Lies in Betrayal
"I'm going to kill her!" Lea roared, bare fist pounding against the ship's hull.
The brig of the Accapareur was deep in the belly of the ship, right down against the floor. They could barely hear each other over the roaring of the engines. The rumblings of which vibrated directly over their heads. As a result, the air was hot, humid, and smelled of dirty water, engine fuel, and the acrid tang of hot metal.
Colette, who was holding Marceau's head in her lap, looked away from the angry display. Felicie, who was holding pressure over Marceau's wound, clenched her teeth but said nothing. She had been curiously silent since being thrown in here.
Odilon sat as far from the others as he could. There wasn't much space in the iron cages, but he chose the corner closest to the gate. It allowed him to keep his eye on the others as well as the single pirate that was acting as guard.
The man barely looked in their direction. Even when Lea shouted, he didn't lift his gaze from his task - cleaning under his nails with a dagger. He barely seemed to notice they were there at all and had tried to argue when he was forced to stay behind to watch them.
Not that he was altogether that necessary. The gridwork of iron bars that had been put together to be their prison cells was well and truly inescapable. Odilon and Lea, as they weren't looking after Marceau, had already tried to door, the hinges, the walls. It was built solidly and all of their weapons were far out of reach on the other side of the room, nearer to the guard.
They were separated between the two cells, Lea and the two crewmen in one, and Odilon sharing with Marceau, Felicie and Colette. The separation somehow only added to the tension. Have to look at each other's faces through bars was disturbing.
There were no portholes this deep in the ship, and the sound of the engine over their heads drowned out any hopes of hearing anything beyond their immediate vicinity. Odilon had no way to mark the passage of time in the dim lantern light.
After a fair amount of it had passed, however, the pirate guarding them fell asleep. His head rested back against the wooden walls while his crossed arms gradually loosened until they fell down to his sides. The jerking motion of his own limbs didn't wake him, though he did stir, mouth falling open as he adjusted himself into a slightly more comfortable position.
"He's asleep." Odilon said, pitching his voice loud enough that only the others should be able to hear him over the engine.
Lea looked at him through the corner of her eye, hand still balled into a fist, planted against the wall.
"Whatever you might believe about her, Odilon-"
"I still believe in her." Odilon's voice was firm and uncompromising.
"She stabbed Marceau!" Colette snapped, still cradling his head gently in her lap.
As though on cue, Marceau moaned in pain, grimacing as he leaned into Colette's stomach.
"Sh..." She whispered, petting his head. "It's all right. I've got you. Just... try to relax."
"He's been stabbed through the gut!" Lea hissed angrily. "How can he possibly relax? For that matter, how can you, Odilon?!"
Odilon lifted an eyebrow at her raised voice.
"Lea, calm down." It was Felicie that spoke, turning her gaze up from where she was continuing to apply pressure to Marceau's belly. "You'll wake the guard."
"That's your concern?!"
"This wound won't kill him immediately. It will take hours. If he's unlucky."
"How is that supposed to comfort me?"
"Because, aside from this, everything is still going according to plan."
Lea's jaw tightened. "A rather big hiccup, don't you think?"
Odilon turned away from her angry face to check on the guard again. He was still sleeping deeply, an interesting snore forming from the way his head rested backwards.
Odilon wanted to defend Elaine, but he didn't dare to do it while one of the pirate crew might be listening. He kept his silence, earning a long look from Lea. Her gaze darted from him to the pirate and back and he saw understanding dawn over her face.
"What are you thinking, Odilon?" She asked, her voice so soft he was reading her lips more than hearing her speak.
"Many things." He replied, his voice similarly low.
He looked back at Marceau who was continuing to moan pitifully. Colette brushed her hands through his hair as Felicie caught Odilon's eye.
The two of them shared a look before turning away at the same time. Odilon looked back at the pirate who was now scratching at his thigh, still apparently asleep.
More time passed, and Odilon remained in place counting the seconds. Lea fell asleep, arms crossed, leaning into the opposite corner from him. Colette fought to remain awake as long as possible, but eventually dozed off where she sat, Marceau's head still in her lap.
Only Felicie and Odilon remained awake when, at last, the two crewmen joined Lea in an uncomfortable nap. Neither of them looked at the other. Somehow, even around the roaring of the engine, the cell felt painfully quiet.
Odilon began to feel tired himself and had to fight against the closing of his eyes. It would be all too easy to allow himself to fall asleep now, but he wanted to resist.
Eventually, after an unknown number of hours, someone finally came down and smacked the sleeping guard across the back of his head. The sudden strike caused him to fall from his chair in surprise. He was cursing even as he turned to face his crewmate.
They argued for a minute, one angry at being woken, the other angry that he had to be woken at all, but Odilon barely paid attention to their words. He thought that the second pirate would be here to take over guarding them.
However, after quarreling over the first pirate's laziness for a short while, both of them left the room together. Their words continued until the door shut behind them. It rattled slightly, telling Odilon that it was being locked, then they were alone.
He turned, looking into his cell. Felicie's head was up, eyes fixed on the door where the pirates had left with a curiously blank expression on her face.
As Odilon watched her, she turned her eyes onto him.
"What?" She asked, voice neutral.
"You know. Don't you?"
"Don't play dumb. You know."
Felicie turned her eyes onto the wall, sitting back. Her hands came off of Marceau's belly, releasing the pressure she had been steadily applying this entire time.
Odilon moved closer to her, kneeling down beside Marceau. He looked over the other man's prone body for a moment before speaking softly to Felicie.
"What do you think?"
"Am I supposed to think something?"
She sighed, shaking her head. "I don't know. She's definitely up to something, though I can't imagine what she's trying to accomplish."
"I think it's enough to know that she's trying to accomplish anything."
She trailed off when Marceau moved in his sleep. He turned over, resting his cheek onto Colette's lap as he curled his legs up, getting more comfortable.
Growling in annoyance, Felicie put her foot to his stomach and kicked him onto his back again. He grunted, flailing and almost smacking Colette.
"Calm down." Felicie snapped, catching his wrist.
Marceau blinked, focusing on her. "M'lady? The frick you kick me like that for? That really hurt." He rubbed his belly.
"You're supposed to be gut stabbed, idiot. Act like it."
"Oh. Yeah. Right." Marceau chuckled, rubbing his head sheepishly as he laid back again, grabbing for the small cut along his belly. He began moaning gently in pain making Felicie roll her eyes.
"You have to admit, he's a good actor." Odilon grinned at the performance.
"Not if he's snuggling while sleeping, he's not." Felicie crossed her arms, feeling petulant. Partially from being in a grimy cell, and partially from the entire situation.
Odilon looked at her briefly before turning his eyes forward again. He still addressed her, keeping his voice low. "When did you figure it out?"
"When we got down here and he stopped bleeding. I checked the wound and there really wasn't one. At least, not a deep one."
He nodded along. Felicie's eyes darted to him and back.
"How about you? When did you realize?"
"The moment she stabbed him."
"Of course." Felicie rolled her eyes. "Your faith in her is astounding."
"Not really." Odilon grinned. "I'll admit, for a minute there, I was genuinely worried. But, I like to think that I know Elaine a little better than that."
She had been about to stab him first. He had seen the certainty of it in her eyes as she raised Oathbreaker to his chest. If Marceau hadn't stood when he did, Odilon had no doubts that he would be in his place now, pretending to moan in agony.
Then, the way she had staged the scene. Allowing Marceau to fall against her, accounting for the blood on her clothes, and how she made sure to stab him in a way that would take hours for him to die rather than be instantaneous.
For a fraction of a second, when Odilon saw the blade sink into Marceau's belly, he had been afraid that maybe his faith really was misplaced. For a brief moment, he had questioned the unwavering loyalty he held for Elaine.
Then, the shocked look on Marceau's face had clicked something in his brain. It hadn't been the expression of a man experiencing the doomed agony of a fatal wound given by someone that they trusted without fail. If anything, he only looked confused. Not baffled or betrayed, merely uncertain of what was going on around him.
And he saw, when Elaine pulled her sword free, she had made sure to keep her hand on him until the sword was fully removed from his gut.
Odilon knew her. He believed in her.
Though he didn't have proof until this moment when he saw Marceau's uninjured belly with his own eyes, he had known even then that Elaine hadn't actually stabbed him.
Felicie was watching his face out of the corner of her eye. Though he didn't say anything, his thoughts were rather clear across his face, tucked into the small smile pulling at his lips.
"This doesn't change anything, Odilon. You know that, right?"
The smile disappeared as he looked at her. He shifted uncomfortably.
"What do you mean?"
"You know exactly what I mean."
He said nothing and she pressed her point.
"Even if she didn't actually stab Marceau, that doesn't change the fact that she's disobeyed orders and turned against us."
"It does if she didn't really turn against us."
"Look, you'll never hear me disparage spies or double agents, it would be a bit hypocritical of me, to be honest. But spies and double agents have permission to do what they're doing. Elaine was expressly ordered to stay with us because she can't be trusted."
"But, she can be trusted."
"No, Odilon. She can't." Felicie's voice was hard. "Even if she didn't intend to kill Marceau, that doesn't mean that the reason she did this is a good one. If she was going to betray us as an act, don't you think she'd put us in on it?"
"Knowing her? I would say, no."
Felicie shook her head. "When it comes to her duties, Elaine's rather upfront. It's only her personal life that she keeps secret. Notice that she's kept it secret. We're not here because she feels such great loyalty to our kingdom that she felt the need to pretend to turn traitor. Whatever reason she's doing this, it's a completely selfish one."
Odilon took in a breath. Felicie waited, ready for him to deny her again and once more profess his supreme confidence in her despite her actions.
However, when he finally released it, that wasn't what he said.
"I think, you're right."
"What?" Felicie startled.
"This thing she's doing, whatever it is, doesn't have anything to do with us. She's hunting down her father for her own reasons, and she's deliberately not sharing them with us."
Felicie nodded suspiciously. "That was a bit too easy. Why are you agreeing with me?"
Odilon chuckled. "I may be loyal, but I'm not a fool."
"Debatable, but continue."
"Elaine hides things because they embarrass her. Her dancing, her powers, her collection. The things that cause her grief or shame, she hides. She's shy about them."
"Never you mind. If she hasn't told you, then I won't either. The point is, she doesn't hide things just to hide them. She hides them because she's scared or embarrassed. So, then, my question is, what is she trying to do here that is embarrassing to her?"
Felicie sighed, sitting back against the bars of the cell. "It doesn't matter. It's treasonous to us and that's the only important thing."
"Surely, not the only important thing."
"I appreciate that you're in love with her and therefore blinded to her bad habits and flaws, please respect that I'm not."
"I'm not blind to them. Far from it. If anything, I feel them that much more acutely." Odilon frowned down as Marceau continued to pretend writhe in pain. "It's like everything that she does reflects onto me somehow. I feel it like they were my own actions."
"Except, they're not. They're hers, and she's still going to be arrested for this and brought before his majesty. She can plead her case to him then and explain her reasoning for whatever she's doing, but our job is the same regardless."
Odilon sighed but he nodded. "I know you're right, but..."
"If there's a way I can help her, I still want to." He smiled at his own ridiculousness and, even when Felicie groaned at him, he didn't take back the words.
Elaine peeled away the rag from her chest, breathing out a sigh of relief when doing so didn't bring any pain from the fully healed burn on her chest. Tossing the rag down, she ran her fingers across her chest, frowning at the scar that remained.
Given enough time, the scar would heal, she knew. That tended to take longer than simply sealing the wound shut. However, until it did, she would have to carry it with her. The wrinkled and ugly skin actually filled her with an aching sense of sadness.
Shaking her head, she forced the morose thoughts away and covered herself with her shirt, putting the burn out of sight.
"Elaine!" Someone knocked against her door. "Captain's calling for you!"
"Coming!" She yelled back, getting to her feet.
As she walked over, she grabbed Oathbreaker out of the corner of the room and strapped it to her waist as she climbed to the main deck.
Evrard was waiting for her, standing at the rail, grinning out over the landscape. A strangely acrid scent hit her nose and Elaine grimaced, rubbing at her nose.
"What is that smell?" She asked, walking up beside her father.
Evrard took in a deep, filling breath. "Isn't it great? That's the smell of the deces vines. They're all over this forest. Deadly poisonous, every inch of them, down to the pollen itself."
"My nose burns." Elaine grumbled, holding her hand over her face.
"You get used to it. But, look there!"
Evrard put his arm around her shoulders, pointing forward eagerly.
The land beneath them was a dense forest, the canopy of which was filled with deep green leaves. They surrounded and swallowed a series of plateaus placed randomly across the land. The steep edged rock formations had no trees on their tops, making them appear like tables erupting from the forest below. The barren flats at their tops grew short grass, but no trees.
One particular plateau, bigger than most of those around it, was hollowed out in the center, naturally or artificially, Elaine couldn't tell. However, she could see, just barely, steam coming up from the center of the hollow. And, where there was steam, there were steam machines.
"My home. Our home." He corrected, squeezing her with an affectionate smile. "Tristram. A city I built with my own two hands. Metaphorically, I mean. I didn't literally... You know what, just admire my city. I built it."
Elaine chuckled. "I'll be sure to admire it, when I can actually see it."
She didn't know if it was purposeful or by coincidence, but the buildings of Tristram weren't built high enough that they could readily be seen when an airship approached. It wasn't until they were almost at the edge of the outer rim of the plateau that Elaine was finally able to see anything aside from a few lazy steam clouds that quickly dissipated in the air.
Tristram was a messy city. Elaine didn't even know if she would compare it to a city. It looked more akin to a trash pile that someone had built a home out of and on. The houses were built upwards, around the rim of the hollow center, while the center itself had a small pond of dingy water that Evrard informed her came from below ground and flooded occasionally. Which was why none of the houses were actually built on the ground, but instead were perched on stilts.
Each individual building didn't match itself, much less its neighbors. As the Accapareur came down towards the single dock - meant for this ship and this ship alone - Elaine noticed that the walls, ceilings, and walkways were all built from recycled woods. Not just any recycled wood though. It looked to her like they had broken apart furniture and used it to build their homes.
"Why not just use the forest trees?" Elaine asked, looking at the ramshackle huts.
"Would if we could. Those damn vines grow everywhere though. Don't seem to bother the trees none, but it burns any human skin it gets in contact with." Though he cursed the poisonous fauna, there was a note of affection in his voice. "Besides, anything my people need, I bring home myself. I may not have built this town, but I brought everything that exists in it."
The sight of the large pirate ship coming in to dock summoned people out from their recycled homes. They cried out in excitement, waving from the streets to crew members that waved back. The majority of the population seemed to consist of women, children, and elderly.
Families, Elaine realized. These were the families of the crew. Coming to greet their children, husbands, and brothers as they returned from another outing.
In particular, it was the little ones below that caught her gaze. Bright faced, innocent smiles, running quickly on tiny legs to meet with the ship as they called for their papas.
Did those kids know what their fathers did?
There were some older kids, teenagers as well, around amongst the adults. And, though they didn't run for the ship, they still smiled brightly at the return of their loved ones. They were definitely old enough to know, yet they didn't seem to care.
If Elaine had never been found by the priests, would she be like them? If her life hadn't taken the turn that it had, what would she be doing now?
"See that there?" Evrard nudged her arm, pointing across the hollow plateau towards one of the larger homes built along the walls.
Larger, but by no means any more tasteful. If anything, the larger size meant that it was made of even more pieces than the others, resulting in a hodgepodge collection of wood and metal that was pieced together like a dirty patchwork quilt.
"That's my home. Our home, now." Evrard beamed at her. "Everything you see here is ours, as father and daughter. I've collected everything I've ever managed to steal down here. It's all mine. All ours, now. What do you think?"
Elaine grinned. "I think, you and I have the same weakness for throwing anything away."
"You never know when it might be useful." Evrard smirked. "Especially around here. We can't have regular trade ships, so it's mostly just me."
Elaine frowned at the wording. "Just 'mostly'?"
"Well, I do occasionally have some help. Remember Captain Wallis?"
"What about him?"
"Occasionally, he stops by bringing some news and supplies. Not often. He can't really be seen in this area, but he is known to drop in."
"What's your deal with him, anyway?" Elaine made a face. "I never expected you to be working with someone from the royal navy."
Evrard shrugged. "It's easier than fighting him."
"How did you convince him? Seems to me that military men would be more loyal than your average citizen. Especially the reprobates you keep around you now." Elaine looked around at the pirates. Men that, Cody had assured her, would be anywhere else if they had a choice.
"I didn't conscript Wallis. He came to me." Evrard laughed. "I suppose you wouldn't know, living in Vasconia, but short term military service here is mandatory for all healthy boys. It's considered a duty to their country and all young men who are capable are expected to do it."
Elaine looked surprised. "You're serious?"
"The officers are all of the military caste, of course, but the lower ranked soldiers come from ordinary families. As it happens, Wallis is one of the casteless. He lied about being in the military caste when he joined because the military was better than the nothing he had."
"Then I would expect him to be more loyal." Elaine frowned, thinking of Felicie.
"Well, the thing is, being in the military doesn't pay that well. Most others have their families to continue caring for them, but Wallis doesn't have one of those. They don't pay him enough to live off of so he decided to make the money himself."
"So, he turned traitor?"
Evrard chuckled. "The only one a man ever needs be loyal to is himself. As far as I see it, Wallis is only doing what's right. He caught up with me one day and made the deal. I continue eating at the border during the winter, focusing on Yvain's shops as much as I can, and in return, I get a hefty amount in gold all the way from Gascony. Not bad, eh?"
"Doing jobs for a military? That almost sounds like honest work."
Her comment made her father laugh and Elaine smiled.
"Are we staying here long?"
Evrard shrugged. "As long as we have to. Winter is going to be ending soon. That means the spring winds will be coming from the south. When the winds meet, ships fall. It's an old sailor's saying. It's never wise to fly as the seasons change."
Elaine nodded. "Then, we'll have enough time to work out a deal for the hostages. I'm thinking that we should auction them off in pieces. Just to squeeze as much gold from Vasconia as possible. I say we start with the navy men."
"Why them?" He looked at her curiously.
"Start with the small ones, that way if we have to kill any of them to prove we're serious, the loss to us won't be as bad."
Evrard threw back his head and laughed loudly as he clapped her on the back.
"What a devious mind you have. I think the only thing you inherited from your mother is her looks. Your personality is far more similar to mine."
Elaine gave him a smile as the ship touched down. Almost immediately, the engines were cut off to conserve fuel. Crew members began running for the gangplanks, eager to get down and see their friends or family.
Evrard and Elaine walked together to the railing of the ship, looking over the gathered crowd. The excitement in the air at the return of their loved ones was obvious. Women threw themselves into their lovers arms. Children hopped excitedly around their legs before they were enveloped in tight hugs while siblings or parents simply embraced their return.
"Been a few months since we've been back." Evrard explained, one eyebrow raised at the jubilant display of affection. "They're overly excited."
"I can hardly blame them."
Evrard held out a hand over his people, getting their attention. When they all didn't immediately turn to him, he growled in annoyance and put his fingers to his lips. He let out a loud, ear piercing whistle that Elaine grimaced at hearing so close.
However, it got the attention that he wanted and the people turned to look up at him. As they turned, those that hadn't heard him whistle looked to find what the others were staring at. It took only a few moments for everyone to face him.
Evrard smirked. "My people! My hull is bursting with goods that I've brought for you."
A cheer went up at his cry. His grin only widened as he raised Elaine's hand.
"I've also brought home my one and only daughter! My people, may I present, Elaine!"
She didn't get quite the same enthusiastic response. It wasn't until Evrard gave them a sharp look that the crew members down below began clapping, prompting those around them to do the same. Her cheer was initially more hesitant but ended on an artificially high note.
Elaine could see the confusion on their faces but they cheered to satisfy their captain.
"We feast tonight!" Evrard announced loudly. "To celebrate our triumphant return, and the reunion of myself and my darling Elaine!"
The cheer that came on the heels of that announcement was far more genuine. Elaine imagined that was more for the chance to feast and party than because they were happy she was there. It didn't really concern her overly much.
"What about the prisoners?" She asked her father curiously. "Where are you keeping them?"
Evrard thought for a moment, scratching at his beard. "We don't really have a jail here. If someone acts up, I take it out of their flesh. So, I'd say we should just keep them on the ship. No need to change what's working, right?"
Elaine nodded. "Great. Shall we go, then?"
Food options were scarce in Tristram. Most people had small gardens from which they grew small potatoes and a few other necessities. There was no space for real farming, no way to hunt anything that lived in the poisonous forest, and the opportunity to shoot down birds from the sky came infrequently, if at all, as the birds had learned to avoid the area.
That left two sources of food.
The rare appearance of Captain Wallis.
And Evrard, Blue Bird himself, bringing home goods.
From what Elaine saw, as the loot was brought out of the hull of the ship, Evrard rather enjoyed everyone here being so dependent upon him. He stood nearby, chest puffed out with pride as people gathered food, supplies, and goods. As they passed, they made sure to thank him, even going so far as to drop into short, if sloppy, bows of gratitude.
Gold, jewels, and other such valuables weren't given out. They were collected to be brought to Evrard's home. He explained that there were some towns with rather lax standards that, in exchange for him sparring them from attack, did business with him honestly. Those would be from whom he bought winter supplies and things that he wasn't able to steal.
It was a strange thing to watch, in Elaine's eyes. Evrard was the leader, and he provided for his people, but he did it for the sole purpose of hearing them idolize and adore him. He wanted their praise and love and basked in it as goods were distributed.
The feast that he called for was comprised mostly of the perishables - meats and the like - that he had brought home. Red meats were a rarity here. Tristram had a single steam engine, but it was used to power the Accapareur. Almost everything else was done without machines. So, the only methods they had of preservation were old fashioned - canning, salting, etc.
Since the pond at the bottom of the hollow wasn't flooded, there was plenty of room there for the feast to be held. Tables and chairs - all of them made from recycled or stolen materials - were brought down and instruments were fetched for the band that were eager to begin playing. The meat heavy feast was put down on the tables and people immediately began eating.
Elaine stood back, watching them from the bank of the pond. She wasn't particularly hungry and watching them eat made her think that they didn't often get the chance to do so.
The people here were all thin, the children more than slightly on the short side. Some of them were bow legged, while others looked almost emaciated.
The lack of food options here meant that people weren't able to eat much or often. The sad living conditions, the prevalence of hunger and, if she had to guess, disease, meant that Tristram was not a pleasant place to call home.
That did not apply, however, to Evrard. He was given the best cuts of the meats, his plate piled high with them, as he drank from the small stash of wine that they had.
The people, completely reliant upon him, had no choice but to make the concessions. When their lives depended upon Evrard's favor, keeping him happy was of the utmost importance.
Elaine refused when they tried to offer her a similar plate of food. Claiming that she wasn't hungry, she allowed her portion to be given out amongst the people.
Separating herself from the party, she stood back at the water's edge and looked up at the base of the Accapareur that she could see from below.
Unlike the buildings and the dock it sat upon, the top of the ship could clearly be seen over the edge of the plateau. It was too big to hide. Though, Elaine imagined that Evrard wasn't particularly concerned about being spotted. The area was isolated and desolate enough that there were probably few that ever came this way. The burning scent of the pollen from the deces vines alone was probably a sufficient enough deterrent for most people.
Dark was quick to fall inside the hollow. Though Elaine could still see the bright orange of the setting sun around the rim, illuminating the masts of the Accapareur, inside of the plateau itself was already deep in shadow.
It was therefore a few seconds before Elaine realized that she could see something moving.
All the entrances into the ship had been closed after it had been emptied. Therefore, all the gangplanks had been drawn back, leaving only a single one still reaching up towards the deck, though even that one was pushed out of the way.
The docks themselves, made of recycled wood, didn't fit together very well. There was plenty of open spaces between the boards, allowing Elaine to see up through them.
More importantly, allowing her to see the bodies moving along them.
She sighed, shoulders drooping. Since all of the crew and town was down here, that really left only one group that could be moving along the dock.
"Can't you all just sit in prison and be good?" She asked no one, turning away from the party and walking back towards the ladder that led up.
The sound of her name turned her back.
Evrard, having finally noticed that she wasn't at his side, eating along with the others, had stood to find her. The look on his face was a suspicious one as he walked towards her.
Elaine crossed her arms. "You still don't trust me."
"You've been gone from me most of your life, and then turned on your life as a paladin to come here. Can you blame me? Where are you going?"
Elaine pointed up. "I thought I saw someone moving. I think the prisoners might have escaped."
"I doubt that highly."
"You don't know them like I do. Give them even the ghost of a chance, and they'll take it. Besides, everyone is here. Who else would be moving up there?"
Evrard appeared to think for a moment before nodding. "Very well. Go check. If you find them, send up a sign and we'll come after you."
Elaine raised an eyebrow. "You trust me to go on my own?"
Evrard chuckled at her. "Of course, not. You have five minutes. If I don't hear a warning signal or see you back in that time, I'll come up there myself. Don't forget my warning, Elaine. You would deeply regret betraying me."
"So noted." She nodded her head before turning.
Evrard said nothing as she scurried quickly up the ladder.
Given that short time frame, she had to jog across the multitude of wooden paths, ladders, and steps that led back up to the docks. Tristram was by no means neatly planned or executed, so there was no direct path taking her where she wanted to go.
More than once, Elaine was afraid that the path was going to crumble under her footsteps. She wasn't a particularly tall person, actually being quite small, but even her inconsiderable weight was almost too much when she jogged over the mismatched boards.
She was over halfway to the docks when she saw something flicker out of the corner of her eye. Without thinking, she dropped to the ground. The force of her entire body flopping down caused the boards to crack. The sound made her grimace and she almost missed the brick that had been aimed at her head falling down over the edge of the path.
Flipping over, she looked towards the dark shadows between two buildings.
Tossing another mud brick in up and down in her hand, Colette gave her a hard look as she stepped into the dim, fading light.
"Elaine." She greeted, voice tight.
"How did you all get out?" She responded, crossing her legs and resting back on her hands, as though quite at her ease.
"Ambushed the man who brought us food. He made it almost too easy."
"Hm. Should probably have warned him against getting too close. I'll make sure that the next guy knows better."
"There won't be a next guy!" Colette threw the brick.
Elaine rolled over, coming up on her knees. Colette, anticipating her movement, was already there, planting her foot across her face. Elaine cried out, flying back and rolling too close to the edge.
Grimacing, she rolled over fully, grabbing the edge and swinging herself down onto the platform below, landing in a crouch.
When she turned and looked up, Colette was already running away. Moving to the side of the walkway, she loud out a loud call, hands cupped around her mouth.
"The prisoners have escaped!"
A motion over her head alerted her a second before Colette swung her body down in the same way Elaine had, her feet coming towards her face. Elaine dropped onto her back, avoiding the kick, but was trapped in place when Colette dropped on top of her.
"You are under arrest, Elaine!" She snapped, grabbing for her arms.
Elaine twisted her hands, grabbing Colette's wrists before jerking her down. Their heads cracked together, the sound of it reverberating through both of their skulls. Groaning, Colette reeled back. Elaine kicked her off and to the side, getting to her feet.
She recovered faster than Colette and grabbed her arms, pinning them in place with her knee pressed into the small of her back.
"I'm sorry to do this when you just got out, but I'm going to have to put you back into your cell. Now, where are the others?"
Colette glared hatefully over her shoulder. "The Lord will judge you for what you've done, Elaine."
"If this life is what His love feels like, then I'll welcome His hate."
Footsteps on the walkway alerted her to the arrival of more people. She turned, ready for another fight, but it was her father, leading some of the crew from below. He grinned at the sight of her, holding down Colette who was struggling without effect.
"Excellent work, Elaine." He praised. "You. Take the girl and lock her in the spare store room. Make sure it's locked tight, and post someone on guard."
"Yes, captain!" The pirate jumped to attention, rushing forward.
Elaine didn't release Colette until he had her securely tied. Even when she was being dragged away, however, Colette didn't take her dark gaze from Elaine.
"I'm proud of you, Elaine." Evrard praised, grabbing her shoulder.
"It's not done yet, papa. The others are still missing. And, I'm rather certain, she was only meant to slow me down and give them a chance to escape."
Evrard raised a curious brow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that Felicie has the ability to climb anything without rope or gear of any kind. If she can scale these walls, she can get out of here. She won't be able to bring the others with her though. They have to be around somewhere, probably hiding and waiting until she can summon help."
Evrard didn't appear concerned. "Even if she can scale the walls, that's not going to help her cross through the Tableau Forest. The deces vines will kill her before she's gone half a day."
"And they know those vines exist. They definitely have a plan." Elaine looked around. "What's important right now is finding the others. I say we split up and search the town. Have someone scan the walls and top of the plateau to find Felicie."
Evrard looked to the others. "Well? You heard her! Get going!"
"Yes, captain!" The rest of the gathered men immediately scattered, either going to search or heading down to gather the others to help in the search.
Elaine touched her father's arm. "I'm going to go look as well. The paladins will be able to conquer the others easily. I'm the only one who can defeat them."
"Then, do it." Evrard nodded. "I'll go prepare the prison. How did they get out anyway?"
Elaine shrugged. "I didn't get a chance to ask. I'm going up now. Careful if you meet the paladins."
"Don't worry about me, daughter. I can take care of myself."
Elaine grinned at him before turning on her heel and running back up to the platform she had abandoned in an attempt to escape Colette.
As she ran, her eyes scanned the walls of the hollow. Not that she expected to see Felicie. She imagined that the other paladin was already gone.
Though, Evrard did have a point. Felicie would know that there was no way for her to escape through the forest. So, why try to escape at all?
The question bothered her as she continued to run upwards, eyes scanning for the others. Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She came to a halt and looked into the shadows of what appeared to be the dock store house.
A grin pulled at her lips.
Using her power wasn't very tiring for Felicie. It occurred with a simple force of will and her skin would cling to something as though they had always been bonded together.
The price wasn't in energy, it was in the simple pain she felt having all of her weight balanced on her hands as she climbed down the outside of the plateau.
Her foot took some of the load, but her boots meant that her skin there couldn't stick to the wall. The walls, however, were quite smooth and offered her very little in the way of handholds. Though she tried to use her feet as much as possible, it was her hands that bore most of her weight.
Added to that, the pollen from the deces vines was burning her nose and eyes. The urge to sneeze was strong and her skin was beginning to feel itchy.
Outside of the hollow, the scent of the vines was considerably stronger. It made Felicie grimace as her eyes teared up.
She couldn't hide anywhere inside of the plateau, and even just sitting on top of it wouldn't provide her with the necessary cover. The outside walls of the plateau were the best option for her. The upper third extended beyond the treetops, allowing her to escape the deadly vines. There was a small ledge that she was climbing towards now that she would sit upon and wait.
Skipper would be coming soon. He would be searching for her to show him where to go. She didn't know how long she would need to wait, but she was no stranger to remaining in one place for long periods of time, even without food or water.
Dropping the last distance down to the ledge, Felicie had just enough room to rest her bottom, her legs dangling down freely. She pulled the hem of her shirt up before sitting back, adhering her back against the cliffside.
Sighing, she relaxed slightly, looking out over the massive forest below her.
"You have a day at most, Elaine. For whatever you're doing." She whispered.
"He went that way!"
"Where?" Elaine called, running behind the crew that had spotted one of the escaped prisoners. They told her it was a man, and she knew that it was Odilon. She hadn't yet seen him, but she had already caught the two of Skipper's crew members.
That left only Odilon and Lea still unaccounted for. Aside from Felicie, who Elaine was certain had escaped from the hollow by now.
As Elaine ran, she quickly began overtaking the chasing pirates. They told her where the man they followed had turned and she eagerly left them behind.
Elaine wasn't sure what Odilon was trying to accomplish. He didn't appear to be running according to any plan or escape attempts. It almost seemed like he was just running in random directions, leading her up and down and across the hollow as she closed the distance between them.
"Odilon!" She called out for him.
The sound of her voice made him look over his shoulder.
Then, he abruptly turned and began leading her up. Elaine growled, chasing him down.
He didn't react to her a second time.
"You really think you can outrun me?" She asked, the distance between them shrinking further.
The pirates had fallen far behind. It left them mostly alone as Elaine reached out, ready to grab the back of his shirt and pull him down.
As her hand was stretching out, reaching for him, something creaked and groaned form above.
Turning, something moved out of the corner of her eye. Reacting without thinking, she skidded to a halt before throwing herself back.
Lea, having leapt down from the roof of a near house, landed on the ground where Elaine had just been standing. Lea's gloves were off, her sleeves were pushed up, and rage burned in her eyes. Ahead of them, Odilon stopped and turned.
"Almost, Lea." Elaine grinned, taking a cautious step away from her. "Nice trap though."
"When I get my hands on you, Elaine..." Lea growled, fingers extended, curled as though she were bearing her claws.
"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to return to your cell." Elaine lifted her fists.
Lea didn't need any further invitation.
Snarling, she charged towards her, hands outstretched. Elaine quickly dodged the grasping digits. As she turned, she pulled her jacket from her shoulders. Holding the inside of the sleeves, she stretched it out before her like a shield so that when Lea turned to strike at her again, Elaine caught the coming blow in the jacket.
She wrapped Lea's arm, turning and driving her knee into her stomach. Lea grunted, falling back. Elaine had to release her or risk losing her jacket-shield.
"You can't escape me forever!" Lea promised, rushing towards her again.
Elaine stepped back, wrapping the jacket around Lea's face. Then she had to lean back, escaping her grasping hands as she reached behind her.
Lea twisted, yanking herself free and sending her hair flying.
"What are you even fighting for, Elaine?!"
"You wouldn't understand even if I told you." Elaine faced her calmly. "Surrender peacefully, and I can guarantee your safety. Keep fighting, and I can't."
"You can take your safety and shove it!" Lea reached down, grabbing a board. With a great heave, she ripped it away from the nails that held it on.
Wielding the board like a club, Lea raced for her. When Elaine moved the jacket, trying to block her hands again, Lea brought the board down into the fabric. The coat caught on the board, swept clean from Elaine's hands.
Lea jumped forward, swiping at Elaine who began taking quick steps away from her.
"Even if you touch me, Lea, the others will be here soon." Elaine assured her. "You can't escape from here. Not without a... a ship."
The realization hit her in an instant and her eyes automatically looked up.
That was why Felicie had escaped, and why she hadn't seen the Golden Crown. They were leading them directly to Tristram.
The flash of understanding distracted her for only a second. It was just enough.
As Elaine looked up reflexively, Lea leapt outward. It was a sloppy jump, and it was a sloppy hit.
Her bare hand smacked against Elaine's chin down her neck.
A near painful sensation, as though she had just been splashed with freezing water that burned paradoxically along her skin, spread throughout her body.
Lea crashed to the ground, her sloppy jump leaving her unable to land properly. But Elaine reeled back, breathing quickly as the freezing burn faded away, leaving her skin prickling unusually against the air, which suddenly felt too cold.
Lifting herself up, Lea gave her a triumphant grin.
Elaine looked from her hands, down to Lea.
"I win." She said, smirking.
Elaine's jaw tightened and she kicked out, slamming her foot into Lea's shoulder and throwing her back onto the walkway. Lea rolled with the blow, coming back onto her feet with a grin.
A dull ache from the force of the hit remained in Elaine's foot. The sensation lingered far longer than she was accustomed to and she looked down at her own foot in surprise.
"Pay attention!" Lea ordered, rushing forward.
Her fist landed against Elaine's face, flinging her backward.
Elaine hit the ground, bones rattling from the force. Her eyes widened as her breath was driven from her body all at once. Still, the reverberating, dull ache continued even after the blow faded.
She knew that she didn't experience pain and injuries the same way that others did. She had always been able to walk and move on injuries that others couldn't fathom. She still felt pain, but it wasn't to the same degree as others thanks to her ability to heal.
It was the first time she had ever been thrown down and could actually feel the full impact of the blow to her jaw, the weight of her own body landing, and the pricking of the rough boards against her skin as the unpolished wood dug splinters into her flesh.
"I have to admit, Elaine..." Lea said, looking at her own fist, "this is pretty unusual. That should have hurt my fist far more than it really did. Is this how you feel all the time?"
Groaning, Elaine turned over onto her back, looking up as Lea walked closer.
"It's really a shame." Lea lowered her arm. "Surrender now, and we can return to Gwenael. If I keep your power for longer than three days, it will disappear for good, for both of us. If you ever want it returned to you, surrender."
Elaine's head dropped back and she began laughing. "Want it back? You must be kidding me."
With shout, she kicked outward, knocking Lea off her feet. She hit the ground as Elaine rolled over onto her, grabbing her arms and pinning them down locking her in place. Giggling, feeling almost giddy, Elaine whispered into her ear.
"I hate this power. It's not a gift, it's a curse. You're fortunate that you only have to live with it for three days."
Jerking her hand, Elaine snapped Lea's arm. She screamed in agony as the broken limb was pulled. Elaine turned her over, forcing her down and holding both arms back. Lea continued to groan and hiss as Elaine held the broken limb forcefully.
"Don't worry. It only takes a couple days for a break to heal. You should be fine before the power fades away. So long as you don't get any other injuries."
Lea glared back at her, tears swimming in her eyes from the pain.
Elaine said nothing until the pirates caught up with them. Lea was taken into their custody and Elaine instructed them to bring them down to the same storage room Colette was being held with the other two crew members.
That left only Odilon.
She turned, looking around for some sign of him. She rubbed her jaw as she turned, wondering just how long the pain from Lea's punch would last.
"Odilon?" She called out, walking along the path she had last seen him.
The pirates, taking care of Lea, remained behind. Elaine paid them no mind as she looked around for him. She couldn't imagine that he had gotten very far. She turned a corner in the path, eyes searching.
"You might as well come out now."
A pair of arms suddenly closed around her from behind. Elaine jumped, ready to grab her attacker, but the grip wasn't a harsh one.
Odilon embraced her, arms around her chest, as he rested his head against hers. She felt his lips as he kissed her temple with a surprising gentleness.
"Elaine," he mumbled into her ear.
She bit her lip, choking back a shiver of pleasure. "Odilon, what are you doing?"
"I haven't been able to hold you in days. Can you blame me?"
"Do you not realize the position you're in?" She felt unreasonably angry at the soft touch but couldn't bring herself to throw him off. "Papa is going to be angry."
"Mm. You call that man 'papa'."
"He is my father."
"In what way is he your father? He's your sire, but he didn't raise you."
"Odilon, what are you doing?"
He shook his head, nuzzling her in the process. "I can't really say that I know. This probably isn't the place for this talk, is it?"
"The 'what are you doing and why' talk." He kissed her head again. "That's all right. We can have it later. Let me just hold you now."
"The others will be coming to catch you."
"I know. I couldn't deny Lea when she told me to lead you to her." Odilon frowned. "I apologize for that, but she does outrank me. Just as you do."
Elaine grinned. "I'm not a paladin anymore, Odilon."
"Lea touched me. My power's gone. I'm no paladin. Now, I'm just the daughter of a whore and a pirate who turned traitor on her country."
Odilon said nothing. She turned in his arms to face him. The smile she offered wasn't quite happy, nor could he call it sad.
"I guess that means you outrank me, my lord."
He rested his hands down on her hips, searching her face. "You don't regret it?"
"Regret the loss? I welcome it." Elaine ran her hand down his chest. "I'm actually rather happy they're gone. My powers never caused me anything but grief anyway."
"So, then, my lord." She gave him a grin. "Is the richest, most powerful, most eligible bachelor in all of Vasconia still interested in a traitor?"
"No." He said immediately.
Hurt flashed quickly across her face, but she was quick to conceal it. "Just so."
His arms tightened when she would have stepped away. He rested his forehead against hers, returning the smile that wasn't quite happy or sad.
"But, I am still interested in you, Elaine."
She blinked, staring, unsure what to say.
The sound of footsteps creaking on the unsteady paths brought her back to the present. She made a face as Odilon finally released her. He held out his hands, wrists pressed together, and offered a gentle smile, filled with affection.
"Shall we, my lady?"
Elaine shook her head. "You could do so much better, Odilon."
"Yet, you're the one I want."
Growling in frustration - at him or herself, she couldn't tell - she took hold of his wrists and held him in place until the others could join her.
Odilon made no efforts to fight as they tied him up and began marching him down.
"There's still one left unaccounted for, Elaine." One of the men said to her.
She didn't look away as she responded. "Marceau is dead. I saw his body myself. Take Odilon down to the storage room. I'll be down shortly."
Odilon gave her the ghost of a smile before they turned in the path and walked out of her sight.
Elaine sighed, falling back against the wall.
Her jaw still ached...
"Did anyone figure out how they escaped?" Evrard asked, angry, as he looked over the small group of men that had been taking turns watching them.
The man who had been on guard duty at the time was the only one absent. He had been hit over the head, knocking him unconscious. He still hadn't woken, prompting whispers that he had been hit too hard and might not wake up at all.
"Sorry, captain. We haven't found anything. We only know that they managed to get his keys and opened the gates with them. How they did it is still unknown."
"Useless idiots." Evrard growled in anger. "What about the last girl? Did anyone find the missing paladin? Well?!"
No one responded.
Evrard slammed his fist down onto the table before him. "I can't believe you all! Elaine can hunt down and capture five people by herself, and you can't find one?!"
"Calm down, papa." Elaine, grinning where she stood at his elbow, put a hand to his shoulder. "In their defense, Felicie can be hard to find if she doesn't want you to find her."
"This is our home, finding her should be a simple matter!" Evrard began rubbing his head. "Just get out. All of you, get out!"
The gathered people all jumped then scrambled to escape. When Elaine made to follow, Evrard stopped her with a hand to her arm. She looked back at him curiously.
He didn't speak until the door shut behind the last person.
"You did good today, Elaine." He gave her a smile. "It's late. You should go to sleep. They can take care of finding that one girl. If we really need you, we'll wake you."
Elaine nodded and bent low, kissing his cheek. "Goodnight, papa."
"Sleep well. Tomorrow, I'll show you around the town properly. You can get to know your new home. Then, we need to go pick up supplies with the gold we took before the winter and spring winds meet and make flying impossible."
Elaine nodded. "All right. Sleep well."
She turned and walked from him, stepping into the house from the common room that he used more like a throne room to meet with his people. At least, it was a room with a chair behind a long table that he sat at to hold audiences, almost like a king.
Elaine had already been shown to her room. That aside, the 'manor' that her father had built from discarded trash and recycled materials wasn't overly large. It wasn't hard to find her way. Even when she made a detour down to the supply room first and grabbed a length of rope.
Humming to herself, she tossed it around her shoulder before continuing up to her room. There was almost a bounce to her step as she walked.
Her room was placed on the top floor and had come with furniture provided. It wasn't a particularly large or luxurious room by any standards, nor could she really say it was that comfortable. The dresser was missing a leg and leaned dangerously forward, while the bed appeared to have been scrapped together from pieces of a door and something she could no longer identify. There was an empty washing basin in the corner with a large crack she imagined leaked and a desk shoved into the opposite corner was covered in ink stains and a plethora of scratches.
She had placed Oathkeeper inside before going down to the feast, so it was still waiting for her when she walked through the door. The dresser was empty, the surfaces were bare but for an ordinary flame lamp that she had to light in order to see through the darkness. Not even moonlight reached this far into the hollow and her large, glass-less window let in absolutely nothing to illuminate her room this time in the night.
She grabbed Oathbreaker from where she had set it in the corner and moved it closer to her bed before she sat down. She set the rope beside her onto the thin pillow. The mattress was filled with itchy hay that she could feel poking into her bottom even through the blanket.
Groaning, she rubbed her sore jaw and arm before taking her boots off. She tossed them away and pulled her legs up to sit cross legged on her bed.
Seconds ticked by in the night without a single sound to break the quiet. Though Evrard was angry about Felicie still being missing, he couldn't order the search to continue. They didn't have the luxury of resources to allow that many lanterns to remain lit for that long.
Though it irked him, he was going to have to call off the search. At least, until morning. Which Elaine knew was already useless.
Felicie will have been long gone. If Elaine knew them like she thought she did, they had allowed themselves to be captured for the express purpose of buying her time enough to climb up and over the plateau and out of the immediate area. It would have explained why everyone had simply separated and spent their entire time just trying to play keep away.
Flopping backwards in her boredom, Elaine stared at the light glow of the ceiling brought about by the small lamp at her bedside.
This place was uncomfortable, unsanitary, and ill supplied. These people definitely shouldn't be living here. They probably suffered from malnutrition and starvation, especially during winter. Though, once here, it would be impossible to leave.
Her father had managed to build himself a kingdom of people that were completely dependent upon him and wholly incapable of escaping his rule.
"Kind of feel bad for them..." She mumbled to herself.
Yawning, she sat up again, worried that she might accidentally fall asleep.
Without being able to see the sky, and with no clocks around, she couldn't tell what time it was. The passing of minutes was slow and boring and she found herself doing some light stretches, trying to work out her oddly sore muscles.
The pains she was feeling didn't bother her though. If anything, she felt only excited.
This was what it was like to be normal! This was what people that didn't have gifts felt. Even as it hurt, it also felt incredible.
Laughing to herself, she stretched her arms up over her head.
She was going to have to be careful from here on out. She couldn't be so cavalier about taking on wounds in a fight, but she was finally free!
A gentle tapping against the ground caught her attention and she turned to watch as a pebble skidded across her floor.
Turning, she looked towards her window as another one flew in after it. The second one hit against her bed soundlessly before falling and tapping against the ground.
Grinning, she moved towards the window and narrowly avoided a third pebble hitting her face.
"Hey, knock it off." She laughed, leaning out.
"Let me up!" Came the whispered response.
"Yes, yes. Hold on." She moved back into her room.
Scooping the rope off of the bed, she brought it to the window. Holding one end in her hand, she tossed the other outside of the window.
"Can you hold me?" Came the concerned question.
"There's nothing sturdy enough in here to tie it to. Just climb."
Elaine grounded herself, holding onto the rope firmly with both hands. She felt the end tugging experimentally a few times and put her foot on the wall to steady herself further.
It was a slow process as he climbed. Elaine grunted in pain, feeling the rope bite painfully into her skin as his weight pulled down against it.
However, she remained steady in place and he was quick to ascend. As soon as his hands hit the windowsill, she released the rope and grabbed him directly. Working together, they pulled him up and over, into the room.
Elaine grinned as he began pulling the rope up after him.
"Did you have a hard time of it?"
"Well, with everyone searching outside for Felicie, it wasn't too difficult." Marceau sent her a grin as he coiled the rope around his arm.
"How's your stomach?" Elaine lifted his shirt curiously.
The single cut left behind from her sword was already closing and healing well. She nodded in approval to see it didn't look infected.
"I have to admit, that was weird." Marceau rubbed at his stomach, making an uncomfortable face. "I don't think I could ever describe what it feels like to have your belly pierced like that, then for absolutely nothing to remain afterwards."
"You did well." Elaine nodded in approval, taking the coiled rope from him. She hid it under the bed, in case they needed it for later. "I was worried that you would act surprised and ruin everything. I'm really glad you didn't."
Marceau beamed, bowing to her. "I'm grateful to serve, my lady."
"All right, calm down." She chuckled. "So, did you manage to get a look for anything?"
Marceau shrugged. "The town is so bizarre. There doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to anything. Everything is built haphazardly and, to be honest, a bit sloppily. It looks really unsafe, like a decent storm would tear everything apart."
Elaine shrugged. "It's probably only the plateau protecting it from winds that has kept everything from falling down already. There's no wind down here at all."
"I noticed. Makes the air rather stagnant. Anyway, it will probably take a little more time to understand where everything is. Especially since I can't look while it's full dark like this."
"I understand. You're free to sleep here, I suppose. I don't think papa is going to be coming into my room. I know that no one else will."
Elaine smirked. "They're all afraid of me. As they should be."
Marceau nodded. "Then, I'll take you up on the offer. I'll start looking again in the morning."
"But, er, this would be a lot easier if I knew exactly what it was that I'm supposed to be looking for, you know. Just saying."
Elaine turned from him, returning to the bed. "Never you mind that."
"My lady, I'm willing to do anything, you know that, but just looking around and marking the place of everything isn't a good way to search. If I had just a hint of what I was looking for, aside from simply 'his loot', I'd be able to find it faster."
Elaine let out a long breath, arms crossed. Marceau watched her carefully, waiting to see what she would say. He knew her to be a private person, and he would normally respect that, but he really couldn't find something without knowing what it was.
Looking back at his patient face, she sighed.
"I suppose you're right."
"I don't know exactly what it will be. All I know is that it's going to be with some very old things. It wouldn't have been repurposed, but papa never throws anything away. I especially don't think he would have thrown these things away."
"What are they?"
Elaine said nothing, biting her lip.
"My lady, please? Don't you trust me?"
"That's not really the problem."
"Then, what is?"
Elaine made a face. She couldn't really explain just how reluctant she was to talk to other people about this topic.
More than anything, she wished it was Odilon that she had stabbed. If only she had not doubted herself for that second, if she hadn't looked into his eyes and known that she could never hurt him, even temporarily, she could tell him about this.
Instead, she had stabbed Marceau. And, while she did trust him, it went against everything in her to open up to someone that wasn't Odilon.
However, at this point, she had little choice.
Sighing, she finally relented.
"They're things that were taken from our old house."
"Hm?" Marceau tilted his head curiously.
"Our house, from when I was a child." Elaine looked over to him. "When papa killed my mother and burned our house, he took everything of value out of it first. He'll still have it. I know he will. He already admitted as much to me."
Marceau nodded, smiling. "Then, leave it to me, my lady. I'll find them."