With the sheriff informed, Scoured Reach moved slowly from a relaxed peace to a nervous anxiety. There weren’t that many civilians that weren’t hardened around Scoured Reach; businesses moved forward to cater to adventurers, mercenaries, sell-swords, and whatever rogues that needed to find a place to lie low.
A week past. Fevered mutterings among guild members, among passerbys. An uptick in the number of people requesting bodyguards around town. Lyn was never picked for those for some reason.
But an outpost going down worried even the most hardened shopkeep. Or baker.
Lyn blinked, looking at the baker as she paid for her bread.
The baker repeated her question. “Is everything alright?”
Lyn was silent, looking across the counter for the bread. The baker picked up the bread, looking it over.
“The sheriff is gathering people to keep watch at night,” Lyn said, repeating what she’d heard.
“Yes, but you’re there with a sword, aren’t you?” The baker asked. “How’s it look?”
Lyn was handed the roll she’d ordered alongside the bread. She tasted the air. Yeast, the faint foam from a brewery, anxiety, resignation. Then her mouth snapped shut. She looked over at the baker, turning slightly. “Just the same as it always has on the border.”
“You don’t think there’s… a resurgence going on, do you?” The baker asked.
Lyn tasted the air again, but that was because she brought her sharp teeth down on the roll. Cinnamon, sugar, an earthy spice from the Kri republics down south, everything she could want from the raptor woman. Lyn shot her a slight smile, and chewed.
The raptor didn’t bother returning the smile, looking down and counting her coins.
A resurgence was, as far as Lyn concerned, a conspiracy theory. The idea that the Blight would magically resume the course of a hundred years ago haunted the thoughts of those back at the capital. That the plague would spread like wildfire again pushed only the bravest and most daring to the frontier towns.
But Lyn knew better.
She wiped the edge of her lips, and tried to give the baker a smile she’d appreciate.
Given the look on the raptor’s face, she didn’t manage it in the slightest. “Not a resurgence,” Lyn stated. “But we need to be careful regardless. A Blighted beast could wander in here and take the live stock, or worse.”
“But the plague won’t be… viable again, right?”
Lyn wasn’t as sure about that, but Dan was sure it wouldn’t, which was more than good enough for her on such questions. “Not unless you plunge into the heart of a Blight den,” Lyn demurred on the side of caution.
The baker blinked a few times.
“Which you won’t be doing,” Lyn pointed out.
“Right, of course,” she said. “Is that everything you needed?”
Lyn took another bite of the roll instead of replying, and took the Guild’s order of bread in her arms. She bit down, then nodded, the bottom of her chin smeared with sugar.
Then she left, sweeping her way back to the guild. The great oak door opened up into the main room, and she swept into the kitchens through a series of doors and set them to the side. The chef nodded at her politely.
She knew he was handy with a set of knives, and smiled, giving her head a bow. “Business good?”
“It’s fine. The Accountant is a tad annoying,” The chef admitted.
Lyn felt her lips curl into a giddy grin, and the chef took a step backwards out of reach. “Oh. I can fix that.”
Before she could do more than fantasize about it, Aer’s voice drifted through the open door. “Lyn, if you could…?”
Lyn sighed, took the last bite of her roll into her mouth, and quizzically stepped out into the hallway. Sweet cinnamon sugar, and justice and authority hung in the air. She didn’t even know authority had a taste.
Aer stood there, and two men flanked him. She didn’t recognize either of them, but the left man tasted like justice, and the right tasted like authority.
Aer tasted like calm steady emotions, which she appreciated. It was distracting being around too many strange scents.
“Ah,” Aer said. “There’s Lyn.”
Lyn swept over to his side, idly cleaning her lips with a spot of cloth.
“This is Lyn?” Authority spoke. “I was expecting…”
“She is our foremost expert in dealing with the Blighted paths,” Aer continued. “Alongside Dan, our wizard.”
Authority’s face had been introduced to a sword before, a line ran down the bottom of his cheek, broken across the edge of the bone, and continued, lightly, against the edge of his exposed collar bone. Very fragile. Had probably broken it. Raven haired, skin dark in the way nobility tended to tilt, and carrying himself like someone used to soldiers rather than friends.
Lyn hadn’t tasted noble before.
Justice tilted his head to the side. “I don’t much care for how she’s looking at you, sire,” he said.
Authority held up a hand. “Hang on, I think she’s just scoping us out.”
“Lyn, meet the king’s men,” Aer intoned. “They’ll be investigating matters here.”
“The King finds any breach of the watchtowers to be a direct attack on his land and stakes,” Authority spoke. “I’m Aaron,” he bowed politely.
Justice stared at him. Aaron gestured for him to join his noble in acknowledging Lyn.
“She is a Grey-priest, Justin.” Aaron said. Justin switched smoothly into a bow.
“My apologies, honorable,” Justin said.
“Of the roads,” Lyn said, gently. “You aren’t in my place of worship.”
Aaron nodded his head. “We look forward to serving beside you. For the King.”
Justin bowed his head, not meeting Lyn’s eyes. She tasted the air. Amusement from the noble. Trepidation, hot, raw, spicy, from his servant.
“What are you titles?” Lyn asked.
Aer stepped in. “Aaron is a distant nephew to the king. Justin is…”
“My oldest and dearest friend,” Aaron said. “And also an investigator.”
Lyn pursed her lips. “Any magic?”
“Just what amulets my family has been graced with,” Aaron said.
“Should we be mentioning that to her?” Justin asked.
“Justin, I’m sure if someone were to try to rob me, you’d put a dagger in their neck before they made it a pace or two away.”
“And I’d rather not have to do that,” Justin said, cutting in frustratedly.
“The king’s luck will protect me as always, regardless,” Aaron said. “If not that, then yourself, the bravest man I’ve yet to travel with.”
Justin looked slightly convinced.
“And if not you, surely the wizard.”
Lyn cocked her head to the side.
“And certainly the priest will make sure whoever it is doesn’t walk away.” Aaron finished, turning to look at Aer. “And you’ll waive your normal fee, correct?”
“I don’t believe we agreed to that,” Aer said, clicking his tongue. “I think we should draw up a contract. For when you do decide to brave the wilds.”
Aaron shook his head. “Curses, I thought I was on a roll there.”
“So much for the king’s luck,” Justin muttered.
Aaron swatted his ear, and Justin swatted back, and then both walked into Aer’s office.
Lyn watched them go. Not for the first time, she wondered what was wrong with everyone. Aer was the only reasonable person in the entire guild.
Speaking of which…
The grin slid back onto her face, giddy, happy, toothy.
Lyn felt the door was locked. She frowned at it for a long moment, then spun around and kicked it, breaking the lock.
Nate let out a horrible squeal when the door flew open, diving behind his head. She could just barely see the top of his head quivering. She stared at him until he got the nerve to look at her.
“Oh,” Nate said. His eyes flicked over to the lock then back to Lyn. “Is there any chance you could… not do that?” Nate asked.
Lyn didn’t reply, quirking an eyebrow at him.
“Yes, I’m moving in,” Nate said. “I need steady work, and you guys are a pretty safe place to be. So long as you can tolerate the company.”
Lyn quirked the eyebrow higher.
“Disregarding yourself,” Nate said, automatically. “You’re perfectly fine company.”
Lyn pressed her lips together.
Nate shifted uneasily. “Er, you’re not… bad company?”
Lyn cocked her head to the side.
“You’re uh… tolerable?” Nate tried again.
Lyn dropped a roll of bandages in front of him.
“I uh…” the guild’s cat wandered inside the open door, batting at the edge of the bandages. Lyn frowned, batting the cat away.
Then she looked up.
“I’m forgetting something, aren’t I?”
“You owe me a spar,” Lyn said, her lips parting into a grin again.
Nate squeaked again. The cat mewed in about the same pitch. Lyn gestured at the bandages. “If you’re going to be working here…” Lyn trailed.
“I guess I should learn how to take care of myself, right?” Nate asked.
“You are my sparring partner for the next week.”