“Can’t sleep, need fresh air,” Fen explained with a shrug.
She closed the door with a whisper and descended the staircase in two breaths, leaving Theo at his watch in the spartan bunkroom. In the space of one more breath she had slid out the rear entrance to the barracks into the cold, damp, and dark streets of Throneport.
With her hood up and cloak pulled tight—the “fashion” of this town, insofar as it can be said to have one—Fen turned north. Her long strides took her through pools of everburning torchlight alternating with the native grimy darkness of the nighttime city.
As she neared the main gate of the city, a stone monument manned by a forlorn pair of purple-cloaked sentinels, she swerved into an alleyway, turned a few corners, and emerged back onto the street heading in the opposite direction. Standard procedure: never stop, and never look like you’ve taken a wrong turn.
Fen looked up, and for the first time the line of shadow beneath her hood retreated up over her eyes. As ever, those eyes were watching, interrogating.
That night, they were interrogating tavern signs.
The first was carved in the shape of a man holding a pint with a toothy grin. His face looked like it had been worked over with a hacksaw. Which… was possible, Fen thought. The second was a rainbow-painted fish, oriented vertically as if an invisible angler were standing behind it, displaying their prize. The third, after just ten minutes of walking, was a pair of knives, crossed, a tiny rivulet of blood lovingly carved onto each wooden edge.
Fen passed directly under the sign and took a right onto the street behind it. She took the next available left, three more paces, and halted, and then examined the wall to her left. She passed her hands over it, gently feeling for loose or out-of-place stones or gaps in the mortar.
After a few minutes of this, she realized that what she was looking for lay beneath a fallen stone on the ground. She turned it over and retrieved a folded piece of parchment, palmed it, and strode back out into the street.
Fen read the letter by the first light of dawn, sitting up in her bunk as Heft lay sleeping like a great fallen tree in the bunk above her.
I didn’t believe you when you said you were getting back into the business. A jest, I thought, or a playful exaggeration. But Throneport? You really are back in the business, aren’t you?
I know how much it meant to you to be out. Which is all the more reason that I don’t understand what to make of this turn of events. If you wanted to prevent the next Last War, you could have just stayed. It’s what we’re doing. We do this sordid work so a hundred thousand soldiers won’t have to. And if the soldiers must get involved, we go with them, and we win it for the good guys and get it over with faster.
I’m sure you’ve made up your mind; I respect your decision, and I won’t belabor the point. Just felt like it had to be said. And you know me. If I hadn’t said it, you’d know I was thinking it.
Zelks misses you. He always did look up to you. He especially misses CQC; you can tell he’s not having nearly as much fun as he did when he would spar with you.
The others are getting on as usual. Most of us have lost people before, after all. Work continues apace. The food hasn’t gotten any better. But after that week we spent eating fucking muck in the Shimmerwood, I count every lunch and dinner of warm, bland goulash to be a blessing straight from Boldrei’s hearth.
So, living the dream, as they say.
It’s good to hear from you. I hope we’ll be able to keep up, even with all the travel.
One last thing. I’ve been dying to ask all these years. Did you attend your own funeral? I was looking. I didn’t see. But you’re good at what you do.
Heft rolled over. The movement was so tremendous that dust fell from the bottom of the bunk above, like stones shaken loose before the collapse of a cavern. Terra and Theo had already been up for nearly an hour—early risers, those two—and had just arrived with breakfast.
Fen retrieved a quill from her pack at the foot of her bed, a roll of her own parchment, and took to the reply.
You’re right. If you hadn’t said it, I’d know you were thinking it anyway. But I appreciate the pep talk. I value your sincerity more than I can put to words.
At least, sincerity when it comes to talking about your convictions and your compatriots. When you talk about yourself, you say “living the dream” as if that means anything! I’m sure I have heard you utter that phrase on days that competed for the worst in your life (like the Traelyn extraction) as well as the finest (that last night at Wroat). You really should open up a bit, you know. The way I see it, you should open up to me! If these letters ever get out to someone who knows enough for them to embarass you, we both have much bigger problems on our hands, anyway.
I’ve met some companions. They’re trustworthy, mostly. One wholly mercenary, one true believer, two d’Cannith and one bright-eyed kid trying to make right with a world that’s misjudged him. I like him. The Cannith aren’t bad, either. I mean, they’ve been taught the stuffy House Manners, and their understanding of their place in the world is… offputting (especially the arcanist; I think she was the favored child), but underneath that they’re thoroughly decent, and I hope to see more of that as the crucible of this journey blasts away the layers.
The mercenary may become an issue. He’s not quite a glutton for money and glory, he’s not quite a cold professional with the pride of an artisan, but he’s also not quite a demon with a lust for blood. I hate it when I can’t pin their motives. I’ll be working on it. Not leaving my back turned in the meantime.
That leaves the believer. Strangely, from what I’ve gathered, we walk a similar path: peace, and not just that, serenity. But we’ve certainly come to it different ways. Haven’t talked to her enough. Will need to be intentful about that.
I’ve missed you. I miss Z. I miss Ty and Losse. Don’t tell them, though. Z will never forgive me if I turn out to be alive.
I was at the funeral. I’m sorry. I thought it would be all fun and games, a little thrill for me to feel smug about it. It wasn’t. Seeing Z like that nearly broke me.
You looked great, though. You wear black well.