The Battle of Heart and Mind 3.07

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[City of Blackpond | Lacus 26th, 2526 | Midmorning]

Kyle barely slept. The guards brought in a medic to ensure Sebastian wouldn’t die on their watch, but his breathing sounded horrible. So much so, he and Theron agreed to take turns keeping watch through the night. In the end, it didn’t matter because neither of them managed more than the occasional minute-long snooze. They’d been tossed together in a small cell meant for one and they’d let Sebastian take the only available cot. Which meant sharing the limited floor space with Theron, an empty but not very clean crap bucket, and the occasional scurrying rat. Sebastian spent the night curled up on the cot, occasionally shivering from the cold, but otherwise motionless, breathing noisily and uneven.

“Is it normal for him to be out cold like this?” Theron muttered.

“I have no idea. Do I look like a White Shadow?” Kyle sighed. “Sorry, I’m just… Tired and pissed off.”

“It’s fine.” Theron groaned, trying to stretch his legs as much as possible in the cramped space. “If they don’t let us out, how long until the others come and get us?”

“Two days. Another two for them to get here.” Kyle forced a rueful smile. “Comfortable yet, Lockwood?”

“No, but I’ll deal with it.” Theron ran his hands over his eyes and through his hair. “Doesn’t look like you’ll be making that date, though.”

Kyle shook his head. “Probably for the best.”

“You got a date? Damn.” Sebastian’s mumble was muffled into his arms and hoarse from a dry throat.

“She said I could stop by around noon and walk her to the seamstress shop. But then I saw you get your stupid ass beaten and chucked a wine bottle at a man’s head. So who knows if she still wants to talk to me now.”

“Was a nice throw,” Sebastian mumbled, coughing out a chuckle. “We can find out when we get out of here. You know where to find her.”

“It’s better to leave it, Seb. Even if she does want to see me, then what?”

Sebastian groaned and stirred, just enough to roll over and look at him. His nose looked broken, his eyes were outlined by dark purple bruises like a raccoon and the left side of his face where he’d taken the second blow was swollen and equally purple. “Then maybe one person will care after you die.”

Kyle shook his head. “That’s not a fair reason to possibly drag someone into our messes, is it?”

“If we’re lucky maybe someone will put out a contract on her parents and you’ll get to know her better then,” Sebastian said, groaning as he tried to sit up.

“Don’t say stupid shit like that in here.” Kyle hissed. “What are you trying to do, get us dragged into an interrogation room?”

Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Don’t be parano—” The heavy clunks of metal latches being undone echoed through the hall outside their cell door. A man’s muffled voice accompanied the sound of a large metal door slamming open. Footsteps slowly approached and stopped outside the door of their cell.

“A’right. I think these are the ones you’re looking for.”

The door opened and a guard stood blocking the frame, leaving only enough space for another person to peer into the cell; a man in an officer’s uniform stood behind him. Kyle didn’t take his eyes off the doorway, but he could hear Theron scramble to stand up and Sebastian shift where he sat on the edge of the cot. The man spared them one brief glance then gestured for someone just out of view to step closer. It was Johanna. She peered in from behind the guard, gave the officer an affirming nod, and he spoke for her. “That’s them.”

“Alright, then. Get out,” the guard told them, stepping aside. “Hurry up, I have better things to do.”

Kyle had questions, but none he was comfortable asking in front of strangers. Jo lingered in the hall as he helped Sebastian up and ensured he could stand on his own. Theron was the first out of the cell, and thus the first to suffer through Jo’s concerned poking and prodding. Normally he would have resisted more; Theron wasn’t as used to Jo’s fussiness as the rest of them, but spending the night in a cramped cell wore him down enough that he didn’t complain. Kyle, likewise, stood perfectly still and allowed her to pat him down and reassure herself he was unharmed. Sebastian, on the other hand, tried to duck away immediately, groaning when she cupped his face with both hands and pulled him closer to better assess his injuries.

As Jo inspected the bruises, carefully feeling the bridge of Sebastian’s nose with her fingertips despite his protesting and wincing, her expression gradually hardened, the warmth and concern in her eyes overtaken by something much darker and intensely furious. It seemed to fill the air around them to the point where the guard took two cautious steps away from them and sputtered: “We had a medic look at him last night. He said there wasn’t going to be any permanent damage.”

Jo ignored him, eyes still on Sebastian. “Who?” she asked, lowering her hands. Her voice was soft as always; just loud enough to hear, but Kyle had never heard so much anger injected into one single word before.

Sebastian seemed to agree. He shook his head, sluggishly, and tried to talk her down. “It was just a drunk. Think he mistook me for someone else.” When he was given a stern glare in return, he sighed. “Jo, I’m okay. I promise. Can we just… Can we get out of here now?”

Jo huffed softly but nodded and turned away, pulling Sebastian with her as she led the way down the long row of cells towards the exit. Another guard sat leisurely behind a desk outside. Their personal effects were returned with the disclaimer that the City Guard would not be held responsible if something happened to be missing and Sebastian checked that his journal was in his pack and every page was intact before leaving. No doubt their coin purse was lighter, but everything else looked to be in order.

They remained silent on their way out of the building and for some time after. It was a gloomy morning, but still much brighter than the inside of the city dungeons. The military district was busy, but no one paid them any mind aside from an occasional silent greeting towards the uniformed man who still accompanied them, walking in pace with Jo and occasionally regarding them with curious glances. If Jo had planned on making an introduction, the state of Sebastian’s bruises had pushed the thought out of her mind. Kyle sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets and huddling into his coat. “So… Three questions: How did you find us so fast? Where are we going now? And who the hell’s this guy?” he asked, nodding towards the officer.

Jo turned to look at him and smiled for the first time since their cell door opened. “I followed you.” She looked at the man then back at Kyle. “This is Alex. And we’re meeting Gabe and Gerry.”

“They’re here too?” Sebastian asked.

“Should be,” Jo told him. “If not, they’ll be here soon.”

Seb carefully rubbed his eyes then shot Alex a look. “Is this your brother?”

Alex looked back at him with a nod. His eyes hazy, but slowly the murky whites sharpened into focus, staring squarely in the middle of his face. At his nose, no doubt. “For a crippled bastard, he’s still got some fight in him, doesn’t he?” He smiled. “Next time don’t go picking fights with the jailor’s old sparring partner and maybe you’ll get one of the good cells.”

“I thought we had one of the good ones. They even gave us a crap bucket.” Sebastian smirked, though a pained wince followed. “Kinda wondering what would have happened if I crippled him again.”

“You’re the one who maced Ol’ Crip?” Alex asked, bursting into a fit of laughter. “He’ll never live that down once I tell him. You really messed that man’s leg up, kid.”

Kyle flinched, falling a couple steps behind the group and rushing to catch up. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he muttered. “Is that why you didn’t fight back?”

Sebastian was intent on looking straight ahead, his tone leaving little room for further questions. “Yes and no, but I’d rather talk about that anywhere else.”

Kyle remembered the guilt-riddled uncertainty when Sebastian talked about throwing that guard’s mace back at him. It wouldn’t surprise him to learn he thought getting his face beaten would somehow make up for it. “You’re a fucking idiot,” he scolded.  “Why do I always have to save your ass?”

******

Sebastian went into this endeavor expecting a rough morning after. He hadn’t planned for it to be quite this rough. Every smile, frown, wince; no matter how small, caused his bruises to flare up in throbbing pain. No amount of water managed to wash the stale taste of blood from the inside of his mouth. He trekked after Johanna, trying to ignore her occasional concerned glances and silent outrage. Part of him was thankful for how much she cared, the rest of him didn’t know how to handle it.

Jo led the group past the gigantic oak tree that marked the very center of Blackpond. This part of the city wasn’t familiar to Sebastian. They’d never wandered too close to the upscale areas of the district, and it was easy to forget such a thing even existed in Blackpond. Their meeting place was an Inn; smaller than the one run by the Wolfpack, a two story house with an ornate roof and burgundy curtains framing each window.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Kyle asked.

Jo hummed, glanced up at the sign above the door—the words “Shieldshade Inn” written in fancy golden lettering. “Yes.”

“Not a place I imagined Porter and Tucker hanging out in, all honesty.”

That affirmation drew a soft trail of laughter from Jo. “You’re about to learn something today.”

She pushed the door open and the delicate sound of a chime announced their arrival to a mostly empty lounge. Gabrielle and Gerald seemed to be the only patrons in the establishment currently, seated at a corner table enjoying cups of tea. Even so, a short middle-aged woman rushed out from the back room. “I’m sorry, we have no rooms available today,” she said, dismissing them with a hand wave.

“They’re staying with us, Laura.” Gabrielle chimed in. “Remember?”

“You said a couple more people, Gabrielle.” Laura gave them all a scrutinizing look. “Are you cramming five people into two rooms?”

Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “That one isn’t staying,” she said, indicating Alex with a nod, “and unless you have more available, yes. It’s one night, we’ll live.”

The older woman huffed. “It’s what I have to spare on such short notice. You know we’re always fully booked when the desert folk stop by.” She fixed their group with another inspecting look. “You all look like you’ve had a rough night. I’ll tell Otis to get some breakfast going, but you’ll have to excuse me. I need to finish setting up before that bunch shows up.”

“Desert folk?” Kyle asked. “She doesn’t mean…”

“Crimson Shadows, yes. We’ll get to that in a minute.” Gabrielle briefly glanced towards the door to the backroom where Laura had once again disappeared. “Rivers, would you care to explain what happened to your face?”

Sebastian shrugged. “I ran into an old acquaintance and he wasn’t very happy to see me. Kyle flung a bottle at his head and we all got arrested. That’s the story. We’re all caught up now.”

Gabrielle hummed, calm as ever, but her eyes were unsettling sharp as though trying to dig into everything he’d left unsaid. “I see.”

Gerald snorted softly and stepped forward. “Let me see that.” Much like Johanna had, he took Sebastian’s face in his hands and leaned in to inspect his injuries. “It looks horrible, but it doesn’t look like it needs a healer,” he declared, releasing him.

“Are you sure?” Jo asked.

“Don’t worry, he’s not gonna end up crooked like me. It’ll be like nothing happened,” he assured her.

Jo huffed softly and reached out to playfully tap the bridge of Gerald’s nose, where an old fracture had left a noticeable bump. “I like it. Suits you,” she said, smiling.

Gerald shook his head, unable to hold back a smile of his own, and Sebastian noticed Alex scowling behind his sister’s back. Gabrielle shook her head too, amusement briefly flashing behind her eyes as she sat back down and motioned for them to join their table.

The main lounge of the Inn was furnished with fancy cushioned chairs placed around tea tables and a warm fireplace. An aesthetic reminiscent more of a big cozy living room than a bar or dining hall. Their table was close to the warmth of the fire and Sebastian was more than happy sinking into one of the soft chairs. Even though he was thankful to not be made to sleep on the cold floor of the cell; and that he was able to sleep at all, he was still exhausted. A small stab of guilt assaulted the pit of his stomach and Kyle and Theron sank into their chairs with equally exhausted groans.

“I’ve come here to make a delivery and Tucker managed to convince me that it would be entertaining to allow the three of you to meet these contacts of mine,” Gabrielle explained. “Although considering your current state, perhaps it’s poor timing.”

“I still think it’ll be entertaining,” Gerald said, taking his seat and finishing the rest of his tea.

Kyle leaned closer in his chair. Exhausted as he was, excitement flared through him upon noticing the weapon leaning against the wall behind Gabrielle’s chair; a polearm, its blade concealed by a layer of protective leathers. “Is that the halberd you were working on when we left?”

“That’s the one, yes. And before you ask, you’ll get to see it once it’s delivered, not a moment sooner, if the rightful owner allows it. Like I said, this is a very special commission.” Gabrielle paused and her gaze momentarily lingered on each one of them. “Which leads into my next point. These people have known me for a very long time. They’re a part of my past, therefore, in order for me to allow this meeting to take place, we’ll need to establish some ground rules.”

Footsteps and the clang of a metal tray disrupted a conversation. A man—Otis, Sebastian assumed—entered the room carrying a breakfast spread of cured meats, hot cakes and small jars of jam and honey. Tea and coffee were also made available to them, which caused Theron to eagerly perk up in his seat. After begrudgingly pouring Alex a shot of whiskey, the man left them to their own devices once again.

“Ground rules?” Kyle asked, briefly eyeing the pot of coffee with suspicion before pouring himself a cup. “Like what?”

Gabrielle poured herself another cup of tea as she answered. “Mainly, I will not confirm, deny, or elaborate on anything they say about me. More importantly, they might refer to me as a bounty hunter, as far as they’re concerned that’s what we are. Are we understood?”

Kyle nodded and Sebastian followed suit, though he turned to Gerald next. “You, uh, you already know these people, then?”

Gerald’s expression twisted slightly. “We’ve met, yes. Porter isn’t the only one with connections in the desert. Though, she’s more acquainted with them than I am. The Crimson Shadows can be… a bit too much.”

Gabrielle snorted. “They really, really like Tucker. He doesn’t know how to handle all the attention.”

Gerald rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath, adding, more audibly: “They’re inoffensive, it’s just annoying.”

“Riyah said she would be here before noon, so any minute now.” Gabrielle told him. “I know she’s looking forward to this commission.”

The words barely had time to leave Gabrielle’s lips and the front door chimed. Not that the announcement was needed, because the group of people who entered the establishment were a whirlwind of laughs and excited chatter. The Crimson Shadows were notorious for being the life of all parties and while Sebastian always thought that to be an exaggerated statement, he couldn’t deny the change in atmosphere upon their arrival. Sebastian counted  twelve of them, eight men and five women of varying ages, though none as young as the twins. They carried on with their loud chatter as they peeled off heavy travel bags and layers of winter clothes, eager to be rid of their burdens. The lighter clothes underneath were colored a mix of earthy browns, plain white and sky blue. The only uniform characteristic among them was a crimson red sash worn around the waist. Some of them donned light leather chest pieces and bracers, but the majority of them wore no armor. They were, however, armed with swords and polearms.

Even among the loud colorful group of mercenaries, one woman stood out. Light brown skin, brown wavy hair, loose, and disheveled from long travel, and eyes that seemed to blend together specks of brown and gold. Her chestpiece and bracers were adorned with gold and sapphire-blue. The exposed skin on her arms was tattooed with patterns of similar colors; golden vines curled around runic writing on the right, and bright blue swirling waves framed a similar script on the left. She was the first in the group to acknowledge their presence with a wide grin and a glint in her eyes. “Gabrielle Porter, you elusive bitch!”

Gabrielle scoffed lightly, but stood up to meet her, holding out her hand in greeting. “Riyah. It’s good to see you as always.”

Riyah shook her head, feigning disappointment, but gripped Gabrielle’s forearm and pulled her into a strong one-armed hug Sebastian was surprised to see her actually return. “Don’t you give me that bullshit. It’s been, what, three years since you said you’d ‘visit sometime’?” The woman released the hug and held Gabrielle at arm’s length. “It’s been so long, if I didn’t know better I’d think you’ve actually gotten taller.”

Gabrielle shook her head. “You know my work keeps me moving and has me quite busy. The desert isn’t exactly a convenient place to visit for just a day or two.”

“Friends make time, Porter,” Riyah said, but her expression was pure warmth and appreciation. “You seem well. Are you well?” She peered beyond Gabrielle’s frame to the rest of them. “Your little group has grown. Is that what made you so busy?”

“It was part of it, yes.”

Riyah released Gabrielle’s forearm and walked past, her smile extending to the other two Hunters at the table. Jo wasted no time getting out of her seat and rushing to give the mercenary a hug, almost successfully knocking the woman off her feet. “Ooof, at least someone here’s glad to see me,” she quipped, regaining her balance. “You’re still the sweetest, Johanna. And if that boy over there,” she nodded towards Gerald, “isn’t careful I might just steal you away from him.”

Jo broke the hug with an amused snort, playfully punching Riyah in the arm. “Stop.”

“Pft, never. Not in my nature, I’m afraid.” Riyah then looked over at Gerald who was still stubbornly seated, arms crossed. “Gerald… Gerry… Don’t make me go and get you, you’ll just embarrass yourself.”

Gerald breathed a sigh of resignation and stood, walking up to Riyah and allowing the woman to pull him into a hug as well. “There, there. You know I don’t bite, you sourpuss.”

“That’s actually not true,” Gabrielle chimed in.

Riyah released Gerald from the hug and shot her a glare. “One time! I was exceptionally drunk and I apologized, Gabrielle.”

Gerald failed to contain a trace of laughter. “Anyway, aren’t you getting married in a couple of months? Isn’t that what all this is about?” He asked, nodding towards the still-covered weapon Gabrielle had brought. “You shouldn’t be talking about stealing anyone right now.”

“Yes, but I’m not married yet, sweetheart.” Riyah laughed when Gerald rolled his eyes. “I’m just messing with you, pretty boy. Relax.” She looked over at the halberd and smiled, turning to Gabrielle. “Is that it?”

Gabrielle nodded, reaching for the weapon and bringing it to Riyah. “This one’s been helping me in the forge for some time now.” She nodded towards Kyle. “He’s been eager to see it finished, if that’s alright.”

“Of course. Do you honestly think I’m gonna wait until I’m home?” Riyah briefly turned her attention to Kyle, then back to Gabrielle. “You teaching that one? How’s he faring?”

“He’s making good progress. Hard worker, exceptional attention to detail. No patience whatsoever.”

“Sounds familiar,” Riyah said, smirking. “What’s your name, kid?”

Kyle shifted nervously in his seat. “Uhm, Kyle. Kyle Rivers.”

“Alright, Kyle Rivers. Let’s see what we got here.”

Riyah slowly and carefully removed the protective leather from the blade, drew in a sharp inhale of breath, and blew out a low appreciative whistle. Sebastian had never stepped foot in Gabrielle’s workshop; hadn’t gained the knowledge Kyle had of how to forge a blade, but even he could tell this weapon was an exquisite work of craftsmanship. Polished steel shimmered under the firelight, each side of the blade was engraved along the edges in the same patterns and colors as Riyah’s armor and tattoos; golden vines on one and a metallic blue pattern of waves on the other. Riyah spent a long moment examining the weapon, from every fine line etched onto the surface of the metal, to the same runic script from her tattoos carefully carved onto the pole—whatever it said, clearly Gabrielle knew it well enough to replicate. “Damn,” she said, finally. “If only my father was here to see this.”

Gabrielle scoffed softly, but her tone was gentle, almost appreciative. “He’d snarl and find some fault with it, I’m sure.”

“Probably, but he would have been proud anyway,” she reassured, reaching out and clapping her on the shoulder. “Thank you. This is a wonderful gift.”

“You know it’s not a gift if you insist on paying for it, right?” Gabrielle asked, crossing her arms.

“You created this design with no input from me, that was a gift. I’m still paying you for your labor.” And just like that, Riyah’s demeanor changed from soft and jovial to resolute. “This is not a discussion.”

Gabrielle groaned, but relented. “Fine.”

“Good,” Riyah said, dropping a heavy looking coin pouch on Gabrielle’s hand. Transaction complete, she turned to Kyle and held it out for him to hold. “You wanted a closer look at it, yeah? Be careful.”

Kyle hesitated, glanced at Gabrielle, and only took the weapon in his hands once she offered an encouraging nod. “Thank you, I’ll be very careful.”

“Don’t mention it, kid,” Riyah said, amused. She then turned to look at Sebastian. “What about you, handsome. Did you give as good as you got?”

It took him a moment to realize she was talking to him. And that of course she’d noticed him watching from the moment she’d walked in the door. “Not quite.”

“It doesn’t look that bad, though. Chin up. Nothing wrong with a little bit of defeat now and then. Humbles you, builds character.”

The words struck a chord and Sebastian unconsciously glanced at Jo. “I guess it does.” Jo was distracted listening more than taking part in conversation, though she lingered close to her brother and occasionally mumbled a word or two within his earshot. The Crimson Shadows had filled the whole space, passing around bottles of liquor and plates of food, all too happy to make new acquaintances or catch up with those they’d already met. He turned his attention back to Riyah who, he realized, had kept her attention on him. “May I ask you a question?”

“Sure. If you tell me your name, handsome.”

“Oh, right, sorry. I’m Sebastian.”

“Alright, Sebastian. What’s your question?”

Sebastian glanced at the tattoo in her right arm. “Your ink. What does it say?”

Riyah smiled. “Ah. Is that why you’ve been staring at me this entire time? I do have that effect on people.” She patted her left arm with her right hand. “This one says ‘united we stand’, and this one,” she patted her right arm, “this one says ‘together we fall’. It’s a reminder of my heritage. Allegedly the last words the King gave to his men before the fall of Effort. We’re not sure if it’s accurate, but it’s how the story was passed down. It became a motto of sorts among the warriors of our clan.”

“A philosophy?” Sebastian asked.

“No. A reminder. Our past is a painful lesson we continue to learn. Effort involved itself in a war that did not belong to them and pride prevented them from salvaging what was left. Leading your people to their deaths with inspiring words is not strength, it’s cowardice.” Riyah smirked at Alex who laughed rather uproariously as if she’d made the funniest joke he’d ever heard. “But we’re in Blackpond right now, so perhaps not the best place to be making such bold claims.”

Sebastian chuckled, then groaned as pain returned to his bruised face. “Shit.”

Upon witnessing this, one of the Crimson immediately poured him a shot, insisting it’d help numb the pain. Johanna swooped in, took the cup, and shooed the mercenary away with a stern glare before Sebastian had the chance to consider the offer. It was only after Gerald himself suggested it might help ease the aches a little, that she relented and allowed him to drink. It burned his throat raw and tasted foul but he couldn’t deny its effectiveness.

The rest of the morning and half of the afternoon passed in a blur. Card and dart games were played, at some point music started—he had no idea where the instruments came from, but the mercenaries acquired them somewhere—and Sebastian remained for the most part curled up in his cushy chair, content in observing for lack of energy to do anything else. Watching Gabrielle interact with people she apparently knew from an entirely different lifetime. Watching Gerald awkwardly shy away from too much physical contact, but still politely engage in conversation. Watching Johanna try to keep her brother from one too many shots of alcohol and resign herself to failure. The way her eyes sparked with interest when a few of the Crimson started dancing to the improvised musical arrangement, yet she stood still, quiet as a mouse.

Gerald brought him water at one point, and he caught concerned glances from Kyle and Theron every now and again, but for the most part they agreed to just let him rest. Eventually, Gabrielle settled on the chair beside him with a tired sigh.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Sore, but better,” he answered, watching as Riyah approached Gerald and pulled him close—a little unsteady from alcohol—and whispered something in his ear.

“May I ask why you didn’t fight back?”

Gerald seemed aggravated by being tugged around, but whatever the Crimson Shadow told him elicited a reaction. His brow furrowed and he glanced from Riyah to where Jo was standing across the room. Sebastian looked away, just enough to spare Gabrielle a glance and let her know he was paying attention.

“Acting on instinct would have ended with my knife in his throat,” he answered. “I didn’t want to do that, and my head wasn’t clear enough to think of something else.”

“Johanna would argue there’s no reason not to kill someone who is intent on hurting you,” Gabrielle said, calmly.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“Johanna has her reasons, you have yours, and neither of you are wrong. In this case, it was your knife, not hers, therefore your decision.” Gabrielle held his eyes for a moment, then shifted her gaze towards the spot Sebastian had been watching just a moment ago. “Mercy has its place and we all know this, easy as it may be to forget sometimes.”

Sebastian nodded in silence and he followed her gaze to where Gerald was now standing in front of Jo with one hand outstretched, calmly waiting for her to take it. Jo looked up at him with uncertainty, her hand faltering before finding his. She mumbled something that likely only Gerald would be close enough to hear, staring down at her shoes the whole time. Whatever it was, didn’t dissuade him and he gently pulled her into the midst of the dancers.

They were extremely clumsy, which ultimately didn’t matter since the Crimson Shadows’ whole affair could be best defined as semi-coordinated flailing. Still, the two made up an amusing sight; a sore thumb dressed in dark colors amongst a troupe of colorful drunks. Gerald was amused and infinitely patient, whereas Johanna fell prey to frustration at every little misstep, but they found their stride eventually. Nothing graceful, the farthest possible thing from what Sebastian suspected Gerald might have learned in Newhaven, but something comfortable, joyful, and apart from anything else happening around them.

“You know,” Sebastian said, “I think Kat would love this.”

Gabrielle hummed. “You think so?”

“Mhm.” Sebastian mumbled, unable to hold back a grin when, after coming out of a particularly awkward spin and almost falling on her face, Jo’s laughter rose high enough to briefly fill the space before she was able to restrain it. “A bunch of happy weirdos. I’m pretty sure she’d approve.”

“Your sister was strange, Rivers.”

Sebastian laughed. “Yeah. She was.” He looked out one of the nearby windows. The sky had turned a darker shade of grey as the sun chased the horizon behind a thick blanket of clouds. “What’d you think, it’s around, what, five in the afternoon now?”

“More or less,” she answered. “Why?”

“Hey, stupid!” Sebastian called, drawing his brother’s attention as well as the Crimson Shadows he’d been happily chatting with. “If you hurry you might be able to catch her on the way home.”

Kyle frowned, and Sebastian was sure he was ready to tell him to mind his own business, or that it was better to leave well enough alone, but instead he muttered a couple of parting words to the mercenaries and rushed out the front door.

Gabrielle watched with a note of confusion, but made no effort to stop him. “Will he be back here before curfew or will we need to plan another prison break, Rivers?”

“He’ll be back,” Sebastian said. “There’s no way in hell that girl’s father will let him in his bar again after last night.”

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