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Rest. There was no time for rest. The scribe was still walking away and his mind was filled with all the tasks he needed to accomplish to fulfill the duties of this new life of his. Guard Captain. Through a bizarre series of events, his life has been set on a new path in a heartbeat. His entire life has been directly guided by the Keepers of Chivalry; deciding when to start his apprenticeship, when to take the oaths, the focus of this studies, and the service he should choose. All of the major decisions, and even ones not so major, were decided for him, often times never being told why. The answers to "why" don't always lie in the present, young one, Brandon would tell him. Be patient. You will see. God has a plan for you.
But Stark ends line of thought because Melfina has suddenly stopped. Thankfully, the answer to this particular "why" remains in the present. A man stands waiting in the shadows of the museum. Still and silent, he watches the scribe's shop, oblivious that he is no longer hidden.
Black thigh high boots and full length apron are worn on top of red pants. Strands of red hair peek out from beneath a black bandana. Another thief. How do they all know about that Tome? Was it being watched? Waiting for it to leave Luna's walls? Why not buy it themselves?
He watches as the scribe creeps toward the new intruder. Foolish woman! Stark remains still, wondering why she isn't casting a spell. Silence and surprise are their most potent weapons. Weapons he won't throw away with the merchant vendor between the thief and himself. She moves deliberately with no sign of fear. Stark can only hope yesterday's events have tempered her, and not made her reckless.
Sword clenched. Eyes fixed. Stark waits.
Then Stark recalls Melfina's words, I'm a scribe, not a mage... I usually have to look up most spells... as the merchant vendor can almost touch him. What does she think she can do? With every muscle tensed, Stark prepares to save the stupid woman. His heart slows down rather than speeds up as his training unconsciously takes over.
Still as stone, Stark watches her reach out toward the intruder. Surprise is lost. He knew she was there. Quick as a fox, he locks her wrist in an iron grip.
"Not this time, girl," he says darkly.
Stark launches forward.
The grim scowl framed by a neatly trimmed goatee soon melts into a smile. "You got close though. I'm impressed."
"Almost! I'll get you one of these days!" laughs the scribe.
Stark's charge dissipates but his sword remains drawn while he reevaluates the situation.
"Then you'd only need a couple dozen more times to make it even." A rueful grin covers his face. The scribe hits him in response.
"Gamblor, it's good to see you."
"I know," He says matter of factly. "Too bad you look terrible or I could say the same." She hits him again, much harder this time. "Where's your regular dress? Looks like you make cupcakes rather than sell scrolls and books on the All Powerful Magic Arts. Don't tell me you've given up and run a bakery now!" He raises his nose and sniffs.
This time her hit moves him a step back. "Shut up!. As a matter of fact I am baking something today. For dinner with Gwen."
Stark walks up to the pair. Sword finally sheathed. Threat of danger passed.
"Oh Gamblor, this is Stark, the new Guard Captain of West Luna. Stark, this is Gamblor."
"Gamblor," Stark says his name, as if tasting something unfamiliar. "Treasure Hunter?"
"Yup. Stark," Gamblor pauses, imitating the guard captain, "Boring?"
"I wasn't named to describe who I am. My name is just my name. My actions define its meaning, its meaning does not define my actions."
"So it's what I thought." Gamblor smiles that smile of his.
"Ignore him, he's an idiot," Melfina interrupts. "Sorry Gamblor, I don't have my list written out yet, I've had a late start today, I'll go take care of that right now."
"Shame, shame, shame... a late start! Your shop can't maintain itself you know," the treasure hunter says. His constantly playful tone quickly becoming tiresome.
"Shut up," Melfina says much less enthusiastically this time as she walks towards her shop.
"Watch it Gamblor," Stark warns. "The Merchant Vendor was attacked by a thief yesterday. She was poisoned and needed rest."
His grin wavers. "Well, don't I feel stupid."
Good, thinks the guard captain as he follows Gamblor towards the shop.
"What did this thief look like? I travel a lot, maybe I've already seen him, or will sometime soon."
Of course there couldn't be any other reason you might know thieves Stark doesn't say out loud. Instead he asks, "And what would you do if you find him, Treasure Hunter? Have you ever dealt out Justice?"
"Why don't you just say kill."
"Because it's Justice," Stark says firmly. "She would have died had I not been here."
"Then this thief, whoever he is– "
"Then Nightshade deserves to die. But you would have said the same had it been just the theft, and no poison, wouldn't you?" challenges Gamblor.
"Say that to Melfina. She believes the book he attempted to steel is worth her life."
"And if it wasn't! If it was just Virtue you'd still say the same!"
"That book should be treated with respect."
"And if it was just a shopping list?" he says darkly.
"I suppose if you heard someone desperately calling for the guards, you'd waste time trying to question the offender. Ask him which Violation he committed, then let him decide what a fair punishment is? I suppose you know the economic and personal worth of every item that's stolen the instant you appear to defend someone, without even seeing the item that was stolen. Stealing can end lives. Punishment is dealt in kind. An instant and swift punishment has brought about a safe Luna."
"Theft is not murder. Only in Luna are they one and the same."
Stark's dealt with people like this before. If you choose to live in a city, you agree to it's rules. Most people accept and understand. Others don't accept, but understand and just choose to live elsewhere. A few neither accept, nor understand. Or more precisely, pretend to do neither, because of what they do, and not because of any belief. Their actions show the true reasons behind their protestations. "What is it that you do for the Merchant Vendor?"
"What don't I do is the real question," he puts on his fake smile instantly. "I get things."
"What kinds of things?" Stark probes.
"For Melfina, supplies. For her inks, spells, and whatever. Stuff that can only be gotten in dangerous places, or are just outta the way for her."
"Luna sells everything."
"If you're patient enough, rich enough, or both. There's no telling when some items are in stock, and that's where I come in."
"So you get things for Melfina. And others I assume?"
"If you need it, I can probably get it. For a price."
"How and where do you get these things?"
Before he responds, Melfina appears, oblivious to what has been going on. "There you go. I added a couple more items than the usual. I need them back in about two weeks."
"Special items? I hope that means I get special payment." He winks.
"Just get it back to me in two weeks!" She hits him smiling.
"Ok, ok. Must have an important client."
"Yeah, one of Luna's generous nobles wants a spellbook that's attuned to reptiles, he's paying a lot for it because I told him I could dye it the exact color he wants."
"Bleed'em dry, Mel. They owe you for everything you've had to pay because of'em." Then he adds, "Anything else new with my favorite West Lunite?"
"Oh! I found something yesterday. Come upstairs and I'll show you." She grabs hold of his wrist and drags him with her.
Stark begins to follow them upstairs, but he hears movement. A man dressed in vibrant blues and reds walks nearby. Stark tries to hail him, but the stranger only hastens his step, quickly moving west, well beyond the furthest reaches of what could be considered the boundaries of West Luna.
Stark just shakes his head. This place is so different than Luna. He knows this is his new life, but he can't help but wonder - why?
* * *
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