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Chapter Four

Okutari, Nasimani Province. (4, Caróg, 593 AP. Night.)   Moonlight bathed the quiet village, the faint scent of jasmine hanging in the still air mingling with the ever-present aroma of fish. Old oaks and willows line the banks, brightly painted cabins with curved roofs cluster together on the western bank. A figure moves deftly through the shadows between houses towards a specific cabin, its windows were dark and most of its plum shutters closed, but two of them were cracked open almost imperceptibly. Suleta crept towards them curiously, pausing as a brief light flared from one of them and quickly went out. A match perhaps? The light flared again and dimmed, barely detectable even though she was looking for it. She tensed, suddenly wary. A hooded lantern. Whoever was inside was accustomed to housebreaking. The faint light moved slowly around the room, the soft rustling of paper betraying the nature of the search. Someone looking for the map? Suleta considered her options; on the one hand, Mother had told her just to watch, not to engage. On the other, whoever was inside right now was clearly alone. She bit her lip, her curiosity tugging insistently against the hesitant voice of caution. She would learn nothing from here she reasoned, so she would have to find another way inside, and decide once she was closer. She crept to the back to the other window and quietly let herself in.   _______________   What a mess. Gavin shook his head, frowning at papers scattered across the floor of the darkened study. Whoever had been here last was definitely not a professional, the guild would never have stood for such a slapdash job. He tidied a few of the books into a stack unconsciously while he surveyed the room. It was going to take ages to look through all this. Of course, he reflected, it would be easier if he had any idea what he was searching for to begin with. Or rather, what she’d been searching for. He set down the lantern and skimmed over a few torn pages. Not that it did him much good, he knew a smattering of Nasimani, but as none of the pages he’d picked up so far had revolved around the topic of drink or food, their message was lost on him. “Why can’t more things be in Common?” He muttered. Why invent a common language, and still insist on using all the ones which came before it? He shook his head, what a waste of effort. And why would his mother have come here? What was she looking for? Aside from giving the people who’d committed this careless book ripping travesty a good wallop, he could not imagine any reason for her to come here. What could she possibly want with a cartographer? She’d been over half of Eshana by now surely. He’d certainly seen a fair bit of it following her. He paused, she wouldn’t leave the continent, would she? Sure, they hadn’t actually spoken in a few...well, years actually, but still, they were family, she’s wouldn’t just leave, right? His brow furrowed, he needed a drink. Dealing with his family always made him feel like he needed a drink. Most things did these days. But that was family too, specifically his mother. She’d disappeared again, just like when they were kids, without a word on why or where she was going, and all he could do was follow in her mad wake. He supposed he could ask his brother, but he’d given up on her the last time she left, he wasn’t likely to care now. Gavin was on his own. It was a depressing thought, especially sober. He realized he was stacking the papers without looking at them, and sighed, he was never going to find anything this way. Wait, was that a sketch of Sorrow Watch? It was too faded, he needed more light. He turned to reach for his lantern again and caught a glimpse of movement in the dark hallway. Was someone else here? Leaving the lamp where it was and tucking the sketch away, Gavin crept slowly to the doorway. He paused, listening. Nothing, not even breathing. Had he imagined it? Pulling out his dagger, he leaned slowly into the darkness…   Still nothing. Huh. He stepped gingerly into the hallway and looked around. The hall was empty, even in this darkness there was nowhere anyone could’ve hidden. He heard a creak from somewhere above. Blast, he’d forgotten the rafters. He tensed, raising his dagger as he spun around, but the figure smacked it out of his hand as they landed on him.   “Ow.” He grimaced, not content with knocking him flat, his attacker knelt on his chest, holding a dagger at his throat. The shadow was female, but much beyond that he couldn’t tell. She smelled faintly chemical, like matches, and the air before a storm.   “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” She demanded, her voice low and throaty.   “Well, at the moment I’m lying on the floor being threatened with a blade at my throat.” He flashed his most charming smile. “The name’s Gavin, but you can call me Gav if you’d like. I’d offer to shake your hand, but you’ve pinned both my arms.”   She scowled at him, her dagger pulling back marginally. “Did you hit your head?”   “Wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I’m always like this. Ask my brother.”   “Is he here?” She shifted, glancing around suspiciously.   “Not even in the same province I’m afraid.”   “Then why did you mention him?”   “In case you wanted a reference.”   “Are you drunk or mad?” She leaned closer, sniffing his breath.   “Sadly closer to the second than the first at present.” He replied wistfully.   “Perfect. I’ve caught an idiot.” She sat back, looking frustrated. “What am I supposed to do with you?”   “You could let me up?” He suggested.   She ignored this. “What are you looking for? Who sent you here?”   “I sent me. I’m looking for someone.” Honesty. Huh. That was new. He definitely needed a drink.   “And you thought you’d find this person by breaking into an empty house?” Her tone was openly incredulous. “Why are you really here? I know you’re a thief. What were you looking for?”   “Don’t gesture with that please.” His eyes focused on the dagger in her hand. “And I’m insulted by your insinuation, this mess is clearly the work of an amateur. As cliche as it sounds, it was this way when I got here.”   “Why-”   “I’m looking for my mother, all right? I have reason to believe she was here, and I’m trying to figure out where she went. As for who ransacked this place, I didn’t see them either. My mother respects books too much to have made this mess though, even if she was upset.”   “Your mother?”   “We’re a complicated family.”   His attacker paused, debating something, probably his sanity. “I believe you, that’s too stupid to make up. But, I’m taking your dagger, and you will help me search this place.” She rose, collecting the dagger as she stood. “You will not try anything,” she added “or I will set you on fire.”   “Duly noted.”


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