark coloration paling even under the grime. “That… that’s a really, really, really bad idea!”

“It worked once," she insisted, grabbing his hand and pulling him after her. “It’ll work again.”

VI.

“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” Ghost growled at the squirming urchin under her arm as she made her way up the street. She half-wanted to take away the mutton leg he was still clinging to, but the dwarven butcher would probably want it back. Adding to her annoyance, a religious procession was entering the street from the other end, making the busy street even more crowded.

“And you’re ugly!” the shifter boy growled back defiantly, continuing to try and slip free of her iron hold around his waist. “And you smell funny too!”

Ghost was about to box his ears again when a small voice near her suddenly broke in with “The blessings of St. Mungo on you, sister.” Ghost looked down to see a small hooded figure, wearing the robes of a novice of Shandaleen, head down in supplication, holding up a wooden bowl containing three rather over-ripe mung-fruit, offering it to her. “Please share in the fruit of St. Mungo this day.”

“Uh, thank you but no,” Ghost replied, trying to move around the novice before she got caught in the procession now moving up the street. But the novice quickly moved with her, blocking her way. At the same time, another novice, face hooded and head down, carrying a similar bowl, went past them both, apparently in search of other prospects.

“Please, sister,” the young voice appealed, standing his – it sounded like a boy – ground and holding the bowl up to her all the more insistently. “It would displease the goddess greatly to refuse a gift of St. Mungo. Especially today!”

“Very well,” Ghost sighed as she gave in and started to reach for the least overripe fruit she could see… only to realize that the urchin under her arm had suddenly stopped struggling. Suspicion quickly began putting pieces together and Ghost switched gears, her hand moving not to the bowl but the novice’s hood which she abruptly jerked back, revealing the shifter boy who’d framed her with the rotting mudfish.

“You!” Ghost growled, only to suddenly sense things being hurled into the air behind her. Not at her, she realized as she saw mung fruits flying through the air over her head… towards the procession which was now almost upon them. The first fruit hit the high priest leading the procession right in the face, splattering to pieces and leaving his face and robes purpled with juice. Before Ghost could turn, the second hit the holy relic being carried by four appalled monks square in the middle, knocking it to the ground.

“BlessingsofStMungobeuponyou!” the boy mumbled hurriedly as he shoved the bowl into her free arm and then ran behind her where he joined the other novice – the girl shifter, her face now revealed as well – the two of them now pointing at Ghost and shouting to the enraged priests, monks and acolytes, “She did it!”

VII.

To Ghost’s surprise, the shifter ranger didn’t drop him but instead only tightened her grip around him as she took off in pursuit of the twins, even as the mob of outraged clerics and acolytes pursued her. Damn stubborn, this one, the boy thought grumpily to himself as he was bounced along against the ranger’s hip. And buffeted by startled streetgoers too slow to get out of her way. But the moment he was waiting for finally came when the twins, who had been deftly slipping through and among the ever-shifting gaps in the crowd, abruptly split off in different directions into even denser masses of people. The ranger growled in frustration for the briefest moment, then dropped Ghost and his ill-gotten mutton summarily to the ground as she veered left, going after Tween.

It was the smarter move, Ghost thought as he quickly scrambled to his feet, shifting the mutton to his left shoulder as he dug inside his ragged tunic. Tween was the more likely of the two to have what the ranger was after. Except that neither of them did.

“Hey, lady!” Ghost yelled after her, the pilfered pouch now dangling from his upheld fist. “You looking for this?”

The ranger glanced back at the sound of his voice. In the briefest instant, her eyes narrowed at the pouch in his hand, and then she whirled around and was charging at him with grim intent. That oughta let the twins get away, Ghost thought as he took off on the opposite direction – now he just had to get himself away. Which was going to be extra tricky he realized as he found himself heading straight into the mass of howling clerics with the ranger pressing ever closer on his sorry ass. Really damn stubborn, the boy cursed as he darted between the flapping robes of two acolytes in the front, yelling “Stop her! She’s crazy!” only to hear them yelp as they were shoved aside behind him. He had been counting on the crowd of angry priests and monks to make the ranger break off pursuit. From the sound of things behind him though, all he could count on now was that they might slow her down some. Which meant coming up with an alternate plan. In a hurry. In a really big hurry, he realized as he suddenly broke through to the other side of the clerical mass and the street once again opened up before him.

Running at full tilt up the street, dodging between carts and startled citizens, Ghost searched desperately for an idea, anything that could shake the ranger off his sorry tail. At the sight of an ox cart hauling away refuse down a side street, an idea suddenly came to him, and he could already hear Twixt whining about it being a really bad idea even as he veered off towards the palace gate. And see Tween folding her arms and nodding in agreement.

“Like I’ve got any good ones?” he muttered, increasing his pace as the slope of the street began to turn higher. He just hoped the damned thing would be where it usually was this time of day.

VIII.

“I didn’t do it!” Ghost snarled as she shoved a rather fat monk backwards, sending him sprawling into the knot of priests who’d managed to keep up the pursuit. Whirling about, she caught a glimpse of the boy – still stubbornly hanging on to his pilfered mutton – ducking into a side street.

The street led upwards, towards the palace area, she realized as soon as she was on it. Bad move, boy she thought as she made her way up it, relentlessly following the path of startled and confused streetgoers he was leaving in his wake. The closer he got to the palace, the more he was going to stand out and the harder it’d be for him to hide.

Except that, when she caught sight of him once again, he wasn’t hiding. He was hanging on to the back of a huge cart making its way slowly up the hill. As she ran up, closing the gap, two things suddenly hit her. The cart was leaving a truly foul reek in its wake. And the boy wasn’t merely hanging on – he was struggling to pull out a lynch pin that was holding the cart’s back side in place.

“No!” Ghost shouted, even as the boy finally jerked the pin free and the back of the cart fell open, freeing its load of stinking nightsoil to spill out in a wave into the open street before her, sending pedestrians cursing and screaming and fleeing in every direction to get away from the foul flood.

Ghost hesitated, her nose crinkling up fiercely at the smell of the flowing brown mess now blocking her way, but the boy’s triumphant smirk as their eyes met though was too much to let pass. Spirit leap! she thought quickly, thoroughly enjoying the way the boy’s expression changed from smug to startled as she suddenly vanished and then reappeared on the cart wall opposite from him.

“Game’s up, you little thief,” Ghost said evenly, eyeing the boy with narrowing gaze. “Hand it over. Now!”

IX.

“You want it?” Ghost shot back fiercely, bringing out the pouch with its dangling thong from inside his filthy tunic. He held it up just long enough for the ranger to recognize it, then hurled it towards the putrid muck filling the street behind them. “Catch!”

The boy was only able to enjoy the ranger’s startled look for a moment. To his astonishment, the ranger moved in a flash to the very end of the cart wall, gripped it with one hand and reached out with the other, stretching herself out to her greatest possible length, snagging the falling pouch with the tips of her fingers.

Panicking, Ghost flung the mutton shank at her while she was still stretched out and unable to dodge. The heavy meat hit her square in the chest, breaking her hold on the cart. “No!” the ranger screamed, glaring at him with a look of pure vengeful intent as she fell into the stinking muck.

Ghost knew better than to hang around and gloat. Scrambling past the cart’s driver, who had been yelling futilely during the confrontation, the boy darted up the street. Getting away was even more important now, he knew. If she hadn’t already been determined to get him, she’d be even more intent on it once she…

A blood-curdling scream of rage split the air behind him just as he reached the end of the street, almost plowing into a patrol of the city guard. “Watch out!” he panted, running past them. “Crazy lady back there. Very dangerous. You’ll need more men.”

It was a shame about losing the mutton shank, Ghost thought with some regret as he kept running. He’d have to steal something else for the twins so that they could eat tonight. But at least he still had the arrowheads, feeling inside his tunic to where he’d put them in his own pouch, whatever they really were. The ranger’s stubborn determination to get them back had him more convinced than ever that they had to be valuable.

Now, he thought as he glanced back anxiously over his shoulder, if he could just keep out of her reach long enough to find out why.

X.

“Ah, Lord Havengard,” the Captain of the city guard said as Kidalis approached. “I’m glad my man found you.”

“What seems to be the problem, Captain?” the young noble asked, looking around the market square, sensing some level of pertubation in the air.

“Well, we’ve been called to respond to a number of disturbances in the area.”

At that moment, two ragged street urchins, shifter children by the look of them, ran quickly past, followed by a trio of angry barbarians, the biggest of whom was yelling “Stop! Frothgar is wanting to beat you much badly! Stop is now!”

“I see,” Kidalis said, glancing as the group was in turn pursued by a number of guards. “How may I be of assistance?”

“Well, it seems that a member of your company is somehow involved in all of this,” the Captain went on. Just as a slightly older shifter urchin ran past, a pair of angry dwarven butchers waving cleavers and a burly cartman wielding a shovel hot on his tail. The Captain sighed and dispatched a trio of guards to follow them.

“May I ask which of my company is—” Kidalis began, stopping when a familiar figure dashed into the square, reeking and covered in muck, with a mob of howling priests and clerics intent on catching her. “Nevermind,” he sighed as the Captain directed the remainder of his men on pursuing them.

“From what witnesses have said,” the Captain went on, “she’s been involved in all of the incidents that’ve been reported.”

“Well, the good news is that she’s not intent on killing anyone,” Kidalis said, rubbing his temples between thumb and middle finger of his right hand. At the Captain’s questioning look, he merely shrugged. “She doesn’t have her weapons in hand. The bad news is that she’s going to keep this up until she gets whoever or whatever she’s after. My advice is to not get in her way.”

“But the disturbances,” the Captain protested. “The assaults on the citizenry, the disruption of commerce. And the damages, my lord. The damages!”

“I give you my word, Captain,” Kidalis said, placing a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder, “that she’ll pay for any and all damages done and for any losses incurred.” The young noble shrugged once again. “It’s the best I can offer you. There’s really nothing to be done when she’s like this. Just be thankful it’s only her.”

Turning to leave, Kidalis hesitated, then glanced back. “If however you see a halfling with a long polearm and a strange accent getting involved, send for me at once.” He shuddered at the thought, muttering “We’d probably end up getting banned from the city.”

XI.

Ghost watched as the urchin boy backed up against the wall overlooking the river, looking franticly about. But the way to the left was blocked by the dwarven butchers and the carter, and the way to the right was blocked by Frothgar and his companions, who had the two younger urchins struggling in their grip. And even if Ghost herself wasn’t blocking the street leading up to the wall, the mob of clerics and monks behind her most certainly did, though they were as much intent on not letting Ghost get away as they were the boy.

“There’s nowhere left to run, kid,” Ghost said as she walked towards the shifter boy, her palm held out and up expectantly. “Hand them over. Now.”

But the boy only glared at her, then suddenly scrambled up the wall to stand atop it, looking down at the river moving swiftly below.

“Don’t be stupid,” Ghost said wearily, annoyed that the boy was too stubborn to know when the chase was over. “Everyone knows you city people never learn how to swim. And even if you did, a river like that is way too much for a stripling like-”

“That’s what you think, lady!” the urchin shot back, giving Ghost a final defiant look before turning and launching himself out from the wall, dropping at once into the rushing waters below.

“Ghost!” the two younger urchins cried out, struggling harder in their captors’ grasp. As Ghost turned in confusion at the sound of her name, the girl suddenly sank her teeth into one barbarian’s forearm, causing the man to howl in pain as he released her. Free, she ran to the wall and scrambled nimbly up to the top where the older boy had been moments earlier, looking over the edge in dismay. “Ghost!” she wailed, distraught.

The ranger hauled herself up to stand beside the urchin girl, gripping her securely by the scruff of her neck to make sure she didn’t do anything equally foolish. Searching the rushing water, she quickly spotted the small figure swimming with intent even as he was carried away from the crowd that were all now peering down from the wall top. A flicker of memory seemed to tickle the back of Ghost’s mind, something about the way the boy was swimming triggering a deep impulse, not only to catch him but something familiar about the situation, as if she done this before.

Cursing some choice elven words, Ghost quickly stripped off her arms and outer gear, tossing them to a startled priest. “Guard these if you value your life,” she growled. Glancing at Frothgar who had come up beside her, she added fiercely “And you guard those other two if you value yours!” And then she was gone, diving headlong into the river and then resurfacing with fast strong strokes in the hot pursuit of something from her past.

Ghost

(More to come)

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