The castle guards had changed their routine that night. There had been frequent sightings of someone in a dark hood roaming the grounds, naturally sparking concern. Though no artifact had been confirmed as stolen yet, rumors of a thief had already begun to spread through the castle itself.
Comyn Reed knew that these assumptions were correct. Even if no one had yet to notice what was missing, he had been taking small objects from the castle every night. A pouch of small bookshelf decorations and jeweled silverware was filled again that night. He had been specifically taking smaller goods in order to prevent anyone from catching on to the fact that they were being robbed. However, it seemed they had finally caught on to him. Or at least, had changed their methods for catching him.
Though he had checked and rechecked his escape routes countless times over the past weeks, even before beginning to steal, Comyn was annoyed to find that the guard posts had been changed. Perhaps not in an attempt to confuse him, but more as a result of the confusion that sprung from his antics. He made stealthy loops around the castle perimeter but still couldn't pin any rhyme or reason to the guard placements.
"All exits are covered. This will be the last night that kid makes a fool of us."
From his observation point against one of the walls Comyn could hear guards calling back and forth. He listened as two men discussed their new plan, relieved that they would do something so clumsy as give it away.
"Have some of the prison guards double up the new posts. She's not going anywhere tonight anyway." One of the men spoke louder and gestured for his collegae to leave, "I will alert the king."
The prison was attached to the Northern part of the castle, which was in the oppo-site direction of Comyn's usual escape point. It was not even a place that Comyn particul-arly liked to passing by, as the sounds of prisoners crying and screaming were definitely not pleasant ones. If only he had his way he would have avoided that part of the castle en-tirely, but he could not lie to himself about the apparent facts: it would be the safest place to hop the wall. Comyn pulled himself up the castle wall with some difficulty, cursing the fact that the castle walls were constantly polished and painted to make them as perfect as possible. It was difficult to find foot holds on a surface so smooth, but not impossible.
By some miracle he wasn't spotted during his climb. Likely due to the miracle of magic, which he had used to bewitch his cloak so that it mimicked the colour of the walls he was climbing. Once he was on the roof he tapped his shoulder and set the cloak colour back to black, then stealthily made his way North.
As he moved from the East to the North, the sounds of guards began to fade away. Comyn waited until five minutes of silence had passed before beginning his descent. The darkness swallowed any shadows and created a dark blanket over the North part of the castle. It was as if the night itself knew that this side, which the moonlight did not seem to touch, was full of dark and awful secrets. Secrets of how the royal family was rounding up and torturing alchemists, for example, and the place where executions were privately conducted.
But the dark was not surprising. The Southern part of the castle was a new addition, built only ten years ago, and stood taller than the original structures of the Northern wing. The taller building cast just enough of a shadow to force the past into darkness, especially with the church tower that seemed to try to reach the heavens. No, darkness was not out of the ordinary here. It was expected.
So when a light flicked on in one of the rooms, just as Comyn was using its open window as his latest foothold, he couldn't mask his surprise. The light was definitely electric, as not even magic light had such a fake and eerie white to it, and electricity wasn't wasted on prisoners. And who else would be living in the North?
A hand reached through the window to grab his leg, with a tight grip for such thin fingers.
"Aha! I caught you!" The victorious laugh of a girl broke the silence that he had been sneaking through. Comyn had to crane his neck to see the girl who had grabbed him. Her long hair was an unnatural shade of red and her bangs hid her eyes, but her smile was unmistakably excited. The details were hard to make out, but he could tell the green dress she wore was made from some sort of expensive fabric and was decorated with more jewels than he had ever stolen in a single night. Her hand had slipped through two of many iron bars that were placed over her window.
"This is great! I wonder what I do next. I've never seen the guards catch someone... I wonder what they planned to do if they were competent?" She rambled in a carefree tone, but her grip on his leg didn't waver. It was such a strange thing to have happen that he couldn't bring himself to kick his leg free, even if he could have easily done that and more if he wanted. He just stared, unmoving, as the strange girl continued her own conversation.
"They should really set a better example for me... Oh, hey. Do you know? Any idea?" The conversation was thrown in his direction. Comyn could finally see her golden eyes when she tilted her head to look at him, but he could not see any reasonable answer.
"Uh... You can start by letting me go. I don't think it counts as 'catching' me with those bars between us." He offered, trying hard to mask his voice with a deeper tone.
"Oh..." She sounded so honestly disappointed that you'd think he had kicked a puppy, "But if I scream and yell really loud then a guard will come! And he can climb up and catch you!"
"I highly doubt that."
"Oh... yeah, I do too." For a moment, her grip on his leg relaxed. He had been about to pull away when she tightened it again with renewed excitement.
"I know! Why don't you come in here? Then no one needs to climb up to get you!" She blurted dumbly.
"Why would I do that?"
"Because it would be very nice of you." Her lack of logic helped his shock wear off faster. Comyn pulled his leg back, forcing the strange girl to lean closer to the barred window as she struggled to maintain her grip. She was being pretty stubborn.
"Heyyy that's not fair! I caught you fair and square! No escaping! Eep!" He stepped off of the ledge and fell to the one below her, forcing her fingers to release him when his leg fell out of reach. Comyn caught the window sill with his hand on reflex, to control his descent, and immediately regretted it. The strange girl was now clutching his wrist.
"Caught ya 'gan! I'm really good at this! They should make me a guard!"
"Just give it up. No one's coming to help." His voice slipped back into a childish growl, bordering on a pout.
"Someone will bring me food in the morning, at least! I'll hold you here until then!" Her tone was victorious. Somehow, Comyn did not doubt that this crazy girl really did intend to hold him there until morning. Then he really did risk being captured.
He sighed in annoyance. Hanging from a crazy girl's window sill until morning had not been part of his plans. In an attempt to pry her fingers off he lifted his other hand to pull up her fingers... but of course, she just grabbed that hand too.
"Give it up! Admit defeat!" The girl laughed now, gratting on his nerves.
"You give it up! None of this counts as capture!"
"Does too! Like I said, I just need you to come in here so I can catch you properly, without the stupid bars!"
"So you admit this isn't how capture actually goes?"
"N-no! This is just improper! I want to capture you like a proper lady!"
This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. There were a million easy ways out of this, but most of them involved hurting the silly girl playing knight from her window. And as inconvenient as she was, Comyn wasn't about to hurt her. Still, he knew he couldn't stay like this. No one was coming now, but sooner or later someone definitely would.
"Fine... How do I get in?" He grumbled in defeat, pulling himself up so that he wouldn't strain his muscles too much. With his arms folded over the window sill it was much easier to see her face. Young, probably close to his age of seventeen. It occurred to him that she might see his face under his hood, but he somehow doubted she was a legitimate threat.
"There's a door right below you that they always keep unlocked, in case of emergencies!" As expected, she looked delighted by this small compromise, "It's behind those bushes! It'll lead you right up to this floor!"
Comyn glanced down again. They were at least three levels up. It seemed strange to have a passageway that by-passed the first and second floor to go straight to the third. There must have been something important on the third floor. This girl, perhaps. She was certainly dressed like royalty, anyway.
"Okay, I'll take that." He lifted his gaze to her face again, "But you're going to have to let me go."
"Mm! Okay~! Three, two-!" She released him easily. Comyn didn't allow her even a moment to second guess herself and change her mind. He dropped to the second story window sill, then jumped to the ground. Looking over his shoulder, he could see the strange red haired girl was watching him with bright eyes and a huge smile.
So he almost felt guilty when his next move was not to go to the bushes she'd mentioned, which he could see very clearly, but to take off towards the castle's protective outer wall.
"H-hey wait! Where are you going?!" She called after him, sounding more worried that he was lost than betrayed, "That's the wrong way! Come back!"
"I already told you! None of that counted as capture!" Comyn hoisted himself over the wall and landed on the other side without any further event. He was sure guards would eventually come to her aid, with all of that screaming, but until then she was left to wail at the darkness. That would just keep their focus on the other side of the wall.
Therefore, there was no one to stop him from returning to town. Hopping the Northern wall meant hopping into the woods that bordered town, but they were not as tricky to navigate as a castle filled with anxious guards. It took longer to reach town with the woods as a detour, but he knew it was the better option.
The town's streets had become increasingly narrow over the years as buildings were expanded or crammed into the limited space, and what buildings did stand were ridiculously tall to create even more space. Few beams of moonlight managed to reach the tiled sidewalks, but the buildings had shiny stones embedded in the concrete precisely for this reason. Light bounced off of the stones and created something of a sparkling guideline as to where to walk. All of this also served to hide him.
He lowered and removed his dark hood, changing the colour from black to red with the touch of a finger. He smoothed out his blond hair as best he could and tried to rub the stressed circles from under his blue eyes. By adding some of his own riches to his outfit, such as a golden watch around his wrist and straightening a tie that he somehow managed to tie, Comyn was able to pass himself off as any other citizen out for a late night stroll.
Factory smog had rolled in. At night, when the magic barriers were no longer kept up and no one was paid to purify the air, pollution would choke the streets. Comyn pulled up his shirt collar to cover his mouth, reminded again of why he disliked the town at night. Candlelight haunted the windows, as citizens had a monthly electricity quota and hated to waste it. Most of the residential areas and shops were pitch black, making the town seem almost abandoned.
His attention naturally darted towards the lit part of town, where taverns were open for the night or restaurant were still serving supper. Where illegally generated electricity was a common practice and no one bothered to stop it. Planning an alternate escape route had eaten a lot of his time and being held on a window sill had not helped that. There was no time to drop off the jewelery that he had stolen from the castle. As uncomfortable as the thought made him, he would have to take the stolen goods home for the night and deal with them in the morning.
Comyn took one last look over his shoulder, to the electricity-lit castle that loomed over the smog of town, with its smooth stone walls and air filtering barrier, before taking the main road back to his own estate.
It wasn't that morning came any sooner than usual, but that Comyn had wished it would come later. He had put up a decent fight against the new day's persistence and eventually given up on getting any extra sleep. Tired and groggy from a longer night than he'd anticipated, he dragged himself down the stairs and into the kitchen of his house. The staircase was wide and long, indicative of how tall the lower floor was- a luxury uncommon to the citizens of this kingdom, unless you were blessed enough to be in the upper class. A blessing Comyn considered wasted on him.
There was already someone in the kitchen preparing what was now probably lunch rather than breakfast. A taller boy with short brown hair and the same bright blue eyes as his older brother. He looked up when Comyn reached the landing and gave an acknowledging nod of his head. "Good morning, brother."
"Mm. Morning, Acair." Comyn gave a sleepy wave and sat down at the table. His cloak had been thrown over one of the kitchen's four wooden chairs, two of which were permanently empty. They lived alone. The other members of their family would not come to the table ever again.
So it was especially wasteful, Comyn thought, for Acair and him to live in such a large house There were four bedrooms upstairs, a bathing room with hot water twenty-four hours a day, a large dining room, and this furnished kitchen. The basement was cleared and renovated to be a study, but had long since turned into more of an overcrowded library. The living room area was always clean, as neither boy ever had any reason to use it. There really was too much space in the boys' estate for just them.
"I know you get tired after work, but try not to leave the bag open and sitting on the table like that. People could have seen what was in there if they visited." Of course, the morning started with Acair scolding him. Comyn grumbled a half apology, which was the crossbreed of being wrong and being prideful. He had left the bag of stolen valuables on the kitchen table with the intention of coming down to calculate how much he had stolen. Only to forget his great and organized plan in favor of going to sleep.
"You were out late last night too, weren't you? Did something happen?" Acair continued, taking the bag from the drawer he had hidden it in and tossing it to Comyn.
"Yeah, sorta." Comyn began to untie the knotting around the mouth of the bag and slipped into his usual seat, "The guards finally decided to step up their game and rearrange their guard posts to throw me off."
"It didn't work, did it?"
Comyn paused the task of inspecting the bag's contents and scowled at his little brother, "Of course not. I'm here, aren't I?"
"That's not what I mean. You took an awfully long time getting here. I'm wondering if something went wrong. " Acair returned the scowl and approached the kitchen table. "You're not really the time wasting type."
Their breakfast was about as modest as the house they lived in; Acair had cut and prepared some meat alongside fruit and oatmeal. He took a seat across from Comyn after setting the plates down. "And a guard change-up shouldn't be enough to throw you off that much."
Comyn realized that Acair had included meat in their meal to bribe the truth out of him. If he ate silently then Acair would probably yank his bowl away or just never cook again. It was unfortunate that Comyn's greatest weakness, his brother's good cooking, was so far out of his control.
"Well, some girl got in the way..." He finally mumbled, reluctantly admitting both to the previous night's troubles and this morning's dilemma. "She tried to catch me and really held me up. Didn't realize the kingdom's princess was so obnoxious."
"We don't have a princess in this kingdom, brother."
Comyn nearly dropped his spoon. His pride and theory had taken a blow together when Acair mentioned the facts.
"No way, you must be wrong."Defending his honor suddenly mattered more than food, "She was dressed in some really nice green dress and covered from head to toe in jewelry. There's no way she wasn't royalty."
"I told you, there is no princess in this country. The royal family only has Prince Lien." Acair spoke slowly, further insulting Comyn's pride, "If Sevia had a princess then we'd have probably resolved the last territory dispute with marriage."
"Oh..." His ego hurt. "Must be a visiting noble or something, then."
"We'd definitely of heard of it, but even then there are probably no nobles wanting to visit the castle right now." Acair once again shot his theory down, and without even looking up from his breakfast, "Gossip about the recent string of robberies is spreading fast."
"'Oh' is right. You don't pay attention to anything political and yet you're out there trying to change politics... " Acair sighed. He didn't exactly sound annoyed with his older brother, but maybe a bit exhausted. "What am I going to do with you, Comyn."
"Shut up, I've been busy! And fine, okay, she's not a princess or noble..." He brought the topic back to the girl, "Maybe she works at the castle. Like a really well treated servant."
"The favored servants get their own houses along the castle wall. Was that there where you saw her?"
Sting. Comyn's expression suited his pouty tone. "N-no... She was in a room on the North side of the castle..."
Acair smiled playfully. "Then she probably didn't work there, or they'd have her in the servant's village." Then his smile faded, "And the North is where the prisoners are kept, right?"
That was right. Comyn had gone that way because the prison guards were going to be sent to double up other posts. He remembered hearing that directly from some of the guards. They hadn't sounded worried about any prisoners escaping, but had mentioned a 'she'...
It clicked. Comyn felt stupid for not thinking to check up on that strange wording earlier. Why had the guards only mentioned one female prisoner as a possible concern? And then for him to run into one strange girl, with bars on her windows... A lot of facts pointed to that girl being a prisoner of some sort...
"Why keep her locked up there?" His pride aside, Comyn now sounded thoughtful, "That wasn't a prison cell. It had electricity and I think I even saw carpeting. That stuff is expensive."
"I don't know. It does seem pretty suspicious." Acair admitted in a thoughtful tone, "But if she's locked up then she probably doesn't belong there."
Comyn felt a bit guilty for tricking her. It had been okay when he thought she was a member of the royal family and would have been okay if she was a spoiled noble, but it felt wrong if she really was some sort of captive. Not only had he tricked her, but he had broken a promise by running away. That especially was not sitting well with him.
"Anyway..." Acair started carefully, aware of his brother's train of thought thanks to the guilty scowl on his face, "I need to go get some groceries after breakfast. Coming?"
"Oh. Sure. Just give me minute." By which Comyn meant a few seconds.
Acair sighed and shook his head when Comyn finished inhaling his food. "Right.. And you can tell everyone that you're not going to work tonight."
"Why would I do that?" Comyn asked before finishing the last of his juice.
"Because the guard posts changed!" Acair sounded rightfully exasperated, "You should focus on scouting out a new escape route."
"They've learned changing posts is an option." Comyn pointed out as he got up from the table, "Who's to say that they won't do it again sometime? I just need to get used to thinking on my feet."
"It's fine. Anyway, I'll be down in a minute."
After grabbing his cloak from the chair, Comyn returned to his room and arranged his things. Setting the cloak up in his wardrobe and emptying the bag were two priorities. The majority of his stolen goods were unexciting objects decorated with jewels and many of them were small enough to fit in his coat pocket, so he down scaled the bag size to make it less suspicious. He found himself staring at a pin with a golden frame around an emerald. The strange girl's green dress and her odd golden eyes immediately came to mind. And with that, a sickening guilt for how he'd treated her the night before. For all he knew she was a prisoner of some sort. He had probably been his first non-guard visitor in a while...
"Comyn! Hurry up or I'll leave you behind!" Acair's nagging voice snapped the image out of his head. Comyn stuffed the emerald pin into the smaller bag, which he then stuffed into his coat pocket, and ran to the stairs.
"Coming, coming! Geez... I'm doing you a favor by coming, you know!" He huffed in annoyance as he toed into his boots.
Acair was already standing in the door frame with the front door partially opened, smiling teasingly at his clumsy brother's rushed attempt to get his boots on. "If you're going to do a favor then do it right or not at all. Now come on."
"There's no way you have friends other than me..." Comyn grumbled.
All this remark got from Acair was a grin."I'm the one who should be telling you that, Comyn."
The walk into town took only about half an hour. The town of Soulin was named for the country of Sevia's official religion. It was also the birthplace of the entire Soulin religion. According to legends, anyway. In those legends, the Creator had stepped down from the heavens and set foot on the land of Soulin itself when granting humans the right to magic. The church of Soulin therefore considered this land to be holy. So it was almost ironic that Soulin was not only known for being a town of magic, but as the most active hotspot for illegal alchemic studies. While no alchemists in recent times were stupid enough to practice openly, the town was notorious for having secret underground groups that dedicated their time to collective alchemic research.
Of course, there was plenty of magical research in the town as well. Soulin had a number of prestigious universities, most of which dedicated a lot of time and money to furthering the study of magic. It was not uncommon for noble families to send their children to these schools for an education, allowing the town to generate a decent amount of money. The combination of renting apartments to noble students and tourists alike brought both business and a reason to maintain a good image. Most of the town's revenue was spent making the place pleasant enough so that those noble children did not leave from disgust. In other words, on decorating and maintaining the pristine look of the buildings.
The brothers lived in a small manor that was outside the town's limits. They owned a large chunk of property and left it untouched, which meant that the trees between their home and the town were uncut. Having once worked as professors at the Royal university, Comyn and Acair's parents had been very well off and considered members of nobility. So it was once again ironic that professors of magic had two sons that now practiced alchemy, which went against everything the university and nobles stood for.
Comyn usually appreciated that he got to live so far from the bustle of the town. For the first ten minutes he could not hear so much as a yell from the people in town. The rustle of carriages on crooked wheels and sounds of automobiles did not reach their estate. He didn't like all of the energy in town. It was not that he couldn't handle energetic people or things, but that he did not appreciate how so much energy was trapped into such a small space. Passing through the front gate was a battle, since it meant adding himself to the melting pot of noise.
With that came the need to veer off to the side and walk closer to the buildings. There was space allowed between the roads and buildings for those on foot to make use of, but it was not for the benefit of the townspeople. The space was just enough to make the imperfections in the architecture harder to notice. A noble might not be able to see it as clearly, but from where Comyn walked he could see cracks that had been covered by a paints and molds. They looked acceptable from a distance, but looked like messy patchwork up close. Still, someone passing from the middle class part of town to the higher class section would probably never notice. There was a well maintained wall that divided the two sections, with the nobles' houses often built so high that they could look down upon the town. The townspeople were literally below them.
But what was beyond the wall did not interest Comyn that morning. Acair directed him towards the markets, where fresh produce was sold until it ran out of stock. He was expected to tell Acair what he liked and give approval before everything was bought and truly did want to help Acair. He just could not help the fact that groceries were incredibly boring. Grocery shopping was like giving Comyn an excuse to space out. His mind kept wandering, reciting alchemic formulas or poems he was translating. And today, with every sighting of a green, yellow, or red produce he was reminded of a mysterious girl. Acair kept having to snap him out of his thoughtful dazes until he finally seemed to get fed up with it.
"If you're not going to help then go ahead and drop your stuff off." Acair practically pouted his disapproval, "I feel uneasy being in town with that stuff anyway."
"Fine. But I'm quoting that you let me off the hook without me if you complain later!" Comyn retorted. Though he was very glad to get away from grocery shopping today. So glad that, after waving to Acair and making sure he had enough money, he went straight to the deposit location. Not allowing himself to be distracted. He even by-passed a bookstore, which was usually impossible for him, and headed in the exact opposite direction of the higher class divider. His sights were set on the lower class slums that were even beneath the feet of the regular townspeople.
The upkeep of the buildings deteriorated the closer he got to the pub, with his final destination looking so awful that no pretend sidewalk could hide its poor condition from a noble's eye. None of this was his concern. He entered without thinking twice about how rundown the door frame was and how the door felt like a child's loose teeth, ready to fallout of the frame with the slightest provocation.
"Co~myn! Good morning!" A chipper voice greeted him, waiting until he had managed to close the door without breaking it before switching to a pouting tone. "Oh, boo. I was hoping someone would break it today..."
The voice belonged to a dark haired girl that worked at the pub. She was almost taller than Comyn with long black hair, which she had braided down her back. Her green eyes matched the shiny green ribbon that tied off the end of her braid, a ribbon that quickly caught Comyn's eye.
"Benny! I got that for you to sell, not to wear!" He reached out to grab her braid, but the strange girl just turned her head quickly so that it smacked him in the face. Comyn reflexively covered his sore face.
"I specifically remember you saying something like 'do whatever the hell you want with it.' So I did." She huffed, hands on her hips.
"I said that because you told me you were going to sell it to the highest bidder. I meant sell is however the hell you wanted!" Comyn retorted, rubbing his cheek to make a bigger deal out of the braided assault than it really was.
"Too bad. You should have phrased it better." She recovered from her frown with a smile. "Don't worry, no one is going to connect me to the mysterious spooky thief just because I have a green hair ribbon."
"Last time I do anything nice for you..." He grumbled, lowering his hand from his face now. He clearly was not going to inspire any sympathy from Benita, as was often the case. Sometimes Comyn wondered why he even tried with her.
"Anyway. If you really want to do me a favor and help me." She pointed to the door. "Break the door."
"Why?" He was not making the connection, which seemed to annoy Benita. Benita rolled her eyes, as if the connection were obvious.
"Because 'you break it, you buy it'." Her reply came in a huff, "I'd really like a better door. That one lets the cold in."
"Then just buy a new one yourself, Benita." Was the logical response, one Comyn happily supplied.
"Then I'd have to use my money on it. I don't want that." Benita was an impossible sort of girl, but he put up with her. He had been putting up with her. She had once attended the magic academies and been one of the star students, but had recently begun to dabble in alchemy. It wasn't uncommon to have young people interested in rebelling with alchemy, as anything illegal seemed to catch the eye of this generation's youth, but it was rare to have someone as dedicated as she was.
With the combination of her dedicated to research and her skill as a magician it was only natural that she be allowed to join an alchemy guild. In this case, she had joined the underground guild that Comyn was affiliated with. She had even taken up the task of working around the pub, turning it from a cover story to an actual business. Covering up their secret alchemist meeting place and turning it into a legitimate restaurant.
Up until Benita came into their lives, the underground alchemy guild that Comyn was a part of could hardly accomplish anything. They were plenty smart, especially when they put their heads together, but did not have the materials they needed to perform research experiments and still keep their families fed. It was thanks to Benita turning the rundown 'Horseshoe Pub' into a proper business that they could afford what they needed. He wouldn't admit it, but he came for her cooking more often than he came for work related matters. It was embarrassing to admit that Benita was actually a year younger than him since she was so accomplished in comparison.
"Anyway. You're late, you're late! You haven't visit in two nights now! We're running out of materials." Comyn snapped out of his thoughts when Benita whined at him. She was justified in her complaining. The pub did make money, but it was not nearly enough to afford the expensive metals and gems that the guild needed for their experiments.
That was why the guild members had recently resorted to stealing. To Comyn and his guild mates, this was completely justified: the families they targeted often didn't even notice if he replaced silver with a cheaper metal. So long as they thought it was silver they rarely cared. This just seemed to support his opinion that the guild needed and deserved the precious resources more than the families that bought them up.
But he hadn't shown up for a few nights, which meant that the goods he stole weren't getting to the guild. Even if it was his fault she was upset, Comyn pouted like her anger was unjustified, "Sorry for doing you favors."
"Only be sorry when you suck at doing them right. So, did you bring anything?" Once again... she was impossible. Comyn grumbled a quiet retort as he reached under his red cloak to get the pouch of jewelery and other stolen trinkets, which he handed off to her. Or rather, had the pouch snatched out of his hand.
"Great, these look perfect! Half for experiments, half for selling." Benita turned swiftly to walk to the back counter and began counting the spoils of his hard work.
It always made Comyn uncomfortable when she talked about selling what he stole. "I still don't understand how you're selling those... Won't that get us all caught faster?"
She smiled softly and shook her head, putting a finger to her lips to indicate the secretive nature of her next statement: "Once someone buys from us, they're as involved with the mysterious, scary thief as anyone else. And they're accomplices to alchemic research. They keep their mouths shut."
Benita turned and ran through an open door behind her, stopping in the frame to wave. "Sit tight and relax! I'll store these and make a cup of royal milk tea, for our royal thief Comyn!"
And she was off. Telling him to take a seat was more of a challenge than the kindness of a hostess. It was so early that the pub was barely considered to be open. Chairs were still set upside-down on tables and the tables were pushed off towards the walls. As the one paid to open the place in the morning Benita should have been the one to take the chairs down and arrange the tables. By "sit tight and relax" Benita had really been saying "do my job for me." Which he did, if only so he'd have a place to sit down.
The tables and chairs were in much better shape than the actual structure of the building. One of the things Benita had contributed when she started working there was repairing their tables and chairs with magic. Such repairs were just as illegal as anything else that the guild did. Not because they went against the Creator, but because they were seen as self-benefiting uses of magic. The country of Sevia maintained strict laws about this sort of thing. Magic was not to be used to replace honest hardwork or to benefit yourself selfishly, but as a means of bettering the whole world.
The truth, Comyn theorized, was that if everyone could repair their own chairs then there would be no need to buy new ones. There was likely a fear of the economy reaching a standstill if magic was used freely for such thing. Then again, Comyn considered a lot of the laws in Sevia to be absolute bullshit. If anyone in Sevia was self serving and corrupt with magic then it was the governing royal family. It was why he almost took pride in breaking them.
"Wow, you got them all down so quickly. Way to be useful, Comyn." Benita reentered the room with another pouch, the contents of which she spilled onto one of the tables. Coins of varying colours and values clattered on the surface, all of which Benita stacked without touching them. Comyn was not a skilled magic user himself, so was always a bit taken back when a magic-user like Benita did even the simplest of things with it. "That's your pay. Thanks for the hard work, Comyn."
It didn't look like it was really worth all of the trinkets he'd stolen, but Comyn knew not to be picky about that. He would benefit more from the experiments conducted with the metals than he would from any money. Giving him these coins was more a formality than it was actual payment.
"Yeah, thanks." Comyn counted up his earnings to pretend he carded, then pocketed them, "What are you going to do with what I brought you anyway?"
"One set of earrings was made with emerald and there's a recipe for an alchemic spell that requires emeralds, so that'll go to that. We're taking the gold and silver from some of the jewelery to turn into coins for buying more equipment and we'll sell the things we don't need to some of those traveling nobles." Benita had started to do her actual job and was wiping down the tables, "I wish you'd gotten us a diamond this time. Those documents we translated needed a diamond for one of the formulas and I'm dying to try it!"
He tried to tune out her complaining. Though he knew the things he stole would be used for something good, sometimes he worried that the guild would get just as spoiled and selfish as those he was stealing from. "Am I the only one who's brought anything back today?"
"Today, yes. Everyone else is good and brings back the goods the night they're stolen." Her cleaning rag was tossed at his face, though he had the reflexes to catch it, "You're the only lazy ass."
"Aw, shuddup. I'm doing a favor, you know." Understanding her cue, Comyn began wiping down the tables on his side of the pub.
"No way! I'm doing you a favor!" Benita snapped back, "You're so stupid. Even if you steal stuff, it's no good if you can't resell it."
"Says the girl who didn't resell a stupid green ribbon! That's satin, you know. People like satin." He tossed the cleaning rag back. Benita was not so good at catching things and had to retrieve it off of the floor.
"That's right, they do! Including me! I like satin and I like tying off my braid with it." Benita turned her head quickly again so that the long braid whacked him in the face. No matter how often she did that, he'd never been able to dodge it. Reflexes or not.
"I swear you're tying your hair off with a nail or something..." And it hurt just as much each time.
"That's rude. My hair is silky, soft, and lovely."
"It hurts like hell."
Whack. Comyn stepped out of her range. "Anyway, is that all? I'm kind of in a hurry."
The disappointment of not managing to hit him again was clear on her face, "Yeah, that's it. But tonight, at least try to come straight here after you're done."
"I know, I know."
"That means you aren't coming, doesn't it?"
Benita pouted. "Come tonight and I'll have made fresh bread and broken out our jar of honey! Don't come and you'll be missing out!"
"Hey, that's blackmail!" He pouted back.
"You're a thief! You don't get to complain about things like blackmail!" She did have something of a point, which made this argument a dangerous one to continue.
For his pride's sake, he decided to distract her with a subject change. "It's not a big deal anyway... Like I said, I'm busy. I might not be able to come back before closing."
"Why not? My sources say you've had no trouble with your castle runs lately. You'll be in and out in a couple of hours."
"Not exactly... It's complicated." He had plans to visit that girl again that night. There were just too many unanswered questions revolving around her, like who she was and what she was doing there, for him to just stop thinking about her. Those plans were part of why he was now itching to get back into town. He had come early because Benita would be the only one here, so he had hoped to exchange the jewels for money and get out without much conversation. The other members of the small, nameless alchemist guild would be arriving soon and they wouldn't let him leave so easily.
"How complicated?" Benita's childish temper immediately simmered. As it often was with her, she took note of his conflicted emotions and settled herself down to deal with them. Or at least, she had been about to.
A gust of cold morning air marked the arrival of another alchemist, and sealed Comyn's fate. The tall brown haired man also broke the door, giving Benita reason to throw her arms in the air and cheer. "Hurray! Congratulations, you broke the door!"
"Really now? I never noticed." The young man holding the loose door by its twisted doorknob was lanky and didn't look like he ate any more than he needed to. Comyn wouldn't be surprised if that was the case. Andrew was the most devoted alchemist that Comyn knew and was probably spending whatever income he got 99% on alchemy research and 1% on food. Judging by the state of the flat he lived in, the guy probably didn't spend anything on furniture and housekeeping. "Why congratulations?"
"Because 'you break it, you buy it!' You owe us a new door, Anny!" Benita giggled in delight, spinning on her toes with each step like a ballerina.
"Wait, seriously?! That's not fair, Ben!" Andrew waved the door up and down as he tried to snap complaints at Benita. Her response was to stop spinning, straighten her posture, and pull a piece of parchment from a pocket in her dress. Within seconds she had inscribed the bill amount with magic ink and was presenting it to Andrew. "Seriously true and seriously fair! Here you go!"
"You're the kind of evil that gives us good alchemists a bad name..." His hands were occupied with the door in one and bag in the other, so she held the note up to his mouth. He instinctively bit it, then scowled when he realized what Benita had been trying to do.
"Great. Now I don't need to hear your annoying complaining either! Oh, hey, did you bring me a gift?" She yanked his bag of spoils away before he could protest and skipped further into the room.
With a hand now free, Andrew removed the note from his mouth and stuffed it in his pocket. "It's not for you. Got some coffee beans the other day, so they're for everyone..."
"Coffee? Yay! Hey, Comyn, sit tight and I'll make you some coffee!"
"Huh? Weren't you making girly tea-" Benita was out of sight again, so Comyn did not waste his breath finishing his sentence. It would feel wrong to leave her without saying anything and he was interested in some coffee, so he relaxed in his seat and turned to Andrew. Might as well stay if the others were beginning to arrive anyway.
"Oh, Comyn. You're here." Andrew pulled a chair over to the table and sat down. It was more of a stool, since Benita seemed to have decided that arm rests were optional. Andrew had to fold his arms on the table and slouch to be comfortable, though Comyn knew he would have done that anyway. He looked lazy, rarely very well shaven and with his hair growing long. "We were talking about you the other night. Wondering if ye'd died in a ditch or something."
"Like hell!" Comyn snapped.
Andrew watched him and chuckled, his laugh marking the end of his teasing and the transition to a more serious topic. "So, what's been keeping you boys? Not used to going so long without a visit."
"Nothing... guess I've been holding up Acair..."
"Because...?" Comyn's scowl remained. Andrew was dedicated. To both his research and prying for information. Once he decided that someone had a good story hidden then he would pick at them until they spoke up.
Unfortunately, he'd done this enough times to Comyn that he knew to be careful. He didn't want Andrew or anyone else to hear about how he had been 'captured' by a random girl the night before. Or how he was interested in her. "It's nothing I can say much about right now. I'm still investigating."
"Oh? And how's that coming along?"
"I don't know yet. Just started."
"I see..." Experience had taught the older man that he couldn't always get the teen to spill a story right away, so he accepted Comyn's attempts to stop the prying. They both knew that he would open up later, if only with reluctance, to ask for help with something. Comyn was only seventeen while Andrew was in his late twenties. Their ages weren't so different that Comyn thought of Andrew as a hard-to-trust adult, but it was enough that he recognized Andrew had more experience than him in certain areas. "Just let me know when you need for me to do some digging."
"I will. Thanks." The conversation ended there. Neither of them was very talkative without good reason.
Andrew looked over his shoulder at the door that was now laying on the ground, then back at Comyn. "It's a bit drafty in here."
"That's really weird, considering you just yanked the door off its hinges."
"Who yanked the door off its hinges?" Called a much older man's voice. Another reason why Comyn didn't think he'd be able to leave any time soon.
This time it was a much older man, probably in his fifties, who entered through the door frame. He was much larger than either of the other boys, more visibly muscular from his work. Comyn understood that he was one of the townspeople that worked overtime to repair existing buildings and make things look presentable for passing nobles. So it was strange to think that someone who worked so hard to maintain the illusion was actually very dedicated to taking it down.
"Ah... no one did, Dermid. Just your imagination." Andrew insisted so nervously that Comyn felt obligated to point his thumb at the culprit.
"He did. Just now."
"Ah, Comyn. Good to see you being honest." Dermid scowled disapprovingly at Andrew.
Andrew spoke up quickly in his own defense. "Hey, come on, Dermid, you know we can never trust Comyn to tell the truth unless it benefits him!"
"I tell the truth plenty!" Comyn argued his own defense. The older man, Dermid, chuckled at their exchange and took another step into the pub. In the process, he stepped on the fallen door and cracked it under his weight.
"Oh~! Hey, congratulations! You broke the door again!" Benita walked in with two mugs of hot coffee, which she set in front of Andrew and Comyn. Dermid quickly stepped off of the door, which only cracked it further. "Your break it, you buy it!"
Andrew was on his feet and joining Benita's celebrations in seconds. "Hurray! Oh, great work, Dermid. Thanks, old friend!"
"What are you celebrating for, Andrew? This just means I get a spare door. You're still buying one." The celebrations were cut short.
"You're horrible, Benny..."
"And you both owe me a new door." She beamed proudly, carrying on the conversation as Comyn took the chance to drink down as much of the coffee as he could. Things were getting pretty lively all of a sudden, but that didn't change the fact that he was itching to go.
Dermid must have noticed this. Once off the broken door he walked around the table and slapped Comyn on the back, causing him to choke on the coffee. "Geh! What was that for?!"
"We were all worried about you, Comyn. You should show your face around these parts more often!" Dermid gave him a few more slaps on the back, but they did not help.
Comyn wiped his mouth 'politely' with his sleeve and set the coffee down. "Yeah, well I've been busy..."
"You're not slacking on us, are you?"
"Of course I'm not..."
"Actually, he brought in a lot of useful stuff this morning." For once, it was nice to have Benita be nosy and give her input. She picked up Comyn's coffee mug, despite his protests, and headed to the back room again. "Take a seat, Dermid. I'll get you a cup as well. Filling this up, Comyn, so don't move!"
The sound of footsteps indicated the arrival of more people. This time a dark haired man close in age to Dermid and a woman who Comyn knew to be around thirty. Filib and his sister Finella waved and greeted Benita, but did not get involved with the door. They pulled chairs up to the same table as the other, which was starting to get awfully crowded.
"Hm. It's Comyn." Filib's reaction was calm and appreciated.
"Comby!" Finella's reaction was not. She gave Comyn a death hug from behind, nearly choking him as she pressed him down against the table. No one made a point to rescue him, probably because they were all used to seeing the youngest of their group be abused like this. Comyn wished he could report them to the authorities for how much they mistreated him. "We all thought you'd died!"
"I was only gone for two days!"
"We worry when you're only gone one."
"It's good that you came, Comyn." Filib gently pulled his sister away and they sat in the chairs they had pulled up. "We've been passing an idea back and forth and were about to see about setting it in stone."
"Oh have you?" Comyn moaned and massaged his sore neck while the others exchanged casual greetings amongst each other. "And what idea is that?"
There was brief silence. It was only after Benita had come back and given everyone cups of fresh coffee, and reattached the door with magic, that the conversation picked up again.
"We've shaken up the nobility quite a bit. With us four targeting random manors beyond the wall and now reports of a kid breaking into the castle." Dermid picked up the conversation where Filib had left off, "So we figured it's time to up the game."
Filib folded his arms on the table and closed his eyes. When she saw the opening, Finella switched her half finished mug for her brother's full one. There was silence. An awkward, tense silence that Comyn was waiting for someone to fill. It wasn't until he realized that everyone with their eyes open was staring at him that he figured out who was supposed to start talking.
"... So?" He offered pathetically.
"We wanted your input." Dermind explained, "You're the one going to the castle every night. If there anything we could do there to really make a statement?"
"Oh... well..." Everyone was looking at him expectantly. Even Benita, who had just finished reattaching the cracked door, was looking at him with hopeful eyes. So he felt bad to have to let them all down. "I haven't been paying attention to that, really..."
The most interesting thing these last few nights had been that girl... the reminder of her made him feel another wave of unresolved guilt. There was more silence to accompany the guilt.
Finella reached across the table and gently pinched his cheek in a scolding manner. "Co~mby! You need to pay attention to politics."
"Shuddup. You sound like Acair..." Comyn nudged her hand away and covered his cheeks protectively, knowing that she would otherwise grab them both and stretch them as far as she could.
"It's fine, Finella. He has enough to worry about, getting in there and out without being captured every night. We're asking a lot." Dermid stepped in by pinning Finella's hands to the table lightly when she tried to go for her third round of Comyn abuse. "It's fine if you don't notice anything, Comyn, but if you can help it then try to keep your eyes open tonight."
"And steal a really nice door for me in case these two don't cough up!" Benita tried to dissolve the tension further with her comical pouting, but it didn't help. Comyn felt more pressure than his friends were probably trying to put on him. As the youngest member of the group, with the most important target, he knew that he had high expectations to meet. It wasn't that he didn't think he could reach them, but he did worry sometimes that he didn't do enough to help out. He wanted to make an impact on society just as much as the others and he wanted things to change as quickly as possible.
"Yeah, okay. I'll see what I can do." His coffee mug was empty. Comyn pushed his chair back and stood up, shrugging on his red cloak without another word. He was aware of how the others were watching him but tried not to be bothered by it. "Anyway, I should get going. Like I said, I'm pretty busy."
"Does it have to do with the complicated thing?" Now that Benita had mentioned it the stares went from just intense to intense and curious.
"Are you up to something, Comyn?" Finella didn't sound as eager to pounce on him anymore. It was always a bit strange when she honestly sounded like an adult. Comyn was so used to her acting like a crazy little kid. As much as he trusted his friends at the pub, Comyn knew he shouldn't speak up about the girl. Finella would immediately dissolve into a teasing frenzy over the fact he couldn't get that strange girl out of his head and they might tell him not to go visit her again. And breaking rules they set felt worse than breaking the law.
So he side stepped the issue entirely. "Yeah, kinda. Can't talk now. Gotta get going."
He felt Benita tugging on his cloak to get his attention, forcing him to drop the act of being too focused to care about the others.
"You remember to come by after you're done tonight, right? I'm not kidding about the honey." She looked as serious as she sounded.
"I'll think about it." That was as close as he'd get to a yes.
Benita knew this, so she accepted it with a only partially sad nod of her head. "Okay. Good luck with whatever you're up to."
Good byes and best wishes were thrown his way. He returned all of the kindness with a back handed wave before pulling open the door. It promptly fell off of its hinges again.
"Benita, what the hell kind of repairs do you think you're doing?!"
"Haha! Now you definitely owe me a door!"
"No way! You don't need three doors." He grumbled and hurried away before she make him owe her anything else