Shad and Saura: Black Fire - Part Three
Art by ssjelitegirl
“Kanrik,” said a nearby Skeith. “Leader of the Thieves, aren’t you?”
“Am I sticking my nose in your business?” snarled the blue Gelert, still wrapped in his cloak but the eyes gleaming twice as bright.
“You very well might after that refreshing cup of tea,” grumbled the Skeith.
“Hey, hey!” The owner of the tea house, an old Lutari, had showed up from nowhere and was standing in the middle of the room. “No bickering in the tea house. This is a place of tranquility and harmony. Ill thoughts are to be left behind the door.”
The Skeith turned away with a grunt. So did Kanrik, and the gleam of his eyes fell behind the cloak as he hunched up and leaned against the wall. The table of the two brothers, which had already been a bit secluded due to the whole Incendia-attitude, instantly became no-man’s-land.
“Tough luck.” Shad, who rarely missed the opportunity to start a chat, grinned.
“Don’t push it, kid,” a quiet voice grumbled from the depths of the hood.
“He’s always like that,” said Saura, looking up from his cup. “But he’s a nice guy once you get to know him. I’m Saura; the blabbermouth is Shad.”
The pair of yellow eyes appeared again. “Pleasure.”
“Just arrived, I’m assuming?” Shad asked. Kanrik, realizing that he wouldn’t escape a conversation that easily, leaned forward and nodded.
“Thought so,” said the Lupe, who was a lot brighter than most people thought he was, “’cause there’s no way you’re going to get a place to stay around here after this little showdown.”
“I’ll find a way,” said the Gelert. “I’m not picky.”
“They are,” remarked Saura. The waitress stumbled back with the cup of tea and smiled happily when the Gelert paid her while barely looking at her. She only hurried off again upon the intense glare she was getting from everyone else in the house.
“None of your concern,” said Kanrik and buried his muzzle in the teacup. His shoulders twitched for a moment as he coughed, then he took a sip.
The two brothers fell into lethargy again, completely ignoring the new tablemate and the rest of the visitors who were now obviously ignoring them as well. Through the silence, whispers from the crowd started to emerge.
“He can’t possibly stay here! No respectable family would take him to their house.”
“What if... what if there are guild members in Shenkuu? And he’s going to stay at their place?”
“What – Thieves’ Guild members in our Shenkuu?”
Kanrik’s ears moved. “There aren’t,” he said sharply, causing the whole room to fall silent again. A grin flashed across his face as he added, “If you find anyone operating here under the name of the Guild, let me know. We’re strict about these things.”
Shenkuu was like a Buzzers’ nest that evening when news about the leader of the Thieves’ Guild spread. Kanrik had left the tea house after finishing the cup and nobody had seen him since. The brothers returned to Incendia’s house shortly, having realized that their chat with Kanrik had considerably lowered their status in the eyes of the locals.
“We should probably go home soon,” said Shad, his ears drooping, as they strolled back to the house in the misty twilight.
“What, you’re that touchy about the Shenkese and their opinion of us?” his brother asked. His voice wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence.
“Wouldn’t mind being less touchy, yep,” agreed the Lupe, pushing the ancient gate open. The unkempt garden, already homely and familiar for them, shone orange in the setting sun. Incendia seemed friendlier than usually, as if to counterbalance the incident at the tea house, and even muttered, “I made muffins; they’re in the oven,” before turning back to her books.
When the twilight was fading and the first stars lit up, there was a knock on the door. The Fire Faerie blinked in confusion, raising her head from the tomes and vials. She shot a glance at the brothers, who shrugged, then she got up to answer the door.
In all honesty, neither Shad nor Saura was really surprised to see a tall cloaked figure at the door.
“I need a place to stay,” he said without any introductions.
“Did someone put up a ‘Hotel’ sign and I didn’t notice?” the Faerie asked sharply.
It was quite possible that Kanrik grinned, though it didn’t really show under the hood. “You do research, am I right? Research costs a lot. And I can pay you a lot.”
There was some tinkling of coins, then the Faerie turned around with a shrug and said, “For that money, I hope you at least are able to keep quiet.”
Kanrik seemed almost offended. “Ma’am, I’m the leader of thieves. One doesn’t get that position by-”
“Fighting noisy battles and smashing things?” Shad asked cheerfully, sidling closer. “Hey, new roomie. Remember us?”
The Gelert came in, closed the door, and took his cloak off. It had been hard to pin down his actual posture when he was all wrapped up, but somehow he had radiated a hunched, humble feeling. Now he straightened up though, obviously enjoying the warmth of the house. The brothers hadn’t seen him in person before that day but they both suspected that Kanrik wasn’t usually so thin, with an edgy, somewhat jaded face. His hair had grown long, hinting at some makeshift barber-work with a dagger here and there, and his clothes were muddy. Wherever he’d come from, he’d been on the road for a long time.
Kanrik stretched himself and looked down at the Lupe with a faint grin on his face. “Well, I hope you two aren’t too fond of your reputations ‘cause they’re about to go down the drain. I’m staying here for quite a while, and every single soul out there seems to hate me.”
“Is it warranted?” Saura asked. He was sitting on a mat with his legs crossed, skimming through an old cookbook.
Kanrik shrugged. “I am a thief, not denying that. I’m not here to do away with all their life savings, though.”
Shad tilted his head. “Why are you here then?”
The Gelert shot a glance at him. “Got some business. Research, info, stuff like that. I have my duties, see?”
“Not honest ones, though,” said Saura.
“Never implied that.” Kanrik put his backpack down. “But I never implied dishonesty either. I’ll live my life, you live yours, and we’ll get along like a charm.”
The Gelert indeed proved to be a model roommate. It remained unclear whether he actually attended to some business in Shenkuu or was simply having a vacation. Every once in a while he’d disappear, sometimes returning in twilight, sometimes in the middle of the day, and occasionally shifted through Incendia’s library. The little Fire Faerie didn’t seem to mind him much and spent her days doing her confusing research as always. While the thief apparently couldn’t care less about what Incendia did, he still got curious as time passed, and one evening asked the brothers about it. Upon hearing about black fire, he blinked.
“Well, that’s definitely the weirdest story I’ve ever heard, and trust me, I’ve heard a lot.”
“That’s what we thought,” agreed Shad, his tail waving back and forth on the mossy stones. They were sitting in the garden, staring blankly at the mountains and valleys of mist in front of them. The three had begun to spend more and more time outdoors. While Incendia wasn’t exactly unfriendly, she constantly radiated something that said ‘this is my house and you’re just visiting, clear?’; not to mention her tireless research was rather eerie to watch.
“How long has she been doing this now?” asked Kanrik, thoughtful rather than inquisitive.
Shad and Saura exchanged glances.
“There’s no telling,” said the Zafara. “We’ve been here for what, a week, and she’s been working all this time, and looks like she’d been working for quite a while before that.”
The Gelert frowned, then leaned his back against the side of the hill and stretched his legs out. “Wonder if she’s actually making progress? And what could that progress be?”
“I fear that whatever the result may be, it won’t be pretty,” Shad grumbled.
“Tends to be the case with such research,” Kanrik agreed, then coughed a few times and fell quiet. The brothers had come to recognize that silence already. The leader of the thieves would talk when he felt like it and fall quiet when he felt like it, and the moods alternated fast. He seemed to think a lot. When he wasn’t out somewhere or digging through Incendia’s collection, he’d sometimes sit in the garden for hours on end, apparently doing nothing. Sometimes the brothers wondered what thoughts were forming under that hood. Then again, it was probably better not to know.
Suddenly the Gelert got up, shook back his cloak and marched off. That was no surprise either, and the brothers just remained squatting there on the warm mossy stones, gazing at the deep valleys.
“Wonder what’s down there?” asked Shad.
“It probably wouldn’t be healthy to try and find out,” said Saura.
The Lupe’s ears twitched as he yawned lazily. “Wonder what Kanrik’s up to all this time?”
The Zafara snorted. “Same answer.”
In the meantime Kanrik had come to the foot of the biggest mountain located in the center of the land. Now he stopped, looking up at the winding roads and staircases, tiny little houses built practically into the side of the mountain, and up there, at the very top, so high that his hood fell back as he bent back his head, the Lunar Temple of Shenkuu.
Edging sideways along the road, he could gradually see more. On the other side of the mountain, connected to the Temple, stood the imperial palace.
The Gelert nodded, wrapped himself in the cloak again as that part of the hill caught rather fierce wind, and started to stride up the path.
To be continued...