Alys shielded her eyes from the sun. In the distance, she could make out the silhouettes of the tents at the edge of the native Motavian village of Molcum. "Finally," she muttered to herself as she approached the outskirts of the small village.
Molcum was less than a half-day's walk from the bustling town of Zema, from which Alys had left that morning. It had been a fairly easy trip – as she traveled briskly through the lonely desert, the baby sandworms and newts had left her alone for the most part (and a quick throw of her boomerang had dispatched the braver creatures). Still, she was glad to see she had arrived at her destination.
Alys made her way to the house of the leader of the village. She had met Father Poban several times in the past and knew he was a friendly man who could be of some service to her. As she walked along the dirt paths, she nodded congenially to the Motavians she passed. Most acknowledged her greeting, though some of the natives were still afraid of humans and one or two ran from the sight of her.
The largest tent stood not far from where Alys had entered the village. There was no door on which to knock, so Alys parted the opening flap a few inches to the side and called out, "Father Poban?"
"It's Alys Brangwin? May I come in?"
"Alys! Of course!"
Alys entered the tent and was instantly greeted by the jovial Poban. "Alys, it's so good to see you!" he said, as he warmly shook her hand. "What brings you to Molcum today?"
Alys noticed a tall, blue-haired man in a white cloak standing in the shadows near the back of the tent. He looked vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn't quite place him. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you had company," she said.
"Company? Oh, you must mean Rune!" Poban took Alys by the hand and led her further into the tent. "
"Rune Walsh?" she exclaimed.
The man met them in the center of the tent. "Well, there's a face I haven't seen in years." He extended a long, black-gloved hand to her in greeting. "It's good to see you, Alys."
"You two know each other?" Poban asked.
"Rune would sometimes work with my former mentor when I was training to be a hunter," Alys explained as she accepted the handshake. "We were teenagers, it was a very long time ago." She took a step back and studied her former acquaintance. He was much taller now since the last time she'd seen him, but his face still had the same boyish charm it had when he was fifteen years old. Though she'd sometimes had to work directly with the talented wizard when she was younger, she had always found him to be a bit of an annoyance. He had been arrogant and headstrong and she'd had no patience for his little games.
"I'm sorry, Rune," she apologized. "But if I could just speak to Father Poban for a minute or so, I'd appreciate it. Normally, I'd wait until you were finished, but I'm afraid that time is of the essence here, so..."
"Not a problem."
"Thanks." She turned back to Poban. "I'm sorry to rush in like this without any warning, but I've been tracking an escaped prisoner from Aiedo."
"A fugitive? Oh my goodness!" The furry Motavian looked worried. "And you think someone like that could be here in Molcum?"
"Relax, last I heard, he was unarmed and not considered to be dangerous." Alys patted Poban's arm reassuringly. "It's just some young guy, he was caught shoplifting in the Aiedo market and was being held in the jail there. We're still not quite sure how he got out. The poor idiot probably just panicked, but now he'll have to face additional charges once I bring him back."
"I still don't like to think about a person like that coming to my village!"
"The innkeeper in Zema saw a man fitting his description leaving the town and heading south. I just wanted to check in with you before I started poking around. If I don't find any signs of him here, I'll be moving along to Krup."
"Don't hunters usually travel with a partner?" Rune inquired.
"I prefer to work alone, especially when the mission is so simple." She glared at him defensively. "So spare me the lectures about the dangers of a woman traveling alone, chasing criminals and fighting off attackers..."
"I didn't say a word." Rune looked amused.
Poban stepped between them. "Feel free to look around, Alys. My people won't get in your way." He paused. "Are you sure you don't want to take Rune with you? He knows the village well and everyone is familiar with him. He could possibly help you out."
Alys met Rune's sly smile with another glare. "Thanks, but I think I'll be okay on my own."
"Oh, I don't mind tagging along, my business here can wait." He continued smiling at her. "I won't get in the way, I promise."
"You already have," Alys muttered under her breath. "Fine," she said out loud. "Suit yourself." She made her way towards the door, not caring if Rune was behind her or not. "Thanks, Father Poban, I shouldn't be around too long!" she called back to the village elder as she left the tent.
"There are a few abandoned tents all the way on the other side of the village," Rune said as he followed her outside. "I believe one or two of them may even have a basement. We can take this path over here." He gestured to the right.
"Thank you." Alys resigned herself to accepting his help. "I guess whatever you were discussing with Father Poban wasn't too important."
"It can wait. Besides, it's not nearly as exciting as helping the famous Eight-Stroke Warrior track down an escapee."
She rolled her eyes at the mention of her unwanted nickname. "Don't patronize me. I just go to work and do my job, just like everyone else on the planet."
He laughed. "Fair enough."
"And," she continued, "I doubt this will be very exciting. I just have to apprehend the prisoner and take him back to Aiedo."
"Whatever you say." They continued walking on the path until they reached a clump of trees and bushes. Alys caught a glimpse of the white canvas of a tent behind the branches.
"No one lives here anymore, so they haven't kept this area very well maintained," Rune said, keeping his voice low. "Everyone wanted to be closer to the center of the village."
Alys looked behind her, and sure enough, they were quite a distance away from the nearest building. Putting a finger to her lips to indicate they should be as quiet as possible, she slipped in between some trees and headed for the first tent.
There were no lights inside the tiny tent, but the sunlight streaming in through the windows made it possible to see how dusty the deserted building was. A quick examination showed that there were no signs of the man they were trailing. Alys left the tent and proceeded to the next one. She looked around, but again, there appeared to be no one there.
She started to leave, but Rune stopped her, shaking his head. He silently moved towards the back of the room and knelt down near the wall. Following him, Alys could see that there was a set of rusty doors embedded in the floor. She pulled her boomerang out of her belt and nodded to Rune.
Grunting slightly, he flung open the heavy doors. Just at the bottom of the steps was a young man sitting on the floor hugging his knees to his chest, shaking. He looked up, and through his shaggy, dark green hair, Alys could see his red-rimmed eyes and knew that he had been crying.
"I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry!" he sobbed. "Please don't take me back there!"
Alys sighed and put away her boomerang. "Come on," she said as she bent down. "Let's at least get you out of that moldy old basement." She half-helped, half-dragged the man up the steps. As she got a better look at him, she realized he could be no more than twenty years old. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that running away from your problems never solves anything?"
The young prisoner was still sniffling a bit. "I...I don't know what came over me! I had never been to Aiedo before...and...and...the marketplace had so many things! I had never seen such a place!" He wiped his nose on his dirty sleeve. "Do you really have to take me back? Can't we forget this ever happened?"
"I'm sorry, no can do." As the young man's lip began to quiver, Alys sighed again. "I'll tell you what – things will look a lot better for you if you don't resist arrest." She pulled a set of Laconian handcuffs out of her pouch. Sensing another meltdown, she quickly said, "If you make this easy for both of us, I'll put in a good word for you when we get back to Aiedo. Come willingly, and maybe we can just have you face your original charges."
As Alys placed the handcuffs around the prisoner's wrists as gently as possible, she noticed that Rune had been silent this whole time. "See, I told you this wouldn't be very interesting," she said to him.
"Oh, I disagree, I find you very interesting," he replied, with the half-smile that seemed to be his default expression.
"Well, we need to get back to Aiedo as soon as possible." Alys took a telepipe from her pouch. Remembering that she never knew when someone could be an ally later, she sincerely thanked Rune for his help. "It was nice to see you again, Rune. Perhaps we'll meet again sometime."
"Likewise. I'm sorry you couldn't have stayed longer." He glanced at the small instrument she was holding. "Would you like me to take you to Aiedo? Your hands look a little full and you don't need to waste the telepipe."
"No, thanks, I think we'll be all right. We're not going to have any problems, are we?" she asked, as she nudged her prisoner. He nodded meekly. "I'll see you around." Alys blew into the telepipe and the two of them quickly vanished.
As Alys led her prisoner back to the jail in Aiedo, her mind was filled with thoughts of Rune. She couldn't believe that she had seen him again after all those years. "At least it seems that he's grown up a bit," she thought to herself as she walked towards the northern section of the town. She laughed to herself about the chance meeting with him as she delivered the young man to the proper authorities and headed to the Hunters' Guild to accept her commission.