She felt irritated.
It’s been three hours now. Three hours since she felt a presence follow her every move. Three hours since she’s seen a small silhouette flit in and out of her vision. Three hours since she’s entered this town, and now she couldn’t wait to leave. It was confusing. She didn’t sense anything malicious from the entity thus far, but she didn’t sense any desire for it to get closer to her either. She ignored the presence in the beginning. It could have been a curious passerby, or someone walking in the same direction as her. It’s a common occurrence, nothing new.
But now it’s a danger. The fact that it has been following her for three hours without pause is warning enough. It hasn’t made a move yet. She’s been keeping a close eye and a hand close to her hidden pistol this entire time, waiting. It could be a spy that’s gathering intelligence, or a really bad assassin that was seeking for a chance to strike. It wasn’t an ideal situation in either scenario.
Valerie turned the corner between two buildings. As predictable as it may be, it was the best course of action she could possibly take in this situation. This was the first time she has been in this town, so she didn’t know where the most secluded and private areas were. It was an oversight on her part. She should have asked some of the locals earlier, before she was being stalked. No matter. She memorized the entire town’s layout for this precise reason.
She stopped walking.
She was standing in the middle of an alleyway. It wasn’t dank or rank by any means, but the cobblestones were slightly slick with moss and smelled of that morning’s rain. Sunlight was pouring in from an angle, but it only managed to reach just over her head before shadow cut into it. She could hear the throng of townsfolk out there in the streets, completely oblivious as to what would happen just a few feet away.
She lifted her bag up to her face, pretending to check the contents. She can sense it. It was approaching her from behind. The soft footfalls, quick and eager to meet her, steadily growing louder and louder with each passing second. The sound echoed in her ears. She can hear it clearly.
She whipped out a knife and slammed her other arm into the assassin, ramming them up against the wall. It gave a squeak of surprise, but she pressed the tip of the blade to the side of his neck in silent warning. Her assassin immediately shut up, tense and wide eyed.
Now that she had him pinned down, Valerie could easily identify his features. He was a small boy, possibly adolescent, scrawny enough to suggest malnourishment, and the ragged clothes suggested that he was no more than a beggar. But what caught her interest was the hat he wore. It was far too big for his head, but she could easily recognize it as a Banden Naval Officer’s cap. It seemed old, but it was in strangely good condition when compared to the rest of his clothes.
A Banden assassin? Fine.
“The name of your employer,” Valerie applied more pressure to his throat, intensifying her glare. “Now.”
“E-emplo?!” He speaked.
“The name,” She hissed.
His eyes widened and he frantically spewed, “Th-there’s none! Fair dinkum! Bloody oath, I ain’t aftie ya life!”
“You were following me.”
“Y-yeah, but it ain’t ‘cos of tha!”
“Explain,” She pressed.
Her knife’s tip dug deeper into his skin. She could feel his panic rise in the way he squirmed away from the blade, to which she responded by pressing it even harder on the boy’s thin neck.
The young boy flinched, but he stopped squirming at once. He took deep breaths to quell his panicking mind, but his wide eyes told Valerie otherwise. “O-okay,” He released a shaky breath and gulped. “I-I saw your letter. The o-o-one with the seal on it. Y-you were reading it o-outside of town when I p-passed by.”
She frowned internally. She was checking the coordinates in the letter then. It coincides with when she first felt his presence behind her. “Your concern?”
“I-it’s ‘cause I have the s-same letteh like ya!”
“I-in my pack, on th-the ground!”
He pointed at the scrap of canvas on the ground, brown and worn and patched together with mismatched pieces of cloth. In one swift move, Valerie caught the strap of the bag with her foot and she tossed it into the air, smoothly catching it with her free hand. She kept her glare and her knife trained on the boy as she opened the bag. She rummaged around inside, taking out a package of bread, an oversized shirt with holes in it, and-aha.
A white envelope. She confirmed that the imprint on the broken seal was the same as her’s. It was definitely a government letter. Their wax stamps were hard to reproduce, and they use a special type of wax that was near-impossible to replicate. And a swift once-over of the letter’s contents confirmed that the boy was the owner.
She wasn’t surprised. She was unimpressed. It wasn’t the first time children have been employed by the government for war, and Banden children made for excellent spies and thieves. The letter even confirms it, but the reason why he was chosen out of all the other children was unbeknownst to her. His stealth skills were nonexistent. She could hear him coming from the next region - it was a miracle he hadn’t been caught yet.
Whatever. He wasn’t her concern.
Valerie relinquished her hold on the boy and took a step back. She watched as the boy slid down the wall while gripping his throat, gasping for air. Her confrontation with the boy had taken much longer than she anticipated. She would have to quicken her pace now. The assembly time for Argus is drawing near, and she couldn’t afford to be late. She sheathed the knife and tossed him his bag, not bothering to see if he caught it or not.
She left the alleyway in the next moment, briskly walking to her destination.
She ignored the call and continued onwards. She heard quick footsteps. In the next moment, the boy had appeared at her side looking a little winded, but nevertheless, he was jogging to keep up with her swift pace.
“L-Let’s go togo’s! W-we’re headin’ to tha’ place on the otha side a’town, r-rye?”
Valerie didn’t need a glance to know that he was staring up at her with a hopeful look on his face. Just what does this child want? An invitation to come along?
If that was the case, then was going to be disappointed. Valerie operated alone. She was a solitary soldier who lived a solitary life, which meant traveling alone. The only time she broke that image was when she had to. It happens during missions, when she was hired to escort some high-priority individual to someplace safe. She wouldn’t cooperate in any other case. She hated traveling with other people, especially the chatty ones.
She held in a sigh. His face beamed as he took her silence for an answer, and she suddenly felt a chill crawl up her spine.
“M-my name is Ace!”
Oh hell, he is going to follow her!
“What’s ya name?”
Her only response was to quicken her pace. Again.
“U-uh, no worries! We can chit-chat later! At the base!”
. . . She wasn’t going to answer that.