Dusk was setting in the western hemisphere. The sun’s rays were barely casting its light into the small crevices between the buildings and stalls of merchant’s storefronts. There were a few individuals that were making an inventory list or cleaning their drawers, but for the most part, all the local boutiques were closing early. It was like the port city was dead. The back of the white cotton dress Charlotte wore was fluttering violently against her pumping legs as she sprinted away from where she had been previously. She could feel some tendrils of her hair trickle out from the loose bun, but she didn’t mind it. It just reminded her that she needed to find help or any type of tool to bring back to Giselle to assist her.
The auburn did not want to leave the merchant to herself against some unknown assailant, but being without a weapon in that situation would have been much worse. If the eighteen-year-old learned anything this past year, it was this: you only do good to others if you are able to take care of yourself. If you could not even do as such, then you might as well get the hell out of the way.
Turning abruptly down an alleyway, Charlotte tried to remember where the fountain was located. If she could find Damien, he may be able to help that merchant out, but fate had other things in mind. Charlotte was racing down the alley, and before she could clear it to the next main street, she was cut off by a man. She skidded to a halt when she realized there was no way around someone emitting such a malicious intent.
What she also noticed on this person was a nicely sheathed rapier just asking to be used.
“The boss has been waiting quite some time to see your pretty little face, Lessye,” the man sneered, taking his sword out. “I guess it’s true that the stone grants its user with eternal youth.”
Charlotte gave him a confused look by raising her eyebrow. “I don’t know who Lessye is, but I assure you, I’m not her.” The man didn’t seem to be listening because he was rubbing away something in his ear. “I don’t even know what stone you’re talking about. What fairy tales are you dreaming about eternal youth?” Charlotte was now just trying to find something to keep the man talking until she could find a better way out of the situation.
“You always were the elusive one, Lessye. Where’s your boyfriend at?” The man sauntered his way down to the girl, and she immediately took a step back for every two or three paces he made. It wasn’t long before she had stepped on her heel awkwardly that led her to stumble left onto the building’s wall next to her. This was all the opportunity the assailant needed to close the gap.
He dangerously waved his sword in front of her face as he used his other hand to firmly grip her forearm. She winced when he yanked her off the ground, and he began to pull her into him. “I think those rumors about you being a tough one to catch was a fluke. You’re as meek as a kitten.”
He laughed but found himself short of breath two seconds later. There was a soft thudding sound as if something like a rock or pebble had whacked him behind the neck, making him lose his breath.
Charlotte had used the available momentum he had provided her, by pulling her body into his, and drove her left knee up into the man’s crotch. She waited for him to release his hold on her arm, and when he buckled over like she expected, she karate chopped the vital point in his neck as it became exposed.
He collapsed into a heap on the pavement, leaving Charlotte to wipe her hands on the front of her dress. Normally, she would have been a damsel in distress, but after time and time again of being rescued, she was sick of playing the role. The sword he possessed was loose in his right hand, which she gratefully took. “I would apologize for my behavior, but it seems you can’t even hear anymore. I’ll return this later.”
She immediately turned on her heel to run back to where she was. If she was correct, only half an hour had passed, and if she could provide a means to help that merchant Giselle, then she was going to take it.
She sprinted as fast as her dress and sandals would allow her to do. It was then that Charlotte realized how some leggings or pants would benefit better for these types of situations. She’d have to ask Tyler or Damien about it when she met up with them. Surely, they were looking for her along with some of the crew. After all, it was way past the scheduled two-hour limit the blond set for her to explore.
Charlotte rounded the last corner before winding up on the main street, again only seeing a semicircle formation of militia men standing around the merchant. Giselle was heaving heavily with a sliver of blood dripping down her temple and an arm that was shaking from an unseen injury.
In front of Giselle was a man who seemed to haunt her memories from one year ago, except he had longer hair and a thinner figure than before. She could never forget that face though and hesitated in her sprint.
Her loud entrance allowed everyone to turn and notice her appearance from the alleyway. Hair disheveled, auburn hair a mess, the tiara somehow still managed to stay in her hair. And despite all the running and movement she did, she did not expect to be winded this quickly. Her dress was speckled with dirt and dust from the walls she happened to graze by as she ran.
“What are you doing here? I told you to get out of here!”
There was no chance now that she was fatigued from battling the man with long brown hair and calculating coffee eyes. Charlotte merely tucked a couple of strands behind her ear and began to slowly compose herself. All that running was now hitting her like a ton of bricks; it was like her lungs and stomach were killing her.
“I wasn’t going to leave you to fend for yourself.” The girl wheezed but raised her acquired sword nonetheless. “After we get through this safe and sound, could you fix my hair again?” She gave the woman a smile and was surprised when Giselle started to laugh. Some of the men quirked an eyebrow at the estranged behavior she presented.
“If we get out of this safe and sound, I’ll do your whole crew’s damn hair.” The merchant went to lift her sword up a fraction to her opponent with her shoulder giving a shrug. She went into a defensive stance in front of her business. “Sorry, Zeke, but you’ll not get past me. Kiddo, get behind me and cover my back. We’ll be doing this in style.”
Charlotte nodded before running over to Giselle’s side and raising her sword. The men gave them another bewildering looks before some chuckled out loud. They were out of their league and still trying to beat them.
The one known as Zeke merely stepped forward as he brandished his sword again but was ignoring Giselle and staring at the auburn-brunette behind her. “Now who is this kitten?”
The girl in question snapped. She could remember the memories of their encounters as if they happened just the other day. “You have got to be kidding me. You were the one who threw me off that bloody cliff, and you ask me who I am? You killed my uncle, kin, and you have the gall to ask me ‘who are you?’”
Giselle looked over her shoulder to the girl giving her a shocked expression. “He did what? Wait, when did you two meet?”
Zeke, on the other hand, was bemused by the accusation and laughed so hard he buckled over. Some of the men brought their attention to him while he clutched his sides. Apparently, whatever she said had been funny to him, and Charlotte was not amused.
“He came with Zaine and that Claire woman to slaughter everyone that I knew, and now he’s making fun of me.” She pouted from behind Giselle who gave her a quizzical expression.
“I think you’re mistaking him for someone else, like how he did with you and Lessye,” the merchant responded quietly to the girl who defiantly shook her head.
“I would never forget the face that killed everyone. His visage is burned in my memories and dreams for over a year. I know who he is.”
When he finally recollected himself, he wiped the corner of his eyes. “Men at ease.” Everyone put their swords back into their sheaths, but they remained in their semicircular formation, encompassing them between the buildings behind them and Zeke at the front. “Giselle, it is always a pleasure to bout swords with you, but it appears that I’ve won once again.”
The woman scoffed before putting away her own sword as he gave a mock bow. “If you think this is the end, then you are sorely mistaken.”
Zeke just waved her off with a hand motion. “Don’t I know it?” he replied before putting away his own sword. “Now that I think about it, he was playing a sort of game with both sides.”
Giselle sheathed her blade before motioning for Charlotte to sheathe her own. Charlotte, unsure, kept the sword in hand but lowered it to her side.
“My name is Zeke, little kitten, and I was not the man who killed your family. The reason why we came was because there were rumors of a woman, Lessye Shannon, being in the vicinity. No wonder, the boys thought you might have been her. You do resemble her.”
Giselle dropped a protective arm in front of Charlotte, making her objective known.
“Giselle, I’m not interested in her but rather her mother,” he replied in a bored tone before Charlotte quirked her own eyebrow.
“My mother has been dead for years. What interest is there for her?”
Zeke merely shook his head. “You are clearly misinformed about many things, my dear. I’ll tell you this much, the mother you knew was a lie, and I guarantee that she is still alive and kicking. She’s a part of that accursed Protector’s program and has manipulated my men to no bitter end. She even managed to allude my best trackers, and they cost two dreggs more than my buddies’ salaries here. I’ll have her back here before long though. I can say that much.”
Giselle angrily shook her head. “It will be highly unlikely that she will come back here, Zeke. Especially after what happened between you two. My nephew joined her because he wanted to keep her from even more pain.”
Zeke ignored the merchant and just stared at the auburn-brunette, realizing that everything was still not clicking together for her. “I see we’re getting nowhere in this conversation.” He pulled out a couple of tickets from his vest and walked over to Giselle and Charlotte. Zeke then handed the tickets over to the auburn-haired girl. “If you really want to know the truth, come to the masquerade ball at my estate. I’ll reveal everything for you at close to no price. A fitting deal, is it not?”
Giselle looked down at the girl who hesitated in grabbing the tickets.
“You are curious, are you not?” Zeke said aloud, and Charlotte snatched the tickets from his hand.
Giselle offered her advice on the situation, “This could be a trap.”
“Then you can come along as well, Giselle. The more, the merrier, in my opinion.” He smiled slightly before turning on his heel and leaving the vicinity. “I’ll be waiting for you at my estate.” He gave a brief hand salute over his shoulder, and his fifteen quirky militia men followed him in formation.
The merchant sighed before turning to the girl. She could see the burning determination in those hazel eyes that made it harder for her to say “don’t go.” “Let’s fix your hair, shall we?”
Charlotte nodded with a grim smile. “Thank you, Giselle.”
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