In the alley, out of sight beneath windows wrought in the older styles of Ostwick, Lara was finally joined by another. The Marcher stood tall, blocking the sun and casting a long shadow over her. The coin in her inner pockets, deliberately placed in anticipation of would-be thieves, seemed to weigh more heavily with the arrival. This was the last chance to back out, to cling to the weeks’ earnings with greed befitting some miserly mercantile prince.
Lara’s reluctance came as no surprise, but she’d deemed the steep price necessary not for maintaining a livelihood, but for more adventurous pursuits instead. For a break from the monotony of crafting poultices out of endless amounts of elfroot, from devoting most of her time to finding and preserving reagents for the most commonly requested tonics, some sacrifices were needed. Liberating herself of hard-earned coin would pay off eventually, many times over, even if staying optimistic proved to be a struggle.
After dragging out her silence, trying to make a point, she tore her gaze from the ground and looked up. She was always looking up, but it had never bothered her like it did now. Lara needed presence, not the disadvantage of a forced humility. “You’re late.”
They offered no excuse, only an infuriating smile. “Couldn’t wait to see me?”“Never mind that, just hand it over,”
Lara said. The pouch clinked quietly as it changed hands, the phials inside moving against one another, and the woman took a thorough look. The numbers checked out, and the deep colors said enough about the quality; seeds and specimens were wrapped with care in a soft cloth. The lines of Lara’s face softened as the inspection reminded her that she was paying for convenience. She had no desire to ever see the bleak Anderfels herself, would rather eat a hat or two than wither in some desert, so she dug into her purse and watched her gold disappear with a little less bitterness than before.
The exchange was short-lived, and the two parted quickly. Though their paths diverged, another meeting was inevitable the next time Lara traipsed her way through the coastal cities and hankered for things that were hard to come by on the road frequently taken. For now, she thought mostly of the present: of weaving her way through the less bustling streets of the prospering district, of tucking her spoils out of sight and going unnoticed while the summer sun followed her steps.
She turned onto a main street and quickened her steps, but only enough to stay in pace with passers-by; walk too fast, and one might look a smidge too suspicious next to the sprawling homes and watering holes of the wealthier citizens. A sharp left up ahead would take her down a tried and tested shortcut, and Lara turned again before ducking into the welcome shade. As she walked, the bustling sounds of social gatherings fading while the distance grew, she thought herself alone on the curving path.
By chance, when scanning the way before her, she caught a glimpse of a woman... on the ground, strangely enough for this part of town. Under other circumstances, she would’ve paid no heed, continuing with her eyes trained forward until she reached the end—perhaps sparing a curious glance if she felt daring. Now, Lara hesitated. In those seconds, she felt a surge of recognition. She stopped, she looked, and she saw.
As far as Lara could recall, it was the first time she found herself looking down at Honor, instead of the reverse.“I thought you’d be up to something at this hour.”
Ever the blunt one, Lara skipped the greeting by a mile. “Not waiting around to get stepped on, or,”
she paused, squinting, “moping? Daydreaming? One of those.”