Chapter Three

‘Evangeline Athraele’

 

 

I stood and stared at this fallen angel…

Daring not to breathe, think, listen, or even live…

Only to watch.

 

           

            “Just ignore her.”

            “But, River…”

            “I said just ignore her, Maroshi,” River grit his teeth. “Don’t give her the attention that she wants.”

            Maroshi cast a doubtful glance behind them. Sure enough, the redhead was still there, just as she had been since they left Grapetown that very morning.

            “Yoo-hoo!” she waved. “I think I’ll walk with you guys now!”

            “Oh, Tiger, give me strength,” River closed his eyes and pretended not to hear.

            Tabitha jogged up the cobblestone road to fall in step beside Maroshi. “Boy, you guys sure walk fast. Lucky I’m so strong.

            Maroshi chuckled while River growled. “I wouldn’t call that strength…”

            “You’re right, River-kun,” she beamed a smile at him. “It means I’m stealthy, like a NINJA!”

            Maroshi laughed and missed the glare River sent him. “River-kun?” the teen huffed. “What are you? A samurai?”

Naw,” Tabitha stretched her arms behind her head. “Just someone who remembers the language.”

“Well Maroshi doesn’t even use those dumb –chans and –kuns!”

            “That’s just because I don’t know them all properly, River,” Maroshi chuckled and turned to the woman. “Think you could teach me some time?”

            “Sure thing kiddo,” Tabitha seemed delighted at the idea.

            “Don’t get too attached,” River interrupted. “We’re ditching this bozo at the next town!”

            Aww,” Tabitha pouted. “Then I’ll have to teach fast. Rocvale is only a mile away.”

            Maroshi sighed. River could be so difficult sometimes. “Well, Tabitha, why don’t you come with us?”

            River gagged.

            “I’d love to! Uh, where are you going?”

            Mt. Yukito.”

            “Hmm… My path is a little different than yours—“

            “Like a drunkard has anywhere to be,” River mumbled.

            “—but I’ll stay in touch as long as I can,” Tabitha concluded and waited for the boy’s responses.

            “Sounds good.”

            “Whatever.”

 

 

            “How about this one, Maroshi?” River held up the spear for his friend to see.

            “Nah. The welding looks a little shoddy.”

            River sighed and placed the spear back on the rack. “That’s what I thought.”

            The two had been in the market for an hour already looking at mostly weapons. Rocvale was to shopping as Grapetown was to wine. The central market was divided into four sections, each a fourth of a mile by a fourth of a mile in a neat little square. River had bypassed house wears, walked through food, window shopped in clothing, and spent the last hour in weapons and armor.

            Maroshi stretched as they left the store. “I don’t see why you need a weapon. Your fists always did the job in the temple.”

            “Yeah, well… Things are different in the real world.” River had always been a little wishy-washy when it came to choosing weapons. He was pretty good with anything someone gave him. Whether it be bashing, chopping, piercing, or slashing, he had the uncanny ability to get the gist of any weapon in the first day. Maroshi and other students as the Temple of Tiger had always been a little jealous of River’s skill. But for all that skill with anything we was given, River had always gone back to his fists. It seemed like a waste to Maroshi, but then again, River was pretty good with his fists too.

            “Hey,” Maroshi turned around. “Where’s Tabitha?”

            “Must have lost her in the crowd,” River said. “What a shame. Oh look! Nunchuku!”

            Maroshi shrugged and ran after River. The woman seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. He shouldn’t worry.

 

           

            Tabitha had lost River and Maroshi two minutes after they entered the gates. It wasn’t her fault she had the attention span of a gnat and ran off to the pet store without even telling anyone.

            “I guess I’m just a sucker for animals,” she said to herself.

            The redhead had been all through the market and even half the residential area looking for those two. If she hadn’t known better, she’d say the brown-eyed one in the orange garb cast an invisibility spell on them both.

            “The only place I haven’t checked is the Temple of Sheep for goddess sakes!” Tabitha took a seat on a bench and pulled out her purse. Still plenty of money to blow… How to spend… How to spend…

            A short man with an odd yellow cap and miner’s clothing walked by her. He seemed to be in a bad mood.

            “You sir!” She leapt up and pointed a gloved finger at the grungy fellow.

            He looked up. “Me?”

            “Yes, you, good sir!” Tabitha stood with one leg on the bench seat and one on the back. Her voice was powerful and commanding, even some other people had gathered to watch. The green cape fluttered in the wind, and it seemed as if she was some sort of noble lady.

            “Why are you so glum, sir?”

            “I… I lost my job at the mines today,” he looked down and rubbed the back of his neck. A few other people ‘awwed’ in sympathy.

            “That’s terrible!” Tabitha declared, tears forming at the edges of her sparkling green eyes.

            “Yeah, but what’re you gonna do?” he shrugged.

            “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do!” She hopped off the bench and put her arm around his shoulder. “We’re going to drink our problems away!”

            “Huh?” the man blinked.

            Tabitha straightened up. “Anyone who wants to get plastered… Follow… me!” She began to march towards the nearest tavern.

            A good number of people cheered and followed her. The man shrugged. “Nothing to lose.”

 

 

            Pleeeeease?”

            “No.”

            “Pretty please?”

            “No, River.”

            “But I want the piiiiike!” River pouted.

            Maroshi rubbed his temples. “Look, it’s great you finally found a weapon, but it’s too darn expensive. We don’t have the money.”

            “Yes we do! I counted it!” River crossed his arms. The conversation had gone on like this for ten minutes and the storeowner finally went in the back room to give his only customers some privacy.

            “I’m gonna call the owner out and tell him we want it,” River turned away.

            “River,” Maroshi’s voice was threatening.

            Fiiine,” Rive went back into the little annex where pikes and spears were displayed. “But we do have enough!”

            “Yes, but once we pay for the pike, there’d be barely enough left over to get a room at an inn for one night,” Maroshi tried to explain.

            But River was stubborn as a mule. “So? We can camp.”

            “It could rain.”

            “I don’t care.”

            “River…”

            “Please Maroshi,” River stood next to the warrior who had since begun to lean on the wall.

            “No.”

            “Please? I’ll do anything!” River continued to plead and inched closer to his friend.

            “I’m not losing this argument, River.”

            “I’ll do anything!” River repeated, this time throwing his arms around Maroshi’s neck and wrapping his left leg around him. “Anything,” he whispered with a silly grin on his face.

            “Cut that out!” Maroshi’s face turned red like a tomato. If the owner came in at this point…

            “Not until you buy me that pike!” River pressed closer.

            Maroshi thought he caught on to River’s ploy. He pressed back against the wall so he could look down into River’s eyes. “I’m not going to buy it, even if you promise to stop embarrassing me right now. Give up, River.”

            But River’s ploy wasn’t easily undone. “Fine by me. It feels kinda good.”

            Maroshi swore he had a nosebleed coming on. He pushed River back with all his strength and collapsed to the floor.

            River leaned against the opposite wall with a steady pout on his lips. It was a moment later the storeowner returned.

            “Have you gentlemen decided?”

            Maroshi stood up before River could answer. “Yes, we have. I’m sorry, your weapons are the finest we’ve seen, but we just don’t have the money right now.”

            “Ah, I understand,” the storeowner nodded. “Then perhaps you would like to know of a way to make some money?”

            “What is it?” River ceased pouting.

            “There is a young woman in the Temple of Sheep who has sent out a challenge. Any man who can resist her charm shall be rewarded.”

            “In other words, gambling,” River mused out loud.

            “Yes,” he nodded. “But I must warn you. None have beaten her enchantment. Even I lost a bit of money. It’s not as easy as it looks. This is her last day here too, so you must hurry.”

            “How long has she been here?” Maroshi questioned.

            “Less than a week, but I hear she has made a good sum in that time, giving half of it to the temple.”

            River grinned and poked Maroshi in the chest. “You’re gonna get me my pike!”

 

 

            “I’ve never seen this many people in the tavern!” the waitress commented as she served another glass of wine.

            “It’s that woman in the green cape,” the bartender replied. “She said she’s buying the rounds for everyone.”

            “Wow! She must be really drunk!”

            “Nah, just insane. She said that before I served her!”

 

 

            “The rules are simple,” the priestess for Sheep, god of crafts, declared. “The man goes into the room with the Enchanting Eva. If he comes out with her mark, he looses that which he has bet! If he comes out with her charm, he wins what he deserves!”

            It had to be the hundredth time River heard it. Each time a man went in and came out with her ‘mark’; red lips on his forehead.

            Guys could be idiots sometimes.

            The temple kept ‘Eva’ shut behind two sets of doors so the spectators lined up behind the golden fences on either side so the non-participants couldn’t see inside. But from what the men had to say she was beautiful, and was worth loosing all their gold.

            The line to participate was very long, but finally Maroshi was up. He looked out of place in his samurai outfit, everyone else sporting the peasant look.

            The priestess stepped off the marble stairs and cleared the path for Maroshi. The first set of huge purple doors creaked open, allowing him inside.

            “Good luck,” River whispered from behind the golden fence as the doors shut with an ominous bang.

            They had bet all their money on this one thing. That Maroshi could resist the advances of an extremely attractive person.

            River sighed and rested his chin on his elbow. With the way Maroshi freaked out in the weapon store, he had little doubt that they’d lose.

            Three minutes had passed slowly and the crowd ceased to murmur as the doors creaked open. River was counting the extra money in his head and what they could spend it on when he finally saw Maroshi step from the doors.

            He had a stain of red above his left eye.

 

 

            “Say, missy,” the ex-miner hiccupped. “What did you get fired from?”

            “Me?” Tabitha wavered a little in her seat and tried not to puke over her new drinking buddies. “Why d’you think I got fi’rd?”

            Cuz you drink so much,” he replied.

            “Oh.” Tabitha held a finger to her lips to try and remember. “Well, people’s ‘ay Imma priestessessess.”

            “A prithess? Wow. Dath cool. So yer not fi’rd?”

            Naw. Why’d you gets fired?”

            “The said I drank too much ontha job. Cannyou believe that?”

            Tabitha stared blankly at the wall.

            After a moment she said, “No, I can’t.”

            “Amen sisther.”

 

 

            “BASTARD!!!” River’s knuckles were white as he gripped the edge of the fence. People around him stared, but he didn’t care. River leapt over it and ran to Maroshi.

            Maroshi walked down the stairs in a haze, barely noticing when River grabbed him by the collar. “Huh? Oh, hi River.”

            “Don’t you ‘hi’ me!!” River shook him as the priestess tried to usher them away. “Stay back, lady!” he roared. Surprisingly enough she obeyed. 

            “You should see her Riv’,” Maroshi smiled the way a drunk does. “She’s real pretty.”

            River dropped the collar. “I can’t believe this… Maybe Xyo was right…” River shook his head. “But he said I’d be dead! Being poor is way worse!”

            The priestess stepped up again. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave—“

            “Forget it!” River snapped. “I’m going in! Do you greedy bastards take weapons?”

            “Uh, yes,” she said, not really sure how to answer. “But you’ll have to wait in line.”

            River turned around to face the sixty-odd men who stood in waiting. “Do any of you dumb asses care if I go!?”

            There were some protests from the front and way back.

            River unsheathed the St. Clare from Maroshi’s belt and held it in his right hand. “Okay… Now do any of you care!?”

            This time there were no protests.

            “Good!” River grabbed the sheath from a still dumbfounded Maroshi and all but threw it at the priestess. “This katana is worth twice as much as that enchantress has! Now let me in!”

            The doors creaked open and River rushed in without turning back to Maroshi or the priestess. The doors shut behind him and the second set opened.

            The room was very spacious. Bird cages, pictures, exotic rugs, huge fireplace, books, couches, pillows, candles, burning incenses, silks… You name it, it had it with a marble floor and gold pillars. The scent of Jasamine scarcely reached his nose as River looked angrily ahead to a large white couch with a dove birdcage behind it. On the couch sat a girl who didn’t look to be any older than River.

            “Hello,” she said. She had a voice sweet as honey and golden, wavy hair down past her shoulders. Her bright eyes were violet, her skin pale, even in contrast to the white priestess robe she wore. Golden bracelets chimed together as she placed a dove back in its cage.

            River would have run over and glomped her, had he been any other guy.

            But he was not any other guy.

            He was River Bluefate.

            And he was gonna kick her ass.

            “Hello,” she repeated with a sugary smile. “My name is Evangeline, but you may call me Eva.” She pushed aside velvet pillows and walked over to a vanity dresser by the fireplace. “So, what is your name?”

            “River Bluefate,” he said sternly, noticing the girl applying red lipstick and looking vainly in the mirror.

            Evangeline mistook his sternness for nervousness. “Well, why don’t you come over here? I’ll give you a kiss.”

            “No.”

            Evangeline looked up form the mirror. “What was that?”

            “I said no,” River rolled his eyes and stepped away from the doors into the middle of the room. “Don’t tell me looks are all you have going for you.”

            Evangeline’s eyes went wide as she turned to face River. “You… you’re not…”

            “Affected? Hardly,” River sneered. “I see a prettier face every time I look in the mirror. Now where’s that charm or symbol or whatever?”

            The enchantress immediately dropped the act, proving to be more than River ever would have expected from a girl who looked like her. He was even shocked when he heard her speak.

“Now you listen here, you ignorant punk!” Eva stalked over to River until they were nose-to-nose at exactly the same height. “I’m getting my money so I can pay my debt to the temple and get out of this town!”

            “Like I care! Go tell your sob story to some knight in shining armor! I’m getting my friend’s money back so Maroshi can buy me my pike!” River glared daggers and knives at the girl.

            “You mean that man who was just in here? He was the easiest of them all! I barely had to do anything!” she lied. In truth, Eva just wanted to rile this kid.

            It had worked. River glared even more. “You take that back.”

            “Why? You know it’s true. It probably would have been harder to kiss him if there was actually someone worth his precious time to care about,” Evangeline yawned and covered her mouth delicately with her hand.

            River’s teeth clenched and he tried to not pay attention to the things she said. “Where is it?”

            “Where’s what?”

            “The charm.”

            Eva crossed her arms and looked away. “I simply don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            River resisted the urge to strangle Eva. Then he saw it.

            On the couch where she had been before rested a hand mirror. It was golden with a beautiful face carved into the back of it. It glimmered in the evening sun and River could think of no better ‘charm’ for the Enchanting Eva.

            Eva felt him rush past her. She turned around just in time to see the little brat grab the mirror and dash back to the doors. All the years of training his speed and stealth abilities at the Temple of Tiger finally had come in handy for River. She barely had time to register what was going on before the doors began to close.

“Hey!” the enchantress yelled.

            Nyah nyah!” River stuck out his tongue as the doors shut and Eva was trapped inside.

            “No!” She banged on the doors. “No!! I need that money!!”

            The Enchanting Eva could dimly hear the second set opening as she slid to the floor. Then a loud cheer met her ears. She could just see it now. The boy—River was his name?—holding up the mirror for all to see… He had defeated the ‘enchantress’.

            A warm tear trickled down her cheek and soaked into the lap of her robe.

            “How am I to leave here now?”

 

 

            “Miss Tabitha?”

            Mmhn…” Tabitha turned away from the person who was gently shaking her shoulder. “Five more min…”

            The waitress sighed and got up. It had been an hour since the tavern officially closed and the other drunkards left. All that remained was this lone woman and the tab.

            The waitress pushed open the door to the kitchen. “Hey,” she said to the chef. “Can I borrow that and a ladle?”

            The chef looked up from the pot he was drying. “Yeah sure,” he handed them over. “That lady still here?”

            “Yes, but not for long.”

            “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone drink that much.”

            “There must be something pretty painful she wants to forget,” the waitress nodded. She had learned soon after taking her job that few people drank alcohol for the taste.

            “Must be,” the chef turned back to the stove. “That was enough booze to tranquilize a steer.”

            The waitress headed out to the dining area and Tabitha’s booth. The ‘priestess’ hadn’t moved significantly. The waitress took the pot in one hand, dangling it above the sleeper’s head. She swung the ladle, and it hit the pot with a noisy CLANG.

 

 

            River was in a very chipper mood the next morning. With all the extra money he’d acquired, the young man slept in the softest bed in the biggest room at the best inn. Maroshi slept on the floor.

            Coincidentally, after sleeping in such a luxurious state, River had decided that he really didn’t want the pike that much after all, and would rather enjoy the finer things in life. Such as a warm bed to sleep in. With room service. And a balcony.

            Maroshi just kept quiet.

            Now the two sat at Maddy’s Outdoor Café on 12th street eating breakfast and watching the people of Rocvale walking by. The sleep last night obviously did River some good, as he was so generous to buy Maroshi breakfast and tea. He still, however, did not trust Maroshi with the larger portion of their funds, and kept the purse to himself.

            “Am I out of the dog house?” Maroshi finished his omelet.

            River chewed thoughtfully on a sausage before answering. “I guess. But you’re still a moron to fall for a woman’s cheap tricks.”

            Maroshi sighed and traced the edge of the table. “I don’t know what came over me. I thought I had everything under control. Then she started talking… I think we had a conversation… Then she kissed me and I didn’t back off.”

            River rolled his eyes as a waiter cleared their table. “Yes, I dimly remember something like that. I wonder how she did it though. I mean, she wasn’t that attractive.”

            “Why don’t you ask her?”

            “Because I don’t feel like walking half a mile to the temple only to be arrested for attempted murder.”

            “Well, I don’t know about that last part. But she’s right over there,” Maroshi pointed to a stack of food crates sitting by the main entrance.

            River turned around in his seat. “What!?” He saw a familiar face and felt his blood boil.

            “Yeah, she’s been there for a while now. I think she was hiding or something.”

            River swung his head back to Maroshi. “She has!? Why the fug’ didn’t you tell me!?”

            Maroshi shrugged. “You didn’t ask.”

 

            Drat, Eva thought to herself. They’ve seen me.

            Then again, she never was cut out for the hide and follow routine. It was just dumb luck she spotted the two walking out of an inn while she was moping around the streets this morning.

The original plan had been to wait for an opportunity to snatch their Rem. No more dishonesty, Evangeline shook her head. The gods are obviously punishing me for that foolish scheme I tried to help pull. I knew I should have refused their offer…

 

“Oh,” Maroshi continued to stare. “It looks as if she’s coming over here.”

            “Great,” River sulked. “Why do we attract all the idiots?”

            “More like why do I.”

            “What was that?” River’s head snapped up.

            “Nothing, Riv.”

            Evangeline walked through the entrance and came towards the pair. A few heads turned to watch her glide by, and Eva returned the smiles and polite ‘good mornings’ that were tossed her way.

            Her outfit was much different than what she had worn in the temple. It was an aqua-blue dress that clung close to her body. She wasn’t as ‘formed’ as Tabitha, Maroshi thought, but still pretty. The dress hung low on her chest and two large, golden lace-trimmed straps wound around her shoulders. Had her hair not been so long, you could see the open back. The bottom of the dress hung loosely enough with slits in the side for her to walk, perhaps even run. Evangeline had flawless white leather boots on that must have cost a pretty Rem.

            But the thing Maroshi noticed was her matching jewelry. Evangeline wore large, dangling red heart earrings. The same heart appeared on her golden bracers, thin gold-banded necklace, and a gold belt. Evangeline was a very pretty picture indeed.

            River thought he would barf.

            “May I have a seat?” Evangeline asked Maroshi sweetly.

            “Certainly,” the warrior smiled as she sat down beside him.

            The three shifted in awkward silence for about two minutes before River couldn’t take it any more.

            “What do you want, woman?”

            Evangeline looked up from the table. “You’re still here?”

            River fumed. “Yes. I am. Now what do you want.”

            Evangeline looked the boy up and down. “Is that a bowl on your back?”

            “Quit changing the subject!”

            “Alright,” Eva sighed and turned to face Maroshi only.

            “Hey!” River glared. “Don’t ignore me, woman!”

            Eva ignored him. “You’re Maroshi, right?”

            Maroshi nodded.

            “I’m sorry about yesterday,” Eva took his hands in hers earnestly. “But I hope you won’t be mad once you hear my story.”

            “Uh… No, not at all,” Maroshi stammered.

            Evangeline giggled. If she couldn’t get her money back, perhaps she could get some help instead… “Well, it all started about a month ago…

            “I had just received a letter that would change my life forever. I was at home with my parents in Ginger Forest where the elves live. My father’s an elf you see, my mother a human. Anyway, this letter told me to be at a certain place at a certain time. Before I got there, I wished to stop at the Temple if Rabbit in Plumb City to see my master. I’d already sent him a message about the letter and he told me to come see him soon.

            “I left Ginger Forest as soon as I could. I knew the way like the back of my hand. There’s an ancient spire that sticks out of the ground at the edge of the forest pointing south. It has a metallic structure and the top looks like a dish. Someone once told me you can actually go inside that part, and on top of that is a needle-like point that sticks out pointing to the stars in space. Have you ever heard of it? No? Not many have.

            “But I’m afraid I did a rather poor job calculating my funds,” Evangeline bit her painted lip in embarrassment. “It was just a stupid little error, but it cost me dearly. With only a number of weeks until the letter’s deadline, I wound up here without cash. That same day, a priestess of Sheep asked me if I wanted to help them make some money for food and get a warm bed to sleep in. The temple needs money in order to fund their crafts. Apparently Sheep is a very expensive god to worship.

            “I didn’t want to help them, honestly, Maroshi,” Eva squeezed his hands tightly in her own, ignoring River’s sarcastic ‘I’ll bet.’ “But Ginger Forest and Plumb City are both so far away from here, by the time I got a letter to my father or my master, I could have made the money here anyway and saved a deal of time. The plan was foolproof, and I honestly didn’t think anyone would gamble their life savings away to the temple. I guess I was wrong in that respect. But it doesn’t matter now. I’ve left the temple without paying them back, and I’m not going to return.”

            “Wait a minute,” River interrupted. “Just how did you con all of those people anyway? I can hardly believe I was the only one to defeat you.”

            Evangeline sighed and folded her hands in her lap. “It was the priestesses’ idea. They have very talented craftsmen in the temple, and one makes incense.”

            “Incense?” River dimly remembered the smell of jasmine in that room.

            “Yes. It has special properties that make a person drowsy and not quite themselves.”

            “I remember,” Maroshi piped up. “There were two incense holders by the door in the shape of two golden rams.”

            Evangeline nodded in the affirmative. “That’s why I sat all the way back on the couch, so I wouldn’t be affected.”

            “Then why wasn’t River affected?”

            Eva’s mood seemed to darken a bit. “Usually I engage the men in a conversation, so they inhale the incense. I thought it would only take a short duration… But he was quite intent on getting the golden hand mirror.”

            “I didn’t stay near the doors very long either,” River added.

            “And you were so angry, you were breathing through your mouth,” Evangeline gave a haughty smile at River’s surprise. “Yes, you looked like a wild bull about to be killed in a bull fight. That or take a mate.”

            “You…” The two teens glared at each other in equal spite.

            “Oh look! The bull-er …bill!” Maroshi snatched the paper up from the table. “I think I’ll go pay this before someone dies…” Maroshi left the two, hoping it would be resolved by the time he got back.

            Fat chance.

            “Just why are you here?” River asked coldly.

            “Taking your advice,” the blonde returned in an equally icy tone. “Telling my ‘sob story’ to a knight in shining armor.”

            “Well you did, so leave!”

            “No! You caused this torment in my life, and now you’re going to help me back on my feet!”

            “Look, I highly doubt your ego is any bigger than your breasts,” River snickered at Eva’s growing anger. “Just write you dad, mum, master, your cat, whoever a letter to get you out of this place!”

            “I don’t have enough time! Look at this,” Evangeline rooted around in one of her belt’s satchels and pulled out an envelope. “This letter says I have to be at Mt. Yukito very soon! And if I’m not, it could bring dire consequences!”

            River stared blankly at the envelope thrust upon the table. It was of any old paper, but sealing the back was a very familiar insignia.

            River thought he was going to die. “Oh no…”

            “What? What is it?” Evangeline looked at him, very confused. One second the boy had been ranting and arguing; now his face had turned very pale.

            “I can’t believe it…”

            “Believe what!?”

            “Cool!”

            The two looked up to see Maroshi standing behind Evangeline, munching on a biscotti.

            “You’re on my team!”

            Evangeline blinked at the young samurai.

            River let his head gently fall to the table.

 

 

            “Oh crikey, my head…” Tabitha sat up, blinking at the sun’s harsh rays. “Well, hello there.” A black and white cat stared at her from atop a trash bin, its yellow eyes studying her with intent curiosity.

            Yellow eyes…

            “Maroshi!” Tabitha was suddenly wide-awake. Where was she? The woman looked around and decided she was in an alley behind a tavern.

            “So, you’re finally up,” a voice came from above.

            “Eh?” Tabitha looked up to see a window open, and a very familiar waitress staring down where she sat.

            “When the pot didn’t wake you up, the manager told me to drag you outside and chain you in the alley.”

            Sure enough, upon further inspection, a manacle held her right arm in place. “So… What do I have to do to get unchained?”

            “Pay your tab.”

            “That all? How much?” Tabitha reached for her purse.

            “534 Rem.”

            “That all,” Tabitha muttered dryly and forked over the cash.

            Wow, she must be pretty rich, the waitress mused as she counted the bills one last time.

            “What day is it?”

            “Huh? Oh, now let me think… It’s been two days since you came in here, miss.”

            “Two days!? I’ve been passed out for that long!?”

            “Yes, the manager says it’s a new record,” the waitress giggled.

            “Not for me personally,” Tabitha mumbled. “I’ve got a long way to go if I’m to catch up with Maroshi… Say, what’s the next city south of here?”

            Plumb City, about four day’s journey or less,” the waitress replied. “Sit tight and I’ll unlock you.” The young woman shut the window without waiting for Tabitha to speak.

            Humming softly, she pulled the key out of her blue apron and walked out the front door. The morning air was crisp, and people were just beginning to wake up from last night’s slumber. Except for waitresses and storeowners, who had been up since dawn.

            “Here you are, miss,” the waitress turned down the alley, then stopped. A second later, she hurried over the where the redhead had been minutes before. The manacle was twisted like a piece of rubber, and discarded carelessly to the side.

            The woman was gone.