Do not worry, Mr. Crackbrain, I have every intention to finish anything I've started x)
Ms. Lunevis, it's actually Kanavan, but eh, makes no difference~
She started talking again, but something still seemed off. Even when Ryan showed her the coins he'd got, she raised her eyebrows before quietly replying, "You still want to buy something for Oppa and Unni?"
"Good, because there's not much time. Let's spend the most we can before the sun sets." Ryan looked up; the sun was still high. So why was she in such a hurry? But the way she quickly turned away before he could get a closer look at her face indicated that now was not the time to pry. Perhaps later, when they had a decent meal to last the night. "Right."
Most of the townsfolk wouldn't bat an eye over two elves having shiny coins, just as long as the said coins were in their pockets. But one could get suspicious, and so they stayed away from Old Partie as far as possible.
Their first stop was at Flora's Fruit Playhouse. Lire and Ryan weren't sure if the owner was human; her hair was primped and curled so that it clung to her head, shielding her ears. But Ryan had caught a glimpse; they were long and pointed, almost like an elf's, but not quite. Maybe she was half, but they decided to keep their thoughts to themselves. She was one of the very few that treated everyone with the same kindness and courtesy, even to street-elves.
"Hello!" She looked up, patting her green and yellow dress into shape as she held her staff, which had a rosebud at the top. "How may I help you two today?"
Now that they were here, Ryan wasn't sure what to get. "We, uh..."
"Fruit that can stick around for a while. Any ideas?" Lire butted in.
"Sure! Hold on a sec..." Within a few moments, Flora came back with a wide array of berries: one shaped like an oversized lima bean, another coloured with purple stripes, and another that looked like a pear dunked in liquid rainbows. "I've never seen the locals sell these kinds of fruits." Lire remarked.
"It's my special batch." She grinned. "I just got it recently, but they're pretty rare. If I sell it to humans, they'd confiscate everything faster than the blink of an eye." She added, "Fairy trees." which still didn't make sense to Ryan and Lire but they nodded anyway.
"Oh, the usual."
After paying the proper amount, Flora quickly stuffed a couple extra berries into their bags. "It's on me. Don't tell the others." she added with a wink.
"We won't." Yes, that was one more reason to like Flora.
As they came out of the shop, Ryan cast a sideways glance at Lire. Despite the grime of the hair dye and hardness in her eyes, she was quite...pretty. But there was a definite air of anxiety around her. She kept looking around as if something was about to jump her any second. And he didn't like it.
"You're hiding something." he said.
"Course not; just keeping a lookout for humans."
"You've looked as if the whole Kanavan Army is after us...never mind, they are." His eye caught the helm of a soldier who was strutting about not too far away. "Are they still after us? We're not the only street elves..."
Lire tried to look as if she had not been saved from an arduous cross-examination. "Let's move."
"So, what next?" She looked around eagerly.
"You were going to tell me why you're acting so paranoid, even for an elf."
"No, I wasn't." She turned, but he threw out an arm, stopping her.
"No. Now." Even now she refused to look up.
After what seemed like a very long time, she looked up with a fake, radiant smile. "What are you talking about, Ryan?" she giggled. "'One can never be too careful in the streets.' That's what you told me, remember?"
"That was because you kept trying to pick a fight with every human that came our way." he said warily.
"Hah! I just thought I saw someone trying to tail us, that's all." she shrugged her arm from his grip, which had gone slack.
"Listen. I...think you're right. We should split up for now. You know where to go, right?"
Her eyes lit up like that was the most brilliant idea in the world. "Of course! Why didn't I think of it sooner? Here," Reaching in, she stuffed a fistful of gold coins they had stolen from yesterday into his pocket. "Meet you at six?"
"Isn't that early?"
"Nah, we don't know when Oppa will arrive."
With a nod and a smile, she took off, leaving the elf with not-completely cleared doubts and a worn but stuffed berry bag. As he turned, something caught his eye that made him regain his cheer with a small smile. He'd found the perfect present for his sister and Lire. Folding a square cloth into a triangle, he wrapped it around in a makeshift bandanna to cover his ears, then set off.
Meanwhile, Lire observed from the shadows of the city, scrutinizing every detail of the surroundings. Time was ticking, and she had a number of things to do before...before...no, that thought could be saved for later. Taking a deep breath, she steeled her nerves and went towards a shop front, swinging the door open. As she entered, she came to meet a girl with too-lustrous golden hair pleated with red ribbons, professionally dressed, and keen turquoise eyes that were filled with hidden surprise as she took in Lire in all her street-elf glory. Not to mention her ears were poking through her bindings.
"May I help you?" She asked after a second. Rita Misty was just like any other human who worked to make an honest living so she and her family could survive. Like everyone else, she avoided those with the pointed ears and sunken eyes that were strewn on the streets, tactfully ignoring them just like any other good citizen of Kanavan. But now that one was smack in her Coordishop, she didn't know whether to report the guards or treat her like any other customer. Not wanting to create a scene, she chose the latter.
"Clothes. Not too flashy, both pretty and good to move around in. Do you have any?" She was almost wishing that Ryan was here; he was better at socializing with humans, hostile or fearful like this one. But then it would ruin the surprise.
"Um...you do have the money to pay for it, correct?" Rita asked nervously.
In response, Lire showed the clerk a hand stuffed with gold coins that gleamed appealingly.
"Ah! I see...I am terribly sorry!" Bowing hurriedly, she ushered the elf over to a rack of outfits. "I intended no rudeness, it's just that...that...that there have been many attempts at thievery. Please pardon my disrespect." Attempting to right herself, she showed her customer a wide range of outfits. "These have just come from the boats from the other continents. I do recommend the..."
Lire wasn't listening to the clerk's blabbering; what strange articles of clothing they were! She had gone in the shop hoping for a simple dress for Lian and maybe an extra pair of pants for Ladmir and Ryan...but this was entirely something else. Some of these, she had seen children wearing as they went to what people called a 'Private School' and the 'Beach', although she had no idea what a 'Beach' was, probably some crap place reserved only for rich nobles. No locals wore these; it'd be an automatic trouble magnet.
Then her eye spotted something. "What's that over there?"
"Oh, that! That is...er, which one are you pointing to, Miss? The Club Fashion or the Private School Package?"
Not knowing the difference of the two, Lire simply stated, "...Both."
"Oh yes~! These two are the state fashion of the blah blah..." As she droned on, Lire looked around restlessly. Ladmir could wear the first one; black didn't get stained easily (It did, but no one saw), and it was simple enough to not arouse suspicion of thievery. Ryan could wear the other one; black always suited him. But Lian...
"And...miss? Would you like something else?"
"...No. These two are fine. I'm just looking for something for my older sister...I mean, uh..."
"Your sister? Then how about this?" Rita displayed an elegant dress with gold embroidery and blue sleeves, complete with a few teardrop-shaped jewels that glittered at the waist. Even Lire had to admit that it was very beautiful. "It is the dress of the Rain Master." she explained. "Wear it and you'll feel the power of the rain in your hands!" she gave a peal of nervous laughter.
Lire mumbled, confused. "I'll...uh...I'll take all three."
"Certainly, ma'am." Business transactions were what Rita Misty did best. "Would you like them gift-wrapped?"
"..." What was that? Some aristocratic add-on? "It's okay. Here you go." She dumped a fistful of gold coins onto the counter, ignoring the wide-eyed stare she received from her recipient. Collecting her things, she made to leave.
"Ah...miss, please wait!"
"You've paid too much. Here is your change." Smiling, Rita pushed a few coins towards her customer. "Have a nice day!" Before Lire could protest, she went off to greet another customer who had just entered.
Lire dumbly took the change and dashed out. Clutching the three clothes, she tried to process that last chain of events. It thrilled her to the core to be able to give the others their surprise, but it looked like she had gotten her surprise early: A human had given her money back! Well, a portion of it, anyway. The Creator must really be smiling over her today.
Or it could be compensation for what she had to do later...
Digging into her pocket, she fished out a hard, circular object that gleamed duller than the surrounding coins, but radiated an aura of power from its centre. Faint, yes, but definitely there.
"It's hard to spot, really," he chuckled. "Just one among a billion. Course, that's what we aim for, but it can be a real pain sometimes. You can find her on the front of the fifth street over front; she's the one with white hair in a bun and a cane. Oh, and she wears a lot of jewels. But make sure to be quick; she doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Well, that was some shitty description. She leaped from shadow to shadow, wondering how the hell she was supposed to find this Lilly Lady. After seeing her, she could finally go home and surprise everyone.
But the chances of finding this lady were slim if she kept skirting around the edges; the man said she was at the shop front. She quickly made last-ditch arrangements to make herself ignorable: combing her hair to a reasonable degree of neatness, tightening the 'headband' around her ears, firmly tucking the clothes under her arm. With a final sigh, she carefully stepped into the open streets as if the pavement was lava.
Thankfully no one took notice of the shabby girl with the dirtied yellow hair, although one douchebag tried to knock her over with a "Beat it, kiddo!" Picking up her pace, she kept her eyes attentive, looking for the Ark Lady.
After what seemed like several hours, Lire was ready to screw everything and just go home. She had been in the open too long, and she could still find no sign of her objective. People were giving her apprehensive glances as if she had no right to be there, and she was getting hungry.
Musing whether to keep going or just ditch, her thoughts were interrupted by a large shadow that stepped into her way, alerting her senses. Looking up, she faced a large old woman with purple and green jewels dangling from her forehead, ears, neck, and fingers.
"There you are!" she rumbled in a loud voice that made Lire's ears twitch. Jerking her cane, she suddenly leapt forward and enveloped Lire in a huge hug. "Do you know how much I was worried about you?"
Lire was expecting a lecture, or maybe a blow. She did not expect a hug. She could only stand there, thunderstruck.
"Who's that, Lillian?" A passer-by waved at the wizened crone. "Granddaughter of yours?"
"You could say. Goodness, what were you doing, child? Playing in the mud? Never mind, come in!" she said as she pretty much dragged the elf into her shop, closing the door tightly behind her.
Once they were safely in the confines of the building did Lillian release Lire, who somehow regained her speech: "I think you've mistaken me for someone else; I have no relation with–"
"Oh, it's all right, you can drop the act now." She plopped down on a velvet armchair, "I know who you are; I'm Lillian Arquemeece, Keeper and Enforcer of all Refinery. And girl, if you want to move around unnoticed, dispose the washcloth on your head. It just gives you away that much faster." She gave the elf a quick scrutiny. "Good heavens, you're a mess!"
"Oh, never you mind, girl. I suppose the old boy knows what he's doing. Tell me, what can you do?"
"Good gods! I shouldn't be talking like this! Here," she said as she stretched out a wrinkled hand with red nail polish, "Give it to me quick!"
She had the object; it was in her fist, ready. But still she hesitated. "Are you sure the…"
"You waste time; give!" Quick as a bolt, the old lady lunged for her, but Lire had more than her fair share of people jumping her, and she evaded the attack by skidding left, lashing out her left foot towards the old lady's shins. But instead of keeling over, the Lillian lady whipped out her cane and used it as a leverage to right herself, and before Lire knew what was happening the sharp end of the stick was at her face. For a moment, they froze, waiting for the other to move.
After a dreadful silence, Lillian's lips twitched, "I can see why he wants to recruit you. You certainly have the raw talent for it." Withdrawing her stick, she quickly reverted into the frail old lady disguise. "I will forgive your insolence for today. But there will be no more warnings: give me the reinforcement stone."
"But what will you do with it?"
Like hell she was going to trust someone who had been about stab a piece of wood into her eyes! But she handed it over without further protest.
"Excellent." She plunked the stone on the table and hurriedly muttered some gibberish that made the stone shine a brilliant blue. Before Lire could raise her hand to shield her eyes from the blinding light, it was already over. "Here." The old lady tossed the pebble, which Lire caught effortlessly. It didn't look any different now.
"What did you do?"
"Reinforced it a little. Normally it's easier to combine it with something in the beginning process, but…oh well. Now, attach it on whatever object you want to protect and it should work like a charm, at least from ordinary people. I'll check on it from time to time, but it's up to you to keep it working." She pointed a bony finger at the elf. "Got it?"
She pocketed the stone carefully, as if it would shatter. "Um…thanks."
Lillian waved nonchalantly. "No need for thanks, it's customary for every recruit. Now, go out the back door when no one's looking. I'm looking forward to working with you."
She took a good look at their slum. There was only one place she could think of that would be safe from Ladmir, Lian, and Ryan. A few months ago, she had found a little opening just below the jutting edge of their roof about the size of a small melon. She had kept that secret spot even from Ryan; it was the ideal hidey-hole for the extra stash of coins to be used for grave emergencies. Scooping out every gold piece, she placed the blue stone in the gap, which glowed faintly in the dark. And for good measure, she covered the crack with some mud from the ground, erasing the last detail of its existence.
When she went in, the rest were already there, with Ryan giving an inquisitive looks about her late arrival. "Oppa, you're early! What happened?"
"Master Lich had gone over to some fancy dinner party in the palace, so I've managed to quit early." He grinned at his sister. "But what are you holding, Lire?"
"Oh, this?" She held out the three bundles of clothing, happily yelling, "Surprise!"
Lire watched with glee as each of them took their gift, expressions of shock and gratitude displayed on each of their faces. Lian looked as if she were about to pass out as she unfurled the dress. Ladmir blinked a few times to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Lire found Ryan's expression the most hilarious of them all; his jaw looked like it had dropped all the way to the ground. "Well?" she asked. "Do you like them?"
They looked up, still surprised, but their faces shone as if they had the entire world in their hands. Suddenly the exploded into laughter and thank-yous, dragging each other into a group hug.
"I have a surprise, too." Ryan announced after they had calmed down. "Close your eyes."
They complied, shutting their eyes as he moved towards each of them, slipping something over their necks. Lire reached out to feel it, only to have her hand lightly slapped away as Ryan chided: "Not yet!"
Lire grumbled, but obeyed as she impatiently tapped her foot till Ryan yelled, "Okay. Open!"
Dangling from each of their necks was a necklace, evidently crafted by a master smith. Lian's seemed to be made of baby leaves with a sparkling blue gem in the middle, held by a leather cord. Ladmir had a yellow one with wings which absorbed the moonlight and emitted a golden glow. Lire wore a golden pendant with a red rose engraved in the middle.
"This…" Lire was lost for words. "How did you become so rich?"
"I could ask you the same thing." he replied, chuckling. "I told, you, some crazy pink-haired lady gave me so much, I had to spend it or people will suspect me of robbing the castle banks. The…Hyung! What's wrong?" Ladmir had fallen over backwards, necklace and clothes still in hand.
Once he was righted, he managed to get out the words, "This time…I think I really went to heaven."
"So did I." Lian agreed, her face beaming. "Nothing could be better."
All reprimands and concerns about thieving, humans, and poverty could rest for now. The joy that lit up the little slum in the alley of 9th street made the four elves richer than any queen. They had another banquet, gorging on yesterday's feast and the berries. They used a broken shard of mirror to admire themselves, examining themselves from each angle. Ladmir and Ryan argued who looked better, while Lian exclaimed, "I never dreamed that I could wear such finery!" They laughed, danced, and were unwilling to sleep.
But all good times must come to an end as the table was eventually cleared, the finery carefully stored away, and preparations for sleep were made. Ladmir reluctantly made ready to go out for the night, even as Lire pleaded, "Oppa, just one night?" knowing that it was pointless.
He stooped down, kissing her cheek. "You're just like Mother. I'll see you tomorrow." Giving Ryan's head a good tousle and Lian a warm pat, he went out the door.
"Good night." Lian smiled, still in bliss as she drifted off.
The younger elves nestled up to each other as usual.
"The necklace is really pretty."
"You're welcome. Maybe my new clothes can help me blend into the shadows just like you."
"But you can already do that!" she jokingly objected.
"Nah~ You'd think I could, but it's like you disappear right into the darkness. But when I reach out, you're still there." He brushed a lock of hair from her face. "Just like now."
"Hee hee, of course I am! Where else could I sleep?"
"Right." He laughed quietly, then yawned. "So don't go anywhere without me, okay?"
At this Lire stilled, unsure how to reply. But before she could answer, she heard a loud snore from her companion; just like that, he was out like a light.
She poked him on the side, but that guy slept hard. It must have been quite a task, to run around the market getting these without being caught by the guards, these necklaces that looked a hell of a lot better than some half-cracked trinket from Partie's.
No, he definitely wasn't going to get up anytime soon.
Patiently she waited, her eyes wide open through the night, until she heard the faint chimes from the faraway clock tower, signalling midnight. Extricating herself from his arms, she quickly filled a sack with her spare dress, Ryan's present (It was much too valuable to just have it loosely dangling from her neck), and a small bun that nobody would miss. There were no clothes to change into, no other things to pack.
"He'll be waiting outside." He instructed. "I know you two are –chuckle– not on the best terms, but work with it. I'll handle the rest. So, Lire, is it a deal?"
"Excellent. You," he barked to his accomplice. "Take off the knife. It's done."
Her slum. Her dingy, dilapidated mess of a building she'd called home for nearly all her life. It was the place she'd run to at the end of the day, where her family waited. What she had wasn't much, but it was enough for something to break a little inside her. Taking one last look, she went out as quietly as she could, despite the door creaking a little.
It's only temporary, she thought. Then I can go back home.
He was in the exact position when they had met the first time, his arms crossed with a devious smile. "We meet again, knife-ears."
He grunted. "So, the hag Artemis actually did it. Who'd have known? But eh, it's still pretty weak…"
"You're not going to go all weepy, right? The last recruit nearly soaked my shirt."
"Just shut up."
He laughed. "Nah, I don't feel like it. If you're done being all depressed, try to keep up." He swerved around the corner and out of sight.
Through the cracks, she could see Ryan sleeping peacefully inside. On any other day, she'd be right beside him, dreaming about how to pickpocket more efficiently and get more food, or just talking…
"You lied." she mumbled to no one in particular. "You said that nothing would change."
She disappeared into the shadows.