Lyra took one last look around the crowded marketplace and sighed. Once again her attempts to find an easy mark had gotten her exactly nowhere. Her gaze wandered of its own volition over to the food stalls lining the eastern wall and she sighed again. She had been stealing food from the stalls on a fairly regular basis and the vendors were starting to get suspicious. If she was going to eat, Lyra needed to find a mark and she needed one soon. She was getting hungry. [hungryhungryhungry]
She’d been staring for nearly a minute before she realised what was in front of her.[hungryhungryhungry] The mark she’d been searching for. Coming into the markets from the east, pausing at food stalls obviously looking for something to eat. Lyra came smoothly to her feet and moved away from the doorstep she’d been sitting on. A half-orc was perfect, big, slow and stupid.
Light on her feet and quick, Lyra moved easily through the crowd. Sunlight glinted off the mark’s armour, and the fairly monstrous [hungryhungryhungry] – what was the sword?[hungryhungryhungry] She didn’t bother figuring it out, it wasn’t what she was after, so it wasn’t important. What she was looking for was – [hungryhungryhungry]. Lyra stopped abruptly, letting the crowd swirl around her. Damnit it was hard to concentrate. If this didn’t pay off, she’d have to take her chances with the vendors. But there! The big brute pulled off his gauntlets and attached them to his belt. And shining in the sun was a ring. That would do for starters.
Small and slender, she slipped between two merchant arguing over the price of – something, and came out right near the mark. And there, there was the prize – a small coin pouch, currently in the half-orc’s hands. Patience. Patience. [hungryhungryhungry]
“Hey! Watch it!” a sharp angry voice pierced her revere. Lyra back-pedalled fast, letting the crowd swallow her up and spit her back out behind the half-orc. She swore under her breath. This was getting dangerous, she should give it up. Wait until she had her focus back. Until she could concentrate. But then the pouch went on the belt, next to the gauntlets and the mark’s attention was elsewhere. She’d never have such a chance.
Moving quickly [hungryhungryhungry] she stepped forwards [hungryhungry]. Casual. Casual was the key. Her right hand drifted out and she hitched her pace the barest amount necessary. The manoeuvre should have let her keep right on going, with none the wiser. Instead, she came to an abrupt halt.
She looked up. And up. And up. Dear gods he was massive! The half-orc was looking down at her, quite calmly, her right hand caught firmly in one massive fist.
“That is one way of describing the situation” Lyra paled, had she said that out loud? Ignoring that for a moment, she focused on the mark. His voice was deep, and oddly for a – well, a half-orc, rather compelling. A light tug on her wrist
“Just what do you think you were doing?”
Think fast woman, think fast. [hungryhungryhungry]
“I was… uhhh. I-” [hungry]Damn it[hungry]
“Trying to steal from me?” he sounded more amused than angry, probably because he was fast enough to catch a thief. Damn him.
“No!” Lyra tried for real indignation, and found it – mostly. “I wouldn’t- I was…” Her voice trailed off as the half-orc continued to watch her with that steady, calm, and knowing gaze. She sighed heavily, shoulders drooping. This was not her week. [hungry]Damn it[hungry]Damn it[hungry]Damn it[hungry]
The mark – well, she couldn’t really call him that any more – chuckled. Chuckled? Now that rankled. That hurt. More than your stomach? [hungryhungry] Probably not. The hand around her wrist relaxed slightly, apparently tiny Lyra wasn’t considered much of a threat.
“Now, how bad can things be that you’d try stealing from a paladin?” He sounded more amused than anything else. “We’re not noted for our valuables.”
As soon as the word ‘paladin’ left the half-orc’s lips Lyra stopped listening, tensed and pulled away. Startled the half-orc pulled back. In a match of brute strength, it was no contest.
The hand around her wrist tightened and Lyra panicked. Forgetting the full plate, she stomped on his foot, swearing when it did more damage to her than him.
Get away! She swung her free hand, intending to slap him and cause a scene. That hand was also caught and held. Had she been thinking, she would have realised it was a light grip, meant to hold her, but not hurt. Instead she screamed.
Or tried to.
Her left hand went free as the half-orc slapped a beefy hand over her mouth.
Ket’Thull was starting to get confused. He had stopped a young thief, nothing more. And she was wildly overreacting. He had to stop her before she attracted attention. He couldn’t afford the delay, his mission was too vital.
Moving faster than his bulk suggested, Ket’Thull released the girl’s left hand and clapped his hand over her mouth, cutting off the building scream before she could loose it. He tugged sharply on her wrist, pulling her arm down to her side and pinning it there. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he had to get her quiet.
She kicked him in the shins.
“ENOUGH!” He hissed the word at her, feeling his frustration rise. He glared down at her, fighting the urge to simply throw her over his shoulder and find some quiet corner to give her a stern talking to. It was then he saw her face.
She was terrified.
And not just the guilty fear of someone who, when confronted by a paladin, can’t help but think of all the not-so-nice things they’ve ever done. Not the disgusted fear of those who looked upon his face and saw only the marks of his orcish ancestry. This was real fear.
He let her go.
Still, Ket’Thull wasn’t an idiot. He released her hand, but kept his fingers lightly enclosing her wrist, just in case. It hadn’t really hurt, but he would prefer she not use his shins for target practice again.
“It is all right” he said, pitching his voice to be low and soothing. “I will not hurt you.”
Hurt you... Lyra jerked back, only to find that the hold on her wrist was gone, or at least relaxed. … not hurt you… not... not. Not hurt you. Her eyes snapped up to the half-orc. He stood over her, doing his best not to tower, and watched her, his eyes strangely – gentle? Well that didn’t make any sense.
She blinked rapidly and uncurled her fingers from the fist they’d formed.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I don’t- I didn’t mean…” Lyra found herself trailing off lamely, unsure of what to say but well aware she could still be in a lot of trouble. She glanced up, surprised by the kindness in the half-orc’s eyes. He let her go completely and simply folded his arms across his (admittedly massive) chest and studied her closely.
“You didn’t mean to steal from me?” He asked sceptically, one eyebrow going up.
“Well, no… I didn’t mean to get caught” there was a sudden pause. Horrified, Lyra clapped her hands over her mouth. The half-orc seemed to find it rather funny, and he burst out laughing.
“Well, an honest thief” he chuckled. “That’s a new one. All right, little thief, what shall we do with you?”
“You could just let me go” Lyra turned her face up towards him, attempting to look sweet, innocent, and utterly adorable. It worked. About half the times she tried it. He kept laughing. That was getting rather annoying.
“I don’t think so, little thief.” He peered down at her and smiled. “I don’t think you’re really a bad person. Perhaps it would be best if you travelled with me for a time. Yes, that should keep you out of trouble admirably.” He leaned back, beaming, clearly pleased with himself. Lyra couldn’t believe her ears. It was time to take more – drastic – action.
“And exactly what sort of mission – quest… err, thing(?) would a paladin be on that requires a thief?” Her tone was a both pert and cynical, but that was simply a blind. To distract him from what the fingers of her left hand were busy doing. Lyra had spotted some of the young street kids hovering at the edges of the market. Hoping, as they always did, that Lyra would have some bounty to share with them. Quickly, she signalled for a diversion. The quick pattering of feet told her they were coming.
She was funny, he’d give her that. And she raised a good point – what sort of mission would a paladin be on that would need the services of a self-confessed thief? He couldn’t exactly tell her the truth about his mission, but he found himself strangely reluctant to just leave her behind. She was afraid of paladins – he’d be lying if he didn’t acknowledge that interested him. He would like to know why. Would like to see if he could change her mind. She was a thief – he felt it his duty to put a stop to that. So why didn’t he just turn her over to the authorities? That would be the most logical, and simplest answer. So why didn’t he?
Hands slapped at his leg.
Startled Ket’Thull looked down. A small human child had run into him and fallen to the ground. The little girl promptly burst into tears, causing the boy just behind her to run up and start berating Ket’Thull in a shrill voice. Another small boy joined them, slapping ineffectually at his legs.
The young woman moved.
She was fast, he would give her that. One sharp tug, and she yanked her hand free from his loosened grip. She twisted to one side and darted past him, affording him a fleeting glance of black hair as she ran.
The big half-orc moved fast. Planting one foot, he pivoted around and got in her way. He grabbed her by the shoulders and held her firmly in place.
“You are going to be trouble” he sighed, wondering briefly at his attitude, insisting that she come with him. Ket’Thull looked down at his captive; she stood quietly in his grasp, not that he trusted that seeming compliance, not any more. Blue eyes looked up and regarded him silently, she seemed both exasperated and resigned.
“Why are you so determined to get away from me?” Ket’Thull asked finally.” I’ve already told you I won’t hurt you.”
[hungryhungryhungry] Damn it. Lyra would have sworn aloud if she’d thought it would make any difference. Stung by their failure, the children had fled. She didn’t blame them. This city wasn’t easy on the little ones of the street. And she was seriously having trouble thinking. It should never have taken this long to talk her way out of a situation. And stumbling? Never. [hungryhungryhungry] The paladin clearly hadn’t noticed, otherwise he probably would have said something about it by now. He seemed fond of the sound of his voice. Lyra was tired[hungryhungryhungry]and so very hungry. She wasn’t sure she had the energy to argue too much longer.
“I believe you” she said finally. “But in my experience being caught means only one thing. Trouble.”
“I have no intention of handing you over to the authorities.” Lyra’s head snapped up and she gaped at him. He seemed just as surprised as she was.
“You aren’t?” She asked incredulously[hungry], taking a step back so she could look at his face without craning her neck. It turned out to be a mistake. Hunger[hungry]it seemed, was catching up with her. Lyra staggered, as her knees gave way and her feet slid on the dusty ground. Before she could hit the ground, two arms went around her and she discovered the half-orc had caught her. He stepped closer and held her upright til she found her feet again, then immediately stepped back. He seemed to have realised constantly titling her head back was giving her a headache. Or perhaps that was the hunger.
He was watching her again, with those eyes that saw more than she’d like.
“How long has it been since you last ate?” He asked finally. Damn. Did it really show that much?
“A while…” Lyra muttered, unwilling to admit to the truth. The half-orc snorted, his breath stirring her hair, and she realised he was just as frustrated with the situation as she was. “About three days” she admitted.
He walked away. Startled, Lyra made no attempt to run. Instead she gaped at him as he marched to the nearest food vendor, spoke a few words and made the music of coins changing hands. He marched straight back and placed something into her hands. A loaf of bread. Lyra stared at it dumbfounded.
She blinked at the load, then tilted her head and blinked a couple of times at her benefactor. Finally she dropped her head and whispered
She turned around and whistled softly. Without warning, the three youngsters reappeared, looking up at her with wide eyes and eager hands. Smiling, Lyra dropped the loaf into the hands of the girl, who beamed up at her.
“Wha’ ab’t you?” the older of the two boys asked, his mouth already full of bread. Lyra grinned down at him, taking the loaf back, she pulled off one small piece and popped it into her mouth.
“That’ll take care of me” she said. “Go, eat. And stay out of trouble!”
She turned back to the half-orc, feeling suddenly self-conscious as she squinted up at him. He was watching her with surprise on his face.
“I learned that from my first guild” she murmured. “Anything that sparkled or shone we could handle as we saw fit. But food was first for those who can’t feed themselves.” Her expression said she expected him to make fun of her. Such a response was the farthest thing from his mind.
“You have a good heart little thief” he said finally. He found himself wondering if it would be entirely ethical to use his sight to find if she were truly good. His instincts told him that she was, but – well, even the evil and depraved looked after their own – in a way.
“I’d say thank you, but that won’t really help me much” Lyra replied. “Now that you know I’m not completely evil, perhaps we can come to some sort of agreement. You don’t turn me in, and I will – behave myself.”
“No, I don’t think so” his voice was quiet, and almost pensive, but there was no mistaking the unmovable quality. “I think you should come with me. There is good in you, you simply need to find the right path.”
“And you don’t think I have that path already?” He burst out laughing
“Obviously not little thief!” Ket’Thull chortled. He stepped forwards again, crowding her space, and well aware of the fear that flashed through her eyes before she got her expression back under control. A part of him felt guilty for deliberately intimidating her, but he was convinced this was the best option.
“I won’t turn you into the authorities; but I think I will insist that you come with me. For a time at least.” He looked down, keeping his face impassive. She sighed
“I can see I don’t have much of a choice. Fine… My name is Lyra.”
“And I am Ket’Thull. Now, young Lyra, we have a long way to go. Perhaps we should see about feeding you, since you so kindly gave up your previous meal to the less fortunate.”
“Now that I won’t argue with.”