Tellias was waiting for them at the end of the alley, dressed in a laborer’s simple white tunic that was slightly damp with sweat from the heat. Three other men were with him. Two were also dressed in simple clothing, large and well-muscled, and had a hard look to their eyes Tythel had seen in the most veteran resistance fighters. The remaining man was dressed nicer, with a black shirt that gleamed with the sheen of silk. His hair was plastered to his forehead with sweat, and his face was turning red. Probably shouldn’t wear black in this weather, Tythel thought, glad that heat didn’t touch her.
“Ahhh,” the man said, “the lovely Grendella returns, and brings her mythical Warrior Maiden companion – not so mythical, though. Tell me, Warrior Maiden, what do you call yourself? Grendella didn’t deign to share your name.”
Eupheme – or ‘Grendella,’ Tythel supposed – barely even flinched. She needn’t have worried. “I am called Zimiri,” Tythel said, her voice casual. “If you wish my true name, you can taste my steel.”
The man studied her for a moment, then nodded to himself. “Sounds enough like what I’ve heard. I don’t like working with people who cover their faces, Ulmar.”
That last comment seemed directed at Tellias, who gave the silk-clad man a casual shrug. “And I don’t like trusting my security to hired thugs. Zimiri’s honor means my wallet stays secure.”
After a moment, the man sighed. “I suppose I can’t argue with that. Or, to be more accurate, I could, but I’d rather be done with the lot of you.” He turned and gave Tythel a low bow. “I may be called Eliert and mean no offense. These are dangerous times for men such as myself, and every caution must be taken.”
Tythel gave Eliert a faint nod of her head. From the look in Eliert’s eyes, she’d passed that test too – the warrior maidens only bowed before initiating combat. Thank you, father, for all your lessons. “And do you have what we need?” Eupheme asked, taking back control of the conversation.
Eliert gave her a broad grin. Tythel wasn’t sure exactly how to read it – was he amused? Frustrated? Something about this man was throwing off her ability to read people. Probably because he’s a liar, Tythel reasoned. “Grendella. In all the times we’ve worked together, have I ever not had what you needed?”
“There was the time in Queensfall,” Eupheme said with a roll of her eyes.
“Hey, that wasn’t on me, that was on-”
“And the time in Oxhaven,” Eupheme said, crossing her arms.
Eliert held up his hands. “What was I supposed to do, there were a dozen-”
“And then there was-”
Eliert threw up his hands. “All right, all right, fine, I see your point. Yes, I have what you need. Do you have the keys for it?”
Eupheme motioned to Tythel, who held up a bag and jingled its contents. “I let the deadly assassin carry the money,” Eupheme said, and Tythel thought she was used to Eupheme’s expressions well enough to see a sparkle of amusement in her eyes.
“Probably a good call.” Eliert held out his hand. Tythel glanced at Eupheme, who’s eyes narrowed.
“The goods, Eliert?” she said.
Eliert sighed and glanced at Tellias. “Your ladies aren’t particularly trusting, Ulmar, are they?”
Tellias gave Eliert a flat look. “I told Zimiri to slit your throat the first time you started to act suspect, Eliert. They’re every bit as trusting, and twice as patient.”
The two men on either side of Eliert tensed and gave Tythel appraising gazes. She met their gaze, wondering what they saw there. Certainly not fear. These two brutes couldn’t threaten Tythel without weapons more advanced than the crude clubs on their sides, and that was if she was alone. With Eupheme at her back, the only thing she had to worry about was getting Tellias to safety before someone crushed his skull.
Whatever they saw, they didn’t like. They tensed up further and the air grew tense. Tythel readied herself to spring, Eupheme’s hands went to her daggers, Tellias reached for his long, thin blade, and the brutes reached for their clubs.
Then Eliert started laughing. “I should have known anyone who could run with Grendella would have the sense of humor of a flathing aeromane that’s been kicked between the legs. I have the goods, no worries.” He stepped back into the doorway behind him.
The tension faded from the air, and the two guards gave Tythel a sheepish grin. “Don’t like the idea of fighting one of you,” he said.
Tythel just gave him a slight nod, remembering Eupheme’s interdiction against speaking too much. Instead, she strained her ears to listen to Eliert as he moved boxes around. “Too damn hot to hold on to anyway. Need to get out of this flathing town for a bit after this, yes I do.”
Eliert dragged a crate out from the room he was in. “Hey, you two!” he barked. “Put those bulging sinews to good use and help me with this.”
The thugs glanced at each other. The one that had spoken shrugged and stepped in to help Eliert with the crate. They came out, struggling to carry the crate between them. “As promised,” Eliert said, putting it down into the dirt where it settled in with a hard thunk. Eliert glanced down the alley to make sure no one was coming, then kicked the lid slightly to slide it, revealing the contents. “Ten weapon arccells – fully charged, so a hundred shots each – two long range arcwands, a close range ringwand, and one Skitter arccell and lattice mind. Don’t know why you want the last two, and don’t care. Now, my keys?”
Eupheme gave Tythel a slight nod, and Tythel tossed the bag of coins to Eliert. He opened it up and shook it a few times next to his ear, listening to the clinks. He then took one of the coins out and bit down on the soft gold. “Alright. Guess our business is-”
Tythel’s eye widened, and she missed the rest of what Eliert had to say. A sound had reached her ears – distant but growing stronger. A low roar, like a fast-moving flame. “Skimmers,” she hissed. “We have to get inside.”
Eliert’s eyes widened. “What? Here? No, no, you are not going-”
Tythel bent down and with a smooth motion, picked up the crate that two men had struggled to carry and brought it to rest on her shoulder. Eliert and his men both gaped at her. “Move!” Eupheme barked, snapping them out of their trance.
They dove into the entrance way just as the Skimmers streaked overhead, Tythel’s heart pounding. Light, please say they didn’t see us.
She listened to the roar of their flames and waited to hear them turning back.