Nebo Terrace wasn’t a large settlement, but its walls were sturdy and had stood the test of dozens of centaurs attacks over the years, or so Halleston was all too eager to chatter about as we arrived. He seemed more and more unnerved by his gruesome cargo and with Baen keeping fairly quiet it was as though he was desperate to fill the air with words. I could sympathise, but it was with some relief when Halleston pulled us to a stop at the gates and he fell silent at the guard’s challenge.
Baen hopped down, waving one of the Seraph guards to the back of the cart and quietly explained an abridged version of what had happened. As she told it, we’d found the bodies on the road and brought them back with us, nothing more. She made no mention of the bandits or our little skirmish. Even if the Seraph went to investigate – and I had my doubts that they would – we’d be long gone and I didn’t think we’d have to worry about being pursued for questions concerning the deaths of a few murderers.
Baen solemnly helped the Seraph bring the bodies in as I waited with Halleston at the cart, watching the affair. Baen had been acting unusual since the killing, and I was wondering why when I noticed the sidelong glances that Halleston kept throwing my way. I tried to ignore it, but after nearly ten minutes my patience wore out.
“What?” I demanded, rounding on him. He looked up, immediately raising his hands defensively.
“Nothing!” He stammered. “I… I just didn’t realise you were a mesmer.”
“What of it?” I crossed my arms and was forced to study his boots as he looked to his feet.
“Nothing. Nothing.” He hesitated. “I’ve just never met one before.”
“That you know of.” I snorted. “We don’t exactly wear signs around our necks.”
“What’s it like?” There was that damned curiousity again.
“What’s what like?”
“Being able to… to… do what you do… being a mesmer.”
“It’s like writing.” I said, leaning back against the cart with a sigh. He waited for a moment, clearly expecting me to say more, but to my relief Baen chose that moment to return, Grapple in tow. Her expression was unreadable, and Halleston wisely chose to hold his tongue as gave him a curt nod and promptly told us we were moving on.
I looked at where I hoped Baen was as we began moving again, but she kept her eyes fixed on the road as we rolled out of Nebo Terrace.
“You’re quiet.” I ventured, sitting down beside Baen at the simple camp we’d erected. She made a non-committal noise, studying the fletching of an arrow in the firelight. I’d seen her do this after every bit of rain for as long as I’d known her and there was a comfort in the routine, lessening the unease I’d felt with her mood shift. Halleston was already sound asleep in his roll a few metres away, his soft snoring accompanying the crackle of the fire. Travelling with the man had reminded me just how precious these small moments of relative privacy were.
The rain had stopped a few hours before sunset, and we’d managed to find a somewhat dry place to stop for the night, purposefully set farther from the road than normal with a low fire. The events of the day had reminded us all that a modicum of caution might be the difference between life and waking up with a knife against your throat.
“Something the matter?” I tried again, and Baen snorted.
“Two dead on the road. That’s not enough?” It was my turn to sound non-committal.
“We’ve both seen worse.”
“That’s why I said it’s enough.” Baen said, her tone warning me not to go on. “We’ll reach Lion’s Arch tomorrow evening, I think.”
“Unless we get another downpour.” I said, reluctantly accepting the new topic. Had we been truly alone, I would have pressed her for an answer, but with even with Halleston asleep I wouldn’t chance it. “We’ll find a place to sleep first, meet with Coalpaw after if it’s not too late in the evening.”
“We do have time to spare.” She agreed, holding an arrow up to the light.
While I hadn’t pursued the topic any further, it nevertheless lingered in my mind, and as I lay in my roll later that night I did my best to think up just why she had reacted so oddly. Baen tended to alternate between stoic, sarcastic and, on rare occasions, ferocious. In the years that I’d known her I’d experienced all three, but I’d never seen her troubled like this. We’d both been around corpses before, several of our own making, and she’d always been as casual around them as I. It concerned me for more reasons than one, several of which I had no intention of dwelling on, and as those thoughts rose unbidden I forced my mind off the topic and let sleep pull me down into dreams of death and rain.
Lion’s Arch rose out the growing murk of early evening first as a yellow-red glow on the horizon, then as individual lights, and finally as the great bridge and the gate it lead to. Halleston had agreed to take us practically to the city’s entrance instead of forcing us to walk through the farmland of the Cornucopian Fields to reach it from Applenook Hamlet, his destination. He had told us this was the least he could do after we’d protected him from the brigands, and neither Baen or I had tried to argue with his rather skewed memory of what had happened. Perhaps it was simply his coping mechanism convincing him of this slightly modified form of history.
“Be well, Zashi, Baen.” The scholar said formally as we stood beside his cart. “I wish you the very best of fortune. Maybe we’ll see one another again someday.”
“Who knows?” Baen said as they shook hands. “It’s a small world.” She had apparently completely recovered from whatever had troubled her on the road before and reverted to her usual self, spending the last stretch of the journey sitting up front with Halleston and chatting casually.
“Take care, scholar.” I said. Halleston nodded to both of us, urged his bull into motion, and rolled on. Baen watched him go, and after half a minute I cleared my throat.
“What is it?” I asked, wondering if I’d been premature in my assessment of her recovery.
“There’s something strange about that man.” She said.
“What do you mean?”
“Nevermind. It’s probably nothing.” She shook her head. “Come on, ‘Zashi’.” She clapped me slightly too hard on the back, forcing me to stumble forward to keep from falling. “Let’s see what this city is made of.”
“I think we can drop the alias now.” I said with a scowl, adjusting my spectacles and rolling my shoulder to ease the now-unfamiliar weight of my satchel bag. “As long as we’re not using my family name, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.”
“A pity.” Baen said. “I was starting to like calling you that.”