You're ambushed during the night

"Beat the bushes! Your spears down every hole! Do I have to explain it with my sword?"

The Paladin, still, refusing to give up his hunt, and loose like a hound roaming the night above the hole beneath the tree. Heart hammering behind your eyes, you grasp that you must have slipped for some time into sleep that brought no dreams.

Buzzing, whirring, ticking, the clockwork monkey scampers over you, stamping the side of your head under both hind feet as it goes.

Muttering – "Take her away from here – Monkey’ll deal with these – And you’re not indebted to me, not at all!" – it leaps from the hole, away, into the night, and forest howling in voices.

An instant later, clear above the howling men, a girl singsongs, "Here I aaa'm!"

It sounds a girl's voice, though gravelly enough, and unmistakably that Monkey.

"Let me beee...you brutes!" – sounds distantly.

Immediately following that, only the soft pattering of the night's drizzle reaches the hole under the tree.

She has snuggled herself close, under the shared cloak, just the same as any real and living girl might do, to share the warmth of another in a cold night. The dagger trembles in your speedy hand, you notice: the hand and dagger over your head, against the roots of the tree, and ready for whatever might try to break into the hole. She has your other hand, holds it, tightly to her chest. Her heart, if it is a heart, tap’taps under your palm. Her eyes gleam. Her breath warms your lips.

This girl from your dreams. The dreams that drew you north – as a moth must to the flame.

"Who made you?" you murmur – "And why?"

Who made you and why  – She breathes against your lips in the dark beneath the tree.

You know that only escape matters, for the moment. You attempt to draw away your hand. Resisting, she keeps it upon her tap’tapping heart, one more moment, and releases it. Gathering up yourself and her, together crouching now under the tree, you burble your thoughts, to this girl, though she may not understand your words, because it is how you prepare, when a plan involves another.

"We must go south. Quickly. We might hide best in the towns on the way. Keep this cloak close about you. They who see you might take you for just another girl. Come – Monkey has led them away."

Emerging, cautiously, from beneath the tree, and finding the forest still, as the night should be, you draw up the girl by the hand.

She does understand, you see, as she tugs your cloak about her. You fumble, taking longer than it should, in fitting the cowl over her head, because she is watching you all the while. Oddly, when you reach for her, to take her in hand and take you both away, the girl refuses your right hand, your speedy one. Instead she takes your left, unaugmented hand. She holds it in both hers.

As well as your speedy shooting hand, you have another augment. It cost you six months of indenture to a ruthless merchant, and days of blinding headache, following the implant. However, on a wet and cloudy night, and no stars above to guide by, it is a most useful augment you cannot ever lose, so long as you keep your head. Towing the girl by her hand, you stride into the dark trees, directly on a heading of one-fifty.

The End

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