Engle stirred slightly before pushing himself up from the dusty floor. His muscles protested, and he softly swore to himself as he blinked against the harsh sunlight coming through the broken glass in the windows. Despite sleeping soundly, he felt more exhausted than when he had lied down. The tiredness went past the barriers of his mind, seeping into his limbs and making the indurate floor seem more inviting than unpleasant.
“Ah, you’re finally up. It’s nearly midday, you know,” Lance told him.
Engle rubbed at his eyes and sighed deeply. Something hit him in the chest, and he glanced down to find a chunk of bread sitting in his lap.
“Thank Okohke. He’s the one who stole breakfast,” the elf said. He gestured to where the crow-man sat looking out one of the front windows.
Engle picked the bread up; though it had gone cold some time ago, it still smelled wonderful and made his mouth water. “Has the thief come back yet?” he asked, tearing off a piece from the loaf and biting into the dense grain.
“No, we haven't seen him,” Heather replied. Engle could hear a hint of worry in her voice. “Engle, where did he go?”
“If you’re asking me exactly where he’s gone, then I have no answer for you,” he said, swallowing. “I can’t answer you, because, in truth, I do not know where the thief is. We struck up the makings of a deal last night after the Orcs attacked us—“
“Orcs? Attack?” Heather interrupted, her voice rising. “When did this happen?”
Engle raised an eyebrow at Lance, who shrugged in return with a look of nonchalance on his face. Engle turned back to Heather and smiled wryly. “I’m really quite surprised you didn’t hear it. Apparently, I’m now a magnet for demented beings crazed for dark energy. They stopped by last night and received a thorough beating in return, though it was not thorough enough in my opinion,” he said off-handedly. “As I was saying, the thief and I began to make a deal: he helps me get my daughter back, and I repay him for his efforts.”
Heather’s eyes were wide. “Is that even possible?”
Engle frowned, and his brow furrowed. “I hope it is. I hope it’s possible more than anything in the world that he can get her back. He thinks it might be as well, so he left to see what he could find out. Salleem believes he can traverse through the “latticework," as he put it, of interlocking and overlapping realities in order to retrace the steps that I’ve made and find the exact place that I’ve came from.
“I don’t understand it, admittedly. I never inquired as to how I was sent to places like this in the first place, but my employers used some kind of machine to do it. Salleem though?” Engle shook his head. “The thief can do it just by himself. I still don’t know the extent of his powers, but he doesn’t seem to be keen on sharing all his secrets.” Engle saw Lance’s face grow dark at that statement, but he didn’t inquire the elf.
“How long will he be gone?” Heather asked quietly.
“He’ll be back when he finds what he’s looking for,” Okohke said from his perch near the window. There was a small smile on his lips. “Don’t doubt Salleem when there’s something to be gained.”
Engle just stared at Okohke, idly chewing on his bread and contemplating the crow-man’s apparent intuition. He did not know whether to be pleased or concerned by Okohke’s words. As he thought, he wondered what Salleem’s journey through realities felt like and how safe it was for the thief to do such a thing by himself. Engle’s own travels had been unpleasant, but he had never doubted TIME’s ability to transport him safely to his destination.
That is until they recently dropped me a fair distance above the ground, he mused. He faltered and stopped his chewing. A lot of his dealings had gone flawlessly before his current one. He arrived safely to his destination, received his files without fault, dealt with his targets easily, and returned home before Lyric could even realize he had left. Something must have gone terribly wrong with this particular job.
A creak from the doorway interrupted his thoughts. His eyes darted to the open frame where a slim figure stood silhouetted against the light. The figure stepped through the doorway, revealing blond hair and two vivid blue eyes. Engle jumped to his feet.
“Salleem! How did it go?” Engle’s words died in his throat when he saw the look on the thief’s face; there were dark circles under the thief’s eyes, his skin was a sickly, ashen grey, and a thin trail of blood leaked from one of his nostrils.
“What happened?” Engle demanded. Salleem blinked slowly, like he had not heard correctly. Engle had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, and his chest felt oddly tight. “Did you find a way--?”
The thief held up one of his hands, silencing Engle’s words. As he watched, Salleem absentmindedly wiped the blood away on the back of his raised hand and shuffled on unsure footsteps past Engle. The thief pressed his back to the wall and slowly slid to the dusty floorboards, dropping his head into his hands without saying a word.