Swaim/ THE FIRST ANNEX/ 10

Chapter 7

The next day Shane woke up around noon. Lenora was still asleep, so she got dressed in silence, coaxed Yui from the soft, warm bed onto her shoulder, and took off on her own. She went to the courtyard in the back and walked around, looking at the fountain and the different plants in the garden. She found a bench that was hidden by tall rose bushes and nightshade trees. She sat there and pulled out the phone Henry had given her. After a few minutes of having to figure the thing out, she managed to call her brother's house.

"Hello?" answered Samina.

"Hey, Samina. It's Shane."

"Shane!" she exclaimed with excitement. "How are you doing?"

"I'm good. Is Henry around?"

"He isn't up yet, but I'll go get him up for you!" Samina laughed. "Hold on." She heard the clunk as Samina set the phone on the counter and then heard her calling Henry's name as she moved through the house.

It took a few minutes, but finally Henry picked up the phone with a very groggy "Hello?"

"Are you hung-over?" asked Shane, her brow knit together.

"…No."

"The pause speaks volumes, bro," Shane said, but she left the subject go. "I've got good news!"

"It better be super good for wakin' me up."

"Hey, you gave me the phone." Shane grinned. She loved to pick on Henry when he was hung-over. He deserved it.

"What's the good news?" Unfortunately he had learned to not rise to her jests.

"Lenora and I met with this businessman. His name is Sadakuno Frey. He runs his mansion like a halfway house, and he's gonna allow us to stay for two months so that we can focus on getting a job," she explained with excitement. "And the best thing is, if we break contract, we just gotta work for him to pay him back for the two months of room an' board and that ain't nothin'!" The more excited she got the more prominent her country accent became.

Henry was silent for a moment, then he said, "That sounds too good to be true, Shane."

"I know, don't it?" She didn't pick up on the uncertainty in her brother's tone.

"Did you read the contract before signing it?"

Shane chewed on her bottom lip. No, she hadn't read it. She hadn't even thought about reading it, but now she was realizing what a dumb move that was. But why would Mr. Frey have lied to them?

"Lenora is friends with Dean, his assistant. He would'a told us if anythin' was fishy."

"But you didn't read it," said Henry. It was more of a statement than a question.

Shane sighed. "No," she finally admitted. "Don't be such a worrywart, Henry."

"I can't help it, I'm your brother," Henry said. She could hear the fondness in his tone and knew he was smiling. She smiled too.

"I know, I know. I'll call you again in a few days," she promised. After the obligatory farewells, she hung up and stuck her phone in her pocket. She sat cross-legged on the bench and watched as Yui stalked a lizard that was sitting on one of the mushroom-shaped lights.

Henry had failed to plant the seed of doubt in his sister's mind.

xxx

Lenora and Shane made their way into the Underground a couple of hours later, leaving Yui to hunt lizards and bugs in the garden. They hailed a rickshaw driver who took them to the center of the city.

It was Tuesday, so there weren't any cage matches, but the vendors made up for the lack of noise. They hawked their wares obnoxiously, claiming credit where credit probably wasn't due.

"There are sooo many different kinds of things here," said Lenora as she looked wearily at a stall selling jars of various pickled animal organs.

"I want to find this Solene guy an' have him look at my blades." Shane patted the hilt of one. Lenora had tried to convince her to leave them behind, but had given up the argument fairly quickly. Besides, now that they were in the midst of the city she noticed that nobody went anywhere without their weapons. Broadswords, guns, quivers and bows, knives—no one tried to hide that they were armed. She was glad that she had thought to bring her kunai knives along, just in case.

"That dwarf warned us that he's difficult to deal with," said Lenora.

Shane looked at her incredulously. "I think I can handle it."

The elf rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Let's ask someone where his shop is at."

They approached the first vendor they saw. His stall was stacked high with books, all leather bound and looking quite aged. His sign claimed "The Best of Grimoires, Spellbooks, and Potions recipes." The vendor was a tall elf with long red hair and dark eyes. His high cheekbones and large, slanted eyes made him lizard-like.

"Hello, girls. How can I help you today?"

Shane looked at Lenora expectantly. The elf sighed and looked up at the vendor.

"We're looking for a weaponsmith. Solene?"

The vendor's visage immediately turned to one of disgust. He pointed past the row of stalls his belonged to, indicating that they should go around the corner. "His shop is on the other side of this block. Just look for the sign hanging outside."

"Thank you," said Lenora and she and Shane set off, but not before the elf vendor gave them a bit of advice:

"Don't let him get you going! He loves to make people feel inferior."

"Wonderful," muttered Lenora. She looked over at Shane. "Are you going to be able to deal with him?"

Shane narrowed her eyes at Lenora, crossing her arms over her chest. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Lenora sighed, continuing to walk even though the vampire had stopped. She kept going until Shane began to follow again. Together they walked along the line of stalls, glancing at their wares with disinterest.

Solene's shop was at the end of the block. It was in a large building that had multiple shops accessible from the outside, but many of them were closed. Boards blocked the doors and some of the windows were broken. He had taken two shops and broke the wall down to make one large, square area.

As they entered, a bell above the door chimed to alert Solene of their arrival. Only the entrance was tiled; the rest of the floor was dirt and hay surrounding the forge. A large anvil sat in the center. Standing on a foot stool next to it, beating a red hot rod of steel into the shape of a long sword, was a dwarf with a long red braid down his back. Unlike most male dwarves, this one didn't have a long beard; instead he was clean shaven. His face was sweaty and black with soot.

"Solene?" asked Shane loudly so as to be heard over the sound of the hammer and the crackling forge.

His hammer froze in mid-swing. He lifted his head to see who had interrupted his work. When he saw the two thirteen-year-old girls standing just inside his doorway he broke into gruff laughter.

Lenora crossed her arms over her chest, drawing herself up to her full height. Shane glared and said, "Are you Solene or not?"

The dwarf returned to hammering away at the sword. The two girls watched silently as the steel took shape. When he was finished, he inspected the sword, pounded out any impurities, and then dropped the blade into a vat of water. Steam gushed toward the ceiling.

They gathered that that display was meant as an answer to Shane's question when the dwarf walked toward them, wiping his hands on a blackened towel, and said, "What can I do ya for?"

Shane glanced at Lenora, who raised an eyebrow. After a moment Shane removed one of her blades, looking down at it.

"I heard you were a good weaponsmith," she said. "Could you look at my elbow blades?"

xxx

Without saying anything, Solene took the dagger and turned it over in his hands. The blades were sturdy and slightly curved, the handles made of simple iron that had rusted but whose style allowed her to switch from elbow blades to dual daggers.

"Where did you get these, lass?" asked Solene as he held his hand out for the second blade.

This blade was cracked, so Shane felt a bit embarrassed as she handed the dagger to him. "A veteran soldier gave them to me." A pang of longing coursed through her at the thought of Mr. Thomas, but she suppressed the feeling by focusing on the present.

"That explains the mass market quality," Solene huffed. "If you want my honest opinion, these blades are oxen shit."

Shane straightened her shoulders, feeling protective of her blades. They had served her well since she left Tanak Town over a year ago—but she had had them since she was only six, when Mr. Thomas had begun her combat training. They had seemed so magnificent back then, and so heavy.

The dwarf laughed. "Don't get in a huff, missy, I can craft you some steel daggers so light and sharp that they sing." He tossed her daggers into the forge to burn.

Shane and Lenora's mouths fell open. "Are you insane!? What if I can't afford new blades?"

"How much gold do you have, lass?" Solene asked, smirking broadly. Shane wanted to smack it off his square face.

"Altogether we have close to five hundred gold," answered Lenora. She counted their finances nightly so that they didn't end up broke or in a bind.

"I ain't asking how much ye got together," Solene mocked. He pointed at Lenora's long bow. "I haven't even gotten to that…is that a bow? Really?"

Lenora narrowed her eyes. "We don't have to take this. Shane, let's leave."

"Wait," said Shane as she turned to face her. "I need blades. He's supposed to be the best."

"Supposed to be?" Solene barked out a laugh. "I am, lasses. Now, how much gold do you have?"

"About one-eighty."

Solene ran a hand over his head as he thought. After a moment he said, "Borrow twenty from yer weird-haired friend here and you've got a deal."

Shane instantly turned to plead with Lenora. The elf sighed, digging into her pocket to retrieve the twenty gold pieces.

"Thank you!" Shane smiled briefly at her companion before turning back around and untying her coin purse from her belt. She dropped the twenty coins on the counter and then dumped her purse out on top of it. Solene immediately began to count.

Once he was certain that she had two hundred coins, he stood back with his fists on his hips and said, "You two take a seat on the bench, keep your yappers shut, and let me work."

They did as they were told without fuss, settling back to watch. Solene retrieved, from a small storage room in the back, three silver nuggets. He melted them down in the forge. While the nuggets melted he readied two molds and left them to cool. During this time he crafted the handle. He used blackwood cedar, a dark brown wood with a glossy reddish finish. The rear bolster he crafted separately from ox bone into a curved sharp point good for cutting. With the blades cool he fitted the front bolster and spine to the handle and blade. The spine covered one side of the crescent shaped blades, making them ideal elbow daggers.

Just when Shane thought he was finished, Solene took a white hot poker from the forge, dipped it in a bucket of glittering red dust, and drew a myriad of squarish designs on the blades along the inside of each spine. The indentations were red, and obviously dwarven of some kind.

Once that task was completed he tested the blades' balance, and then he held them out to Shane. "Give them a try."

Shane stood and stepped toward him. Sweat glistened on her forehead from the heat of the forge. "What do the designs mean?"

"Raven of the Swift Wind," he replied as he handed her the left blade. "Hunter of the Hawk's Eye." He handed her the right handed dagger.

The blades felt perfect in her hands. She rolled them over her wrists, switched them rapidly from daggers to elbow knives. They were quick, slicing through the air with a soft, high-pitched hiss.

"They're…perfect," muttered Shane in disbelief.

"Told ya." Solene grinned. "Let me fix you up some sheaths."

xxx

Lenora was starting to think that Shane wasn't ever coming back inside. Ever since they had returned to the mansion she had been in the garden watching her vampiric friend duel a shadow. She held her bow in her hands, having just restrung it, and considered what Solene had said. They still had roughly three hundred gold; how much would he charge for a new bow?

And just what was wrong with hers? It was of light Birchwood, elven craft. It was strong and pliable. But now that she was thinking about it, lately she was noticing soreness in her biceps from pulling the string; the wood was getting old and stiff. She sighed.

It didn't occur to her to check the time until Dean sat next to her without a word. "Are you coming to dinner?" he asked.

"Yes, I didn't realize what time it was," she said. She briefly reflected how differently time passed to her without the sun. She couldn't stand to live like dwarves, but Shane seemed newly invigorated without the sun. Even as an Aryan vampire, the sun was still a nuisance. "How do you get used to the time down here?"

Dean chuckled. "It takes time. I was checking my watch every few minutes for weeks."

Lenora groaned, but laughed a bit as well. "I guess I better get a watch."

Dean smiled at her and then stood, offering his hand to help her to her feet. "Shall I escort you to your room?"

Lenora blushed, smiled and took his hand. As she stood she turned in Shane's direction to shout, "Shane! I'm going to get ready for dinner! Don't be late!"

"OKAY!" Shane shouted back and instantly flipped backward the next moment, landing in a crouch with her blades held before her horizontally.

Lenora rolled her eyes and walked with Dean inside. She got ready quickly; only washing her face and brushing her hair before she stepped back out in the hall. She was surprised to see Dean waiting for her. She would have sworn she saw him walk away as she shut her door earlier.

"I brought you this," Dean said sheepishly as he held his hand out to her. In his hand was a small, silver pocket watch. The matching chain was made of delicate links, as it was meant to be worn around the neck. Inscribed on the top was a white butterfly design, curving elegantly. When she pushed the knob on the side up it opened. On the opposite side of the small, oval clock face was a picture of Dean, no more than a year younger than he was.

Lenora looked up at Dean, unsure what to say.

Dean's smile was shy. "It was my sister's before she…disappeared."

"Disappeared?" asked Lenora in shock.

"When my two months was up I began working for Mr. Frey, but Ariel didn't have a job. Instead of honoring the contract, she disappeared."

Lenora frowned. "I'm sorry. Are you sure—"

"Yes," interjected Dean, laughing a bit. "It's just been sitting in a box. Might as well be useful."

She smiled up at him warmly. "Thank you." He helped her with the clasp, fastening it around her neck and then offering his arm to her.

When they arrived in the dining room everyone was already there—except Mr. Frey, of course. Lenora immediately sought out Shane and had to resist slapping her hand to her forehead when she saw the two brown leather sheaths lying on the floor next to the blonde vampire's chair.

"You brought them to dinner?" Lenora asked as she sat down next to her.

"I didn't have time to go back up to th' room," Shane said, but her grin revealed that it didn't matter whether her excuse was true or not, she was going to have those daggers with her. It only took a moment for her to notice the glint of the jewelry around her friend's neck.

"Where did you steal this?" she asked as she turned it around with her fingers, appraising it.

"My sister," answered Dean. When Shane raised an questioning eyebrow at Lenora he added, "I gave it to her. It wasn't stolen."

"So fingers off," Lenora teased, playfully smacking her fingers away.

xxx

After dinner Shane followed Rona to her room, stopping by hers so that she could retrieve the body jewelry Lenora had bought for her. She had been too excited about her new daggers to bother picking them out.

Rona's room was nearly identical to Lenora and Shane's, but where theirs was purple hers was blue. Shane was immediately drawn to the right where she saw a small portable piano and a guitar.

"You play?"

"Yeah," answered Rona enthusiastically. "Do you?"

Shane sighed, gazing longingly at the instruments. "No, I wish…My friend Vael can play the guitar but he was never around enough to teach me."

"I can teach you!" Rona volunteered, grinning broadly. "But first, let's poke some holes!"

Chapter 8

The sound from the cage matches was loud even on the rooftop of a shop three streets away. Shane, perched upon the chimney stack, had craned her neck toward the noise, half a grin forming on her face. But in a moment the noise died down and she returned to the instrument she held in her hands.

Rona had taught her some basic chords the night before, and now she was just playing them over and over again. Sometimes as loudly as she could, and sometimes in strange patterns that almost sounded like music to her ears.

It was frustrating though; she still had to stop and carefully position her fingers on the fret board. Her fingertips stung, each adorned with a red indention from pushing down so hard on the strings. But she was determined to get faster. In her mind, she could see herself playing on street corners, making money in a hat.

Just as she got her fingers positioned to play B-flat, she got a whiff. She sat straight up, leaning slowly toward where she thought the smell came from. Then she caught it again, and she recognized the aroma.

Carefully and quietly, she set the guitar in her place on the chimney and the crept toward the edge of the roof. She leaned over and looked down into the alleyway. At first she didn't see him because his hair was a black as the shadows he was leaning in, but his pale skin gave him away. He must have only been a couple of years older than her, but he was wide and tall. Clasped delicately in his fingers was the source of the aroma: a joint. She was about to swing down and snatch it when he spoke, making her nerves prickle and run haywire—

"All you had to do was ask," he said. His voice was deep and he spoke slowly, without much expression. She wouldn't call it monotone, but melancholy.

This is the last of what I had written. Please let me know what you think of the story thus far! When I rewrite it will pretty much be the same but in first person through Shane's POV. Please leave feedback so that I can improve!