Orphans of a Dead Nation Chapter 6: Dealing with the Keeper
The tent flapped open, the sound of thin beast hide flailing in Alaina’s ears.
“Girl! What are you doing?” An old voice erupted forth.
A boy, about three years older than she, hurriedly pulled a black shirt over his head. He had short red hair, and deep brown eyes. But that was not what startled Alaina. Just before he pulled the shirt over his head, she saw shimmering red and gold runes crisscrossing all across his body. The runes were like tattoos but more like curves that formed symbols here and there. It was as if they were not on his skin, but a part of it. Yet still, it was as if it was not part of him at all, just barely hovering over the flesh. It was so weird it seemed her mind could not grasp what she saw. But even so, she had an idea of who, more like what the boy was.
The boy grabbed his coat and brushed passed Alaina as he ran out the tent. Alaina’s eyes followed the boys back until he came from view before she looked back towards where the voice had come from. Sitting with his legs crossed on layers of fur, a middle-aged man, nearing into his later years, gazed at her. His penetrating violet eyes seemed to bury itself into her. She shivered.
“Girl, I treat you differently because of karma, a link forged because of that person, but do not! I repeat. Do not take advantage! I have rules, and you just broke them.”
Alaina sneered. Please. Quoting the Knight of Summers? But she said nothing in regards to what had just happened, regardless of the curiosity burning within her about that boy. After all, It was true. she had been caught up in her thoughts that she forgot to make her presence known. And running into a deal between others was strictly bad business. Especially in the middle-aged man’s line of work. Which was why he prohibited people from just walking into his tent. But…
“What happened to your guard? You always have one there to inform anyone if you were dealing.”
The middle-aged man simply grunted. “You think I need a guard? Has your memory become short all of a sudden? Of who I am?”
Alain smiled wryly. “Let me guess. Another fight? What did you do now to upset him this time?”
“Bahh!” The man waved where the conversation was steering to off. “Now, what business do you have?”
“What other business is there? I always get the same thing. How ever could I afford your rates for the other services you provide?”
The man smiled. “I am The Keeper. And I make it my business to know my customers’ situations. I usually like to be kept informed. But… I never presume. Presumptions get a person killed. So you want to go into the city…”
Alaina said nothing. She knew the man before her stopped just short of finishing in order for her to fill in the blanks. Not an overt question, as that would be too obvious, but a question all the same. Usually when one did fill in those blanks, they said more than they should. That was always a way for The Keeper to gleam some information for free. Alaina learned before to never give out charity. But the next words threw her off.
“I cannot help you.”
“What?! Why?” She blurted.
The Keeper reached for a silver tin cup and took a long drink out of it. He placed it down and wiped the yellowish liquid from his mouth off the back of his hand.
“You’re on the list.” He said.
Alaina frowned, raining herself in. Is it Dekaros? Dekaros had hightailed it out of the mess in the forest while everyone was still fighting. Furthermore, he had the truck. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if he got back ahead of her. But the list? The list was not something someone of Dekaros’s status could affect. It was something that top officials who had certain connections could make and pass on to the guards in order to prevent entry or leaving of others. And each name on the list they provided would cost them plenty. But, even with that, Alaina just smiled.
“Since when did you let ‘the list’ ever affect you from smuggling a person across?”
“Since your name has appeared on more than just the list. Threats have been made. Not directly, of course, but whenever has threats to my kind ever been direct. So that means-” The Keeper rose up. “-that no other smuggler around here would get you passed that wall.”
“But you can.” Alaina said, her face pale, her voice but a whisper. “You can… at the right price.”
“At the right price.” The Keeper echoed.
Alaina knew what the man wanted. It was not the crossbow she took from Dekaros’s party. She had given that to Navari, who waited outside, and had it covered up even before they entered the bridge. Such a thing was valuable and dangerous. If anyone knew she had it, and given her lack of power, she would found herself dead in an alley, stripped of everything she owned. And Dekaros? Dekaros left before it landed into her hands so he would not know, or even if he did, would not dare to leak that information. The fact that his group had it to start with would cause him danger. So the only thing that came to her mind was…
“You want me to invoke one of the favors you owe me.” Alaina laughed. Her laugh was light. It was not a joyous one, but one filled with scorn. “Two years it has been since my master has died. You owed her ten favors and with her passing, you owe me ten. But in those two years you’ve managed to leach seven back. Most on things you would sell at a much lesser price.” Alaina’s eyes narrowed. “I know how powerful you are in your circles. Who would dare to challenge you so? I have no powerful enemies. Not anyone that could harm you. And so, you would have never cared about a threat or two. But now suddenly you do?”
The Keeper shrugged. “Times change, and I am a free person by nature. One cannot stand being bound by favors or any other tethers.” And then he smiled. “Can’t blame nature now can you?”
Alaina went quiet for a while. She said nothing at first. “One favor, two people smuggled across the wall. That is the price!”
“Two people? Two people, two favors.”
“One favor. Don’t go too far. The things my master has sacrificed to help you out… Do not be shameless!”
“Fine. But you still have to pay the standard fee.”
Alaina stared deep into the man’s unflinching gaze.
“Tell me what happened out there; what you’ve learned.” He continued.
And she told him.
“Was that a good idea?” Navari asked.
Alaina turned to look at him as she pulled a black cloak over her shoulders and pulling the hood up over her head.
Navari did not know what ‘look’ she had on her face, but knew that it was a ‘look’. The kind that was to mean an obvious message. As in ‘shut up’ or ‘leave me be’. But he had no such givings to care or puzzle out the girl’s intentions.
Navari threw the cloak around his shoulders. The crossbow was bundled up in some cloth and hoisted on his back. When Alaina had first given it to him to carry, she had this tortured look about her, but Navari could not understand, more so, chose not to understand what it was about. His business was his business. Her business was her business. And he did not want to start skewing the lines now. Not when it could be her asking the questions next time.
Just as he pulled the black hood over his head, casting his face in shadow, a horn blew.
The sound was deep and resonating.
Navari turned to the wall. On the top of it, a man dressed in black climbed down a silver ladder. The ladder did not reach the ground, only about fifteen meters high from it. At that level a small gated platform made of the same bricks as the wall itself was there. The man stood on it and looked out. He hoisted the horn again and blew.
Suddenly, the wall vibrated, and the bricks below the platform, and as wide as several meters, caved in, drawing back and then sliding away until there was a huge open area leading to the other side.
At this moment, over a hundred people who had been camping had packed up their things and were lining up. Some parts of the bridge had trucks, jeeps, and even motor bikes parked. Their engines rumbled as they were turned on and driven to the line.
Navari was about to step forward, when her arm drew in front of him. She did not give him a knowing glance; she did not even speak; but Navari did not need any confirmation to figure out that she had some plan. So he waited. And after the more than half the line had formed, she walked to line up, and Navari followed after her.
Minutes went by, it was almost an hour until most of the line was cut down. By now, Navari could clearly see what and who was at this entrance.
Standing there, with black strapped rifles slung over their shoulders, several guards dressed in armored black gear stood. They wore boots. They wore black tunics with a silver fur around their shoulders. And they wore steel black face masks. Their one lens goggles, mole like sleek shaded glass were currently drawn up on their foreheads, just touching the thin, but warm helmets they wore.
“Next.” A guard called, his steely voice washing over them as he beckoned.
The two drew closer and closer as the line waned in front of them. Trucks passed through, people on foot, and even other soldiers that came from the lands outside, passing by without any notice but a single nod by a guard.
Navari was finding himself become nervous. This was not like the outside. He could not fight or flee if he were caught. He could surely try, but that would not save him. He would not last long amongst so many. And he had easily noticed that he was with someone who needed to hide to get in. The situation could devolve fast on her part alone, and he would be wrapped up right in it.
Suddenly, Alaina tapped his arm. He in the direction she pointed to with her chin.
It was their turn.