The 48th day of the moon of Harvest's End. Year 1458 of the Age of Stagnation.
"Did you see the elf? It had no eyes!"
"Quiet down, idiot. Calling it names will only get us in trouble, and you've done plenty."
"This is Ironcourt. The heart of the Empire, the mightiest homeland of the Humans, and I can't say what I want anymore?"
"As if you have anything valuable to say." Aerin was speaking more to herself than her companion.
"Our homeland is being taken from us right in front of our noses and all you do is mutter. All because human blood has thinned, the elves now march in and do as they want."
This made Aerin stop and turn around. She was sick of that stupid phrase Will constantly repeated.
"Would you shut up already? Blood this and that. You are not a bloodied mage. Not even a simple acolyte or healer at that. You had to scribble on your arm like that, didn't you? All it did was get us into more trouble. It is not a bloodseal; it is not even a tattoo. Give it a good scrubbing and it's gone! All that pureblooded legacy you're babbling about is nothing but ancient, forgotten, useless history." She regarded her lanky companion with a stern look.
"So, you're okay with these Alyar prancing about as if they owned these lands. They're ours, have been for centuries." Will grinned.
"Yes, I am." Aerin turned around and continued walking. She would only waste time trying to argue with Will.
"Garret gave us a job; we are to scout out the Luxor estate! You're wasting our time on menial problems." Before Will could recover from his acted-out shock, Aerin continued. "These are merchants, craftsmen. Not warriors nor battlemages waiting to turn you to ash with the flow. Merchants mean trade, trade means more jobs in the city, more jobs mean more people with money and new valuables. All that means more coin for us. That is why I am okay with it." Will looked unhappy, but did not say a word.
The sun was already setting. Autumn had arrived with a chill and a promise in the air. You could see the riverboats in a rush now. Everyone was in a hurry to make their last journeys up and down Irbis to earn that little extra silver before the river would freeze over.
Aerin had to turn around and look for Will, who had fallen behind. "What are you doing? Stop wasting our time. Let's get this over with." She rolled her eyes, barely registering the pale and tall figure of Will. The brief sight of his long, malt coloured hair was enough. As of late, the sight of Will was getting on her nerves.
She did not hate him, but more often than not she thought the boy wasted his life on nonsense. And it had become difficult to keep her mouth shut. She knew she ought to, Will was no different than usual. Yet the potential reasons were a source of constant worry and only added to her ire during the recent tens. If only the boy would listen to her, his life would turn for the better.
"Someone's eager. Looking to grab some extra coin tonight?"
"As long as it gets me away from you." Aerin grunted.
"So, tell me again, why couldn't Dresden handle this job?" Will asked and let out a heavy sigh. "He has the manpower. He is almost like a keeper." He kept whining.
"That's why he can refuse these sorts of jobs."
"What was it?" Will sighed and rustled with his mantle, pulling it tighter around him. "The Luxor estate? Named after the city beyond the Spine?"
Aerin grunted in response and cleared her throat. "We just need to find a way in. But the inside of the house is off-limits to us. Wouldn't want to alarm the city watch by stumbling onto the premises." The owners of the house had been minor nobles, recently deceased. Without children or heirs to claim the inheritance, the city had locked the property down until someone could figure out what to do with it.
Aerin and Will were thieves. This profession had not been her choice, but these days few people could afford the luxury to choose their own path. And it had been a blessing after the flesh market. At least she was free of chains.
As they turned a corner and headed up the hill Aerin noticed Will fumbling with something on his belt. A brightly coloured lump, out of place on a person like Will. "What is that?" She asked with a sharp tone. A passer-by glanced towards them, but did not linger.
Before Will could hide it, Aerin grabbed a coin-pouch from Will's hands and headed towards a side street. "Are you insane? This is Alyar. When did you even get your hands on this?"
"Talk a little louder please, so everyone can hear us. Also, that's mine now. Hand it over." Will made to grab the pouch, but Aerin swiftly jumped back.
"It's not. You need to get rid of this now." She wanted to throw the pouch further in the side street, into the piles of rubble crowding it. But Will caught her hand this time. She may have been faster than Will, but he was still stronger. He wrested the pouch from her grip.
"It's mine! Tax for entering my city." Another wild grin from Will.
"You are insane! You would steal from an Alyar. How did you? When?"
"We do this for a living. Besides, it's not stealing, if it's an elf. More like taking what's ours."
"When and how?" Aerin did not know what was worse, that Will had stolen from an Alyar or that he had managed to.
"The clumsy idiot dropped it and didn't notice. It makes no sound when you shake it. Neat, eh? Much better than my old one."
"That's even worse! It means the thing's invested. Damn it, Will! This might be like a beacon in the dark for its owner right now. Alyar invest everything with the flow."
"Look, I might not be a mage, but I can read presences. There is nothing suspicious about this. Besides, my old pouch broke and I haven't had the time to get a new one yet. Elf-tax. Not really stealing, if you think about it." His face wore a wild grin as he stepped past Aerin, deeper into the trash-filled side-street.
"The problem is not taking things. The problem is that you are so stupid you think you can use something that no human owns. It is obviously Alyar made, it's clear that whoever had it made, had it made for themselves. Everyone can tell even at the dead of night that this does not belong to you. Are you listening to me, Will?"
Meanwhile, Will was busy fixing the bag to his belt and tucking the side of his undershirt on it. She had to admit, the pouch was pretty. Leather dyed light blue against all odds and traced with intricate silver embroidery.
"Relax." Will patted her on the shoulder. "I told you, I can read presences. This thing is fine. And think of it this way. Maybe they will bring these things in. You know. Trade is good and all that. Until then, I'll keep it out of sight."
"It's a coin-pouch, how are you going to keep it out of sight when you need to spend coin? How many times are we going to have this talk about not wearing the wrong things? We need to keep out of sight, not show off."
"Look, Aerin. You sound like my brother's wife and I do not remember getting married to you. Thank the Makers they don't visit often." Will grinned and stepped out of the side street. "I'm telling you, it's all good. My point still stands. It's elf tax for entering my city. We need to show that this city is ours and we want no filth in here."
"Orion has boiled your mind, hasn't he?" Aerin was angry now. "You waste time at your retarded little cult..." Will turned about and stared daggers at Aerin.
"He teaches us things. The truth. How it all used to be before humans gave up on themselves. And the power that courses through our veins. What it was all like before blood had thinned." Will argued.
"Yes. How it all had been. Useless history. Things that are long gone and should be buried. An excellent idea to teach someone who can barely read. That's not teaching, it's afflicting minds with trash."
"I want to make a change. Humans are sitting on their arse, watching the world pass them by. We may be snatches, but this way we can send a message."
It was hard not to yell at Will, but Aerin had been losing her temper too much as of late. It was hard to work with someone who would not listen, would not let her have her way. So, she settled on hissing at him through her teeth. "We work in the dark, unseen. All to live another day and someday, just maybe, settle down somewhere quiet." She purposefully bumped into Will as she stormed out of the side-street and started uphill.
"Now remember, you twat! Take the routes they gave us, observe carefully and don't cause trouble. I am sick of Garret breathing down my neck. All because of you. The only reason I introduced you to him was that I owed you a favour. Never should have done that."
Although she was angry, Aerin was hoping Will did not hear those last words. It was a big favour she had owed. She prayed that Will was right, and the coin-pouch was not invested with the flow.