The room was now dark, but that did not stop Engle from seeing the streaks of blood smeared across the floor. The metallic odor was cloying; it filled his nose, and he had to resist the urge to gag. He needed to get out.
He silently picked his way over the blood and strode to the door. Outside, the moon hung brightly overhead. Engle walked to the middle of the street, craning his neck to look at the bright orb, and thought of Lyric. He did not want to know of how Lyric would be waiting at Rona’s door for him to return. What would Lyric think of him? Would she think that he had died? Would she think that he had abandoned her? Would she think that he did not want her anymore? How long would she cry?
They walk through the wet grass along a small, worn trail, quietly humming as they go.
He can’t say no, so he sifts his fingers through her hair and begins to plait it.
Fear floods through him as tears stream down Lyrics face, a jagged red line running down the length of her forearm.
He kisses her freckled nose, and she erupts into a fit of trilling laughter.
He presses his hand to her forehead, worried about how pallid her cheeks are, how grey her eyes are, and how high her temperature is climbing.
He holds out his hand parallel to the floor, and she twirls on her heel beneath his fingers, a smile stretching across her face and her hair fanning out in a wave.
He snatches the cold metal from her thin fingers in a panic, and shakes it in front of her eyes before roughly shoving it into his waistband.
“This is not a toy!”
“Oh, Lyric. Oh, my baby girl,” he moaned. He dropped to the ground and clutched at his sides, curling into himself as he crouched in the dusty street. He began to weep once more, and his throat constricted again. He choked on another sob, keening Lyric’s name to himself until the mere sound of her floated about him in a song of its own.
“Your helmet said that you hesitated when you needed to eliminate your target. What does that mean?”
Engle tried to clear his voice. “It means that I failed to kill my target fast enough to please my employers. It means that I broke my contract.”
The thief was silent for a moment. “And your target?”
That made Engle look up, but he kept silent. Salleem smiled a small, sad smile. There was still blood on his face.
“I thought so,” he said quietly. “In the cell, during the first night, I saw you flinch when I said my name. I thought it was coincidence at first, so I shrugged it off. But that notion didn’t last long I guess. It wasn’t that hard to figure out, and I’ve had some time to think.” He paused. “I truly am sorry for you, Engle. Heather tried to get you to talk in there, to lighten you up, but you didn’t respond at all. I’m sure Lyric will be--”
Engle stood up sharply, clenching his fists to his sides. “Don’t say her name. Don’t you fucking say it!” he snarled. “And do not think you know me, thief. You know nothing. Not you, not Heather, and never that elf.” Venom dripped from every word.
Salleem held up his hands in surrender, shrinking back against the side of the building. “So I know nothing,” he conceded. “Does that change anything? What are you going to do now?”
Engle stared at him in disbelief. “What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to continue on with wherever this little merry troop is headed? Am I supposed to forget about what reality I’ve come from and what I’ve left behind? I don’t belong here!” He scoffed to himself. “But none of that matters now, does it? I’ve stranded myself; I’ve lost my daughter somewhere that I don’t know how to get back to and in a time that I can now never get back to, thanks to you.”
He turned away from the thief, wiping away the moisture on his cheeks. The two lapsed into silence. Engle let his head drop into his hands, and his shoulders heaved with more silent sobs. What should he do now? Should he just walk away and leave Heather to return to her forest now that his mission was no longer of any consequence?
Perhaps that would be for the best, for that was the deal he had made with the nymph. He did not need to keep Heather from where she belonged anymore; she had a home to return to, after all. She would disappear back to her forest, fixing up the daffodils he had ruined, and Engle would… where would he go? He was a wanted criminal, he did not know where he was, and he had less than no idea of his surroundings. Was there really anything left for him?
He knew what the answer to that question was. He wiped his face once more, and then let his arms drop. He rested his hand on the back of his pistol, fingering its hilt for the second time that day.
“Well I don’t think you should shoot yourself, if that’s how you mean,” Salleem said, standing up. “I know you’re one to make rash decisions, Engle. Don’t even try to tell me I’m wrong.” There was annoyance in his voice now. “It’s time to stop acting on impulses and acting like a child. Consider things at arm's length so that reason and sense can prevail. It’s time to actually think things through before you throw yourself headfirst into every goddamned struggle there is because, at some point, you’re going to lose."
Salleem walked closer, an angry look on his face. Engle took a small step back and lowered his eyes to the ground.
“You need help,” the thief continued, his voice rising, “but you are so obstinate that you consider support a weakness! That girl in there,” Salleem pointed at the wall of the building. “I can tell she cares for you; I’ve never heard of a nymph leaving her forest territory before, but here I find one travelling with you. Of all people, she’s travelling with you! Think about that! She gave up more than you know in order to help you, yet here you are, about to walk away and dismiss everything she’s done. We would all still be in jail if it weren’t for her, and maybe we wouldn’t be even that lucky; you might have died in that jail without that nymph, leaving Lyric by herself all the same.”
Engle knew Salleem was right. He could not argue anymore. “Then what do you want me to do?” he croaked.
“I want you to listen to us, Engle,” the thief’s words softened. “My words were not empty when I offered you my help, so will you accept it?”
Engle swallowed hard, pushing his pride down deep. He hung his head, and when he spoke, his voice was only a whisper. “Yes, but what can you do?”
Salleem let a small smile grace his lips. “Well, I am a thief, aren’t I? I think I can steal Lyric back.”