The amethyst heist had paid out handsomely. Ayen had more than enough for the month and had even spent the coin to finally furnish his place. He had a proper bed and a cozy living area. Between the kitchen and the big, comfy sofa was a dining table just waiting for food and friends. Ayen wasn't the best of chefs but he knew a thing or two about grilling vegetables so he invited his dear friend Lil to visit him for dinner now that he had a real table to serve her at.
She arrived with two of her siblings, Toril and Malya. Tor was a boy not quite old enough to work and hardly mature enough for it either while Malya was a bit younger than him. She was a proper and soft spoken sort. Lil made herself at home, tossing herself down on his new sofa and rolling around in the cushions while the two less acquainted siblings looked a bit uncomfortable in a stranger's home.
"Do settle in," Ayen called from the kitchen. Smoke rose from the pan as he rolled around the vegetables in oil and spices. "We'll eat soon."
"It smells wonderful, Ayen!" Liluth called back. She had moved to the center of the couch to let her siblings sit, but as soon as they sat down she was up and running into the kitchen.
"Stay back from the stove, Lil," Ayen cautioned, blocking her from reaching the open flame.
"Don't worry. I'm very careful!” She watched him, swishing her skirt around her legs. “I didn't know you were a good cook, Mr. Ayen."
He chuckled. "I'm not so sure you'll be saying that once you taste it."
Lil helped set the table and they all gathered around. Ayen was admittedly delighted by the response his food received. The little elves all seemed to be enjoying themselves and the good food helped the two older children to open up. Once they started talking, neither of them seemed inclined to stop, but Ayen wasn't complaining. It had been a long time since he'd had a family meal. Even when the bickering began, it was nice.
"It's not true!" Toril insisted for a second time. He slapped a hand down on the table. "It isn't! Have you seen anybody go missing?"
"I have!" Lil said. She leaned forward in her seat, hovering over a plate of grilled carrots. She seemed to have chosen the carrots as her favorite. "Jasper hasn't been out to play in the square in days."
"He could have a cold," Malya said with a shrug. "But Lil's right, I do think people have gone missing."
Tor rolled his eyes. "You would think that. People don't ask if you've gone missing when you stay cooped up with your books for days."
"Is there someone who is missing?" Ayen asked. The back and forth was growing confusing.
"Trix and Fallon have been gone for weeks," Lil said. "I heard someone say that they probably just left town, but I'm not so sure."
"Well why not?"
Lil wrinkled her nose, thinking hard. "It's just that Trix always said that East Wood was her home. She said she was born here and she would die here."
"Maybe she realized that West Catoig doesn't like criminals like her," Tor said.
"That's not very nice, Tor," Malya said.
"What are you going to do about it, you toad licker?" They both glared at each other.
Ayen cleared his throat and the pair turned their eyes toward him. "No sense in arguing when we cannot possibly know what happened to her. Let's just hope she returns home someday. I know Lil misses her pirate stories."
"She can't really be the daughter of a pirate can she?" Malya said. Conversation resumed without too much bickering, but Ayen was left wondering if Lil was right. Ayen didn't know Trix well, but he had bumped into her a few times. She certainly seemed settled here as did her adoptive sister, Fallon. Once the children were tucked safely back home, Ayen went to investigate.
Trix and Fallon had lived in an apartment by the butcher shop. It wasn't the most pleasant of places to live, but that's exactly how they could afford it. There was no sign of a break in at the front door, but when Ayen checked the back he found the door unlatched. The handle hung down clearly broken.
He entered silently, keen ears searching for the sound of an intruder. The apartment was tiny. It had only one room, a pantry, and a toilet. There weren't many places to hide. In the center of the room was an overturned table. A tea kettle had been knocked over and all of its contents had spilled out on the floor. He could smell mold growing in the wet rug. Whatever happened to knock it over had happened a long time ago.
It was abundantly obvious that Trix and Fallon hadn't left by their own will. Their clothes and shoes were left behind and dinner was rotting on the counter. Someone had to have seen something.
Ayen went back outside to observe the nearby apartments. They were grouped tightly together. Each door was hardly more than a pace from the next. The kitchen windows of the house across the alley faced Trix's backdoor. With such tiny living spaces, it would be hard to believe they hadn’t seen anything. Ayen figured it was worth bothering them to ask.
He knocked on the door and after a moment he heard shuffling footsteps inside. The door opened a crack and an elderly dwarf woman peeked out. She was short for a dwarf, with deep brown hair tucked behind small ears. Her patchwork skirt was clean except for the hem where it dragged the ground.
"I don't want any trouble," she rasped before she looked him up and down.
Ayen did his best not to appear intimidating. There was no telling what she had witnessed. "I'm sorry to bother you, ma'am. Some friends of mine live in that house there. Did you see what happened to them?"
She looked at him. Then she looked at the back door of Trix's place. Then she shook her head. "I don't know a damn thing," she said, but she said it so pointedly and with such a look, that Ayen knew that she had seen the whole thing.
Ayen lowered his voice. "I understand, ma'am. Could you just tell me one thing? Were they taken alive?"
Again, she looked around. Then she nodded.
"Thank you. Have a nice evening, ma'am."
"Keep your nose clean," she warned. Then she closed the door and locked it.
It was true then. Trix and Fallon were missing. Most likely they were kidnapped, taken alive. For what purpose, Ayen could guess and it left his stomach rolling. It was hardly his job to protect anyone and the last time he had gotten involved in a thing like this it hadn't gone well. Yet, he would keep an eye out. Just in case. If nothing else, he felt responsible for making sure that Liluth stayed safe.
Ayen Fenfir is no common elf, but that won't stop him from pretending to be one as he tries to hide from his past. Life as a criminal isn't easy, but when Ayen sees the bounty for turning in an assassin, known as 'The Angel', he finds himself caught between romance and a chance to retire from his life of crime. 'Don't try your luck in West Catoig' is what they always say, but Ayen has yet to discover just how unlucky West Catoig is for its more humble citizens.