Thirty hours and as many miles were now between Skixx and the event, but he still couldn’t believe any of it had happened. Not only had he been caught by a band of humans in the woods, but they’d managed to connive more information out of him than— really, there was no amount of information that would have been acceptable. If Kikka found out, she’d have his ears for sure, but more than that, it was a human; he’d been caught and outwitted by a human. Just reflecting on it was infuriating. It might as well have been a skelk; there wasn’t much separating the two intelligences. It was all Skixx could think about as he stood there at the pigeon keeper’s booth.
“One message. That’ll be twenty-four coppers.”
Skixx made no response. Lost in thought, he just scowled.
“Um, sir?” The keeper tried again, leaning over the wooden stall toward the asura who stood at a height just below the counter’s edge. “A message to Divinity’s Reach will be twenty-four coppers.”
The asura shook his head, his sparkling yellow eyes suddenly focusing on the vendor’s inquiring face. “Yes,” he said with his jaw still tightened, “that’s fine. Whatever. I need a parchment.”
“Of course,” the clean-shaven young man replied. He couldn’t have been older than twenty, stuck here working the stall for a relative, he’d said. Digging into a drawer on the other side of the stall, he drew out a coiled strip of thick paper and handed it to Skixx, who in turn slid some coins up onto the countertop.
“Mister,” the man said, counting the coins, “this is twice as much as—”
“I know,” Skixx replied, waving off the rebuttal. “Just give me your fastest bird. And—” he paused, locking eyes with the young man towering over him, “I was never here.”
The keeper brushed hay-blond hair out of his eyes with. He looked at the money and then back at the little patron whose eyes he could only barely see beneath the thick head of wild hair that protruded from the hood. He nodded solemnly.
“Good,” Skixx said, stepping to a nearby crate.
In a quick scrawl, he wrote:
I don’t know what sort of idiotic, mismanaged conundrum Kikka has suckered us into, but it’s become increasingly complicated. The sylvari and his companions have made successful theft highly improbable thus far. Human highwaymen captured me and inquired about the stones. They clearly know more than we do, but I couldn’t extract information. I escaped and took a waypoint to Stoneguard, where I wait for the sylvari to pass. It’s the only route he could take. When I achieve the objective (and I will) I will still follow the plan, taking a waypoint directly to Kikka’s location.
(And do not mention mismanaged conundrums or suckering to Kikka!)
-Skixx | Zephyr 75, 1324
He rolled the message and handed it back to the cooper, but as the slender young man took it, Skixx squeezed it, not immediately letting go, and caught the human’s eye again. “I was never here,” he repeated.
The human nodded again, clearly unnerved by Skixx’s gaze. “Would you like to see the bird off?” he asked with a quiver.
“Yes,” Skixx replied matter-of-factly, crossing his arms. “I would.”
After he’d sent the bird with his message to Divinity’s Reach, Skixx slipped quietly out the eastern gate of the Stoneguard Gate fort, blending into shadows along the ridge and disappearing into a crowd formed a little ways outside. It was quickly clear that some event was happening. Unfamiliar as he was with the area, though, Skixx didn’t know what would draw so many people twenty miles from the nearest settlement. And, it wasn’t just humans. Charr, norn, and at least a few thorny-looking sylvari had gathered here as well, all far from their respective homelands. He couldn’t imagine what reason there was to come all the way out to this random pit of a place, wedged between two podunk human regions. Then again, he recalled with a smirk, reason wasn’t a strength of any of these races.
He wove his way through the flowing sea of legs, a hooded specter rolling silently with the fluctuations of the crowd, until he emerged from the last row of oversized bodies and found himself lurching over the dusty edge of a broad pit. The walls were held back by sturdy wooden beams waffle-printing the sides of the pit, and the floor was of the same dry, yellowish dirt that composed the area around it. Of course, the sandy earth at the bottom of the pit was stained with the deep red dye of decades of spilt blood.
Skixx realized it was the fighting pit, the touted fighting pit at Stoneguard. He’d heard of it but had never seen it, and now that he had, he wasn’t impressed. Humans had no sense of grandeur when it came to their competitions.
Spectators stood on every side, many with money in hand, cheering for their favorite fighters squared off against each other ten feet below: a brutish norn toting a barbaric two-handed axe and two wily-looking human females, cloaked in sleeveless leather that concealed their blades. Skixx stood for a moment on the lip of the pit, silently taking it in. Like most of his kind, the norn was fierce but clumsy, depending far too much on his power and not enough on his aim. The two humans sidestepped his attacks lithely, time and again. It was clear who the victors would be, though a glance around the crowd told Skixx it wasn’t nearly as evident to anyone else.
He rolled his eyes and disappeared backwards into the crowd. The larger races of Tyria were all the same, imbeciles ever impressed by the wrong things. But then, Skixx’s mind flickered back to the human in the cave. He ground his teeth as he wound farther through the crowd, between groups, between friends, even between legs. With all the hustle and bumping of the mob, sneaking through unnoticed was no work at all. He made his way around to the southeastern side of the pit and out toward the edge of the crowd furthest from the fight, toward the road.
Skixx positioned himself just in front of a small clique of charr who paid him no mind, and his thoughts moved away from the bandit and back to his marks. At this position near the crowds, he knew he was as good as invisible from the road, but he had complete visibility on the fort’s eastern gate and the road that continued on into Guardian’s Pass. He knew the sylvari had escaped the bandits, and he’d found no evidence of them perishing in the Queen’s Forest, so it only served to reason that that salad and his friends would eventually pass this way, the only route through the ridgeline that separated Queensdale from Gendarran Fields. If they were indeed headed to Vigil Keep, and he had no reason to doubt that they still were, this would be their road. The only question was when. Minutes? Hours? Days?
It was irrelevant. He’d been diverted from his pursuit and humiliated by a lesser race once; it wouldn’t happen again. So, despite the odor of his nearest companions, he waited.