If you have not read the other installments of this series, I highly recommend you check them out. You should start with Strange Weight, then the Tunnels, A Good Life, The False Prophet, and Part 1 & 2 of the Assassin. Enjoy!
“Aye,” said Agiion.
Bron nodded, letting his sadness be read clear on his face. Agiion’s eyes flashed toward the giant and back to Bron. This was not a man who let his guard down easily. This was a man who never stopped playing. His body may not be capable of physical violence, but his mind was a different beast altogether.
When men like this stopped playing, they were dangerous.
“And the girl?”
Agiion stayed quiet, unable to bring himself to answer the question, or maybe, just maybe, fearful of what it might do to the man.
The imp’s eyes strayed out toward the trees hidden by the darkness.
“Was it necessary?” said Bron.
“She not talk otherwise,” said Agiion softly. He watched the little man staring off as he bit the inside of his cheeks. The giant must have felt it too, taking his attention from his cube and staring sadly at his friend.
“Fair?” said the giant, placing his massive hand over the little man’s bandaged one. Bron placed his free hand over the big man’s, making it look like a baby’s hand atop a father’s.
“Fair,” said Bron back. “Well you find me, killer. I take it you be lookin’ for the same people I be lookin’ for, but if you be here a kill em, you not be gettin’ much from me.”
“I not like killin’,” said Agiion.
“I be able a tell.”
“They hire me a find her, bring her back.”
“Bring her back where?” said the little man.
“The Sovereign,” said Agiion.
Bron laughed. “Fuck he want with a devil like her?”
“It be his woman.”
“She be nobody woman. She somehow find a way a hump you dead. Trust,” said Bron. They stared at each other, not saying a word. “What about the boy?”
“I not know nothin’ bout a boy,” said Agiion, noticing the opportunity. “Far as I be concern, she travel alone.”
“Jensen?” said Grim.
“Aye, Jensen,” said Bron, never leaving the killer’s eyes.
“Big man understand a lot more an ya let on,” said Agiion.
“He soft, but he ain’t mudded,” said Bron. “She ain’t gone go with you, you know?”
“I ain’t ever expectin’ nothin’ a be easy.”
“Then what you plan a do?”
“Tyin’ up ain’t just work on beasts, doh?”
“You ain’t ever met this woman afore, is you?” Bron chuckled to himself. Agiion shook his head. “You better off givin’ her some crawler milk a keep her drug up. You leave her lucid, I no care how good you be, she find a way a kill you.”
“I thank the advice.”
“It ain’t no advice. How I be sure you not kill ‘em?”
Agiion looked down at his curved blade. He twirled it between his fingers before clipping it back onto the ring at his waist.
“Same way ya can be sure I not kill ya,” said Agiion.
The imp and the assassin stared at each other until a smile finally spread over the little man’s face and he began to laugh.
“You be a real bastard,” said Bron. The killer’s own smile joined in. The little man reminded him of a very likeable version of someone he detested. “I learn early on that I not trust nobody unless both a us have a thing a gain.”
“What ya suggest?”
“What it take for you a walk away?”
“It not happen,” said Agiion dryly.
Agiion felt himself growing agitated. His felt calm, but something about his code being questioned made his mind feel a dull rage.
“Me word mean all, little man,” said Agiion. “I take no sides, I take only contracts. If I be requested and I decide a take the contract, it get done. Doh?”
“Ah, I respect that,” said the imp. “You be like me then. If I promise a trade a someone afore I have what they want, I get it, no matter how much I lose.” The imp leaned in. “Why no we make contract then?”
Agiion tilted his chin up.
“I no care for the woman, but she be protectin’ the boy, and Grim here care for the boy,” said the little man. “Grim who I care a, you care for her. I not be able a tell you where they be, which be likely what you think you here a get from me. You pull me teeth, tear me skin, shatter me bones, beat me bloody, I still never be able a tell you where they be. What I do know, is where they be headed.
“So, I propose you assure me you not hurt me, Grim, or the boy. When you get the woman, you bring the boy back a me and Grim. Doh?”
Agiion saw no sign of the man lying, no twitch, no sweat, no rambling. “That all?”
“Aye, that all,” said Bron. He hacked bile from the back of his throat and spat it onto his hand. “Once the boy with us, we make you different offer, if it interest you.”
Agiion stared at the outstretched hand that dripped thick strings of saliva. He curled his lip. “I take ya offer, little man, but I not be touchin’ that.”
“Good,” smiled Bron, wiping his hand over the rags he wore. “I not be fond a em bad habits em civil men be havin’.”
Agiion reached into his sack and took out a tiny coin with a X carved into it. He tossed it to the little man who let it drop onto the ground, causing it to clink until it fell flat. He picked it up and inspected it.
“When me contract complete, I be gettin’ that back. Doh?”
Bron looked up into the killer’s eyes and smiled. “I like the way you be doin’ business.”
A sigh of relief escaped Agiion and he found himself smiling back at Bron. His code could be kept. It seemed the little man was right, he just needed more patience. He wondered what else the imp would be able to teach him.
“What ya know?” said Agiion.
“Look down at the parchment. The place past the wall, that be where em be headin’,” said Bron. “The Vaults. The boy be trustin’, tell me all about a Wanderer who leave ‘im all afore he die. I memorize it and make me own after, that be how you have that one there.”
The imp looked proud of himself, as if expecting Agiion to stop and congratulate him, but kept on talking instead.
“Normal, I not believe a word, but them things they be carryin’ in they sacks. I only ever see them things in the Forbidden, and never workin’.”
“How long ago?” said Agiion.
“It be more ‘an a few days,” said Bron. “But they ain’t left the woods yet. That I be sure a.”
“The boy missin’ a foot,” said Bron. “I leave ‘im with one a me leg support for when me own legs be hurtin’. Woman be hurt in her belly from what I be seein’ a. They not be movin’ fast.”
“Why ya come back for ‘em?” said Agiion.
“Grim like ‘em. He not like idea a the boy walkin’ ina his own death. It not be fair and I not sure if you notice, but when thing not be fair, me brat get…not happy.”
“Fair?” said Grim, looking up from his cube.
“Nothin’ Grim, just makin’ chat with our new friend here,” said Bron.
It felt strange hearing the imp call him that. Only one other person had ever called him a friend, and at the time it had meant the world. Now, it was all just in the past.
“So ya come a stop ‘em?” said Agiion.
“Aye, a sort,” said Bron. “Little kindness, the boy say. People be good inside, it be up a us a get it out. It not be able a leave me head. I be tryin’ a get the good out. A show meself that I not be as shit as what been kick out a me. I think, what if the boy be right? What if maybe it be me that be causin’ the shit? That maybe if I be the one a show little kindness a others, I be able a get it back.”
“I be sure that be goin’ grand.”
“Make joke all you like cubrat, but know that it ring true more oft an not.”
“I not ya cubrat,” said Agiion. Bron waved his hand in the air to dismiss his comment and stared at his big friend twisting his cube.
“I no warn them a the Forbidden, give em useless trinket instead in hope I get some a theys,” said the little man. He pointed at Grim’s cube. “The boy give me this, for Grim. I be furious at first, but I see how happy it make me brat and I feel the little kindness boy g’on about.”
“Boy like that ain’t go’n last long.”
“Which be why he need rotted people like me,” said Bron. He looked directly at Agiion. “Like us.”
The little man was crawling up the wrong dune. Agiion could see what the little man was doing. He could feel the seeds that were being planted. Maybe on a different man it might work, but Agiion was done picking sides. He was tired of seeing the truth from up close. He needed to keep his distance in order to maintain his objectiveness.
In order to maintain hope.
Agiion smirked before saying, “Tell me how a find ‘em.”
“Likely not what you be wantin’ a hear, but,” the little man turned and pointed off into the darkness. “Only way they be gettin’ through a the Forbidden be through the Road. Only way you be findin’ ‘em be by waitin’ ‘till they be makin’ they way out.
“Otherwise, you be riskin’ gettin’ lost in there, like them troops.”
“They be dead,” said Agiion.
“Aye, but they be dead acouse they be lost,” the little man winked at him. “Trust.”
Bron stood and dug through one of the sacks until he withdrew a massive blanket he could barely hold. He dragged it over the ground toward the big man.
“Come on Grim,” he said. “It be time a sleep.”
“Fair,” said the giant as he grabbed it with a single hand and lifted it over the imp. The giant let the bottom drape over his little friend which knocked him down, causing the giant to giggle.
“Yah, yah. Get your fill. We see who be laughin’ when you be askin’ me for more paste amorrow, doh?”
“Fair,” frowned the giant. “Fair…”
The little man smiled at the giant. “Go a sleep, Grim.”
The big man smiled back, laying over the hard ground and dragging the blanket over him. He placed the cube in front of him and stared at it for a long moment before closing his eyes and instantly beginning to snore.
Agiion closed his eyes and exhaled. It would be a long night.
“You don’t need a stay with us, but your company be welcome,” said Bron as he withdrew another, smaller blanket and held it up as high as he could. “Otherwise, I not be able a guarantee that if I find ‘em first, you be gettin’ the woman.”
Agiion shook his head.
The little man shrugged and pulled the blanket close to Grim. He lay it over the floor and crawled atop it, wrapping it over himself after.
“Visionless sleep a you,” said Bron.
“A ya,” said Agiion back.
He watched the little man close his eyes, the tiny body contracting and expanding just like the giant’s. It didn’t take long for the little man’s own snores to come through, a faint whistle compared to the thundering booms next to him.
Agiion didn’t understand how they could trust a complete stranger so blindly. Contract or not, there was nothing stopping Agiion from slicing open the big one and forcing the little one to watch as he extracted every step of information that he could be holding back. Nothing but his word, and the world knew how often most people didn’t keep that.
He had kept his distance from people for that exact reason, so he didn’t have to look into the filth that rotted most. So he didn’t have to watch as people did nothing to fight against it. From far away, he could concentrate on the bigger picture. He could believe that their base nature was stronger, that deep inside they were worth more than they believed themselves to be worth. That most were not as selfish as they led off to seem.
Here was the perfect example of everything he had been hoping for.
A man mistreated by everything around him, turned into a selfish creature, rotten to the core, and yet still trusting of a man who had clearly brought him pain. There was no reason for this imp to care. Agiion would not blame him if he walked through the lands bringing down destruction upon all who he felt deserved it, but he didn’t.
Instead, the little man watched over the innocent and did his best to protect them.
A little kindness.
He chuckled to himself. Maybe.
He watched the two sleep until the fire died out and only the orb’s dim sisters barely illuminated their outlines. He fingered the handle of his curved blade and stood. There were still things he needed to know.
Agiion slowly stepped toward them, so quietly that even he would have had a hard time noticing. He knelt next to the imp’s body and reached out toward the man’s neck until he heard the cocking of a gun trigger. He looked down and saw the barrel pushing the blanket into a mound Agiion had not noticed.
“I may want a trust you, killer,” whispered Bron. “But I not be trustin’ by nature.”
“I suggest ya never trust me, liar,” Agiion placed his hand over the man’s collarbone. “The wee girl, she alive. She be with decent people.” Bron stared at him, no words coming to the little man now. “Just think ya deserve a know.”
Agiion stood and gathered his belongings. He stuffed them in the sacks of his beast and hopped on.
“Thank you,” came the whisper from the little man.
“Aye,” said the killer, but he knew it was he who was doing the thanking.
He adjusted himself on the beast and rode off into the darkness.