A/N : It's a miracle! Two chapters in one week! *\o/*
Kratos' gaze never left the half-elf sitting across from him, eyes narrowed in suspicion and tensed for a fight. On the other side of the table Yuan busied himself with a cup of tea, slowly adding cream and sugar without once looking up. At last satisfied with the concoction he looked up, his face an unreadable mask.
"This is the last place I expected to find you."
Kratos pondered this before replying, "Is that why you are here? To locate me?"
"Hm? Oh no, not at all," the half-elf smirked. "Of course I'm bound by duty to remind you of your place and implore you to return at once. I suppose I needn't tell you how… upset you've made him."
Kratos stared silently, shifting slightly in his seat so as to better draw his sword if need be.
"Would you just relax?" Yuan chided, looking disgusted. "I'm not here to drag you back. Whatever it is you're playing at down here doesn't concern me."
"Then why are you here?"
Yuan let out an exasperated sigh, "Because someone has to babysit the Chosen."
The rumors Anna had heard, about the Chosen heading towards Asgard….
"You are traveling with the Chosen?"
"Not exactly," Yuan grimaced. "This girl is well protected by her priests so I'm only following. Scouting ahead, making sure there aren't any surprises lurking in wait. Which curiously leads me to you. What Iare/I you doing here Kratos?"
"Lighting lanterns to our ancestors."
Yuan laughed, a sharp sound of disbelief. "Alright. And the girl?"
Kratos tensed, "What girl?"
"Don't play coy, you know very well what girl," Yuan replied, a hint of a smirk returning. "The one you were herding like a lost lamb, the one who seemed so very concerned for you, the one you hid away upstairs. That girl."
"None of your concern."
"Is that how it is?" Yuan sat back in his chair, studying the swordsman carefully. "There are rumors going around that you've stolen one of Kvar's pets."
"And if I have?"
Yuan shrugged, "Nothing to me, but I should warn you that there are also rumors that Kvar is putting together an elite team to track the two of you down. Apparently he misses his little pet."
Kratos gazed levelly at the half-elf.
"And speaking of pets, where is Noishe?"
"Noishe is not a pet."
Yuan sighed, "Well, if I were you I'd keep the girl close. Noishe too."
"Is that a threat?"
"No," Yuan said, his eye glittering strangely. "Merely a warning."
"And why would you warn me?"
The blue-haired man shook his head, twisting a ring on his finger. "No particular reason. Though you have little reason to believe me I have no interest in revealing your location."
"You're right," Kratos said, meeting Yuan's gaze as he looked up. "I don't believe you."
"As you will," Yuan sighed, shaking his head. "All the same, your secret is safe with me."
Anna paced the room like a caged animal, drawing worried looks from Elise where she sat calmly on the bed. She glanced over at Maege, who sat in a chair beside the door.
Guarding the door is more like it. Anna thought furiously. How can they be so calm about this?
"Anna, why don't you sit?" Elise suggested. "I'm sure everything is fine."
"If everything were fine why would he tell you to keep me up here?" Anna challenged.
"I do not know child," Maege replied. "But I trust that he has your best interest at heart."
She bit her lip, clenching her hand. No, she wanted to say. He's only looking out for this blasted gem on my hand. She sighed, ceasing her pacing, knowing that wasn't a very charitable thought.
They had promised to trust one another. If he had asked her to stay hidden there must be good reason, but the look in his eyes…. It hadn't been alarm exactly, but there was concern there, an anxiety that frightened her. It had been fleeting, quickly replaced with a blank gaze and orders for Maege to take her upstairs.
She had tried to drag her feet so that she could catch a better look at the blue-haired man who had called Kratos' name, but between Elise and Maege they had her above stairs in short order. Immediately she had begun speculating who the man was, but to that end neither Elise or Maege could offer any assistance. It made her all too aware of how little she knew and she felt foolish for promising to trust him.
With a huff she resumed her pacing, coming to an abrupt stop as the door behind her opened. Spinning around she was vaguely aware of Elise and Maege turning their attention towards the door. Kratos slipped into the room, his face an unreadable mask. Anna wanted to yell at him, hit him, make him tell her what was going on but all she could do was stare in mute apprehension. His eyes found hers and they stared at one another across the room until Maege cleared her throat.
"We should be returning to our rooms," the older woman said, getting up from her chair. "I'm sure the two of you have a lot to discuss."
"No," Kratos said, staying the woman. "I'd like you and Elise to remain here a moment. You might be able to help."
Anna felt her heart give a jolt, panic racing through her veins. Perhaps she didn't want to know after all, yet strangely she heard herself asking, "What's happened? Who was that?"
Kratos turned to her, "An old acquaintance with a warning."
"Although it is not surprising, we are being pursued."
Elise gave a little gasp of surprise while Maege narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Those half-elves want her back, is that it?"
"I am certain you had already surmised that much," Kratos replied, looking at the woman. "And yes, Anna is rather… valuable to them."
"What can we do to help?" Elise ventured.
Kratos looked at Anna, holding her gaze. "We need to leave. Immediately."
"There are no guarantees that the Desians have not already blocked off the pass, but Hakonesia Peak would be your best bet."
Kratos looked up from the map, studying Maege carefully. The older woman seemed earnest enough and he did not sense any duplicity from her yet something still nagged at him. Perhaps it was only a matter of trust, a rusty sentiment he was not accustomed to relying on. Yet whether it was Anna's influence or the fact he was becoming too complacent he had decided to trust these women.
He turned his eyes back to the map, following the path Maege suggested. If they left soon they could be over the pass by morning, well on their way to the next destination.
"Of course you could always take your chances by backtracking," Maege continued. "I'm sure Bronn and Bratha will return soon. They would be able to tell you how the road looks."
"We don't have the luxury of waiting for their return," Kratos said. "The sooner we leave the better."
"You suspect your friend has informed the Desians of your whereabouts?" Maege asked, watching him closely.
Kratos narrowed his eyes, staring blankly at the map.
Maege sighed wearily. "I suppose it is pointless for me to say the both of you are welcome to stay with us. Perhaps there would be more safety in our numbers."
"Ridiculous," Kratos glanced up at her. "It would be far too-"
"Dangerous, I know," Maege replied, holding his stare. "And you think it won't be dangerous with only the two of you? Anna is earnest to be sure, but she is not an experienced traveler. All the burden will rest upon your shoulders Kratos."
The swordsman narrowed his eyes, disliking the woman's observations no matter how much truth they contained. "You and your family have your own destiny to follow. The path Anna follows does not lead back to the Asgard ranch."
"Alright then," Maege said, rolling up the map and handing it to him. "Each of us to our own destinies it shall be."
He took the map silently, something in the old woman's stare unnerving him. He couldn't be certain if it was concern that drove her, or something else. Mistrust still lurked in his mind, suspicion and caution honed by countless years of survival.
"You are a shrewd man Kratos," Maege continued after a moment, standing up and making her way to the door. "I do wish you success on your journey - both you and Anna. With a little luck I hope that we are able to at least slow down your pursuers."
"Thank you," Kratos replied, clenching the map.
Maege shook her head, "Elise and Anna should return soon. Wait ten minutes after they return and then go out the back. I'll have arranged for a little… distraction downstairs that should buy you time enough to leave unnoticed."
Kratos nodded, "Thank you again Maege, both you and Elise, for everything."
Maege looked him up and down, her eyes like flint. "You want to thank us, start by keeping that girl safe. Don't waste Maribelle's gift."
Kratos stared at the door after it shut behind the old woman. Perhaps she didn't completely trust him either.
Anna looked around the dark storefront, biting her lip as Elise pounded on the door. A small plaque hanging above the door showed a crude swirling line with the word Whirlwind beneath. She pulled the hood of the cloak she wore close, eyes darting back along the empty path.
"We are being pursued."
Kratos' words rang in her ears as she searched the streets, every shadow becoming a danger. It was with relief when the lights inside the store began to flicker to life, footsteps approaching the door that Elise desperately battered. The sounds of locks and tumblers turning seemed deafening, but at last a face peered out from inside.
"Who's there? Can't you read? We're closed up!"
"Peter, it's me, Elise!" the woman hissed, pulling away her hood. "Please, I need your help."
The door opened, the man's eyes widening as he ushered them in, shutting and bolting the door behind them. Anna stood shivering beside Elise, feeling sick with terror. Perhaps she should have listened to Kratos when he urged her to remain at the inn, but she had been desperate to do something useful.
"What has happened?" Peter asked, approaching Elise and glancing at Anna. "Who is this?"
"A desperate soul," Elise replied, pulling out a small pouch and handing it to him. "Maege says to tell you she is calling in your debt."
Peter sighed, hefting the small pouch. "So be it. What do you need?"
The man walked off towards the counter in the back of the store, leaving Elise and Anna to follow. Anna grabbed Elise's arm, whispering fiercely, "Are you sure we can trust him?"
Elise looked back at her with gentle eyes. "When we leave here Peter never saw us."
Anna nodded, following Elise to the counter and listening quietly as the woman proceeded to rattle off a list of items. Her gaze traveled around the shop, taking in neat rows of shelves lined with bottles and bins. Along one wall were racks of cloaks, on another weaponry hung from pegs.
"Pineapple gel?" Peter asked incredulously. "Come on Elise! You're killing me!"
"Fine, then you can give me double the orange at half the cost," Elise bartered, earning a groan from Peter.
"Alright, alright," the storekeeper sighed, looking over the list he'd made. "You know where everything is. I'll get all this ready for you while you find your friend something to wear."
Anna looked up at that, "Oh, I'm fine, really."
"Nonsense," Elise said, pulling her towards the racks of clothing. "You can't very well go traipsing around in skirts and dresses."
Kratos sat facing the door to the room, honing his sword as he waited for Elise to return with Anna. The familiar, rhythmic routine sufficed to settle his mind. Waiting was one of the more difficult aspects he had learned, and at times it still did not suit him. Knowing Anna was walking the dark paths of Asgard did little to set him at ease, yet he was certain his movements were being monitored.
Yuan would have seen to that much at least. Hopefully he had not gotten a close look at Anna or the others and they would be able to move freely. He frowned as he passed the stone over the edge of his blade. Maege had mentioned some sort of distraction, he could only hope Yuan's informants would be taken in by the commotion so that he and Anna could slip away unnoticed.
A pair of light footsteps caught his attention and he looked up as the door swung inward, two cloaked figures hurrying inside. Elise pulled back her hood, closing the door behind her as she looked at Kratos.
"We don't have much time," she began.
"Maege said we had ten minutes."
Elise nodded, setting down the pack she carried. "There is food here, and some other items you might find useful."
"Did you have enough gald?" Kratos asked, studying the size of the pack.
"Don't worry about it," Elise brushed it off. "Peter is an old friend, and owed a favor besides."
"And you trust him to keep silent?"
"We were never there," Elise smiled softly.
Kratos looked up, eyes fixed on a strangely quiet Anna. She had not moved away from the door, still wrapped in the cloak with a somewhat smaller pack on her back. "You did not run into any trouble?"
"Not a soul," Elise answered, following his gaze to where Anna stood. "Oh, come on Anna, it's not that bad."
"What's not bad?" Kratos asked, looking between the two apprehensively.
"We found her some clothes that are better suited to travel," Elise said, walking over and taking Anna's hand.
"I'm dressed like a boy!" Anna hissed angrily, snatching her hand back. "I still don't see what was wrong with my other clothes."
Elise sighed, pulling down Anna's hood to reveal her flushed face. "You look fine Anna, and you'll be thankful for those clothes before long I'd wager."
Anna grumbled something unintelligible, slipping the pack from her shoulders and pulling the cloak from her shoulders. She thrust it towards Elise, but the woman shook her head with a slight smile.
"No, you keep it. You'll be thankful for that as well I'm sure," Elise said, turning to Kratos. "So, what do you think? Much better, am I right?"
Kratos had been staring at Anna, vaguely wondering how she could have imagined she looked anything like a boy. Elise had clad her in a pair of black boots that came up to her knees and a belted tunic and leggings ensemble. Anna pulled at the hem of the crimson tunic, obviously uncomfortable. She stared at him with a challenge in her eyes, as if daring him to say a word of dissent.
"It will serve."
Anna glared at Kratos, not sure what to make of his comment but sure that he was making fun of her. He might as well have agreed that she looked like a boy! Elise had a funny little smile on her face and looked at her knowingly, which only exasperated Anna more.
Before she could retort a loud blast shook the room, startling all the occupants. Kratos rushed to the window and peered out, his eyes narrowing. Elise stood beside him, the surprise fading and a knowing look settling her features.
Anna swallowed a sudden lump in her throat, looking wildly at the woman who had become her friend. She had been behaving so ghastly towards her and all Elise had done was try to help!
Kratos had sheathed his sword and was pulling on a cloak, settling the pack Elise had carried on his shoulders. Anna numbly followed his example, fumbling with the buttons on the cloak. Elise took her shaking hands from the closure and secured it, giving her a gentle smile as she helped slip the pack up her arms. Suddenly afraid Anna wrapped her arms around the woman, hugging her tightly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I-"
"It's alright," Elise interrupted, pulling back and meeting her eye. She looked around at Kratos. "By the looks of it Alek is setting off his collection of fireworks. I'm not sure how long the pyrotechnics will keep everyone occupied, so you had better hurry."
Kratos peered out the window once more before turning to Anna. "Are you ready?"
Anna nodded, embracing Elise once more before turning to follow Kratos out the door. "Thank you."
"Be careful," Elise called after them. "Goddess willing we will meet again some day."
They left Elise at the top of the stairs, Anna letting Kratos lead the way. She glanced back one last time as they paused at the bottom but Elise had already turned away. Swallowing back a sigh Anna turned to find Kratos peering around the room.
"Through the door on the other side of the counter," he instructed softly, nodding towards their destination.
With a nod to indicate her understanding Anna left the stairs, hurrying towards the door and passing through. She exhaled shakily, not quite sure when she had forgotten to breathe. In the brief moment she was alone she glanced around the room, making note of the kitchen though the door to her right and a pair of closed doors on her left, then Kratos had joined her.
He pulled up the hood to his cloak as he led the way towards another door on the far side of the room. Anna followed, fumbling with her hood as Kratos carefully unbolted the heavy door and quietly swung it open on well oiled hinges. The cool night air rushed in and Anna shivered, not quite sure if she was cold or only nervous.
The path behind the inn was nothing more than a narrow trail chiseled from the rock, barely wide enough for them to pass single file. Kratos looked back at her, loosening his sword in its sheath. There were no need for words, Anna understood perfectly and Kratos nodded before turning back to the trail.
Anna looked back once more, the bright flashes of Alek's distraction lighting up the empty room beyond the doorway. It appeared that everyone was gathered in front of the inn, leaving the two of them to make their retreat unseen. She hurried after Kratos, pulling the door closed behind her.
In the empty room they had left behind a door opened, a figure stepping through to study the back door with interest. Yuan shook his head, an amused smile on his face as he turned away to join the others enjoying the show in front of the inn.
Endnote: An interesting aside - that outfit Anna's wearing? As close to canon as I can guess. There is one - one - blurry, half-seen image of Anna that I've used to piece together what she's wearing. Ridiculous amount of excitement on my part. n.n