Red War P.3
Message 8 on The Critic's BoardIt was not a short journey but Bella made the trip in good time. The slums of Kieron were as bad as she remembered but she picked her way through the run-down building to the Rogue's Hall.
The concealed entrance came open in her hands, just as Tebryn had taught her, and the Rogue inside gave her an appraising look as she stood in the doorway.
'Another hobbit? I swear there's no end to the stream of refugees.'
'I'm from Pariah, actually,' Bella said. She was grateful that the tight stays on her corset forced her to stand a little straighter. The man towered over her as it was. 'Ah. One of those. Hey Colesta, you remember who else is said to come from Pariah?' His shouting into the hall prompted the arrival of another Rogue.
'Lots of people, Kallicot.'
'No, hobbits,' said the first man.
'Hobbits?' The eyebrows raised on the Rogue named Colesta. 'Let me think. That Mage, Cyrian?'
'That's my grandfather,' Bella chimed in. They both looked darkly at her.
'But you're not a Mage,' Kallicot slowly said.
'No, I'm not.'
'You sure?' asked Colesta.
'Don't have the spark.' Bella tapped her foot on the ground. 'We done yet?'
'We're done when I say we're done,' Kallicot said, his face suddenly ugly with anger. 'We've had a long history with Mages, us Rogues. Bad blood going way back. So when a Mage's granddaughter shows up wanting to be a Rogue...that makes us suspicious.'
'Sod off,' Bella snorted. 'I've got a perfect right to train here. I'll be just as good as any other Rogue. Maybe better than some.'
'Look, girl...' Kallicot said.
'Let her alone,' spoke a voice from beyond the doorway. Another hobbit stepped into view, one wreathed in blackness matched by the two knives in his hands. A dark cloak twisted out behind him as the breeze caught at it. 'I know who she is. She's spoken for. By Tebryn and Vickie Coborel. By me.'
'Sure thing, Kane,' Colesta said, grabbing Kallicot by the shoulder and pushing him off to the side. 'Wait here, we'll get the guildmaster.'
Bella and Kane stood in the silence of the Rogues' departure, eyeing each other appraisingly.
'You didn't need to do that,' Bella said at last.
'Don't get me wrong,' the hobbit named Kane said, his voice a low rumble. 'I'm not about debt, not between hobbits. You don't owe me a thing. But you're Rykilde's daughter and I respect that. You've got the grit to show up here. I want to see if you can go the distance or not.'
'What do you care if I do?' Bella retorted, edgy yet cautious.
'You're a hobbit. And you don't have the look of a slave about you.' He paused, eyeing Bella more closely. He set his knives back on his belt and brushed at the cloak that snapped fitfully in the wind. 'Not anymore. Used to be one though, I'd wager.'
'How would you know?' Bella sneered.
'Used to be one too,' Kane said, shrugging off her irritation. 'I can't shed enough wild elf blood in all the world to equal what they've done to us. But I'm trying. I'm trying real hard. I see another hobbit, another would-be Rogue who's got the grit to rise up from slavery and take command of her own destiny...that, I respect.'
'What are you really about?' Bella demanded.
'Making sure there's more of us than there are of them,' Kane answered. If all her questions and her tone bothered him, he didn't show it. 'That means killing a lot of them. And helping out my own kind, unless they sell out. A slave who wants to be a slave gets nothing for being a hobbit but a quicker death. You'll do good, Coborel. I'll see you around.'
Kane stepped back into the shadows of the guild hall and his cloak swirled around him until only a small tatter of cloth could be seen moving...and then nothing. Try as she might, Bella couldn't make him out in the dark depths of the interior. Her efforts came to an end when the guildmaster stepped out from the black.
'So, you're Rykilde's kid.' He was human, but not someone she'd ever heard about.
'Yeah, I guess I am.' Bella met his scrutiny with disdain. She would give him no sign that this was important to her. He had enough power in this situation as it was.
'You've been spoken for. That means you're in if you say it. But before you do, a couple of things you should know. We're Rogues. We accept those of all creeds, from murderers like Kotaro and Malice to the pure of heart like Koplin or Thrak. But you'll find it hard to hold on to a worship of Ianthe among us. I don't want to hear any complaint about rubbing elbows with Zaalites. If you can't handle it, go be a monk or something.'
'Look at me,' Bella demanded. She straightened further, letting him take in the dark clothing, the leather corset, the black lips and her skull-white face. 'Do I look like I even think about Ianthe?'
'You're a hobbit. Had to be said.' The leader's voice offered no apology. 'Being a Rogue is hard work. I'm going to train you in the basics the way I think you need to be. You can apprentice further with one of the Masters or with another adventurer, I don't care. But you're going to be as tough as these streets by the time I'm done with you.'
'Please,' Bella said, rolling her eyes. 'I grew up on Pariah.'
'Did you now?' the guildmaster said, looking at her with more interest. 'Fine. You can survive. But we're going to make you stronger and smarter, able to blend in and out as you need to. That means your clothes go in your locker and stay there. When you've earned it, you can wear them again, not before. Argue and you wash out. Got it?'
'One last thing. You'll train with other new Rogues, and sometimes with the more settled Rogues. In the hall, it's no holds barred. You're going to get hurt here. Knowing all this, you still want in?'
'I still want in,' Bella sneered.
'Heh. You got spirit. Good. In you go.'
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17:11, Flameday, Kantki 18, 177 AD.