It was nearly noon in the Kogeshan marketplace. Dust permeated the air as the morning coolness started to ebb away. Everything was dirty and timeworn in Kogesha, but surprisingly sturdy. The aggitation that was typical for most marketplaces in the morning started to wane as well, as people were retreating to their homes to eat and get out of the heat.
That was around the time Jadui Fogstepper started worrying she'd stick out. To begin with, it was obvious she wasn't exactly local. To begin with, she was a few shades paler than everyone else and had chalky blond hair. She also had a knee-length coat of a design more common on a different continent, namely her place of origin, Devyra. More accurately, she came from the city of Devowah, serving as capitol for the Ruling Council. The members of said council were deeply disliked and disaproved, but that was not to say anyone stood up to them directly. In fact, their subversive, self-serving practices and heavy use of the Devyran Fortress Guard had triggered the birth of a rebellion of sorts, known as the Red Movement, which for some time had been spreading and gaining followers in the most distant corners of Devyra.
But Jadui was currently on Bandar, a continent to the far south-west of Devyra, riddled with former Devyran colonies, now independent states, of which Kogesha was an example. The business that brought Jadui so far from home was simple: she had to find someone.
The colourful bag on her hip contained a valuable document she had to get to that person and, in short, that was her job. She was a runner. She'd been a runner all her life, but had gotten involved with the ressistance only recently. Actually, that month, she was celebrating one year with the Red Movement. It was generally accepted that once you survived your first year, your chances of survival would be not exactly optimistic, but not nearly as bleak as they were for beginners.
She didn't exactly feel like celebrating, though, since a certain young Chaser from the Devyran Fortress Guard was in hot pursuit. She always said she considered him a minor inconvenient whenever other rebels asked her about it, but he had captured her quite a few times and she'd only escaped him by luck and by using the kind of skills you gain by being the only girl in a family of seven siblings.
Erson Longtail, however, proved to be amazingly stubborn, sly and persistent. Convinced that she was a dangerous criminal needing to be brought to justice, he employed every trick he could think of and successfully put to use the training he'd received as a member of the Fortress Guard, all to the purpose of hunting her down.
Jadui was getting sick of the constant hunt. Even after fleeing to a different continent, leagues out of Fortress Guard jurisdiction, he was still following her. Apparently, enemies of the state could be arrested on foreign ground. This bit of legal trivia became a huge problem when a rookie looking for a promotion used it as an excuse to constantly annoy her.
Jadui stopped in front of a fruit stand, looking at the strange Bandarian fruit on sale. Her stomach churned. The money she'd received upon completing her last assignment had dwindled to a pathetic little sum that could only buy her one more meal, or half of one, if she was picky about fruitmaggots. She needed to find the next receiver if she wanted to eat.
She briefly considered snatching a fruit from the stand and dashing away. They didn't call her a runner for nothing. She was fast and enduring. She was used to outrunning people. She'd get away with it. Her morals, she had to admit, had all been starved out.
The only thing that stopped her was raising her head and realising she was staring at a very familiar face. Ruffled black hair, solid build, red uniform and a serious, if not downright solemn face all sent shivers of recognition down Jadui's spine. Erson Longtail was right on the other side of the fruit stand, looking at her with the same surprised expression.
She turned around and ran. She dodged people, she jumped over baskets on the ground and ran like only she knew how. She'd heard Erson's yell and the sound of pursuit, but everything was a colourful blur and the bustle of the marketplace was only a distant hum in her ears.
Dodge, step here, step there, jump over that... The frenzied dash progressed one step at a time, but with a speed unmatched.
She would have escaped to a side street and disappeared into one of the stout little buildings typical of the Kogeshan periphery, but she came to an abrupt stop soon enough.
She ran right into a closed-off alley. A dead end. She was not a moment late in turning on her heels, but Erson had already caught up with her. 'He's gotten fast,' she thought dourly, finding herself cornered by her worst enemy. She didn't panic quite yet. She'd been in such situations before and always escaped.
"Well," Erson proclaimed, a hand resting on the hilt of his sword. It was sheathed, but she'd seen how fast he could draw it. "It seems my struggles have not been in vain. Why do you run like so from me? Don't you know you will end up in a coutroom eventually?"
"Oh, please," Jadui snorted, suddenly hit by a brilliant idea. "Like it's justice you're after."
"Excuse me?" Erson didn't quite stutter and his posture didn't slack, but his tone was considerably molified.
"Don't you get it? You've been chasing after a teenage girl for the past year! You want to get laid!"
He stood there, his mouth agape at Jadui's accusation.
"I assure you, Miss Fogstepper, my only interest is in seeing you get brought to justice," Erson replied, trying his best to save the last bit of dignity he had.
"Right," Jadui shot back. "Those other two geezers from the Guard gave up two weeks into the job. And you just happened to be so much more persistent?"
"Well, I certainly have more stamina!" Erson paused for a moment, realising what he'd just said. "Wait, no, that didn't sound... I meant nothing by it!"
Jadui perked an eyebrow.
"Look, every time you caught me, you found some way to pin me down or physically imobilise me."
"Of course! It is my job, as Chaser of the Guard, to apprehend you, an enemy of the state."
"Oh, spare me the patriotic drivel. You chased me over two continents and you still found a way to get your paws all over me. I can't even remember how many times I felt your breath on my neck!"
"I-- My intentions-- I assure you I have not entertained any of the impure thoughts you accuse me of!" Oh dear Patrons, why was he on the defensive? She was the wanted criminal here!
"Of course not! Boys don't think, they just blindly follow their hormones!" Jadui threw her hands up, frustrated.
"I--I am speechless... Are you implying I-- I am chasing you because I..." Erson couldn't bring himself to say it, but his mind filled the blank anyway: ...want to have sex with you?
"You're chasing me because you're so uptight, you are incapable of pursuing any kind of relationship, so you retreat into your work and let it dominate every aspect of your life." Jadui pursed her lips. "Really, now, it can't possibly be healthy."
Erson groaned and hid his face into his hands. If he wasn't messed up before, then this conversation managed to scar him for life nicely. The words coming out of this girl's mouth were unbelievable.
Suddenly, he remembered who he was and what his job was. He snapped back into his rigid posture and got ready to arrest Jadui Fogstepper... only to notice she was gone.
"Damn it!" he yelled, hitting the wall with his fist. "She did it again!"
Fuming, he ran back into the streets, bent on dragging the girl to her judgement by the hair, if necessary. All while the girl in question watched him leave from a balcony, exactly above the spot Erson had last seen her. She smiled and jumped back down, getting back to her own job.
Oh, how easy it was to mess with his head!