Moving through the thick crowd filling the tight space between buildings with the ease of someone who had done it a hundred times, Oriana and Wrench approached the boarding house that had been their home since moving to Genethan, the many parcels they carried somehow not hampering their progress in the slightest. 

"Are you sure you have everything you need?" Oriana asked, raising her voice to be heard above the bustling.

"Sure hope so. Ain't got da arms t' carry anyt'ing more anyway." Wrench's voice came from behind a wall of packages that rose above the top of her head. She navigated by way of a small hole in the pile, unbothered by the weight.

"Maybe tomorrow we–"

Wrench waited for the rest of the sentence, but it didn't come. She shifted her load to try to line her peephole up with Oriana, carefully at first, and then wildly when she couldn't locate her, until boxes at the top of the pile started raining down onto the street. When she finally found some sign of Oriana, it was an abandoned heap of purchases near an alleyway. Her eyes widening, she tossed her own load beside them and dashed into the alley.

From around a corner, she heard a voice.

"Wait! You promised not to hurt me!"

But the sight she saw was not what she had expected—Oriana being mugged or dragged away.

"What? You just grabbed me and...!"

Oriana was standing over a tall, lithe Cynic boy who seemed a few years younger than her. He might have looked like a nobleman were his expensive clothes not freshly soiled by the ground he was propping himself up on. The look in his purple eye was profoundly sad and worried, not dangerous.

Oriana actually looked more menacing than the boy did. Though her fury was increasingly mixing with confusion, it was clear she was the aggressor here.

"...dragged me over here..." Oriana finished, confusion fully taking over. The boy was holding the ledger chained to his waist like a shield in front of him, and its familiarity gave her pause.

The sudden realization that she recognized the crooked crimson book, though, brought her anger back in full force. She almost hadn't recognized him, so much bigger and not covered in filth. 


Oriana looked like she wanted to kick the boy, which alarmed Wrench. She has never seen her friend like this in their years of friendship.

"Oriana? What's da deal here? Who's 'e?"

"He's the one who ratted me out," Oriana seethed. "He's the whole reason I had to run away from home."

"It's really not like that!" the boy protested, but both of the girls ignored him.

"What? You remember something?"

Oriana looked curiously at Wrench, and the clueless look on her face reminded her that Wrench still didn't know the true story of Oriana's flight from Mardok. Now her anger was replaced with shame. She'd been living as a Romantic for so long now that she didn't even notice the sheer eyepatch she wore, or that everyone around her used only one eye. It was easy to forget Wrench wasn't in on the lie.

"It's... a long story, Wrench. I'm sorry for keeping it from you, but now isn't the time to fix that. Just... trust me."

Wrench, face impassive, simply nodded.

"What do you want?" Oriana demanded, rounding on the boy again. "If you're going to try to drag me back there it's going to take a lot more than you've got."

The boy tentatively rose to his feet, encouraged by not being immediately assaulted for moving. He made to dust himself off, but stopped short.

"I perhaps didn't think this through very well. While in fairness time is short, I very nearly got you killed." He pulled a page out of his ledger and held it in front of himself. "I will destroy this, and free you from its terms," he explained, and Oriana noticed upon looking closer that it was the contract she had written for the boy all those years ago.

"Though I would appreciate your continuing nonviolence regardless," he went on, tearing the page in half. He let the pieces fall to the floor and visibly braced himself, but the only aggression Oriana sent him was a violent roll of her eyes.

"Thank you. It's a little alarming to not have the protection of a contract, but it's the least I can do after all of this as a gesture of good faith." He straightened his posture further, the impression of nobility returning in spades. "I already know the both of you, but we haven't been introduced. My name is Zane." He held his hand out to Wrench, who silently shook it, and then to Oriana, who ignored it. It dropped back to his side. 

"That's fair I suppose. To the business at hand, then. You're in danger, Oriana. You  need to leave. Presently. I'm not very far ahead of them."

Oriana frowned. "Right. And you're telling me this why? You're the one who caused all of this."

"Unintentionally, but yes, that's also fair. I wasn't sure you would believe me, so I took the liberty of preparing a contract affirming my honesty in this matter." He pulled a second page from his ledger and handed it to Oriana, but she was as interested in it as she had been his hand.

"Um. Right then. I'll just read it. 'I, Zane Carmine, swear these words to be a true and full account of the happenings of...' Er, 'of...'" His eye, flicking back and forth from the page to Oriana's face as he read, picked up an increasing annoyance there. He sighed and stopped.

"Alright, I suppose I'll just... tell you, then. In my own words." Without the pomp and circumstance of a reading an official document, he was suddenly bashful, his formerly proud eye chasing shadows on the ground.

"I was frightened. I'd never seen someone with two eyes before. And no one had ever shown me any kindness. I panicked and ran, and in fleeing I ran straight into a guard. He thought I was running from some sort of crime and questioned me. I had to tell him. I couldn't lie."

Oriana wanted to tell him he could have lied, should have lied, but Wrench's conspicuously flat features in the wake of Oriana's own lie being uncovered left her with a sour taste in her mouth and she remained silent.

"I didn't think they would try to capture you, but when I saw what was happening I tried to get you out of there safely. You were, understandably I suppose, reluctant."

A twinge of guilt passed through her as she recalled throwing her coins at the boy in retaliation for his help. Not that she could be particularly blamed for getting a bad impression, she reasoned. But the feeling didn't subside.

"So I've spent the time since trying to atone for it. But that is a long story and we don't have the time right now. So please, can we leave?"

Oriana, though inclined to believe the story, was still not happy. Years of bitterness did not simply vanish, and for the time being any displeasure toward him that had faded with this revelation had just been focused on herself instead. She was ashamed she'd spent so much time hating that little boy for something he hadn't done because she'd been as quick to distrust someone as the Cynics were.

"Why am I in danger?" she asked, still trying to make up her mind. "Who is coming? How did they find me?" 

"Can I answer you on the way to your boarding house? We really don't have time to stand around any longer."

Oriana frowned. How he even knew they were staying in a boarding house bothered her, but if he was right she needed to get moving. The questions could come later.

"Fine. Lead the way." As Zane began a brisk walk back to the main road, Oriana turned to Wrench with a pained look in her eyes. "Wrench, I'm so sorry. I was–" 

"Ya can say yer sorry later. We got ta get movin'," Wrench said, avoiding Oriana's gaze as she followed after Zane.

Oriana stood with her unhappy thoughts for a moment before jogging after the other two.

The End

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