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“I’m not stupid! Just explain to me why you’re giving me all this money…” Mercury said, growing frustrated.
“I already told you that I’m going to be away for a while. It’s already taking a lot for me to even trust you with this money as is…. Don’t make me wrong.” I said through the grit of my teeth, eyes and head clenched.
“I’m an official of the law! I cannot take sums of money at a whim, especially something under the rug like this.” He responded. I was reduced to a frustrated stare.
“..All you have to do…” I managed to say, “Is keep my money until I return. I’m not giving it for you to have…”
“But why? Where are you going? You trust me enough to give me several hundreds of thousands of dollars you tote around so secretly but not enough to tell me why you’re leaving?” He prodded.
“Forget it…” I said, walking back to the door. He beat me to it as I tried to open it. He slammed it shut, looming over me frustratingly.
“You’re going to tell me why I’m keeping your money and where you’re going.” He demanded. My plan had worked. I had made him feel like this was something worth knowing and he’d go to extreme lengths to find out. Now, whether he’d react the way I wanted him to was another thing. Nonetheless, I still needed to play on his intellect before I dare told him my plans.
“No…” I began, “I truly made a mistake. I’ll just manage on my own…” I began to brush past him but he pushed me away from the door.
“What did you get yourself into? Where’d you get the money?” He continued, truly concerned.
“You fucking know where I got the damn money from.” I sighed.
“Are you sure? I mean last time you were here, you stormed out of here in a teary eyed mess. I know so little about you and you’re so damn guarded…can you blame me for being cautious. Just like you said, you’re going out on a limb to ask me for help, I’m going out on a limb to give it to you….now tell me what the hell is going on…”
“I’m pretty sure you’ll be of little help. Just keep the damn money…if you don’t hear from me within a month someone from the upper ring will come and pick it up.” I said.
“I’m just trying to put two and two together. You said you saw some things in the lower ring that disturbed you. You say you have stuff to handle and that you’ll be gone for a while. What’s the third piece to this puzzle…?” Mercury pondered.
“I am…going to turn in to the brothels.” I said.
“WHAT?” Mercury screamed.
“I’ve lost so much, as is. There’s no point in talking me out of it. There’s something I need to do.” I sighed.
“Why?” Mercury said, barely hearing the end of my statement, “After I busted my ass to keep you away from that life you’re just gonna dive into it?”
“Can I just explain to you my plan, because it’s much easier to talk about compared to why I’m actually doing it…?” I sighed.
“Sure.” He said, not knowing what to expect.
“I’ve scoped this entire town out. I know it inside and out, every service tunnel, every nook and cranny and every establishment. I know how the brothels operate. They tend to lure foreigners in who can’t find work and then trap them with a contract they can’t read and turn them into servants but they are in fact, slaves. When I…audition I’m going to have to have a little identity change. I left the upper ring for good… I wasn’t supposed to leave though and I know that the king is probably searching for me left and right.”
“What about your stag and the giant bird?” He asked.
“That’s my angle. I have it sat up that Prince Richard will take temporary care of them. He’s in on this too and he’s kind of my safety net.” I responded. That tidbit of information hopefully made Mercury realize that despite this being extremely illegal, this operation ran deep into the upper ring.
“I’m infiltrating the brothels, will work my way up to the high status but not too high that I can’t be purchased. Once I get to the big ring, I want to be one of the street performers.”
“My sister… one I long thought was dead is in that ring. I will stop at nothing until she’s back home and I burn that brothel and anyone who stands in my way down to the ground.”
“Kijus,” Mercury began, “That is so hopeless. You think you’ll succeed in doing this? Is this something you really want to be involved in?”
I smiled, chuckling a bit.
“You don’t know me very well Mercury. Though Illisia is beautiful, it is one perilous place. If I’m not fighting for my survival, I’m fighting for someone else’s. I’ve done some pretty gruesome things just to insure my survival. This…same shit, new toilet…” I explained. It took him a while to digest this.
“Like…?” He asked unintentionally.
“Oh, well when I was sevenish-eight my mother and sister were abducted… My father and I had to hunt down their captors. When we did, he went in falchion in one hand, scimitar in another and disemboweled thirty men. I was being a bit of a macaque and leaping around, bowing down any person who’d overwhelm my father. But, it Ankara bayan escort was two of us against hundreds of men so inevitably my father went down. They killed him by beheading him with his own sword but also knew there was an archer in their midst. However, the ruins they held camp in were to my advantage. I knew them well and managed to escape unseen. It was hard having to come back to my grandmother and my younger sister without the rest of my family. I then had to carry double the responsibility, hunting the way my father did and foraging the way my mother and sister did. My grandmother though, she bought a rifle and a few other fire arms so this wouldn’t happen again. You think I’m tough, that’s a tough ass eighty six year old. You wouldn’t believe some of the things she can do but that’s beside the point. All and all, that wasn’t our last run in. When I was fifteen, I got captured by a tribe of cannibals. I thought I was done for then…guess what, one of the idiots fell for the old convulsion foam and seizure trick and I managed to slip a leg through the bars and break his fucking neck. I then got the keys, freeing myself and the other prisoners. However I wasn’t done, I killed all thirty of the tribe’s men… Ironically, it was in the same ruins. I don’t know why travelers and tribes collect in the Zan Ruins. They should know that place is cursed.” I summed.
“Okay, so you’ve…” Mercury said with a gulp, “…killed people?”
“Yes. It’s nothing to me…” I said plainly.
“Oh my god.” He said, struggling to wrap his hands around it.
“Trust me… Killing is something super last resort.” I smiled, hoping to reassure him.
“I mean…I’ve never killed anyone…I hope I don’t ever have to… What is it like? I know that’s a strange question but…” He stammered.
“To me, it’s worse killing people you know. You’ll always have memories with them. When you kill random strangers, it’s no different than killing a wild boar or an antelope.” I laughed.
“Wait…so, just then when I tried to keep you in here…. Oh my god, you could have killed me without a second thought…” He gasped.
“No, there would have been some serious second thought. I would have hesitated.” I laughed. He shuttered, taking a seat at his tiny dining set.
“So…what can I do to help?” He asked.
“What?” I responded, catching him off guard.
“If you have that prince involved, I need to be involved.” He responded, hissing, jealousy tingeing in his voice.
“This isn’t any type of competition, Mercury.” I said.
“I’m not trying to make it any. Like what do I need to do? That’s all I need to know.”
“…Just hold the money.”
“That’s not enough,” He chuckled, “I’ve had other officers ask about you. I’m in this whether I want to be or not. If shit goes down and I have these types of details, as a low ranking official, I’m done for. I’m in this to win it. So, I’m going to ask this again. What can I do to help?”
This was a repercussion I did not consider. I couldn’t leave him here either. However, he differed from my sister, being perfectly capable of fighting.
“You know I’m leaving this city right? I mean…at this point…”
“I’d have to leave too, huh?” He asked. I nodded.
“You know,” I began, “There is a black stag for sell for about twenty five dollars in lower ring.”
“Why is that important….wait…twenty five dollars?” He asked, caught by surprise.
“Yeah. The horses range much higher, but I understand. Black antelope are touchy ass animals.” I said.
“For real though, why is it important?”
“You’ll need a getaway animal, and trust me. Nothing can catch a black stag.”
Suddenly, faint knocking on the door caught us by surprise.
“Who’s that?” I asked. Mercury looked on extremely startled.
“I don’t know. I don’t…get visitors.” He said, scratching the back of his head. Nervously, he went to the door. He twisted the knob, opening it. There was no one there. Suddenly a silver blur rushed past his feet. It was Bazahra. As he stood at the top of the stairs, he was surprised to see a hooded figure tying up Rejon in the apartment shaft, next to the horses.
“Um…” Mercury said. The hooded figure faced Mercury, taking off his cloak. It was Richard.
“I’m so sorry, but I need to see Kijus.”
“He’s here…” He said, as I rushed past him and down the stairs in total shock.
“Oh my god, what are you doing here?” I asked, giving him a hug.
“It’s bad. He tried killing Rejon and Bazahra. Roi, Brija and I didn’t let him. He told me to get rid of them. This is the first place I thought to bring them. Since it’s later in the day and no one’s on patrol, I doubt I was seen.” He said, panting. Our embrace came to an end, the boy being very tired. He leaned against the wall, quite dizzy.
“What’s wrong with him?” Mercury asked.
“Oh nothing. Riding on the back of a stag does that to you if you’re not prepared.” I said before getting ready to address him, “Brija?”
“Yeah, she’s on team Kijus now. I’m sorry, but I had to tell her.” He said.
“It’s Escort bayan Ankara ok.”
“I mean, she felt like shit after I told her and now she’s looking at pa like the villain he is. I also told Roi who’s mad you didn’t tell him first, but nonetheless, also willing to take a fall for you. Anyways, we had to think fast to throw pa off our tails. We decided it’d be best if one person takes Rejon and Bazahra away. He’d think something was up if two people left.”
“So did my letter work?”
“I guess so, but he was suspicious as to why you left Rejon and Bazahra behind. It seems that if you would have left the city, you’d take your two most prized possessions with you. In fact, he doesn’t even know how you were able to simply walk out… I don’t know what lies in store.” He sighed, full of uncertainty.
“I can pass for a white person if I dye my hair and brows. Also, I’m chopping all of this off.” I responded.
“But your accent.” He said, still unsure. I stared at him with a grin.
“What accent?” He asked, as I immolated his perfectly.
“Are you sure you weren’t followed?” Mercury chimed in, making his way down the stairs.
“Most certainly… Rejon would have lost a pursuer before we even left the upper ring. He’s fast…” Richard said, still struggling to wrap his head around the amount of speed the stag had.
“Leave a horse?” Mercury asked.
“He can outpace your average horse by nearly three times the rate.” I said.
“So, like ninety miles an hour?” Mercury gasped.
“Dammit…Dammit…dammit…fuck…dammit!” Richard said, angered by himself.
“What?” Mercury and I asked simultaneously.
“I didn’t think this through. How the hell am I supposed to get back to the upper ring?” He asked.
“Don’t worry. You can have one of my horses.” Mercury said.
“Thank you.” Richard said bowing, before pausing, “So do you have everything sorted out?”
“Mercury, do you have some peroxide and a spray bottle?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He responded.
“Then I’m good.” I sighed, not wanting to see him go. Richard hugged me tight, “Be safe…” He whispered. I had no response. I didn’t want my voice to waver with emotion. Our embrace came to a depressing end as I watched Mercury untie his prized Palomino mare and hand Richard the reins. As the boy rode away, I couldn’t hold back my tears.
Mercury looked at me, in concern.
“You two…are you a thing?” He asked.
“No, we couldn’t let ourselves get involved that way,” I began, “But we did consent…”
“Wait, you did it with him?” Mercury asked.
“I mean, I’m going to be doing it with a lot of people so I might as well had started somewhere. Besides, we were both two clunky virgins…” I responded.
“Did you learn anything?”
“Yeah,” I said, snapping my fingers trying to remember, “I’m what you westerners call a bottom.” Mercury burst out laughing.
“That’s is precisely what the Brothel needs. They have an overage of tops. You’ll fit right in.” He teased.
“Um…. This isn’t really something I want to joke about.” I said.
“Eh, I understand. I’m a bit mad I gave the prince my beloved Beth.” He sighed.
“Don’t sweat that. Let’s get this hair situation of mine situated and then we can focus on that stag on the other side of town.” I said.
“Fortunately for you, I’m a damn good barber.” He said, as he led me up the stairs. Bazahra was standing at the door, full of worry.
“What gonna be of you?” She asked. I got down on my knees to greet her.
“You’re going to carry mail between me, Mercury and Richard, okay?” I told her. She nodded, and waited for us to pass by before following.
Mercury pulled out one of his dining chairs, patting it, gesturing for me to sit. I did so. The boy then disappeared down the hall of the apartment, returning with two armfuls of hair supplies.
“You didn’t think my hair was naturally auburn right?” He asked with a smile.
“Well, auburn is a common hair color for Illisians. In fact, I had auburn hair as a kid. My little sister had bright strawberry hair as a babe then when she hit puberty, her hair turned auburn. Also, she’s much lighter than me and I’m already rather light for an Illisian.” I rambled.
“Really?” He asked, surprised.
“How light do you want your hair?” He asked, throwing all the supplies on the table.
“Bright blonde.” He sighed.
“Blonde?” He asked with a chuckle.
“Then we’re going to have to condition your hair all nice. Have you ever been to Nok?” He asked.
“Of course… If I’m Illisian, I’ve been to Nok.” I laughed.
“So you know how good black people’s hair products are?” He asked.
“Nigga, you’re black! Illisians consider themselves black! I consider myself black. Well, some Illisians consider themselves Arabian or Middle Eastern but that’s understandable… Eastern Illisia is only a seven hour boat sail to Arabia and they look pretty similar to us, except their hair is straighter.” I said.
“Wait so, does Egypt, Nubia, Ethiopia and Bayan escort Ankara Somalia consist of Illisia too?”
“No, Egypt claimed northern Nubia for themselves and we claimed southern Nubia since it’s mostly grassland. Ethiopia and Somalia are ours though, as well as Kenya, Uganda, and Northern Zaire. Beyond the province of Zaire is the nation of Nok.” I said.
“Do you ever wonder what the world was like before the huge fallout in twenty two twenty?”
“I always did.” I sighed.
“I heard they had machines to do everything for them and the machines turned on them and it was a war between the humans and machine…”
“I heard that the humans were playing God with certain creatures… Some people didn’t agree and conflict arose. It ended in a great war.”
“I guess it’s no way of knowing… It’s been so long. I heard the war was over minerals in the sky,” Mercury said as he pulled me to the sink, “Lean back a bit.” I did so. He began running cool water through my hair, gently stroking my scalp.
“This is my first time working with hair so similar to mine…well, anyone else’s hair for the matter.” Mercury laughed. I laughed too. I just loved Mercury’s quirkiness. It differed so starkly from Richard’s finesse. I couldn’t say what I liked more.
“So,” Mercury began, “How close were you to falling for the prince?” The question startled me. I suddenly leaned up to look at him.
“I mean if he didn’t have to be king and I didn’t have to do this… I’d want to spend my life with him.” I said.
“I see.” He said, gently grabbing my head putting it back in the sink, “I guess you’re lucky then. I had a preconceived notion about the royal family but I’m glad I was wrong. To know the prince is going to these lengths to help you is kind of good to hear.” The bitterness in his tone could not be hidden.
“You know, Mercury…” I began, unsure how to say it, “I’m utterly terrified.”
“I bet you are…” He chuckled. He poured conditioner onto my scalp lathering it in.
“Oh my God…” I moaned.
“What?” He asked, stopping.
“This feels so good!” I sighed. It caught him by surprise.
“You like this?” He asked.
“YES!” I said out. Mercury then stopped, looking at my hair curiously as it began to curl tightly, hanging in the seat.
“Maybe I should have cut it first.” He laughed.
“Maybe you should have.” I chuckled back.
Nonetheless, he continued. He finished the deep conditioning and cut my hair to about two and a half inches. He then sprayed the peroxide in my hair and placed a humidity cap over my head. We now had to wait.
“So is Prince Richard going to leave as well” Mercury asked.
“No.” I said shaking my head.
“How’s he going to get away with this then?”He asked.
“He’s only covering for me while I’m in the brothel. After I do what I got to do in the brothel, then that’s when I’ll kind of… It’s my doing so I should be the one blamed.” I said.
“What if you don’t make it out of here alive?”
“What if I don’t make it out of here alive? I guess I’ll have to take as many with me as I can.” I smiled.
“How far have you planned this?” He asked.
“Like I said before, I’ve thought of a thousand scenarios on how this could go down. The best thing to do is to keep all of those scenarios open because shit never goes to plan. As a result, Bazahra is going to be crucial to our success.” I explained. He looked at my hair cap. He got up, looking under the cap. My hair had turned to a sandy blonde.
“I say about fifteen more minutes.” He said back.
“I wonder how I’m going to look.” I pondered.
“Probably a lot more convincing than I previously thought….” Mercury said. He then walked to his refrigerator, “You hungry?”
“Surprisingly, yes for once.” I laughed.
“You…” He began full of shock, “Ok, so…”
“Hey, I’m not going to be picky. I just want food.” I laughed.
He made two stacked sandwiches, both on rice bread with Greek yogurt substituting cheese. They had a strange bitter tasting leaf on them that was canceled out with the tanginess of thinly cut limes.Then he put several slices of venison on it. He then added the last piece of bread and filled two bowls with fruit. I was impressed.
“This is how you eat on a regular basis?” I asked.
“To be honest, no. I only tried eating this way after you said this is how you eat.” He chuckled. It caught me by surprise. I took a bite out of the sandwich and it was good, very good.
“You like it?” He asked.
“Yeah its damn good!” I responded. We both scarfed down the sandwiches, just in time for my hair to finish dying. Mercury pulled off the cap to see custardy blonde hair. He then pulled my seat across the floor back to the sink. He washed the peroxide out of my hair for a few minutes before putting in a strange conditioning agent. It smelt wonderful, like african palm dates mixed with shea butter.
“This right here,” Mercury began, “Adds the moisture right back into your hair when you dry it out. Peroxide is a powerful oxidizer so it takes the mositure right from you. This adds the moisture but also strengthens your hair by giving it protein. You gotta love Nok for it’s hair products.” He put the humidity cap back on my head, “We got to let it air dry.”
“How do you know so much about hair?” I asked.
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