The sun’s last beams gave the old city a warm glow, but that didn’t make Ereptus feel any more comfortable. He’d left the city years ago, to never return, but now he’d felt obligated to come back. An old friend had asked him to, and since Ereptus owed him his life, he couldn’t ignore the summon when it had come.
Few people were still outside, so Ereptus could easily walk down the streets and alleys without being seen. He didn’t want to bump into any of the people he’d had time to upset while he lived there. Walking down a back alley he heard some muffled shouts and the sounds of a subdued fight. Against better judgment he turned towards the noise and saw two men who were attacking a young girl. The girl was skinny, but she fought well.
Normally Ereptus would just leave the scene. He’d made a habit of staying out of other people’s business, but something about the girl’s desperate, yet futile, resistance made him step closer. The girl caught sight of him then, in between kicking one of the men in the groin, and grabbing the other’s hair making him scream. Ereptus froze.
The girl must be young, not a day over fifteen, but probably younger still. What caught him most by surprise though were her eyes. They were a pale green, so pale that they seemed more yellow than green. He’d never seen such eyes before and they completely captivated him.
Then the moment of stillness was over; both men had recovered from their current states and were advancing on the girl again. Ereptus then did something he’d never done before. He stepped in to help the girl. With a few swift movements, he had the two men unconscious on the ground. One didn’t spend a whole life living on the streets without acquiring some useful tricks.
The girl was getting up, brushing some dust off her patched trousers. Ereptus gave her a quick look over. She seemed to be all right, so he’d stepped in before the men could do any real harm. She wasn’t as skinny as he’d first thought, even if she was very slender. Her clothes had certainly seen better days. She wore a pair of torn leather boots, a pair of patched trousers and a too large tunic that she’d tied closed at the waist with a dirty rope. Had it not been for her face and long hair, she’d have looked like a young boy. Her skin was fair without even a hint towards a tan, he could see the fairness of the skin even through the dirt that covered most of it.
Her hair was long and tangled in a dark walnut brown. Her face was still young, but already beautiful, too beautiful to be a regular street urchin. No girl of any age with those looks would have made it this long. She had arched eyebrows, a small, straight nose and soft lips. He could see her ears vaguely under her hair, their form telling him that she was an elf. Her eyes were still the most peculiar about her though, he’d never seen anyone with eyes that were almost yellow before.
The girl glared at him. Even though he was used to surveying people in a quick glance, she must have noticed that he was looking at her. Her peculiar eyes had made him look longer than usual.
“Who are you?” the girl finally asked.
“I’m Ereptus. I might ask you the same question.”
“It doesn’t matter who I am,” the girl said dismissively and started to turn away from him to leave. “Thank you for saving me, not that I couldn’t have handled it myself, but I must be on my way.”
She started walking down the alley, stepping over the bodies of the two men who were still lying unconscious on the ground, but Ereptus caught her by the arm and forced her to stop.
“Now, hold there, kid. You don’t just walk out on me.” He glared down at her. “I want a name first. I didn’t just go through the trouble of saving you just to get dismissed.”
The girl glared right back up at him. “I was doing fine!” she proclaimed. “I can very well take care of myself.”
Ereptus didn’t comment on that, but gave her a look that told her he didn’t agree. “Maybe I should just wake those two men up and let them try to rob you again?” he said.
The girl glanced down at the two men and shuddered slightly. “I’d prefer if you didn’t,” she admitted, and then looked back up at him. She seemed somewhat uncomfortable, and Ereptus realised that she was worried he’d want something for saving her. Which shouldn’t have surprised him. That had always been the way on the streets.
“Why did you save me?” then girl suddenly asked warily.
“Damned if I know,” Ereptus muttered to himself.
That moment he heard running steps in the alley behind him and he quickly pulled his dagger and turned around to face whoever was coming. But he didn’t let go of the girl’s arm.
“Rain? Are you all right?” a man was panting.
“I will be when this brute lets go of me,” the girl said with a glare at Ereptus, she seemed to have regained her courage. Ereptus let her go.
He looked at the man who’d just arrived. It was his old friend. A suspicion started to form in the back of Ereptus’ mind, but he sure hoped he was wrong.
“Gaylen?” Ereptus said and his friend started and looked at him, then he smiled when he recognised Ereptus.
“I’ll be damned! Ereptus, mate. I hardly recognised you! Last time I saw you, you were still a gangly brat.” Gaylen grinned as he said this, walked up to Ereptus and slapped him on the back. “It’s good to see you, old friend.”
Ereptus couldn’t say the same. He was still feeling uncomfortable being back in the city where he’d spent most of his life. It hadn’t been a very good life. Gaylen had grown a lot older during the last few years. He had a lot of grey in his dark hair, and his eyes looked tired.
“So… You’ve taken in a new brat?” Ereptus nodded towards the elf girl.
Gaylen looked somewhat uncomfortable. “Um… Yes. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.” Ereptus sighed. “Let’s go to your house and talk there.”
The older man nodded, took the girl by her hand and started walking down the alley towards his home, which Ereptus knew to lie a block or two away. Ereptus fell in behind them, keeping a little distance. He could see that Gaylen was hissing at the girl, most likely scolding her for being out alone this close to nightfall. The city wasn’t safe for anyone after the dark settled. It was barely safe during the day.
Gaylen had once helped Ereptus. He’d taken him in when he’d been badly injured in a fight and nursed him back to health. Ereptus had stayed with him for a while, helping the old man by stealing him extra food and money. After a while Ereptus had left the city though, he’d gained too many enemies. It seemed that now Gaylen had a new charge in the dirty little girl that was walking next to him, flinching when he said something she didn’t like.
Once they’d reached Gaylen’s house they gathered around a small wooden table. Gaylen put out some water and bread for them to eat.
Ereptus was still casting glances at the girl now and then. For some reason, he couldn’t stop. She had been told to clean up, which had been needed since her face had been all but covered in grime and dirt, and her face was now clean. She reminded him of a white rose standing alone in a withered garden. The city wasn’t for someone like her. She’d tied back her long hair and Ereptus finally saw her ears clearly, which confirmed his suspicion that she was an elf, or at least a half elf. Her eyes had the correct shape for it.
“I found her on the streets some years back,” Gaylen said when he noticed Ereptus’ interest in the girl. “She’d just been abandoned by her father. He’d traveled to our city with her, and then didn’t bother to take her back home.”
The girl seemed to find the subject uncomfortable. She grabbed a loaf of bread and a cup of water and disappeared.
“Why did you take her in?” Ereptus asked.
“Look at her,” the older man said. “She doesn’t belong on the streets. I don’t know where she’s from, but she’s not your regular street urchin.”
Ereptus nodded. He’d thought the same thing himself.
“She knows magic.” The last admission from Gaylen surprised him. Magic was a rare gift, or a curse, depending on who you asked.
“Mind you, she doesn’t know half as much as she once will,” Gaylen said. “She’s untrained, and we’re trying to keep it secret. To keep her safe.”
Ereptus looked at his old friend. “That favour you want from me,” he said slowly. “It’s regarding her, isn’t it?”
The older man nodded. “I want you to bring her to the city of Messina. There are Sorcerer’s there that can teach her to use her powers. Help her control them. It’s a peaceful city. She’d be safe there.”
“You want me to bring her with me?” Ereptus asked, his voice more incredulous than he’d have expected, since he’d suspected this was what Gaylen wanted.
“Yes. She can’t stay her.”
Ereptus started to protest, but Gaylen cut in before he got a word out. “Once you’re there you don’t need to ever see her again. Just make sure she’s taken to the city, let her know where to find the Sorcerers, then you can leave her. I ask you this favour, and then your debt to me is paid.”
With a sigh Ereptus nodded. He couldn’t refuse his friend’s request. He stood up.
“Have her pack and be ready in the morning. I want to leave at dawn.”
Gaylen nodded and Ereptus left the small house. He was going to stay at a nearby inn for the night.
The next morning Ereptus met Gaylen and the girl outside the older man’s house. The girl was arguing, she didn’t want to be sent away. She was ranting and raving and all Ereptus could do was to stand by and watch. He was amazed that Gaylen could hold his temper with the girl. Ereptus would have put her over his knees and given her a good spanking a long time ago.
“Gaylen, I don’t want to go to this Messina place!” the girl whined. “I like it here. With you.”
“You’ll be better off in Messina,” Gaylen said. “This city is no good for a girl like you. You’ve already gotten into a lot of trouble. It’s a miracle you haven’t been killed or sold as a slave by now.”
“I can take care of myself!” the girl said confidently. “You know I can. How else would I have made it this long?”
“You’ve been lucky,” Gaylen said, and cut her off when she was about to say something else. “There is no discussion, Rain. You’re going to Messina, and you’re going to learn to control your magic.”
The girl glared at Ereptus, as if he was the reason she had to leave. She leaned closer to Gaylen to whisper something, but years of training had made Ereptus’ hearing pretty good, and he could still hear her. “I don’t trust him, Gaylen. He worries me.”
Gaylen chuckled and stroked the girl’s hair. “He’s all right. He’s no happier than you are about the arrangement.”
The girl snorted at that.
A short while later the girl took fare well of Gaylen, and Ereptus lifted her up on the horse he’d stolen at the inn that morning. He’d figured a horse would make the trip go faster, and the quicker he reached Messina, the sooner he could get rid of her.
Ereptus took a quick fare well of Gaylen, then sat up in front of the girl and set the horse in motion. They rode in silence for most of the day, Ereptus because he didn’t know what to talk about with a young girl, her because she was still fuming after having had to leave against her will. Also, which Ereptus noticed since she had barely touched him to hold on to the horse, she only held on to a piece of his tunic, she was still distrustful of him. She might trust Gaylen, but she wouldn’t trust Ereptus simply because Gaylen did. Clever girl.
Towards the end of the day she finally spoke. “How long will it take us to reach this place?”
“Maybe a week, maybe longer,” Ereptus said.
After that they were quiet again. When the sun started to set, they stopped right inside the edge of a small forest to set camp for the night.
“This should be one of the few nights we need to sleep outside,” Ereptus told her. “For the rest of the journey we should pass through enough towns and villages to find an inn to stay at.”
The girl nodded, but said nothing. They ate in silence, and Ereptus noticed that she kept putting small pieces of bread inside her tunic.
“What are you doing?” he finally asked her irritably.
The girl looked up at him. “I’m feeding Peeves.”
“Peeves?” Ereptus frowned.
The girl stuck her hand inside her tunic and pulled out a blue-grey little beast.
“A lizard?” Ereptus laughed silently. “You have a pet lizard?”
“It’s a dragon, thank you very much!” the girl snapped, her hand patting the little dragon softly. It was very small, only a little bigger than her hand, and it had wound its tail around one of her fingers.
Ereptus got closer to look at the little beast, and he could see that it was indeed a small dragon rather than a lizard. This trip was only getting more strange. Dragons were incredibly rare, generally considered to be extinct except for a few of the smaller breeds that rarely grew larger than cats in size.
“That’s a peculiar pet,” he said.
“I’m a peculiar girl,” Rain said and put the little dragon back inside her tunic. Then she turned her back at him, lay down and went to sleep.
Ereptus looked at her for a moment, then lay down to get some sleep himself. The more he found out about her, the stranger the situation seemed. Elves were rarely seen in the cities, yet her father had abandoned her in one. She had the gift of magic, which was nearly as rare as the pat dragon she kept in her clothes. Pondering what he’d gotten himself into, Ereptus finally fell asleep.