Warcraft Fan Fiction ❯ Turning Red ❯ Into the grey ( Chapter 8 )
The trio exit the shack and look out to the beautiful elven shoreline, the midday sun high in the sky.
“Fancy some lunch?” Trixie asks.
“Yeh-heh-heh mon,” Django replies.
“Yes please,” Phoenix says, feeling shy next to the blue troll, but not so much the goblin. For some reason, she can’t help feeling she’s known Trixie for longer.
“Will we be safe with you around, Django?” she continues. “No offense, but…”
He just smiles back at her, knowingly.
Long ago, when the high elves founded Quel’Thalas, they were attacked by the Amani trolls in the forests to the south. The wars were long and bloody, and while the elves successfully kept the trolls at bay, many of them still harboured hatred towards the trolls to this day.
“Django’s not Amani,” Trixie explains. “He’s a jungle troll, used to be with the Gurubashi tribe. But, you’re right to be wary kid, he’s still a troll. He usually travels at night - and never alone.”
“Lucky for him,”Trixie continues, “I’ve made friends with a few tavern owners round here. We bring them business, they turn a blind eye…”
Trixie taps her eye patch a few times. She stares at Phoenix with her other eye, with assessment and expectancy, saying nothing. The elf’s comfort splits slightly through the stare.
Phoenix eventually looks away, asking: “Uhh… where should we go then?”
Trixie shrugs her shoulders, looks at Django briefly and back at Phoenix, who starts to feel a little flustered.
“I mean, where do you usually eat?” Phoenix asks.
“Wherever we like,” Trixie responds. “What about yaself?”
“At home, I mean, at the inn,” Phoenix replies.
“That’s a long way to go for lunch...” Trixie says.
“You know I can’t go back there.”
“Then where ya going to eat?”
Phoenix, unsure how to respond, shakes her head slightly and turns her hands over awkwardly as if to say, ‘I don’t know’. Eventually she says: “With you...?”
“You can eat with us, of course,” Trixie states. “But I can’t pay for you this time. You’ve already taken three silver coins from me, and thrown two away. I expect to have them returned to me.
“You have one hour - starting now - to get yourself some lunch and pay me back. Consider this your first test.”
She winks at Django, turns away from Phoenix and starts walking to the village.
“A - a test?” Phoenix replies, scampering behind her. “For what?”
Trixie speaks impatiently as she walks, talking to Phoenix like she’s a slow-learning student. “We’ve tended to your wounds and cleaned you up. We can provide a roof over your head, show you how to survive, teach you some invaluable life skills, ya know… and in return you can do some work for us, for my crew. That’s how it works.
“But only if you can complete this first test.”
Phoenix looks back towards Trixie a little nervously.
As they reach the edge of the village, an elven couple walk past them. One of them frowns at Django, who flashes a tusky grin back.
Trixie places her forefinger over her mouth and whispers “shhh” to Phoenix. The tiny goblin suddenly turns around and makes a quick movement behind the male elf.
Before Phoenix has realised what’s happened, Trixie is beside her again, cockily juggling a few coins in her hands. She lets the coins fall into one palm and moves them into her pocket.
Phoenix frowns angrily at Trixie, speaking with force but keeping the volume low: “I thought you said you were a trader!”
“I am. In five seconds I made five coins, in exchange for nothing, for a quick trick,” Trixie says. “I’d say that’s a pretty good deal. You have 58 minutes to make three, and do whatever else you can to get yourself lunch. Should be nice and easy. Here, I can give you one if you like, to get you started.”
Trixie holds out one of the coins to the young elf.
“Look, I am not a thief!” Phoenix says, ignoring the offer and still speaking low, despite the couple behind them being well out of earshot.
“No, you look,” Trixie says playfully. She stops, turning to Phoenix. “You have nothing to your name, no home, no direction and you’re in a whole heap of trouble ‘til I bail ya out. You’ve wasted three minutes asking questions when ya coulda been making progress.
“I’m not saying you have to steal, but this is life, Phoenix. You need to learn how to make money quickly, to use whatever you have in your disposal to survive. Unless you want to be stuck in a boring job the rest of your life. We are not saints, but I wouldn’t exactly call us sinners, either. From what you told me earlier about your life at the inn, I know you’re smarter than you make out. Use that to your advantage.
“But you’re also confused - I mean you’re interested in pirates but don’t want to steal,” she smirks. “No offense kid, but right now you don’t have many life skills. That needs to change if ya wanna stay with us.”
Phoenix feels offended anyway. She goes to say something, but stops herself. She hadn’t considered staying at the underground shack, but right now it’s the only option she has. Trixie is paying off her debt, so for now she decides to stay quiet. The goblin is right - though it pains her to realise it. She could use some life skills. She looks instead to Django, for some kind of reassurance.
He places a big troll hand on her skinny shoulder, and says: “People always be wantin’ somethin’ mon. Trust your instincts, be persuasive, get lucky.”
Trixie adds: “Blue’s right. If you get stuck, don’t look at things in black and white. Lean into the grey. There’s always another way, ya know.”
Trixie points to a nearby tavern. “You can come with us there, or go where you like, just get the task done.”
“Best be getting to it mon, da clock is ticking!” Django chuckles, taking an old-looking pocket watch from his white shirt pocket and throwing it towards Phoenix.
She catches it, frowns and looks down at the watch. It is bronze and ornate and old, with a smidgen of rust on one small area. The time is 1:25pm - so there are 55 minutes left. Phoenix places the watch inside her trouser pocket and watches as the pair enter the tavern. She bites the inside of her cheek and starts to dash towards the cave she slept in the night before.
Phoenix glances at the baker’s where she bought the sweetroll earlier in the morning and thinks about stealing something. She looks around at a few passers by and wonders how easily Trixie took the coins from the elf’s pouch moments ago. Phoenix considers pickpocketing someone. Would it impress Trixie and Django? Possibly. But she quickly brushes the thought from her mind. ‘No,’ she thinks to herself. ‘I am no thief.’
As Phoenix runs, the wind rushing by her face reminds her of the sensation she experienced after killing Chrim. The thought of blacking out again scares her. What if she lost control right now? Would she trip and have a dangerous fall? What would she do? How long would she be out for?
Phoenix slows to a jog and brings her large brown hood over her head for the first time, pulling it further over the top of her eyes. She breathes slowly. The leather hood feels tough yet snug around her hair as she tries to forget the blackout. Walking through the village in her new clothes and healed body makes her feel at ease. But there is hunger in her belly again, bringing her back to the task at hand.
As she reaches the small cave outside the village, she hurries to where she first met Trixie and casts her eyes down, looking for the silver coins she previously threw at the goblin in frustration. They are nowhere to be seen.
She notices nothing but the triangle of stones; the feeling of slight annoyance creeps over her. Phoenix sighs and looks around for ideas, hope, a spark of inspiration, anything. The golden-leaved trees are her only answer, replying with a faint sigh of their own from a gentle breeze.
Phoenix stares at the triangle of stones in a moment of self-pity and defeat, telling herself she cannot do this task. She is ready to return to the others for some kind of hint or to give up. Stealing just doesn’t feel right.
As she stares at the triangle, she allows her mind to wander. Three sides, three points, three people. A strong shape, a symbol of sorts. What did it mean? Why was there an inverted triangle on the wall in the group’s hideout?
Phoenix hears laughter in the distance. She turns towards it and sees a male elf playing with his son in the grass. Both have dark, wavy hair and look like a picture-perfect parent and child. The young elf is running away from his father, who is covering his eyes, counting and chasing his son, who howls with laughter when caught. They are repeating the process, and getting closer towards Phoenix.
She scans the area where they are running from and sees a picnic blanket and some food: a half-eaten pie and some cakes to be precise. A satchel also lies open on the blanket. The father and son are distracted, and Phoenix does her best to casually walk towards the nearby stream, as if she has somewhere else to go. Her heart rate rises, the hunger in her stomach urging her to take the half-eaten pie and cakes out in the open.
As she passes the family, Phoenix realises she’s staring down at the food and so she forces herself to look up at the horizon instead, rather awkwardly. In avoiding eye contact with the elves, she is not aware of their exact whereabouts, and the little boy bumps into her leg.
“Careful, Franco,” the father says, and apologises to Phoenix. She avoids eye contact and hurries along, ignoring him with shyness and pre-emptive guilt, moving towards the stream but at an angle that avoids the picnic area. She eventually reaches a dip by the stream, sits down and turns around, shielded by the slight ditch. Phoenix crawls around towards the picnic area, pokes her head above the bump in the ground and looks at the food, which is achingly close to her. She glances back at the father and son, who are continuing to move away from it.
She sneaks up to the food, and manages to grab the pie and some cakes. Before she turns to run, she glances at the father, who is holding his son up in the air and talking to him lovingly. She watches them and freezes, paralysed not by fear of getting caught but the natural way the parent and child are bonding. Phoenix wonders who her father is, that old feeling of confusion, sadness and anger coiling in the pit of her being once again, overshadowing her hunger.
She hears Trixie’s voice in her head, telling her to do what she must to survive. But as she sees the father and son laugh at one another as they spin around again, her sadness pushes her other feelings to one side.
‘What am I doing?’ Phoenix thinks to herself, before placing the food back onto the picnic area. She begins walking back towards the village, but after stepping over the half-empty satchel, stops again. In one second, Phoenix weighs up her morals in her head.
She thrusts one hand into the satchel and uses her other to open it widely. There are several coins inside. She takes three and closes the satchel again, before jogging away.
“Stealing from a child,” she mumbles to herself, feeling pathetic.
Phoenix slows to a walk. She feels a pang of jealousy towards the little elf, for having a father, and pulls the pocket watch out as a distraction and motivation. It’s 1:40pm - she has just over half an hour left.
Phoenix follows the stream for a few minutes, walking among the tall, luscious grass, looking for ideas. She considers asking someone for lunch when reaching the village, but that would be begging and desperate. No, she can do better than that. She suddenly feels very stupid not to have taken a few more coins to buy lunch with.
She puffs with anger and kicks a tree as she passes it, stubbing her toe. She walks on, feeling frustrated. Another tree lies in her path, much thinner and smaller than the first. She kicks it too, this time with the sole of her boot. The force causes the young tree to sway slightly, its branches rustling above her.
Just as she’s wondering what to do next, an answer falls to her, literally. A red apple bounces onto her head from a tree branch, before rolling onto the ground. Phoenix picks it up, looks overhead and laughs. She is surrounded by apple and plum trees.
Phoenix rubs her head. Being hit on the head never felt so good. She takes her time gathering fruit, picking apples slowly from the nearby trees and the ripest ones from the floor - red ones, green ones, small ones, big ones - and places them into her satchel. She also grabs a large handful of juicy plums for good measure.
After a while, once she’s happy with her fruity hoard, Phoenix smiles smugly and begins walking back to the village. She steps over a low picket fence and heads back to the tavern. The watch reads 1:50pm; she has plenty of time left.
Feeling proud of herself, Phoenix enters the inn with her hood still over her head, feeling pleased she’s completed her task.
Most of the tables are empty at this quiet part of town, but two portly human men and two elves are drinking at one, while a family of elves sit at another, a mother, father and their two young children eating lunch. Behind the bar, a middle-aged balding male elf innkeep is drying up clean plates and mugs, while his wife is topping up drinks and serving customers. Their teenage son is scrubbing the floor.
Trixie and Django are sitting at a table near the bar, and look towards Phoenix expectantly as she enters. Noticing her smile, Django smiles back while Trixie raises an eyebrow. The pair have a cup of ale and some roasted boar and vegetables in front of them - far too much than the pair of them could possibly eat.
A couple of the elves cast wary frowns Django’s way.
Phoenix moves towards her new friends and, saying nothing, places her satchel onto the table. She opens it, allowing her mentors to peer inside. Phoenix also stacks the three silver coins in front of Trixie.
“Ya did good, kid,” the goblin says, pocketing the money. “And we’ll have some leftovers for the others.”
Phoenix nods and passes the pocket watch back to Django. He says: “You had time to spare, well done ‘mon. So tell Trix and I, what you do?”
“Well,” Phoenix starts, “I thought about stealing something… I thought about it a lot. There was a father and son, they had left their belongings unattended by a stream and were distracted. I could have taken a pie and some cakes from them too, but it felt somehow worse than taking money from them. So I just took the coins I needed from their satchel and left the rest. It felt wrong to take more from them.
“Then I remembered you saying there is always another way. I got lucky - I found some apple and plum trees.”
Trixie interjects: “How would they react if you’d stolen all their stuff? Assuming they didn’t spot ya, but found out later.”
“Upset,” Phoenix responds.
“Would you say the father had his life savings in that satchel?” Trixie asks.
Phoenix shakes her head.
“So what would happen when they find out they’ve been robbed of a few coin?”
Trixie answers her own question: “They would be fine. They would get over it. They would get by.
“Now how would a homeless person feel if their last roll is taken from them?” Trixie says.
“They will lose hope. Self-worth,” Trixie continues. “Things that cannot be bought or sold. You’re taking a bit of pie and some coins, Phoenix, you’re not ruining someone’s life.”
As Phoenix ponders this, Django asks: “Where d’ya find da fruit, mon?”
“Erm, near the stream and the cave where I first met Trixie. I kicked a tree in frustration,” Phoenix answers. “And an apple fell on my head.”
Django cackles openly at this, craning his head back, his tusks pointing up towards the ceiling. Phoenix thinks she can see a smidgen of white powder on the edge of his long nose. She starts to titter along with him, finding humour in the silliness of her earlier actions.
Trixie wears a more serious expression. She stares at the ale in her mug, swirls it around and leans back on her chair, crossing her legs and resting her boots on the edge of the table.
“Tell me, Phoenix…” she starts, looking her in the eye. “You said that you didn’t steal the fruit, that you found another way.
“But what you really mean is you found another way to steal.”
Phoenix opens her mouth, pauses and looks at Django and back at Trixie.
“I didn’t steal them,” she murmurs, low, like a contrary teenager, swinging her legs underneath the table, frowning.
It’s Trixie’s turn to giggle, her wide smile forming dimples in the sides of her green cheeks. It slips away in an instant.
“Of course ya did. I mean, you didn’t pay for them, did ya?” Trixie says.
“But,” Phoenix pleads, defiant. “I found them!”
“There’s nothing wrong with stealing, Phoenix, when the circumstances permit it. But you are resisting that fact and worse, are ignorant to the fact ya stole,” the goblin says, her voice adopting a serious edge.
Django rolls his eyes.
“Lemme guess,” Trixie says, lifting her feet from the table and leaning forward. “You also stepped over the farmer’s fence without even realising you were trespassing, and no one even noticed ya,” the goblin barks, higher in volume.
“Ya thought the trees were just there, in the wild,” Trixie continues, her tone turning sharp and hard. “Look at your fruit.”
Phoenix pulls her hood back and regards her collection properly.
“They’re ripe and delicious,” Trixie says. “You didn’t notice there weren’t any rotten fruit around. Because they pick ‘em and sell ‘em before they spoil!”
Her voice is louder now and she leans her face closer towards the elf’s. “Ya STOLE the fruit from the trees; ya just didn’t know it. You probably didn’t even see the farmer’s house behind them!”
Trixie stands on the chair and emphasises each word: “Your problem, Phoenix, is ya look. But. Ya. Do. Not. See!”
While Trixie wasn’t shouting, her voice was loud enough to break the calmness of the tavern. A few customers on other tables turn towards them.
Phoenix looks down at the floor, unsure how to respond, her ginger hair now on full show. She feels angry.
“Ya do not see,” Trixie repeats, softly, frowning herself while sitting back down and taking a swig from her cup.
At that moment, the innkeep’s eyes are on Phoenix. The ginger elf is still looking down and doesn’t notice, but Trixie - who is sitting opposite the bar - does.
An uneasy silence yawns across the tavern as the mood sours. More of the inn staff are looking suspiciously at Phoenix now, the wife whispering to her husband behind the bar. The humans are frowning at the three of them, and not in a way that’s from annoyance. The boy who was scrubbing the floor sneaks into a back room. One of the elf customers moves to the entrance.
Trixie tilts Phoenix’s chin up with her forefinger. Phoenix looks at the goblin and, from her concerned expression, feels like Trixie knows more than she should. Phoenix is a wanted elf, but Trixie doesn’t know that. Right?
“We’re leaving,” Trixie whispers, quietly enough just for Django and Phoenix to hear. “I don’t ignore my instincts. Run along back to the hideout, alone. At once. Do not lead anyone there.”
Django stands. Phoenix grabs the bag of fruit and power walks to the exit, bumping into a chair as she does so, spilling an apple, which breaks the silence as it rolls noisily on the wooden floorboards towards the entrance. An elf lifts the toes of his boots up and pushes down on the apple to stop it rolling. He slides the bolt of the door, locking it shut.
Trixie loudly slaps some coins down onto the counter in an attempt to draw attention away from the bumbling elf and pay for her meal.
“She’s that girl!” the innkeep shouts, pointing at Phoenix. “She’s a murderer!”
Phoenix suppresses the feeling of nausea and panic, but cannot stop her heart thumping with adrenaline as she reaches the exit and freezes. Phoenix doesn’t see the stunned look on Django and Trixie’s faces behind her, or the family move away from the commotion in fright. She doesn’t see two men and a couple of elves stand from their table opposite Trixie, nor does she notice Django pull a hidden blow dart out of his pocket, or Trixie touch the hilt of her sword. She dares not even look up at the tall elf blocking the door in front of her; she stares at the door handle instead. Phoenix doesn’t know what to do.
“Please calm down everyone, I’m sure there’s been a misunderstanding,” Trixie says, looking around the room and smiling her most charming of smiles.
“You’re not going anywhere either, Trixie,” the innkeep bellows as he slams his fist down onto the bar, “until you’ve explained why you’re in the company of a murderer on the run!”
Trixie and Django look at one another, utterly perplexed, as the family at the other table stand, moving away from Phoenix towards the corner of the room, their faces gripped with fear and worry; one of their young children starts to cry. The father lifts the boy up and holds him close, while the mother takes the other child’s hand, a look of confusion strewn across the little elf’s face.
“What? I can assure you, Balthuel, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Trixie responds. “This girl works for me. And she’s far too nice to be a murderer.”
Trixie laughs confidently, but stops abruptly when she realises no one is laughing with her.
The innkeep contorts his face in anger, his wife folding her arms as she stares Trixie down.
“She savagely murdered one of your kind and somehow escaped Silvermoon,” Balthuel adds, as if Phoenix isn’t in the same room. “Half the city is talking about it, the troubled girl that battered the victim to death. He was an inkeep like me! We are not safe here, standing around arguing about it in her company. The royal guard informed us and the surrounding villages in Eversong earlier today.
“King Anasterian doesn’t like unrest in his city. The royal guard would probably pay for information of her whereabouts, or for turning her in…”
One of the humans steps towards Trixie. “And we could use the coin,” he says in a gruff voice.
Trixie shows mild shock mixed with a dash of cheekiness. “Free coin does sound good… but I’m afraid you must be mistaken, good sirs,” she says, standing.
“Why not? How do you know her?” the gravelly-voiced man responds.
“She’s been doing some work for me, for a few weeks now,” Trixie replies with assurance. “She’s been nowhere near Silvermoon. She’s not your girl, guys. Why would I lie to you? I’m a regular.”
The innkeep ponders for a moment, the awkward silence of the room returning. He adds: “We know the type of people you deal with, Trixie.”
Django sneers at the inkeep.
“Plus,” Balthuel continues, leaning onto the bar with both his fists. “She fits the description. Her size, her hair. And I heard you call her by the name the guards mentioned: Phoenix. We’re to hold her here and inform the guards. No negotiating this time, Trixie.”
Phoenix closes her eyes and lowers her head slightly, her heart racing another notch. She’s had enough of listening, of letting fate drag her down a path where she’ll end up in prison, or worse.
Phoenix kicks the groin of the elf in front of her, who winces and cries out. She pushes him weakly but it’s enough for him to tumble onto the floor, knocking over a chair on the way. Phoenix fumbles for the latch on the door. Trixie frowns, sighs and leans her head back in frustration.
“Stop her!” Balthuel shouts.
Everyone in the tavern rushes towards Phoenix except the cowering family in the corner. The two men and elves standing by the table in the middle of the room dash towards Phoenix, as does the innkeep, who scurries over the bar. The young elf with the family in the corner starts to cry loudly.
Trixie grabs Balthuel’s arm as he passes, the innkeep pulling away in response before attempting to tackle Trixie to the ground. She springs backwards and kicks upwards, booting Balthuel’s chin. As she does so, one of his teeth goes flying towards the ceiling. The innkeep’s wife dashes around the bar to aid him.
As this is happening, a human passes by Django, who sticks out a foot. The man trips over and flies face-first into the wooden floor, crying out in pain. The other human, distracted by this, redirects his focus towards Django and Trixie, throwing a fist at the troll’s head. The troll darts his face away from the blow with surprising agility and headbutts the man in the nose, a tusk scraping the man’s face in the process. He then punches the human across the jaw with brute strength, the uppercut knocking him clean out.
“Stop! Stop!” Balthuel screams at the top of his voice, while lying in pain on the floor and covering his bloody mouth. But the commotion is too loud, the sound of bodies hitting chairs and tables and sudden movement creating a chaotic situation. The young elf in the corner is now half-crying, half-screaming with fright.
Phoenix, by this point, has managed to release the stubborn latch and opened the door, but just as she dashes to leave, she’s grabbed around the chest with two arms by the one elf who managed to reach her. The other elf, still stunned and winded by Phoenix’s groin-kick, slowly stands.
“Let go of me!” Phoenix cries, struggling to wriggle free of the elf’s grasp.
Django moves the pipe to his mouth and blows. A tiny dart flies through the air into the back of the elf who has his arms wrapped tightly around Phoenix.
The innkeep’s wife, meanwhile, has rushed around the bar with a bottle raised high, swinging it Trixie’s way.
“Get away from my husband!” she yells at Trixie.
“Don’t worry, he’s not my type,” Trixie responds calmly, swishing her sword from its holster and poking the bottle from the woman’s hand with the tip of her sword. The bottle smashes and beer sprays over both of them, glass cutting into the arm of the innkeep’s wife, who stumbles backwards onto the floor.
Django’s tranquilliser dart takes effect on the elf by the door, who slowly loses consciousness and loosens his grip on Phoenix, slumping backwards. Phoenix runs out into the street, the other winded elf limping after her. The family also take the opportunity to flee the tavern, the father holding his crying son in his arms.
The man who was tripped by Django stands and regains his balance, turning to face the troll and Trixie in a fighting stance. He glances at the bodies around him, some knocked out, some injuring and writhing in pain, and looks back at Django and Trixie as he reconsiders.
Django raises his hands; Trixie smiles a wide grin. The man backs away and takes a seat, raising his hands, admitting defeat.
Trixie walks towards the back of the silent inn, looking for something closely on the floor, as Django puts away his blow dart.
“Aha,” Trixie says to herself. She bends down and picks up a small item from the floor.
Trixie slowly walks towards Balthuel, who is still lying on the floor, holding his hands up in defense as she approaches.
She pulls out a few silver coins, and places them in a pile beside the inkeep, resting a solitary tooth on top of them.
“Thanks for the lunch,” she says. “And sorry about the tooth.”
Trixie looks around. “And the mess. But she’s not your girl, and your ‘customers’ attacked first. We simply acted in self-defense.”
Balthuel frowns and clenches his teeth with despair. Django stifles a laugh as the pair move to the exit.
Two battle mage guards dressed in blue regalia and silver armour rush into the tavern, led by the innkeep’s son.
“Oh tinker my town and paint me pink, what now?” Trixie asks.
“There they are!” the boy shouts, pointing at Django and Trixie. “Those are the two who were with the girl. Where is she?”
The guards look around for her. One says to Trixie and Django assertively: “You’re coming with us.”
“We’ve done nothing wrong, these customers attacked us after throwing false accusations our way…” Trixie trails off.
The guards move towards the pair, one towards Django, the other towards Trixie.
Outside, Phoenix is on the run again, her red hair flowing through the wind as she dashes through the streets. The male elf injured by her kick to the groin has recovered somewhat and is keeping pace with her, but there is some distance between the two due to Phoenix’s head-start. He keeps his eyes focused on her red hair and does his best to follow her as she darts in between passers by; the occasional building or tree blocking his view.
All Phoenix can think of is Trixie’s words looping over and over in her mind: ‘Bad fortune will catch up with you.’
She tries to shake them out of her mind. Feeling futile, anger simmers inside of her as she runs.
All of a sudden, a child pulling along a toy cart appears from the side of a building and into Phoenix’s path. There is another kid sitting in the cart, being pulled along. Unable to slow her momentum, Phoenix decides to take a risk and keep travelling dead ahead, jumping over the cart and the child within it, who is sitting upright.
She takes a leap, to the gasps of those nearby, who expect the young girl to collide with the cart and cause an accident, harming the children.
As Phoenix jumps, she arches her back and lifts her legs as high as they will allow, like a long jump. Her boot narrowly passes the head of the child in the cart, flicking his long elf ear instead.
As she lands, she almost tips forwards flat onto her face, but somehow manages to duck low, lean forward then back, and kick her legs out behind her as she regains her composure. Two apples fall from her open bag and roll onto the floor.
Phoenix must have forgotten to close the bag of fruit in her haste from leaving the inn. Then an idea pops into her mind.
She sees the sand of the Tranquil Shore approaching ahead of her and, between breaths, looks over her shoulder at her follower. He is further away than she thought, some 20 metres back, but running eagerly. The thought of being paid for turning her in must be motivating him to keep up the pace.
She rolls an apple onto the beach ahead of her.
Phoenix sprints onto the sand and turns towards the five shacks on her left. She jogs alongside them, careful not to make a noise, and takes another quick glance over her shoulder to ensure her assailant isn’t yet on the beach. All the shacks are empty, bar the second from the right, where a young elf is gutting some fish, his back towards the entrance.
Phoenix kneels down and places a single apple outside the front of this shack, prays in her mind for the plan to work, then proceeds to half tip-toe, half stumble quietly towards the second shack from the left: the one with the hidden grate.
She heads inside and, breathing heavily from all her running, tries to calm down and move more carefully so not to wake the sleeping tramp. She looks left: the grate is closed. Phoenix steps over the homeless elf - asleep again - and leans down, moving her head awkwardly to look into the lower shelf for the secret lever. The shelf is dark but there’s enough light from outside for her to spot a lever. Except there should be.
Phoenix panics. ‘Where is it?!’ she thinks to herself, fumbling her hands all around the shelf, inadvertently gathering dust and a little spider while doing so. She flicks the spider off her hand and runs her palm against the entire length of the shelf, moving closer towards the entrance of the tiny shack. There is no lever.
“Where is she?” a voice demands from outside, a few feet away.
‘Shit!’ Phoenix thinks to herself, her eyes wide in alarm, the thought of getting caught and revealing the hideout panicking her further. She digs her fingernails into her palms and paces around the shack, desperately.
“Who? What are you doing running into my shack?” the muffled voice of the fish-gutter replies. “And why are you shaking an apple at me?”
The other voice answers: “Don’t worry about that, a girl with red hair came this way, where is she hiding?”
Worry bubbles to the surface. The sound of Phoenix’s heart thunders in her ears and she loses her balance, forcing her to lean her palm onto the wall. The wood of the shack blurs in front of her; the muffled voices outside turning to ooze, like she’s underwater.
‘No!’ she thinks to herself. ‘Not again.’
Her mind goes hazy as the world around her quietens. Phoenix closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in an attempt to focus her mind and remain conscious.
She opens her eyes, her vision still blurred. She feels dreamy, like nothing is really there.
The thought of what would happen if she had another episode keeps running through her mind: a dead tramp, a dead elf, a dead fisherman? A dead Phoenix?
‘No,’ she thinks to herself, brushing the thought from her mind. The deathly image is replaced by Trixie, shouting at Phoenix within the tavern: ‘Your problem, Phoenix, is ya look, but ya do not see!’
Phoenix stands where Trixie did earlier in one last, desperate attempt, fighting hard to keep her consciousness, the room fading to black momentarily, her face quivering. She leans her hand into the shelf, and this time, crouches to Trixie’s low goblin-level height. As her left foot moves forward, she waits for it to hit the wall, but it doesn’t. The front half of Phoenix’s left boot moves into a small alcove in the corner of the wall, and presses down on a switch by accident. The grating opens.
Phoenix, still overcome by fright, by worry, by the possibility of death, does not feel any jubilation. Only impending doom. She jumps over the tramp and positions herself down into the gap. She takes a few steps down the ladder and loses consciousness. She falls.
Back at the inn, Trixie and Django take one step away from the approaching guards.
“No, there’s been a misunderstanding,” the inkeep tries to explain, who is still lying on the floor holding his mouth and prodding his skin into the area where his tooth was.
But one of the guards has already stepped forward and placed his hand tightly around Trixie’s wrist.
“Get yer hands off her, mon!” Django interjects, pushing his large three-fingered blue hand into the shoulder of the guard, who stumbles back, moves away further and nods at the other guard.
“Do not interrupt us, troll!” the guard gripping Trixie responds.
Sharp sparks of light flicker from the furthest guard’s fingers as the sound of raw electricity grows, before surging forwards towards Django.
“No!” the innkeep screams, his objection muffled by the noise of the spell.
But Trixie, anticipating the move, has already leapt in front of Django. The bolt of magical lightning from the guard’s hands charges towards the goblin and troll, but simply dissipates a few inches from them. The rest of the spell flies past them, smashing a window and charring nearby tables.
“What is this sorcery!” the guard shouts, drawing his sword. The sound of metal being drawn from two other scabbards - Trixie’s and the second guard’s - instantly follow. One guard rushes towards Trixie and the other to Django.
Trixie instinctively runs towards her guard and slides under his legs, poking her sword lightly into his heel as she rises, then leaps onto his back. She jumps and uses the hilt of her sword to smash into the guard’s temple, dazing him. Trixie kicks his calf at an angle which exploits his centre of gravity, buckling his knees. She then smacks the hilt of her sword into his forehead, sending him collapsing to the floor with a crash.
Django, meanwhile, is deflecting the attacks of the other guard with a jagged, wild-looking weapon, longer than a usual dagger but not quite as long as a sword, which was hidden within his clothes before. It looks like a large, thick tooth, from some kind of giant monster. He spots an opening, using the hilt attached to the tooth to bop the guard on the nose. Stunned, the guard delays, and Django thumps another uppercut into him, sending him sprawling.
The two guards join the other bodies on the floor, aching and defeated. Django places the long tooth back inside his tunic and Trixie returns her rapier to her scabbard.
Trixie walks back towards the innkeep, and places two gold coins underneath the pile of silver coins and the tooth.
“This didn’t happen,” Trixie whispers in the innkeep’s ear. “The girl was not here, the guards attacked an innocent pair of traders who acted in self defense. And you’re a good boy so you get to keep your inn.”
The last sentence is spoken with an implication, a deadpan undertone.
Balthuel nods hastily as blood trickles from his mouth. Trixie pulls a small pouch from her pocket and shakes it gently into her free hand. A few tiny vials fall into her palm. She takes a pale blue one inlaid with fine crystal and places the others back in the pouch.
“So the law forgets,” she adds.
Trixie leans over the first guard, and carefully places one drop of the blue liquid into the guard’s mouth, before doing the same to the other.
She walks slowly to the tavern’s exit to join Django. Before stepping outside, she pauses and turns to the innkeep’s son, flashing a toothy, happy smile at him. Trixie walks outside like some sort of bastardized royalty, her scarlet cloak flowing gently behind her.