Chapter 31 - Betrayal

The next day, Meyja headed in the Lower City to find the guy who supposedly looked like Cayden. Aron had left the apartment only a few minutes before her to shadow Darius Bryce of whose true identity he hopefully never found out. The whole plan was more than delicate and the party that was due in the evening put additional pressure on Meyja as she would be in one room with all the men she was just about to betray.
She followed the main road down the hill and turned right in front of the large city gate to first get an idea of the cellar they had chosen to hide the body. There were numerous doors in the stonework of the city wall, but she passed them all until to her right was one of the stinking tanneries Cayden must have been referring to. Directly opposite was a locked passage, the large padlock of which she had opened with a lock pick within a few blinks of an eye and slipped through the door inconspicuously.
The dark basement was almost empty there were only a few old barrels in it on, one of which was the document that she had been promised, and that she would take as soon as she brought the body here. The rough brick walls exuded a pleasant coldness which would undoubtedly also be beneficial if the dead man had to lie here for more than a few hours. But since she hadn't lost anything here at first, she went out again, locked the door, and strolled on through the alleys of the Lower City.
Only a few minutes later she spotted a man who looked at least a little like Cayden, and an idea occurred to her. She overtook him by moving through the parallel alley and then walking towards him. When she was sure that he would be a suitable sacrifice, she deliberately bumped into him, making it seem like an accident, and stopped.
"Sorry," she muttered, scratching the back of her head in mock embarrassment.
He smiled and was about to go on when she stopped him.
"I have a question..." she began and after he nodded encouragingly she continued. “I'm new to Sharaya and I really need to earn a few coins to buy something to eat. What is the fastest way to make myself useful?" Deliberately making it look like she was offering herself to him, she smiled ambiguously, and let her gaze wander up and down him.
"Well... I usually go to another whore, but since it seems to be for a good cause... How much do you need and what are you willing to do for it?" He asked with a grin.
Thoughtfully she tapped her lower lip with her finger and then said, “I would be happy with a few silver coins. Do you have any preferences?"
"Turn around for a moment, please," She did what he asked. “You have a nice bum, little one. How old are you?"
"Twenty. Why?” she wanted to know and acted naively, although she thought she knew what he was getting at.
He winked briefly, "Let's talk about that in peace somewhere."
“I know a place where you are completely undisturbed. Shall I show you?” she suggested, pointing down the alley in the direction from which he had come.
After he nodded, she took his hand, and led him through the Lower City while he kept his eyes fixed on her buttocks. She stopped in front of the cellar door, looked around briefly before picking the lock, and going inside.
"How did you get to this place?" He asked with a frown as he followed her into the basement.
She acted embarrassed again and explained, "Sometimes I sleep here when I run out of coins."
“Why don't you introduce yourself to one of the brothels? You even get accommodation and something to eat there,” he remarked with a wink and closed the door behind him.
She waved it off. “I don't actually intend to go under whores, but if I have to, I sell my services every now and then. What can I do for you now? And how much do I get for it?”
He stepped up to her and stopped right in front of her then let his hands slide down her back to her bottom. "Has a man been in there before?"
"In my...?" she exclaimed in disbelief. She couldn't believe what he actually seemed to be asking.
Nodding silently, he grinned lustfully at her, and she saw out of the corner of her eye that the very thought of it seemed to excite him.
"No, no one has ever been in there," she whispered fearfully and swallowed.
The situation was really uncomfortable for her and since she didn't know what chances she had against him, she had to wait a moment in which he was distracted before she could finish him off.
"All the better. If you let me take you like this, I'll give you a gold coin,” he promised.
She acted very nervous. "Does... Doesn't that hurt?"
"No, I'm careful, I promise," he replied.
She saw immediately that he was lying, but she didn't show it, and nodded before turning her back to him, and leaning forward, as she had done with the guy who became her first victim. She remembered, boiling hot, that this time she wasn't wearing a robe under which she could discreetly pull her stiletto.
"Well, open your pants," he whispered and was already fiddling with his own clothes.
If she did what he said, she was in danger of doing what he promised her payment for, so somehow, she had to stop him. "Wait... there was a noise on the door," she whispered, turning around.
When he also glanced briefly in the direction of the door, she silently pulled one of her daggers from her back, and held the blade next to her thigh. "There was nothing," he replied frowning at her.
Meyja mumbled, "I thought I heard something..."
Then she hit his larynx with the edge of her hand at lightning speed and when his hands twitched up, she thrust her dagger forcefully into his eye. Gasping, he fell forward, and she caught him, put him on the floor, and took her weapon while her victim took his last breath.
All of this happened within a few seconds and only when she looked down at the corpse did she notice her heart was racing and her hands had started to shake. Apparently, the movements that she had practised with Aron for so long and so extensively had already passed into her flesh and blood. She regretted a little that she wouldn't be able to tell him about it, but right now she had other problems to deal with. The dead man didn't look like Cayden enough for their mutual plan to work, so she sat on his chest, took a deep breath, and began to put the idea that had occurred to her earlier on the street into practice.
Though her hands hurt more and more each time, she hit her victim's face until nothing more than squishy, bloody outlines could be seen. Then she got up, breathing heavily, and took a rag out of her pocket with which she roughly wiped the red marks from her clothes and hands.
Wot has become of me...‘ she thought.
You couldn't even tell from the corpse that a woman was responsible for all this violence, rather it looked as if he had been beaten to death, and, contrary to all reason, that calmed her immensely. Eventually, she turned him on his stomach so that the blood that was still oozing from the eye would trickle down the sloping floor and not stain him any more than necessary. She hastily took the document, slipped it under her leather jacket, put on the hood, and left the cellar which she carefully locked.
On the way up the main street, she washed her battered hands at a fountain, so she could get the message back to Darius Bryce before she hurried on.
When she got to the men guarding the passage to the military district, she was eyed in amazement.
"What do you want?" one of the guys asked harshly.
She showed him the scroll breathlessly. “Is Major Bryce here? I have a message for him. It's urgent."
"He is. What is it about?“ the guard wanted to know and took the letter from her hand.
With a shrug she replied, “I don't know. I was given the role at the main gate and sent here."
The man nodded briefly. "I'll pass it on immediately."
As he was turning around, wanting to go through the gate, she replied angrily, "Wait! Where's my pay?!”
He gave her a rough push on the shoulder. "Get away with it, or I'll make you!"
Cursing softly, she turned away, and went down the mountain, relieved that she hadn't been blown, and Aron had nowhere to be seen.
When she got home, she checked her clothes again for blood stains and soaked her swollen hands in cold water as she wondered if everything was going to go as she and Cayden had intended. Shortly before Aron returned and interrupted her brooding, she had put on clean clothes, and sat in her armchair.
"There you are," she said happily and stood up to greet him.
He sighed softly and tiredly wrapped his arms around her. “It's good to see you. My day has been anything but pleasant so far."
"Why? Didn't you have any success?” she asked sympathetically and kissed him gently.
“No, I didn't even see the target. Apparently, he has been hiding in the barracks all day,” he replied, took her by the hand, and pulled her back to the armchairs.
She replied softly, "I'm really sorry."
A lot was taken her mind, but at the same time she felt incredibly wicked because she had betrayed him in such a way while he was only trying to do his job which probably remained in vain due to her efforts.
Instead of sitting down, she took the daggers from him, and placed them on the table by her weapons before stepping back behind him and massaging his shoulders.
"Ah, that's so good..." he mumbled blissfully and closed his eyes.
"It's a shame that we can't just spend the rest of the evening together," she said quietly.
He shook his head gently. “No, this is going to be a great celebration. And you will look gorgeous."
"I don't know..." she grumbled sourly.
Before she knew it, he had grabbed her, and pulled her over the back of the chair into his lap, then wrapped his arms around her while she giggled in surprise.
"Don't you believe me?" he growled with mock anger and stared at her with wide eyes.
She couldn't hold back from laughing and he chuckled and joined in.
"Yes, I believe you... but please... please... don't look at me like that... I... I can't... take… anymore..." she pleaded, completely out of breath.
He grinned broadly and whispered, “You are beautiful when you laugh, Meyja. I just can't see enough of that. I love you so much."
“And I love you, Aron. More than anything," she replied softly and kissed him deeply.
For a few minutes he still held her in his arms and they enjoyed being close to each other then Aron rolled two tubes of Philosopher's herb and they smoked comfortably before they washed themselves thoroughly, joked around a little, and dressed for the welcome party.
Finally, it was evening and they strolled arm in arm into the shop.
"I forgot to tell you that you have to take your oath today," said Aron when they got to Ed's door.
"Oath?" asked Meyja. "What do I have to swear?"
“Nothing bad, don't worry. That you keep silence, protect your brothers, something like that. We have all done it. Oh yes... you'd better keep your title a secret from everyone else. It's safer, if they don't know it. They will find out that you are a titled one, but they shouldn't know what it is,” Aron continued and looked her over again from top to bottom. “You look really stunning. It wasn't a wrong decision not to show up in the usual clothes."
He admired it with a smile and turned her once around her own axis to be able to see it from all sides.
"You are also a wonderful sight, very stately," she replied with flushed cheeks, leaned against him, and kissed him gently.
“I'm sure they are all here already, should we join them? Are you ready for your big evening?” he asked.
Meyja took a deep breath before nodding.
Aron went ahead, held the door open for her, and she stepped in behind him. He was right, all the Deathshade were there and looked at the two newcomers in astonishment.
"Aron, the whole thing must have grown on your bullshit, right?" laughed Thom.
Eralion, who was sitting next to him, hit him reproachfully on the back of the head, he took Thom's muttered protest in silence while he looked at the two of them.
Aron wore a suit made of dark fabric which looked great on him and underneath a white shirt. He had shaved and pulled his black hair back in a short ponytail. Anyone who didn't know him and saw him like that would never have taken him for an assassin.
The same was true for his companion, Meyja's slim body was in a floor-length, midnight blue robe with half-length sleeves. When she moved, the tight-fitting fabric glittered as if it were set with diamonds. From the front, the dress looked high-necked, and offered no insight into her cleavage, but at the back there was a neckline that offered a view of her entire back. She hadn't done without her chest strap with the daggers, but it didn't look out of place on her bare skin. She wore her dark hair in a deep braid that fell over her left shoulder to the front.
Even if she had worried about her scars, Aron was able to convince her that this robe was the right choice, and after some back and forth she had finally believed him.
Will let out an appreciative whistle and Meyja turned bright red as they went to their places on a short side of the table, and sat down. Directly across from them was Ed, who just barely closed his mouth when she looked over at him. Aron filled his own and Meyja's cups with wine and toasted his brothers with a grin.
Ed cleared his throat, raised his beer mug, and said in a solemn voice, “Now that we are all here, I would like to draw your attention to the young lady in our midst, who with her courage, and iron will was able to fight for a place in our ranks. Please get up, and come over to me, Meyja."
He winked at her as she got up and walked around the table, her cheeks still flushed in embarrassment because she didn't like to be the centre of attention, and felt the glances of those present.
“You have all seen each other before, and as you know, she was badly wounded shortly afterwards. But she recovered quickly and returned here after a short time. Now it's time to take the oath that will finally turn you into a Deathshade. Raise your hand. Do you swear, Meyja, that you will always protect your brothers with your life?"
"I swear," replied Meyja, obediently holding up her hand.
"And do you also swear never to reveal the name of our guild and always keep your title a secret?" Ed asked further.
"I swear," she replied again.
Ed held out his hand to her with a smile and announced, “Then from now on you are one of us, a true Deathshade who brings death to her victims with cold heartedness and grace. Congratulations again."
He let go of her hand, and clapped his hands, the other men joined in cheering.
Meyja curtsied in front of the table and still smiled embarrassed then went back to her seat next to Aron.
"What was your first assignment?" asked Deval when the applause had subsided a little.
Aron cleared his throat. "She already has a title."
It was instantly dead quiet in the room, the men looked over at Meyja in disbelief.
"You’re kidding us, Aron," Raemur said with a chuckle.
"No that is the truth. It was one of my own assignments and Meyja was only supposed to help me distract the target person. But before I could turn him off myself, she had already cut his throat. If I hadn't been there, she would have made it as well, she did all the work on her own,” said Aron.
In the meantime, Ed had got up, and went through the curtain into the back room, a moment later he came back with the blood-soaked dress that she had worn that evening.
He held it up so that everyone could see it. “She said to her victim that she would bathe in his blood before she brought him death. And she didn't promise too much as you can see."
General shaking of the head in awe and stunned looks in Meyja's direction followed his words.
There was still a moment of silence, then Tasim lifted his mug and said, “To Meyja, who has achieved what no one has even dared to try before. And the fact that she did it in a dress."
Everyone else also raised their mugs and toasted themselves.
Meyja was still embarrassed and remarked, “I was just lucky. And had an excellent teacher.” She looked at Aron with a smile and leaned over to him, kissing him lovingly on the lips. "Besides...", she added and stood up. “I want to thank Ed and Thom. You saved my life. I wouldn't be here without you both. And also, thanks to everyone else for standing by Aron and me on this damn day. I know you swore it, but I’d like to thank each and every one of you very much."
The men nodded touched when Meyja sat down again then there was a loud knock on the door.
It took five young men to get the food from the Golden Gear into Ed's shop. They brought in a whole suckling pig, bread, various vegetables, and put everything on the board.
Ed paid the busy messenger and roared with a laugh, "All hands on the pig!"
The actual celebration began, everyone ate, and drank in a good mood, stories were told that got dirtier as the alcohol level rose. The Deathshade had a lot of fun and spent the entire night together.
Meyja finally felt integrated into the ranks, and was no longer ashamed when Ed told how she had turned up in his shop a little more than a year ago. At some point Sully even took out his lute and began to play while the others sang happy songs. Aron got up, pulled Meyja to him, and danced with her until Ed tapped his shoulder.
"Make way, boy! I want to!", Ed announced with a laugh and danced on with her.
It went on and on until Meyja had danced with each of the men once.
Finally, Aron who had been watching her smiling the whole time, came back to her, and hugged her tightly then whispered in her ear, "You make me the happiest man in Abarglen, you know that?"
“And you make me the happiest woman, Aron. The happiest woman in all worlds," she whispered back.
He kissed her again and then knelt in front of her.
Meyja looked down at him in disbelief when he held out a silver ring in which a small sapphire was set. Tears welled up in her eyes, she became warm, and when Aron took her hand gently in his, he could feel she was trembling with excitement.
The men paused in surprise and looked over at them in silence when Aron spoke to his chosen one.
"Meyja Blake... I've known you since you robbed me over a year ago. And since then I love you more than my own life. I've never let a woman into my heart before, but you made that decision for me. Before I knew what was happening to me, I was yours, even if you didn't realise it then. I've been carrying this ring around with me for months even when I didn't even know, if you even wanted me. But you revealed yourself to me and took me by your side. I swear to always protect you with my life, to stand by you in everything and to love you for the rest of my days like no other man in the world can even begin to. Do you want to be my wife?"
Aron looked up at her smiling, a single tear running down his cheek.
Meyja could no longer speak, she swallowed hastily a few times, and nodded vigorously, and breathed Yes at him.
The men applauded, whistling, and hooting as Aron slipped the ring onto her finger, and stood up. When her knees threatened to give way, he was just able to catch her.
He wrapped his arms around his fiancée and kissed her lovingly before whispering to her, "I'll be a good husband to you, I promise."
Ed pushed Eralion aside who had been closest to the couple, and just wanted to congratulate, he too had tears in his eyes, and hugged Meyja and Aron stormily.
"Children! What kind of things do you guys do? I wish you all the best in your life together. Always take good care of each other, do you hear?” Their boss sniffed and looked up at them.
Aron thanked Ed, touched, while Meyja could only nod and wipe her eyes.
The other men also came to congratulate them and afterwards they continued to drink happily until the early morning.
Meyja was much less drinkable than the rest of the Deathshade and at some point, her head began to sag repeatedly, so they said goodbye, and left the shop.
It was early morning, and the streets were slowly filling with the usual hustle and bustle. They walked side by side for a while, but then Aron lifted her in his arms where she fell asleep, smiling.
When he got to their flat, he put his fiancée who was still sleeping in bed, carefully pulled off her robe, also removing her chest strap, and sat down next to her. For a while he watched her as she lay there in the dim light of the morning with the ring on her finger and slumbered peacefully. He couldn't believe it – she was going to be his wife. Then he undressed, too, and lay down next to her, kissing her gently on the forehead before he too fell into a deep sleep.

Coyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 32 - Beating

Aron woke up in the early afternoon and looked over at Meyja. She was already laying awake next to him, and smilingly looked at the ring on her finger. When she noticed that he was looking at her, she beamed at him.
"Good morning, my future Mrs. Gray," he whispered, and kissed her lovingly.
"Good morning, my future husband," she whispered back.
They just lay next to each other for a few minutes, kissing, and caressing each other, then Meyja asked, “So you've had the ring for a long time? And why did you just ask me last night?"
Aron nodded. “I had, for about three months. I saw it by chance at a dealer and bought it without thinking twice. Somehow, it had reminded me of you and all of a sudden, I knew that one day I would ask you. Since then, I've always had it in my pocket and waited for the right moment. When I saw you dancing yesterday, I knew it was the perfect moment. You looked so beautiful in your robe, with your hair over your shoulder. And you laughed, and…” He broke off and a tear of joy ran down his cheek.
"It was the perfect moment, Mr. Gray," she said softly and kissed him again. "I love you and I'm so much looking forward to the day I will be your wife."
"I can barely wait for it. And I love you, Meyja." He smiled happily and continued, "Without knowing it, I've been waiting for you all my life. And there you were and I knew it... That I had waited and that it was you who I had been waiting for."
“We both thought that the world had nothing in store for us, but pain and suffering. But now everything is different,” she replied.
Aron pressed against her when the need for her body flared up in him.
"What are we going to do with the rest of the day?" asked Aron in the late afternoon while he was holding Meyja in his arms.
"Well, there are still a few open orders," she remarked thoughtfully and he nodded.
"The most worrying part of my head is the family you are supposed to wipe out," he replied with an uncomfortable feeling.
"Why a headache? It's a job like any other,” Meyja said indifferently and looked up at him questioningly.
She still couldn't imagine that killing a family should be more difficult than killing a single guy.
"No, it is not. Killing a man is one thing. A woman may be more vulnerable and weaker, but it is still something that can be accomplished. After all, you are one, too, so it should be easier for you than for me. But children are small, innocent, and absolutely helpless. It is abysmally cruel to kill a child,” Aron pointed out.
“It's our job and not our decision. In my opinion, it is the client who is to blame, not us,” Meyja replied.
Aron shook his head and said softly, "I can tell you've never killed a child, otherwise you wouldn't take it so easily, I'm sure."
“Then I should have this experience. At some point it will happen anyway,” she remarked coldly and got up.
He also got up with a sigh and looked at her seriously. "You really want to do this?"
Meyja who was just getting dressed nodded. “I accepted the contract; my decision was made the moment I signed it. I have to do it and I will do it."
"Well then, let's go, and shed a little blood," he muttered, getting dressed as well.
Meyja and Aron watched the building they had already shaded once all day and when it was finally dark, they masked themselves, crept to one of the windows, into which Meyja peeked inconspicuously. Apparently, the children had already gone to bed because she could only see the two parents. Aron leaned next to her on the wall of the house, he was still not convinced of this matter, but did not want to stand in her way. She crept around the house and peeked into one of the dark rooms where two small bodies were laying in a bed, so the children were really asleep.
“I wait until the parents have retired, then I switch off the father first, followed by the mother. The children represent the least risk, so I'll do them last,” Meyja whispered to her partner who had followed her and nodded wordlessly.
They waited another half an hour after the light in the house had been switched off then she crept to the window that led into the living room and cleverly pried it open.
She gently pushed the frame up and slid silently into the room. The door to her parents' bedroom was ajar and she took a quick scrutinizing look in before stepping through on tiptoe and standing next to the bed. Her heart pounded as she leaned down to the man and pressed her hand over his mouth as hard as she could in one swift movement. When he widened his eyes in shock, she had already cut his throat, and with a low rattle he took his last breath.
The woman mumbled in her sleep, turned to her husband, and for a moment Meyja had already assumed that she might discover her, but when her second victim was still sleeping, she crept around the bed again. The mother lay with her back to her murderer who also covered her mouth and then stuck the dagger into her heart from behind. Meyja finished her almost without a sound before she left the room and turned to the nursery.
The children were still asleep, too, but they wouldn't have heard anything anyway because the assassin had hardly made any noise. A boy and a girl lay in front of her and Meyja closed her eyes for a moment before she pressed her hand to the boy's mouth, grabbed him, and slit his throat.
The second child raised its head, but at first could not see much in the dark.
Meyja took advantage of this moment and let go of the boy she had pressed against her chest, his body fell to the ground while she dived at the girl, covered her mouth, and cut her throat.
After a few minutes, Meyja was standing next to Aron again, and nodded silently. Without exchanging a word, they crept away through the night unrecognised. They stopped behind a bush by the lake, Meyja pulled the cloth from her face, and washed the blood from her things. Aron sat down next to her on the bank, also pulled down his mask, and looked at her worriedly.
"Are you okay?" he whispered.
She sat down next to him and nodded. "Yes, everything’s alright. It was easy, almost worryingly easy, no resistance whatsoever. For a moment I thought the woman was going to wake up, but she didn't hear that I killed her husband. But the boy's body is not in bed, I hope that doesn't matter."
“No, it doesn't matter. It is obvious anyway that they were murdered and nobody cares where they are,” Aron replied quietly and put an arm around her shoulders. "Well done. And fast."
They pulled the cloths over their mouth and nose again and crept back to the city only when they were sure that no one was seeing them did they take off the masks again and walk calmly side by side towards the bridge.
"Are you tired?" he asked.
Meyja looked at him and said, “No, not really. Do you have anything else to do?"
"Let's go see Renny," he suggested with a grin.
"Renny? Who is that?” she wanted to know.
"I'll show you. I couldn't explain it anyway," smiled Aron and took her by the hand.
They went through the city gate, in the Lower City immediately turned the first junction to the left. At the end of the city wall there was a hole in the rock of the mountain and he gently pulled her through before going down a few rough stone steps and around a corner. There they were stopped by a bouncer, but when Aron said his name, they were let through.
It went further down the stairs, she looked around in amazement in the underground vaults carved into the stone where there was a bar and a few booths in which one could sit, even if everything looked very provisional. The most interesting thing was the fighting ring in the middle, in which two men were just hitting each other with their bare fists.
Aron went to the railing that surrounded the lower ring and pointed to one of the two fighters, "This is Crom, the undefeated champion of the Stone Hall and a true legend."
They watched the fight to the end and, of course, the named won after a short period of time.
A loud voice echoed through the room, “That was Crom and I would certainly not have survived the last blow. He remains undefeated unless someone dares to face him again." When no one answered, the voice laughed, "Cowards, all of you!"
Meyja looked around, seeing a short man who was sitting on a pedestal, and speaking into a funnel that seemed to amplify his words, so that they drowned out the cheers Crom was receiving.
"And that's Renny himself," Aron continued and pointed to the wretch before he turned around and got them something to drink at the bar with which they sat down at a table next to the fighting ring and watched a few more duels. Despite the fact that brutal pit fights were being fought here, Meyja felt very comfortable, it captivated, and fascinated her in a morbid way to watch the men stalking at each other, and slamming at the right moment.
"Aron, nice to see you!"
When Meyja turned her head, she recognised Crom who was standing next to her table.
"Crom. An excellent catch, I couldn't have done it better myself,” said Aron laughing.
The two men shook hands, it seemed as if they had known each other for a long time.
"So, are you going to fight a little too?" Crom asked and took a seat at their table.
"Maybe if a worthy opponent can be found," said Aron with a smile then pointed to Meyja. “This is my fiancée Meyja. She already knows who the invincible legend is here."
“So that's why I haven't seen you in so long. I'm very happy, Meyja,” said Crom and took her hand to indicate a kiss on the hand.
"Likewise," she replied cautiously, eyeing the legendary fighter in awe.
Crom wasn't wearing a shirt which seemed to be the norm here, his broad back had a few bruises and scratches, but that didn't seem to bother the tall guy at all, he was probably already used to it.
In the middle of the conversation, he had just had with Crom, Aron got up and took off his shirt, he put the daggers together with the belt on the table, and his fiancée looked up at him puzzled.
"That was my cue," he grinned and swung himself down into the pit.
Renny had just asked for an opponent for the fighter who was already in the ring.
"Don't worry, nothing knocks him over so easily," said Crom with a wink when he noticed that Meyja looked after Aron worried.
The small man released the fight with a gong and the duellists raised their fists in front of their faces, circled each other briefly before Aron took a left hook, and hit his opponent in the side. When he only doubled over for a moment and let his cover fall, Aron hit his cheek with his right hand, but instead of simply falling over, the opponent made a counter blow, and hit Aron in the pit of his stomach.
Crom let out a surprised whistle. "Apparently, he really found a worthy opponent."
"Does he do that often?" Meyja asked him without looking away from the fight.
Crom nodded. “He hasn't been here in a while, but he's a good fighter. How about you? Women are also allowed to step into the ring. "
Meyja stopped short. "I? No, no... I've never done anything like this."
The Stone Hall appealed to her, despite the rough handling, but she didn't dare to take part in it herself, her fear of embarrassing herself in front of everyone especially Aron was too great.
"What do you do for a living, if one may ask?" Crom wanted to know and looked at her interestedly.
"What do you do when you're not beating anyone in the skull?" she asked back with a smile.
"I'm in the city guard here in Sharaya," Crom admitted with a grin. “But we're all the same down here, there's anarchy here. Nobody cares who the other is, there are many criminals, and villains in attendance, but it would never occur to me to betray any of them. I also know that Aron is an assassin, and he knows about my position in the guard. So don't worry, I would never whistle on you, on the contrary."
She would have liked to ask him about Darius Bryce, but at the same time she couldn't make herself suspicious, so she just shut up, and nodded silently.
Aron put his fists in the air, his opponent lay defeated at his feet, and cheers rang out from the stands, then Aron helped the vanquished on his feet, a friendly, short hug followed. Meyja clapped and cheered her fiancé, who was a bit damaged, but grinning, climbed out of the ring, and dropped into his chair.
"So, what do you do when you're not watching your fiancé beating someone up?" Crom asked again, then nodded appreciatively at Aron, slapped him on the shoulder, and congratulated him on the win.
“Doesn't she want to reveal it? Smart girl." Aron winked at her and then said softly to Crom, "Same as me. And she has a title."
Crom's eyes widened in amazement and looked again at the inconspicuous young woman sitting next to him. “I would hardly have thought possible, to be honest. Even if the blood spatter on her forehead was suspicious."
Aron rubbed his finger over the stain on her face and gave her an embarrassed smile. “Now you know my dirty little secret. I like to fight every now and then."
"Crom has already revealed that you hang around here often, don't worry," she replied with a smile.
Now there was actually a woman in the ring, apparently Crom hadn't lied, and when Renny loudly demanded an opponent for the fighter Levia, the two men looked at Meyja with a grin.
"It's your turn if you want," suggested Aron.
To his surprise, she really got up, and put down the weapons, and the engagement ring. The majority of the audience were men, only a few, isolated women were among the guests. Meyja didn't even think about pinching and stepped into the ring, the two opponents looked at each other with a disapproving smile.
When the gong rang, they raised their fists. Her opponent made a stronger impression than Meyja, but she seemed immobile. What Levia had to show in strength, Meyja had in skill and agility. When Levia took a hard blow, Meyja dropped to the ground, and kicked her legs from under her body so she landed on her back. Then Meyja got up hastily and punched her on the cheek as she was about to get up.
Again, Levia went down, but instead of attacking, Meyja let her get up. When her opponent tried to hit her again, she ducked low, and walked around her with one long step until she was behind her. With a brutal kick in the back, Meyja carried her onto her stomach, and let her stand up again.
Slowly she started to enjoy playing with her opponent and she danced around her with raised fists. She blocked another punch with her forearm, grabbed the now outstretched arm of her rival, and turned her back at lightning speed while she rammed her elbow into her stomach, and pulled her over her shoulder. When Levia landed on the ground again, Meyja sat down on her chest, and hit her hard three times on the cheek with her fist until the loser raised her hands in a daze and gave up.
The gong rang again and Renny's voice echoed through the room, “We have a winner! The unknown defeated Levia in just one minute and twenty-three seconds!"
Applause rang out from the edge of the ring as Meyja held out her hand to help Levia up, climbed out, and sat down with Aron and Crom again.
The two looked at her astonished and Crom remarked, “You fight well, Meyja. Fast, dirty, and deceitful, a very interesting fighting style."
"And you didn't take a single hit," added Aron appreciatively.
"Still not enough to compete against either of you two," Meyja threw off the praise.
But Crom nodded, looked at Aron with a grin for a moment, and revealed, "You could definitely take on your fiancé, if you catch him off the beaten track."
She shook her head violently. “I would never want to hit Aron. Let alone that I want to be beaten by him."
Meyja winked at her lover, who leaned back calmly, and crossed his arms behind his head with a grin, apparently, he was really playing with the idea of fighting his fiancée.
“I’d certainly not spare you. But you are much faster than me and you have a real chance, I have to agree with Crom," he answered her honestly.
"You really want to find out, don't you?" Meyja asked softly, leaned forward on the table with her mug in hand, and took a sip while she looked at him defiantly, then put down her drink, and licked herself provocatively over the lips.
Laughing, Crom looked back and forth between the two of them. “You would certainly be the first couple to step into the ring here. And you don't see woman against man often either."
Aron looked at Meyja a little thoughtfully before he asked with a grin, "Do you want to be my opponent?"
She nodded in silence and gave him another challenging look. So, they waited for the current fight, and then swung themselves over the railing.
Meyja's heart was beating up to the neck when Renny announced their fight. “And now something special! Aron against the unknown! That will definitely be worth seeing!"
"That will be the only time that this happens, do you hear?" Meyja whispered to Aron and then raised her fists.
He just grinned, threw her an air kiss before he also got into fighting position, and the gong rang.
It almost felt like in slow motion when Aron came up to her and reached for his notorious left hook, she leaned back until her hands hit the floor, and saw the next fist rushing towards her, within the blink of an eye it was already there, she rolled to one side and crouched down. He followed her immediately and although she had to take a violent blow on her shoulder for this, she jumped towards him, with the use of her entire body weight she managed to tear him off his feet. Aron fell backwards, but he was able to hold her before she came down from him, then he got up with her, and lifted her up to throw her to the ground, and Meyja landed painfully on her side, lifted again due to the force of the impact from the earth. She spun in the air like a cat and crouched forward to sit, hands on the floor.
Aron was standing in front of her in a fighting stance and wanted to grab her again, his knees were bent, but before he knew what was happening, she had slipped between his legs behind him. When he turned to her, he could just see her foot which hit the pit of his stomach a millisecond later. Meyja repeated the long step that she had already used in the fight before to get behind her opponent, but since Aron was taller, it was only enough to get to his side.
The kidney blow still hit him by surprise, but didn't throw him off his mind enough not to give her a punch in the cheek with a twist. Meyja landed on her back, already tasted the blood in her mouth, and when Aron leaned down for another blow in the middle of her face, she only moved her head a little so that his fist hit the floor next to her ear.
Then she kicked him violently in the side and rose to her feet, took a few steps away from him, he still hit the back of her head, and threw her on her stomach, but before he caught her again she got to her feet, and rolled herself forward out of reach, while crouching she turned back to him, and stood up.
Meyja had to try something different, a few simple hits, and falls on the floor wouldn't force Aron to give up, but she had to put up with it and felt already a bit dizzy.
But she wouldn't be able to do it with direct attacks either, she was too weak for that. The wall was already behind her, and since the ring surrounded by the railing was a little lower than the area where the spectators stood, it was a good two metres to the top of the fence. Her fiancé was already coming up to her again, he was sure to win with his aggressive fighting style, and quickly pursued her, but when he had almost reached her, she dropped to her knees, jumped up forcefully, and held herself with one hand stuck on the railing, he grabbed her feet, but got one of them violently against the cheek before he could grab it.
'This is my only chance…' she thought.
Meyja let herself fall down on him after she had kicked his grip around her ankles and pulled him with her. Aron slammed hard on the back, his head hitting the floor while she came to sit on him, and forced him to give up with another blow on the cheek.
“The unknown even defeats Aron! Incredible!" Renny yelled over the cheers of the audience.
Meyja gave Aron her hand, and helped him to his feet then she hugged him, still a little dazed, and kissed him on the mouth.
"I'm sorry, really. I didn't mean to hurt you,” she apologised over the noise that was in the Stone Hall.
But Aron shook his head with a smile, returned the kiss, and said, "I can taste your blood, so I have to apologise."
“And it seems like a couple of lovers beat up each other here! What an amusing turn!" When they were still kissing tightly, Renny yelled," Finally clear the ring and get a room!"
Laughing they let go, pulled themselves up the parapet, and left the small arena to sit down next to Crom who was already staring at them in disbelief.
“You are truly incredible. I've never seen anything like it. A girl who fights so ruthlessly and bloodthirstily, neither. I'll buy you two something to drink, we'll have to toast that,” he muttered and stood up.
"Sure, Crom, we won't say no," smiled Aron and sat down then looked at his fiancée who was holding her head. "Did I hit you very hard?"
Meyja nodded and admitted, “The two blows to my head were hard. I almost gave up, but then I felt the wall behind me."
"That was my undoing, I absolutely didn't expect that," he replied with a nod.
"I said you could beat him, if you caught him on the wrong foot," said Crom with a grin and sat down with them again, three mugs of beer in his hands. "To the most powerful pair of Sharaya."
They also raised their mugs and drank in amusement, neither Meyja nor Aron took offence at the other's own injuries, that was just part of it.
When Meyja put down her mug, a woman tapped her on the shoulder. "Good evening, lady. Please tell me your name and I'll put you on the ranking list."
Meyja looked over at Aron who nodded, so she told the stranger her name.
She thanked her and left.
"Is there a list?" asked Meyja astonished.
“Sure, Crom is number one, but I don't know what rank I will have after you've defeated me. In addition, I haven't been here for a long time and a lot has probably changed in that time," replied Aron.
"And if you are really good, you can go into the private area," added Crom and pointed to the opening in the wall above them, a kind of balcony that was not visible from below.
"What's up there?" asked Meyja.
Crom laughed and shook his head. "It's a mystery and only the initiated are allowed to know," he grinned. "Become one of the best and you'll find out."
Renny's voice echoed back through the room shortly afterwards, “It's the fourth hour in the morning and the ring is now closed! Get out of here, you wretched scoundrels!"
Meyja looked a little disappointed at the two men, she had had so much fun all night, was a little drunk, and didn't really want to leave yet.
"That was it for today," said Aron also disappointed and all three got up very reluctantly.
Aron had just thrown his shirt over his shoulder and put an arm around his fiancée as they walked towards the stairs. Some of the unknown guests nodded appreciatively to the couple, others looked amused when they saw them, but Meyja and Aron paid no attention to them. The current ranking was posted at the exit and Meyja was astonished to find that she was twenty-fourth directly ahead of Aron, so there wasn't much room for improvement.
"Who is allowed to go upstairs?" she asked Crom as they climbed the narrow stairs.
"The best fifteen, otherwise it’ll be too crowded," he smiled and pulled on his shirt.
Aron had also got dressed again and they went hand in hand next to Crom into the Lower City, the night air coolly enveloped their sweaty bodies, and they took a deep breath.
"When does it come?" Crom asked, winking at them.
"What do you mean?" Aron wanted to know with a frown.
"You said Meyja was your fiancée," Crom reminded him and Aron shrugged his shoulders with a smile.
“She's only been wearing the ring since last night. It is not yet clear when we will get married,” Aron admitted.
Crom nodded and wanted to see the engagement ring, so Meyja held out her hand to him with an embarrassed smile.
“Beautiful, fits the woman perfectly. I congratulate you and wish you both the best. Who knows when we'll run into each other again,” he said with a wink and walked away through the starry night.
Meyja hugged her future husband, beamed at him, and whispered, "It may not be certain yet, but that could be changed immediately, if we set an appointment."
Aron kissed her lovingly and whispered, “Let's just get married tomorrow? As long as there is a Priest who’s available."
"I can't wait," she replied softly and kissed back.
Aron released the hug with a big smile. "I'm really looking forward to it as well. But, if you don't mind, I'd like to try to get the job done. Otherwise, I have to do it on our wedding night."
“No, just go, I'll be waiting for you in bed. But promise me you'll take care of yourself, will you? You've already taken a lot tonight," she asked while she gently stroked his cheek.
“In fact, I swear. Come home safe,” he replied quietly and kissed her goodbye before he took his mask out of his pocket, tied it over his face, and disappeared into the night.
She looked after him thoughtfully and wondered for the thousandth time that day whether Cayden was all right and Aron just hadn't noticed the major he was after might already be thought dead. But there was nothing she could do at the moment, so she made her way home.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 33 - Loss

Meyja woke up in Aron's arms at noon, and snuggled up to him, smiling happily.
He woke up, too, kissed her forehead gently and grinned at her. "Ready to get married?"
“Good morning to you, too. And I was never more ready for that," she replied with a giggle.
"Please excuse me. I also wish you a good morning,” he replied with a smile and took her hand, his fingers between hers.
“How long have you been out tonight? And were you successful?” she asked softly.
"No. I kept an eye out until morning, but he didn't show up. It almost looks like he's been swallowed by the ground,” he replied.
Meyja nodded and sat up in bed to lean against the wall. "Then you have to go again today, don't you?" she asked further.
Aron sat down next to her. "I only have two days left, so if you don't mind, I would like to see a few more hours of what can be done about the job."
“I don't mind. We haven't told anyone what we're up to anyway and we can always postpone the wedding until you finish the guy off. Then we will have peace and quiet and can enjoy this special day to the full,” she suggested.
He looked at her with cocked head. “And that's really okay with you? I don't want to put you off because you are much more important to me than this damn job."
She nodded with a smile. “I would not have offered it, if I hated it. Of course, it's okay."
“I love you, Meyja. And we'll get married as soon as this thing is over, I swear,” he whispered and kissed her tenderly.
Then he said goodbye to her with a heavy heart and left the apartment to look for his target. Even if the extra day he had gained by Meyja's welcome party came in handy, he soon had to take him down, otherwise he risked terrible trouble with Ed.
After seeing Aron disappear down the street, she got dressed as well, and then set off. She really wanted to know if her plan worked out and Cayden was okay, even if she hadn't the slightest idea how to get in touch with him. The certainty in this regard would also mean that Aron would soon be rid of the overly annoying job and could take her to his wife.
A quarter of an hour later she had arrived in the Lower City and was wandering through the alleys like the day before. She had already checked the city walls, but he hadn't been there. The hood was pulled low over her face so she was not immediately recognised.
Normally there were only a few city guards in the lower town, but today small groups patrolled between the buildings, ruthlessly making their way through the crowds, and roughly pushing Meyja aside a few times.
At some point she got bored of wandering around so aimlessly and she began to choose different people whom she then followed inconspicuously until they disappeared into a house. But even this self-chosen task did not take long and after she had practised more than ten shadings, she gave it up, and went back to the main street.
As she started the steep climb and was about to pull the hood off her head, she noticed someone next to her, and peered out of the corner of her eye at the man who, like herself, was hiding his identity with a hood.
“It's not easy to find you, Meyja. Let's go somewhere we can talk,” Cayden whispered to her.
She replied without looking at him, "Didn't anyone follow you either?"
"I'm alone. As far as I know,” he muttered.
“We'll meet outside of the city. Be on your way in a few minutes and walk past the pumpkin field towards the harbour. I watch if someone is following you and when the coast is clear, I'll come to you,” she instructed him quietly.
Then she turned left and looped before returning to the main road and following it down the hill until she reached the bridge at Sharaya's city gate. There she waited for Cayden and felt that her heart was pounding violently with anticipation.
Shortly afterwards, as agreed, he passed not far from where she was hiding, and she went into pursuit. Apparently, no one followed him, and she caught up with him, relieved.
He grinned as she grabbed his hand and walked beside him. "Well, did I promise too much? Nobody followed me."
She smiled. “No problem from this side. But let's go a little longer together before we take off the hoods."
There was a silent nod from his side, then they walked side by side until they reached the hill by the harbour. There they took off their headgear and sat relaxed next to each other on the grass.
"Would you like a cigarette?" he asked her, taking out his tobacco.
"Of course," she replied amused.
He rolled two cigarettes and handed her one. "That was more of a rhetorical question to be honest."
Giggling she took it and clamped it between her lips. "I know."
Meanwhile, Aron hid between two bushes and watched the scene between the two of them. She had hurt him deeply. He drew his daggers and struggled with himself. The jealousy burned inside him so hot that he wouldn't care, if Meyja involuntarily witnessed Cayden's death. Then he pulled the mask over his face and continued to watch in silence.
Cayden gave her fire and she inhaled deeply. "Actually, I thought you were on duty right now, that's why I didn't wait on the city wall."
"Yes, the crews are on the alert because one of us was found murdered this morning," he replied, also taking a drag on his cigarette.
"So?” she asked interestedly.
“His name was John Meyers. Not a very good guy, but he must have had something with the wife of one of the other men.” Cayden sighed.
“A horned husband, then. We seem to have something like that a lot," she muttered.
"What do you mean?" He frowned.
She blushed and stammered, "Please... forget what I said."
He replied, “No, Meyja. Please tell me what you know, I want to know for myself. But I'll keep your information to myself, I swear."
She took another deep drag before putting the cigarette out on the grass, you could see the conflict in which she was stuck. If she told him, she was also denouncing her guild, so she bowed her head, and shook it. "No, I'm sorry. I won't talk to you about guild internals."
Enough... It’s enough...‘ Aron thought.
Aron pushed himself silently out of the bushes and strode purposefully towards Cayden, of whose true identity he still had no clue. His daggers were poisoned and he held the blades with the sharp edge down.
Cayden threw away his cigarette of which no more than a stub remained and turned to Meyja. "Listen. I won't tell anyone a single word because I love you and don't want your life to be in danger."
Aron paused. It was now too interesting not to listen any further because he wanted to know what she said about the extent to which she was betraying him.
"You... what?!" From one second to the other her face turned pale.
"I love you, Meyja Blake," Cayden repeated urgently and his hands went to the back of her neck.
Meyja slipped away from him. "You don’t do that..."
"Take your dirty fingers off her, you Voynarian bastard," hissed Aron who was standing directly behind her and held a dagger at Cayden's throat.
The two hadn't noticed him, and Meyja winced when Cayden slowly put his hands in the air.
Then she jumped up and grabbed Aron's arm with the weapon. "No! Aron, I can explain everything!"
"What else is there to explain, huh?" he growled. "He has just confessed his love to you."
The two men eyed each other disapprovingly as they faced each other.
Meyja ignored the hostilities. “I'm sorry that I had to betray you, Aron. For real. But this isn't Darius Bryce, nor is he a Sharaya city guard – at least not in the strict sense. His name is Cayden Kavanagh, and he is the rightful king of Voynar. I couldn't tell you about him.” She looked pleadingly at Cayden.
He nodded briefly and reported, “Well, whatever. What she says is true. I am really Cayden Kavanagh and the rightful King of Voynar."
"Not everyone who legitimately scolds himself is really what he thinks he is," replied Aron.
"And not everyone is as honourable as a Voyneress who does everything to protect her king," Cayden shot back and nodded his head in Meyja's direction.
She intervened and hissed, “Stop it now, both of you! We have to come to an agreement and find a solution! Arguing like little children doesn't get you anywhere, don't you see that for yourself?!"
"Find a solution? With the traitor's son?” Aron repeated sarcastically.
Cayden replied, “I saved Meyja's life. Didn't she tell you about it? How bad can I be compared to a man who reproaches her just because she is talking to someone else?"
“I have already saved her life, too. She certainly didn't say anything about that I suppose,” Aron replied and gave Meyja an angry look.
She waved her hands helplessly. “That just never happened, damn it, Aron. I couldn't admit to you that I knew him and with Cayden I simply didn't have enough time to bring up such things. However, I told him that you are good to me and that I am glad to have you by my side. But... but what does it all matter? After all, this is not about me, but about Cayden, and how we can solve this mess."
The uneasy feeling that it seemed to be about her person crept into her and it almost seemed as if the two men were courting who deserved her more.
"Do you know that you’ll be as good as dead, if Ed finds out about it, Meyja?" Aron asked through clenched teeth. “It doesn't matter who he is. You betrayed them all, not just me. Even though we had plans together..."
“I love you, Aron. And I would give my life for you without hesitation. But please understand, there was no other way. I had to do it. For my home,” she tried to take his hands.
He dodged her, looked at her hurt, and whispered, “After everything that happened to you there, you’re still protecting those who helped almost destroy you. I can't believe that was what triggered you to betray me like this. For a guy who runs a kingdom that no longer exists. Then go with him. Go to the Ice Lands or Voynar or anywhere else. I give him life. But don't you dare come back to me and beg forgiveness. You died for me."
She stared at him in disbelief, tears welling up in her eyes, and robbing her of sight. "No... I... Aron..." she whispered, crying, but through the veil she only saw that he gave Cayden a hateful look before he walked away.
As if the spine had been torn from her body, she sagged, fell sobbing on her knees, and watched the dark shadow that was inexorably moving away from her. At the same time, she began to fill an inner emptiness that she had never felt before. He was gone, had left her, and she was alone in this cursed world again.
Cayden knelt next to her and gently put a hand on her back, but she pushed him away and yelled, "Get out of here! Take your life and leave me alone! I've already given you everything I had! So, what else do you want?!"
"At least let me help you, I can't just leave you here," he muttered, looking at the ring on her finger.
He had no idea how serious it had already been between Meyja and Aron, but the sign of engagement, and her reaction showed him what he had just destroyed. Even if he didn't think much of the rabble that lived in the south, he was still very sorry because Aron had been valuable enough to Meyja to share the rest of her life with him. But he loved her nonetheless.
“No, Cayden. Just go. I don't need any help,” she replied flatly before getting up and shuffling off in the direction of the pumpkin field.
She was so busy with herself that she didn't notice when he quietly followed her and watched over her.
At the tree where she had always met Aron, she finally sat down on the grass, and mourned the love that had melted away and the man she had lost. He meant everything to her, not only had he been her teacher, but also her only confidante, and her fiancé with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her wretched existence. But contrary to her expectations, she felt no pain because of the loss, only the emptiness that crept into every fibre of her body, and seemed to paralyse her.
When dusk fell and it started to rain, she just sat there, even if she got wet, she didn't care, and she barely noticed.
It was only when Cayden came to her and crouched down in front of her that she raised her head.
“Meyja, let me take you somewhere please. You can't sit here all night. Aron wouldn't want that either.”
She nodded impassively and let him pull her to her feet, then they walked silently in the direction of Sharaya, crossed the Lower City, and followed the alleys of the Old Town until Meyja stopped in front of the Drunken Beggar.
"Do you have enough coins?" asked Cayden.
"Yes, I have. Goodbye,” she muttered without looking at him before opening the door and disappearing into the tavern.
Cayden paused for a moment, but then he pulled his hood down over his face, and went on his way.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 34 - Pain

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Derun of the year 67

Meyja had taken the room in the Drunken Beggar in which she had already lived after her arrival in Sharaya and where she spent the next few days laying on the dirty, smelly bed. There she either slept, or thought about what she had done wrong. She had trampled Aron's trust by betraying him – even when they were already engaged.
After a week she made her way to Ed, after all, she couldn't hide in the tavern forever, and she didn't want to disappoint his trust in her either. It rained all those days and when she pushed open the shop door, she was almost wet to the bone.
Ed came out from behind the curtain, greeted her cautiously, and then said, “I heard what happened. Upstairs I have a few assignments and a bag for you, I'll get them."
Meyja just nodded wordlessly and when Ed came back with her things which Aron had probably left in the shop, as well as the parchment rolls, she signed without even looking at the tasks. She slipped the rolls under her leather vest to keep them from getting too wet, then made her way back to her room.
She either spent the following weeks back in bed, or did her jobs without emotion. She missed Aron more every day and she felt the increasing emptiness that had spread in her heart. She had given up hope that he would turn up at her place at some point after just a few days.

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Voy of the year 67

Aron had already turned his back on her weeks ago and she was waiting for the pain that would undoubtedly reach her at some point, but there was nothing but the emptiness that continued to expand inside her and threatened to devour her.

One-night Meyja finally went to see Renny. If the pain didn't come to her, she would look for it in another way. Depressed, she went down the stairs into the Stone Hall and looked around.
For a moment she was afraid to meet Aron, she wanted to avoid that for his sake. She didn't know where he was, or how he was, but she didn't want to find out how he would react to her either, after all, he avoided her on his own.
The next fight would be hers and she was already waiting to swing into the ring. When the gong ended the previous duel, her head simply turned off.
Hours later she left the Stone Hall again, her whole body aching, and she was drunk, but she had managed to fight her way into fifteenth place. Nevertheless, it had not taken away the emptiness in her heart, nor did she feel the longed-for inner pain. She stumbled in serpentine lines through the snowy, night city, and back to her room where she collapsed onto the bed, and instantly fell into a deep sleep.

At some point she woke up with a booming skull, crawled off the mattress, and swayed her daggers into her chest strap. The engagement ring was on the table, she studied it for a minute then left the room, and sat down at the bar in the dining room for something to eat. Whatever it was, it tasted awful, but she didn't even notice, so she paid for her meal, and went to see Ed who had a few more assignments for her, and praised her excellent work when he gave her the rewards for the final tasks, but she left the shop without saying thank you, and got to work.
One of the assignments was to get a family with children out of the way again, but she didn't care, she watched the house until night, and then got in, a few minutes later she had the parents, and three small children on her conscience. She used to wash the blood from her things in a fountain, and then went to the next tavern, where she let herself be full again.
She also spent the next few weeks in this mechanical way. She slept, ate something, did her jobs, got drunk, and slept again. Every now and then she went to Renny and fought, but her feelings did not return to her heart.

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 68

A new day was dawning that had nothing in store for her anyway and she would have nothing to do until evening. She had only been with Ed yesterday and he had said that he would not have any new assignments for her in the coming days. Meyja was about to turn around and go back to sleep when she felt that someone was in the room. Maybe someone had finally come to put an end to her, but nothing moved, nor did she feel a blade penetrating her body, so she opened her eyes, and looked at the man who was sitting on the chair next to her bed.
It was Aron, even if she almost didn't recognise him, he looked different, had circles under his eyes, looked neglected with the long beard on his face, and his hair had grown longer, too.
"You look awful," she whispered.
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" he asked back.
He was probably right because she had only been in the Stone Hall yesterday and had received a few hard blows in her face which had also cracked her lip.
She just fell silent, lay there, and looked at him as he sat there.
After a while, Aron mumbled, “I heard from Ed that you were doing a good job. But he also said you could do more, if you only wanted to."
"Nice," she replied flatly.
“Why don't you build on your successes? Was it all in vain? The entire training?” Aron wanted to know.
"What should I do? It's enough to live and my interests are now focused on other things,” she replied.
What did he actually want from her? Show her that he lived even without her? She couldn't think of any reason why he should show up with her. In any case, if he had wanted her back, the work she had done would not have been an issue.
"Your interests? You get drunk every night and fight your way in Renny's ring every few days regardless of casualties. You call those interests?" Aron asked with a sarcastic undertone in his voice before he continued a little more gently. "Ed is very worried about you, Meyja."
So, he had come to give her a lecture.
“I do my job, isn't that what he wants or not? And how do you know so well about how I spend my day?” she asked angrily.
"I was watching you because I'm worried, too," Aron admitted.
“I am old enough to decide what to do for myself. You can put your worries anywhere else. What do you want from me, Aron? An apology? I am really sorry. As I said on the hill by the harbour," she replied angrily then turned away from him.
When the pain finally found her, it struck her heart like a stab in the back, tears welled up in her eyes, but she didn't want him to see it, so she whispered, “Leave me alone. Like the past few weeks or months, I have no idea how long it was. But please go again."
"No, Meyja," replied Aron calmly.
She turned to him although then he could see she was crying. “Get out of here, Aron! I don't want to see you anymore!" she yelled at him while the hot tears streamed down her cheeks.
Through the veil, she did not notice that his eyes were also moist and looked at her in pain.
She let herself fall back onto the mattress, turned her back to him, and curled up with her knees drawn up, waiting for the door to close before giving in to the pain completely, she lay sobbing on the bed in her empty room.
At some point she looked over her shoulder, but it was really gone, and she kept crying until she fell asleep again.
She woke up at nightfall and had a few left-over jobs to do, but lay there, unable to do anything. So, this was the pain she had wanted so badly. Resigned, she surrendered to it again and cried until she finally found sleep again.

So, she lay in her bed again for several days, she alternated between crying, and sleeping, she did not notice her physical needs, only the moments that she had experienced with Aron haunted her head again and again.
Aron's surprised face when she threatened him.
The lurking look in his eyes when they met at Ed for the second time.
The first practice lesson in which it was tested.
The other hours on the tree where they had sat together in the grass and laughed.
When he asked her there, if she liked him, and she ran away.
When he rolled the Philosopher's herb in parchment and they took turns pulling on it.
When she woke up in the cathedral and he came up to her crying.
The first time he slept with her, and the second, and the third, and many more times.
When they had danced with Ed at the party and he finally kneeled down in front of her.
How was she supposed to breathe without him?
She didn't even feel that she was slowly dying of thirst.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 35 – Water

Aron walked heavily up the stairs to check on Meyja who hadn't turned up at Ed for three days and, of course, he had been given the task of checking on her.
As if no other Deathshade could’ve done that...‘ he thought.
Even though he had told his boss that she had kicked him out when he tried to make up with her Ed didn't care in the least.
He knocked hard on the door and hesitantly called, “Meyja, this is Aron! Please open the door, Ed sent me!"
But he got no answer, almost left, but he made a half-hearted attempt to pull the handle of the door which was presumably locked anyway. When it swung open with a creak, however, he looked into the room where Meyja was lying in bed, and not moving. He knew immediately that something was wrong, rushed over to her, and shook her, even slapped her cheek, but she didn't react.
"Meyja, please wake up, please..."
Aron looked around the room, but there was only an empty wine bottle on the floor next to the table, so he ran downstairs into the dining room, and took a bottle of water from behind the counter. The landlord just eyed him, shaking his head, while Aron was already running back up the stairs.
He slammed the door with a loud bang, went down on his knees again next to the bed before carefully lifting Meyja's head, and holding the opening to her lips.
"Please stay with me."
From her pale skin and sunken cheeks, he had immediately recognised that she was worryingly dehydrated, and her lips were cracked and split open. The swallowing reflex finally made her drink the water, so she was still alive, Aron poured the entire bottle into her, then lifted her in his arms, and carried her out of the room.
She certainly wouldn't want to wake up in his apartment, so he ran to Ed with the unconscious.
He pushed the shop door open with his foot and yelled, "Ed!"
The one called came rushed through the curtain, saw Meyja hanging in Aron's arms, and immediately hurried over to open the secret door in the back room.
"Take her upstairs and put her in my bed!" He shouted, but Aron was already past him and hurried up the stairs.
Aron put her carefully on the sheets and turned to Ed. “She is dying of thirst, we need water. Get as much as you can, I'll try to wake her up.” Then he turned to Meyja and hit her on the cheek again. "Meyja! Please wake up! It's me, Aron! Please don't leave me... Please…"
Desperate and crying, he tried to reach her consciousness until Ed came back with three bottles. She was still swallowing when Aron lifted her head and slowly poured the water into her mouth.
"Dying of thirst? How could that happen? Where did you find her?” Ed asked stunned.
"In her room in the Drunken Beggar, but I don't know how that happened either," said Aron haltingly and carefully laid her head back on the bed.
Two bottles of water in such a short time would have been too much, so after half a bottle he stopped, and slapped her lightly on the cheek again.
"Meyja, please... Please wake up," he pleaded, still crying.
When she still didn't react, he put his forehead on the edge of the bed, and sobbed.
Ed stepped behind him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. After a few minutes he said softly, "Aron."
Aron lifted his head and looked at Ed who pointed to Meyja, and when he also looked at her, he noticed her eyelids fluttered.
"Meyja, wake up, please," he whispered again and gently shook her body until she opened her eyes a crack.
But when she recognised him, she turned her head away. "What do you want?" she whispered.
Aron got up and left the room without another word.
"Where are you going?!" Ed called after him.
"Away!" Aron yelled back from downstairs, then the clang of the slamming shop door revealed he had left.
"Child, what's wrong with you?" Ed sighed and sat down next to Meyja who looked up at him.
"Why doesn't he just leave me alone?" she croaked, her vocal cords still very bad from the dehydration.
"Because he loves you, you stupid thing!" Ed shouted angrily, throwing his hands in the air. "After all, he just saved your life." Then he held out the opened bottle of water. “Drink, but slowly. You almost died of thirst."
Meyja raised her head and emptied the rest of the bottle. "He came sometime before... And wanted to give me a lecture..."
“Because he wanted you back, girl. If you only knew how much I've fuzzed my mouth, he should at least try. At some point I couldn't watch his suffering anymore, so I talked him into it until he promised to go to you," Ed replied.
"He wanted... what?" she asked dismayed, then put her hand on her face.
“That's exactly what he wanted to do. He told me that he didn't get that far because you threw him out. Is that right?” Ed wanted to know.
Meyja nodded and tears ran from between her fingers.
"Stop crying, you need every drop of water in your body," Ed muttered, giving her a grim look, and uncorking another bottle of water. “I'll go look for Aron before he does anything stupid. That’s how long I’ll keep you locked in here. Drink the water, you need it."
He had wanted her back... Meyja couldn't believe he hadn't just said it. Then why did he leave her in the first place?
She pondered until Ed came back angry and pointed his finger at her. "I couldn't find him, but I hope for you that nothing bad happened to him." Then he brought a few more bottles of water and put them next to the bed.
"He left me, Ed, not the other way around," Meyja whispered flatly.
"I don't know what exactly happened, but he meant something from another guy," he replied angrily, but she shook her head.
“I never cheated him. Never!” she grumbled at him.
"He trusted you nonetheless and you don't have to go to bed with other men to cheat on someone," he shot back.
"I just didn't expect that..." She paused, and looked to the side, her jaw trembling. “Why couldn't you just let me die? All of this no longer makes sense without him..."
Ed turned away wordlessly, slammed the door behind him, and left her alone.

The next day she felt largely recovered and was only a little weak on her feet. When she opened the door of Ed's bedroom, he wasn't sitting at the table, so she walked slowly downstairs to the shop where her boss was in the back room loading new poison vials, and stepped reluctantly towards him.
“Thanks for letting me stay here, Ed. I'll go now," she said softly and pushed the curtain aside.
"Do you want to see him?" Ed asked and Meyja paused thoughtfully for a moment before she nodded.
“I'll tell him when he comes back. He was here briefly earlier and is doing well given the circumstances. Go home and take a rest," he remarked and she left the shop.
She walked slowly through the streets, her entire body ached with every step, but the constant thirst that she had felt yesterday was over. When she got to the Drunken Beggar, she got two bottles of water from the bar and dragged herself upstairs to her room where she sat on the edge of the bed and took a sip before laying down.
At some point there was a knock on the door and she struggled to get up to open it.
Aron stood across from her and looked cautiously at his feet. "Ed was just telling me you want to see me."
Meyja nodded, letting him in before locking the door again, and dragging herself back to the bed where she sank onto the mattress with a suppressed moan, and leaned against the wall, her knees drawn to her chest.
Without looking at him, she began to speak. “I wanted to apologise to you again. And thank you for saving me... again."
"How are you?" he asked without responding.
"And how are you really doing?" he asked.
“What do you want to hear, Aron? It's obvious that I'm not doing well. My whole body aches and I almost died miserably."
"I mean here..." he explained calmly and put a hand on his chest.
She looked at him for a long time, the man she loved more than anything, without whom the world was a dark place, and without whom she could no longer imagine life. He looked at her waiting, still looking so horrible that it brought the pain back to her heart, and brought tears to her eyes.
She quickly averted her gaze, shook her head, and whispered, "It hurts more than any blade can cause. So much so that it almost drives me crazy. I'm nothing without you."
Aron was silent for a moment, then he nodded. "I feel the same way. I don't even have tears left to express my grief," he muttered, but then he still had to cry.
"Why did you leave me?", Meyja asked softly, glittering drops ran down her cheeks, too.
“You hurt me so much. It is one thing to help someone out of conviction, but your lack of trust in me hurts more than anything else."
She would have loved to go over to him, but she didn't dare, instead she said, “But you hate him and you have never said a good word about him. I would never have assumed that you would have stood by my side in this matter. Otherwise, I would never have chosen all this secrecy, Aron."
“I realised that at some point, but I didn't dare come to you. It wasn't until Ed talked me into it, I mustered up all my courage. And then you sent me away like I didn't mean anything to you,” he continued.
“You have always meant everything to me, Aron, and it still is. I just thought you had come to give me a talk about my life. If I had known why you had actually come, I would never have thrown you out.” Indeed, all along it had been, in the broadest sense, a misunderstanding that was almost fatal.
“I never understood that. Why did you do all of this in the first place? Why the drinking and fighting at Renny?” He paused looking at her with wet eyes.
Meyja thought for a long time how she could phrase it without sounding too pathetic, but she was pathetic, so it wouldn't make any difference anyway.
“I felt so empty, didn't feel anything after you were gone. No pain, no grief, just nothing. I thought that at least the physical pain could show me that I was even still alive. And when that didn't help either, I numbed myself with alcohol so that I could at least sleep. Only when you came here did I feel something again. Then... then... I just gave up," she said softly.
Aron nodded slowly when he finally understood her. "I was so scared for you, again," he whispered, still crying.
“I'm so sorry, Aron. Everything I did to you," she answered quietly and saw through the tears that he was walking towards her. 
When he reached her, he pulled her to him, and they held each other, both crying.
She didn't know how long they had been sitting on the bed like that, but at some point, Aron reached out for a water bottle, and handed it to her. "Please drink, otherwise I'll have to force you."
She did as she was told and emptied the entire bottle, then she looked at him, and he raised his hand, wiped away her tears.
Meyja did the same for him. "How are things going on now?"
Instead of answering, he got up, and when she was already thinking that he would sit down on the chair again, he turned to her. With the ring in hand, he came back, and knelt on the floor in front of the bed.
"Do you still want to be my wife, Meyja?" he asked softly and looked at her hopefully.
"Of course. I always wanted it, every single second.” She came down from the bed, knelt beside him. "And do you still want to be my husband, Aron?"
"I wanted that, too. Every second," he whispered, then he kissed his fiancée with great devotion.
Meyja returned the kiss, but her strength quickly waned, and she plopped down on her bum, cursing softly.
Aron helped her to sit down on the edge of the bed again, a small smile crossed his face.
"You think that's funny, don't you?" She asked, amused, and playfully stuck out her tongue.
He grinned. “No, not in itself. But I find the thought that I'll carry you home again in a moment is a bit strange. If that's what you want... come home."
Meyja decided to annoy him a little more and looked around the room, then she remarked thoughtfully, “Actually, I like it here a lot, in this wonderful dirt hole. After all, wonderful memories live in this room."
Aron laughed and shook his head and then looked down at her affectionately before he pushed the engagement ring back onto her finger. “You are right. This memory is one of the most beautiful. I missed you so much, Meyja. Let's go. Now it is time to sleep in a clean bed again."
She nodded while he picked up her things from the floor, stuffed them in her bag, and slung it over his shoulder.
When he had lifted her in his arms, he asked, "Has the room been paid for?"
"I already did that earlier, so we can go," she explained and snuggled up against him.
He kissed her again, then carefully carried her home.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 36 – Anticipation

Arriving at his apartment, Aron put her down gently on the floor, and went to get her the obligatory water. When he came back, she was already seated in one of the armchairs.
He put the bottle down in front of her and said, "It's really nice to have you back here, but I have to make a confession."
Meyja just looked at him questioningly, it was clear to her that it couldn't be anything bad, the tiny smile around the corners of his mouth had not escaped her.
"I went to the priests after Ed told me you wanted to see me, and they gave me an appointment for our wedding," Aron told her.
"When?" she exclaimed happily.
"The day after tomorrow. But I wanted to surprise you with it in our four walls, so I didn't say anything earlier,” he said.
"I still need a wedding dress", Meyja mumbled and got up.
He got up, too, and held out his hand, motioning her to sit down again. "Wait, wait. We should wait until tomorrow so that you are fine again, it was a bit too much in the last few days, wasn't it?"
She nodded and let herself fall back into the armchair, Aron also sat down again. Then he reached for the herb jar and turned two light tubes, both of which he lit. With a wink he passed her a smoking stalk.
Meyja winked back and pulled on it, but when she blew out the smoke, she had to cough.
"It's been a while since you smoked with me," said Aron quietly.
"How long exactly?" she asked and tried again.
"You don't know?" he asked back, clearly confused.
She shook her head, exhaling more skill fully this time. “I lived in a kind of trance; every day was like the other. And there were probably a few days, or weeks when I didn't even get out of bed."
"Twenty-two weeks about," he explained while he blew out the smoke with relish.
Meyja opened her eyes in shock. "So long..."
"Much too long," he remarked and pulled again. "But now you're back here, and that's all that counts."

The next morning they wrote the invitations for their wedding together on scrolls of parchment which they both signed and sealed. Then they made their way through the city, and distributed the papers to the Deathshades.
Three hours later they were almost done, the last one was going to get Ed now, and they turned to the shop. Neither of them had seen their boss since they were a couple again, and how he would react to their renewed engagement, and planned wedding was impossible to predict. Aron entered before her; the doorbell rang when the door knocked on the little bell that Ed had probably only recently attached to the frame.
"It was about time that he finally did it, he had been planning to do it for ages." Aron nodded upwards at the bell.
Ed came through the curtain and stopped when he saw his two charges together, then crossed his arms. "Since I couldn't imagine any other situation in which you two would come in together, I suppose that there was a reconciliation?" he asked in a tone that Meyja could not assign.
Was he angry about it or was he happy?
"It actually existed after you told me yesterday that Meyja wanted to see me," said Aron somewhat reluctantly.
Ed looked at them a moment longer, then let his arms hang down and exhaled. “Finally, I couldn't have endured this misery any longer. And since Meyja has the ring on her finger again and you carry a roll of parchment with you, I assume that you are engaged again, and will get married soon. Bring the invitation!"
Ed could be accused of a number of things, but he wasn't stupid, Meyja was always amazed at his ingenuity, and his powers of observation.
"Direct hit," grinned Aron and handed him the invitation. "And you will be my best man."
"What if I don't want to?" Ed asked grimly, dropping the invitation he had just studied.
"But you want, you haven't been able to play this game with me for a long time, I know you too well for that," smiled Aron.
Ed could no longer hide his joy and beamed, his arms in the air. “Come here, my two problem children. I am very happy that you have found each other again and I am also looking forward to tomorrow's wedding."
They walked over to him and let themselves be hugged at the same time, then Ed began to babble again, "I guess you haven't started the organization yet? Tablecloths are still here from the welcome party for Meyja, I'll get them right away. But you have to have schnapps and food..."
Aron held him back. "No, Ed. Just stay calm, you don't have to organize anything, we will do everything together. You are our guest and lean back until everything is ready, understand? Otherwise, you will fall dead one day."
"It's okay, it's okay," Ed grumbled. "I just thought you wanted to party in the shop, no offense."
“To be honest, we haven't even considered where we're going to host the celebration. Except for the invitations, there is nothing that we have done yet,” Aron admitted.
“Is there an inn that organizes such occasions? Or do we celebrate in our flat?" she suggested with a shrug, but Aron grimaced.
"Not our apartment, otherwise we will spend the wedding night in the midst of leftover food, and fallen-over liquor bottles," he grumbled. "Let's ask in the Golden Cogwheel whether something can be set up, or in the Flower Pot in the High City."
He looked at her with wide eyes that made her laugh. "It's okay, I prefer it that way, but please stop looking at me, as if I had hit you."
"Well, you two are my worrying ones. Wanting to get married tomorrow and nothing has been prepared. Make that you get out of here and go organize the wedding,” Ed remarked, shaking his head, and shooing them out the door.
"What do we start with?" asked Aron after the shop door had slammed behind them and took her hand.
“With the inns, I think. If we don't have a place to celebrate, we have to come up with something, and, if necessary, celebrate in the shop. After that we can still look for the right clothes," answered Meyja.
So, they went together in the direction of the workshop where the Golden Cogwheel was.
Late in the evening they collapsed into their bed, exhausted. They had been on the move for hours, wandering the rest of Sharaya, doing their best to organize their big day.
"Can we repeat everything again just to make sure that we haven't missed anything?" asked Aron.
“The wedding takes place in the cathedral for the third hour in the afternoon, after which the Golden Cogwheel is waiting for us thanks to a generous donation. There we can get whatever we want to eat and drink. We bought a ring and a suit for you and a dress for me. Have I forgotten something?" Meyja summed up.
Aron shook his head and hugged her.
“I can hardly believe it, tomorrow it will finally be time. And this time really," she whispered and kissed him lovingly on the mouth.
"And I can't wait either," said Aron quietly and returned her intensifying kisses.
Suddenly he raised his head and let out a loud curse, then jumped out of bed, and grabbed his clothes and the daggers.
"Let me guess, you've forgotten an order?" asked Meyja, disappointed.
"I'm really sorry, it won't take long, I promise," he apologised and went back to the bed to kiss her goodbye.
"Take care of yourself", asked Meyja and Aron nodded with a wink before he left the flat.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 37 – Search

Meyja woke up alone the next morning, Aron wasn't laying next to her, and she got up worried to look around the flat where she couldn't see his daggers or his clothes. So, he hadn't come back in the first place and she was starting to worry.
She quickly got dressed, slipped her weapons into the harness, and made her way to Ed. As she walked through the busy streets of Sharaya, she kept looking around for her fiancé, but she couldn’t see him anywhere, and when she pushed open the door to the shop, Ed was standing behind the counter. Her hope of finding Aron here evaporated within a moment, instead fear began to spread through her bowels.
“Meyja, you look so pale. Are you okay?” Ed asked while walking towards her.
“Did you see Aron today? Or heard from him?” she wanted to know, her voice sounding worried.
Ed, too, went pale in a second. "No, I have not. Come upstairs with me first and then tell me what happened."
"I can't do that, I have to look for him," Meyja replied breathlessly.
"There's no point running through town headless," he replied, and locked the shop door, then grabbed her hand, and led her into his flat where he gently pushed her onto a chair at the table, and took a sat across from her. "So, what happened?" Ed asked, pouring them liquor.
“Yesterday we spent the whole day preparing for the wedding and it started late in the evening. He said he still had an assignment and would be back soon, but this morning I woke up and his things weren't there,” Meyja began with tears in her eyes. “Something must have happened to him, Ed. We wanted to get married today and he wouldn't just go away, would he?” Panic was in her voice and she hastily took a long swig of schnapps.
He shook his head and also sipped his mug. “That doesn't look like him, you're right. He's never just disappeared. "He picked up his list on the shelf behind him and unrolled the parchment, then mumbled, "The assignment was nothing special. Not easy either, but that wouldn't have been a problem for Aron."
"Who was it about? I will find out whether the target person is still alive,” Meyja decided and got up.
“No, Eralion will take care of that. You go home and see if he has turned up there in the meantime,” ordered her boss and also got up.
They went back downstairs and left the shop.
This time he locked the door from the outside, then turned left, and walked towards the house where Eralion lived.
"If he's not there, you come back to me, and we'll think about what else we can do," he said and stepped into the house entrance.
Meyja made her way back to their flat, walked through the city, and looked for Aron again, but she saw him nowhere.
When they arrived at their common home, she fell on her knees crying, he still hadn't been here, and she knew instinctively that something had happened to him. The door behind her was still open and suddenly she heard footsteps, she turned around quickly but it was only Thom who appeared in the passage.
"I just heard from Ed that Aron has disappeared and that I am ready to see you," he said quietly and stopped next to her.
Meyja just nodded, sniffed, and wiped her eyes before Thom helped her to her feet.
“I told our boss that I would call the rest of the Deathshade with you together and look for some of the places where Aron sometimes hangs around. If you want that, otherwise you can go back to the shop and wait there,” he suggested carefully.
"I'm coming with you, the waiting just drives me crazy," she replied.
Thom nodded seriously and she locked the door behind them before they hurried down the stairs and across the neighbourhood. Although he struggled to keep up with Meyja, he didn't complain with a sound, and so she didn't even notice.
All of the men were home at that hour, but most of them they awoke with their knocks. But when they heard of Aron's disappearance, they were wide awake, and made their way to Ed. Meyja and Thom were still looking for Aron in all the taverns and on the tree behind the pumpkin field, but he was as if swallowed by the ground.
Finally they went back to the store. Tasim and Deval were at the table with Ed when they arrived.
“Eralion is on his way to look for the target person, Sully has gone to the cathedral and is looking there. If he's wounded and dragged himself there, he'll find him. Will and Raemur comb through the city,” Ed reported shortly and looked at Meyja questioningly. "Do you know anyone we don't know about and who he could be with?"
Feverishly she rummaged through her confused, fearful thoughts for names, finally she mumbled, "Crom."
"Who?" asked Tasim.
She explained to those present, “Crom is one of the city guards. If..."
"In earnest? We should ask one of the city guards about Aron?" Deval remarked incredulously.
“I would grab any straw to find him. Don't you?” she snapped at him and Deval ducked his head, mumbling something unintelligible. “Aron and I were together in Renny's Stone Hall one evening and fought in the ring. Crom was also among the guests and sat with us at the table. They seem to have known each other for a long time and are brief friends. If Crom was on duty tonight or in the morning and happened to see Aron, he would hardly have been surprised, but he would remember it." She looked around expectantly and received a nod in response.
"Who's coming with me?" she asked and Thom raised his hand. "Well, let's go then."
Thom smiled as they followed the busy main street up the hill. “You fought in the Stone Hall, that is remarkable. I didn't even dare to go into the ring."
"Once you've tasted blood, you want to do it again and again," she muttered back and Thom just shut up because he felt that she'd rather be left alone.
In silence, the two Deathshade reached the passage to the military district where Meyja suspected Crom.
"You'd better wait here and I'll go there alone for the time being, otherwise we'll just look suspicious," Meyja said softly, Thom nodded, and stood a little to the side behind a corner of the house.
"What do you want?" asked the bearded man guarding the entrance and stood in her way as she approached.
“I would like to speak to one of the city guards. Crom was his name, if I remember correctly," Meyja winked at him with a provocative smile.
She could see that his cheeks were reddening under the helmet and he immediately set off to look for Crom.
A few minutes later he actually returned with him to the entrance.
"What are you doing here, Meyja?“ asked Crom with a smile and nodded over to the place where Thom was hiding.
When they came around the corner, the pit fighter grunted angrily, “What are you doing here? If it turns out that I associate with the likes of you, I'll end up in the dungeons. Does he belong to you?” Crom pointed to Thom who had stepped behind Meyja.
She nodded and said softly, “I'm sorry, Crom. But it's really important, otherwise I wouldn't have come."
He hummed softly, then asked a little more gently, "What is it about?"
“Aron has disappeared, we searched the whole city for him, but we can't find him anywhere. He was still out tonight and never coming back home. Did you happen to be on duty that night or this morning and could see him somewhere?" Meyja asked and looked at him desperately.
Crom nodded. “I was actually on duty last night, I also saw Aron, he met me in the Old Town when I was on my way back to the barracks, this morning at the fourth hour. He even grinned and waved to me, but I couldn't notice anything unusual."
"Was he alone?" Meyja asked excitedly.
“No, there was someone with him. A guy with big build and dark clothes. He had short brunet hair, a beard around his mouth, and on his cheeks. It seemed as if they knew each other, they didn't walk close to each other either, so he wasn't threatened with a dagger or something like that,” described Crom precisely.
Meyja looked at Thom. "Are you familiar with that?"
But Thom shook his head.
"Thank you, Crom," Meyja said to the city guard, but then she got another idea. "Could you find out, if he might be in the dungeons?"
"Of course, I could, but that will cost you a fight at Renny at some point," he replied with a smile.
"Sure, I like to be beaten up for a favour like this," she agreed.
"Well, come back tonight, I just wanted to go to bed, but when dusk falls I'll be on duty at the gate up here, then I can tell you more," said Crom and she thanked him again.
Then he went back to the barracks and the Deathshade hurried back to Ed's shop.
By the time they got there, everyone else was back, including Eralion, and gathered around the table in Ed's flat.
"Summary," Ed ordered curtly as Meyja and Thom entered.
The men reported one after the other about their search failures; they could not find Aron either in the city or in the cathedral.
Eralion said, “The target is still alive, so Aron didn't get to kill him. But we decided to grab the guy tonight and take him to the basement where we want to interrogate him."
After they were brought up to date, Meyja unceremoniously sat down on the floor and began to explain, “Crom, the city guard, saw him. This morning at the fourth hour he was out and about in the Old Town with a stranger and it looked as if the two of them knew each other."
She described the guy's looks and looked around questioningly, but no one could think of anyone who could match that description.
“In addition, Crom will find out whether Aron is in the dungeons. Tonight, I will visit him again, and hear what he has to say," Meyja added tiredly.
Ed came over to her and handed her a mug of schnapps. “Well done, this is the first and only lead we have. It is very unlikely that Aron's target person knows anything."
"Which cellar was you talking about?" she asked softly and took a sip.
"The guild owns an old wine cellar in the Lower City, there we bring those who may enjoy my loving torture," said Deval with a grim grin.
Thom also had to grin. “Meyja doesn't need to torture anyone, men tell her everything she wants to know, as long as she just smiles nicely. You should have seen how quickly she wrapped the security guard in front of the barracks and this Crom around her finger."
Since everyone wanted to see what he was talking about, Meyja did them the favour, got up, and went to Eralion, smiled, and winked subtly. He immediately turned bright red and looked away from her to reach for his mug. Loud laughter filled the room.
But Meyja burst into tears and fell on her knees.
Aron was gone, nobody knew where he was, or whether he was okay, and the men were joking with her in the meantime, but her fiancé was perhaps locked up somewhere, and was tortured, or was even already dead. She didn't know and the thoughts were on it so horrible that she almost went mad.
Eralion pulled her powerfully to her feet, hugged her comfortingly, and gently stroked her back. “We'll find him, Meyja. I promise it. Aron is tough and certainly still alive. Even if he's in the dungeons we'll get him out of there,” he said quietly while she soaked the fabric of his shirt with her tears.
After a while she calmed down a bit and Eralion let go of her. The other men had left in the meantime and started looking for the unknown man, only Ed sat in silence at the table and looked over at her sympathetically.
"I'm sorry, Eralion," Meyja mumbled and pointed to his shirt.
"It's okay." He waved it off and smiled encouragingly.
Apart from Aron, she liked him the most of all Deathshade. Eralion was estimated to be seven years older than Meyja, and, unlike the others, was not a show-off and daredevil, but rather reserved and calm. His hair was quite long and dark, part of which he wore in a braid at the back of his head, the remaining strands hung over his broad shoulders in front. He had shaved his beard down to a tiny bit under his lower lip. Despite his sturdy build, he was not overly muscular, but flexible, making him the only one among the men who, like herself, carried the daggers on his back.
His dark eyes winked at her again briefly, then he turned to Ed. "Should I go looking for this guy, too, or can you think of another place where I could look for Aron?"
Ed shook his head. “I have to go right away and land new orders. Should Aron show up, it would be good if someone was here, Meyja could take care of that. But she doesn't look good at all and has certainly not eaten anything today. Get her something and make sure she eats, too. When I get back, you can still go looking for this guy."
"I wouldn't get anything down anyway, Ed. Let him look for him.” Meyja sat down at the table with her mug of schnapps.
"Don't argue," Ed ordered, put a full bag of gold in his pocket, and went out.
Eralion looked at Meyja resignedly. “I'm sorry, there is nothing you can do about that. What do you usually like to eat? "
"Let's just tell I ate," she replied and took another sip of schnapps.
"No chance. I don't voluntarily draw Ed's anger on myself,” he smiled and Meyja groaned softly.
“Well, anything then. I don't care, really. Please don't worry," she muttered.
He nodded and went down the stairs, too.
Meyja looked after him until he was gone, then she got up, looked out the window for Aron. Something deep inside of her told her she would never see him again and she started crying again.
A couple minutes later, Eralion stepped out of the entrance of the building in which he lived and walked towards the shop, she hastily wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. When the doorbell rang, she was already back at the table.
Eralion came up the stairs and sat down next to her, the bowl of steaming soup that he was carrying in his hand he put down in front of her, a slice of bread and a spoon next to it. “If you don't eat now, that would be rude because I cooked extra. Maybe that will make the decision a little easier,” he said with a smile and leaned back.
"I told you not to worry," she grumbled.
He replied quietly, “I can't imagine how you're feeling right now, but making some soup for you is the least I can do right now. That was not a circumstance."
She moved closer to the table and picked up the cutlery. "Thank you," she whispered softly and ate a spoonful, but a moment later she winced.
The soup was still too hot and she had burnt her mouth, so she hastily drank a sip of schnapps afterwards.
"Hot?" he wanted to know and she nodded.
When she put the mug down, she said, “Too hot, but it tastes very good. Thanks again."
"Don't worry," he replied and also took a sip of schnapps.
Meyja tore off a piece of bread and dipped it in the soup.
When she had swallowed, she said softly, "I'll never see him again."
He looked at her startled. "How do you get that?"
Without her wanting it, tears ran down her cheeks again. "I just know it. A kind of inner certainty."
"You're sure to be wrong and we'll find him soon," he tried to cheer her up again.
"I hope you are right," said Meyja and watched her tears as they dripped into the bowl.
When she had finished half the soup, Eralion said, “I also fought in the Stone Hall once, but I broke my arm and Ed was furious. I had to promise I would never do that again. You seem to be good that you haven't seriously injured yourself yet."
Meyja nodded and replied with an indifferent undertone in her voice, “I can go into the private sector, but I don't know my current rank. Somewhere among the top fifteen."
“And you say that so casually. I don't know Aron's placement, but I'm sure you've fought someone who was above him,” he continued.
"I also defeated Aron once, that was my second fight," Meyja mumbled absently when the images of memory began to circle in her mind.
“You beat up Aron? You seem really not to be trifled with," he said and looked at the small, inconspicuous woman next to him. "What is your secret?"
She frowned in confusion. "Why are you asking me such a thing, Eralion?"
“I meant about the fight. You are so small... and I wondered..." he stuttered and blushed a bit.
Meyja put her hand to her forehead and covered her eyes with it. “Sorry, my thoughts were elsewhere right now. My secret... Well, I can dodge very well, I am agile and fast. And I recognise the weaknesses of my opponents and shamelessly exploit them. That's why I had to be told that I fight very insidiously and dirty."
"I wouldn't have trusted you to do that to be honest," admitted Eralion.
"And I would have given you more than a broken arm to be honest, too," she shot back and he grimaced. “Sorry, that was mean. The soup was really very good."
“No, that was honest, nothing else. And I was aware that I can cook better than fight,” he remarked with a wink and stood up. “I'm going to look for this guy now. When we have found him, I'll let you know."
When dusk fell, Meyja was already standing at the barracks, and watching the entrance. After his return, Ed had taken on the waiting position in the shop again. When Crom relieved the security guard, and, after a brief conversation between them the latter one had disappeared into the building, she went over to him.
"Meyja. I don't know whether this is good or bad news, but Aron is not sitting in one of the cells of the dungeons,” he said immediately.
“Thank you, Crom. Even if it would have been nice to have certainty, I'm a little happy about it,” she replied.
“Unfortunately, you have to go now, the city guards are about to come off their shift. But good luck further on. I'll see you at Renny someday,” he said with a grin.
She nodded, said goodbye, and went back to Ed to let him know.
Sometime later she was lying alone in her bed crying herself to sleep.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 38 – Anguish

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Derun of the year 68

Meyja stood in the shade of a house, and watched the entrance to Ed's shop. A few minutes ago, Tasim had disappeared behind the door, but she shied away from meeting one of the other Deathshade which is why she preferred to wait until he was gone. Since Aron had disappeared six months earlier, she kept it that way, and avoided contact with other people whenever possible.
Ed and Seth, the innkeeper from the Drunken Beggar, saw her now and then, but even of the two she would have liked to see less of. It was deep winter now and the whole city looked as beautiful as never, but she didn’t see this. Sighing, she leaned against the wall of the house and closed her eyes, but she tore them open again quickly when the darkness began to turn uncontrollably. She was still drunk and knew exactly how her boss would react to her, if she faced him in this state but she didn't care.
Ed worried about her, but she lacked the necessary empathy to realise this, instead she thought that he blamed her for Aron's disappearance, and could not be convinced otherwise. In truth, it was only she who looked for the fault in herself. For a while she even thought about leaving Sharaya, but in the end, it wouldn't matter where she was because Aron wouldn't be with her anywhere in the world.
The memory of him brought tears to her eyes which ran down her cheeks without her making any move to wipe them away. And so, she cried without making a sound until she heard the shop door slam.
Tasim was just walking past the alley in which she was standing, like every time he had been to his boss's, and she waited until he was out of sight before she started moving. She trudged through the slush expressionless, towards the shop, but before she had reached the door, Eralion emerged from the building not far from the entrance. She only saw him out of the corner of her eye, but she immediately turned away, turning her back on him, and quickened her pace.
"Meyja? Meyja!"
So, he had recognised her after all – cursing silently, she disappeared around the corner and ran.
Eralion ran after her, but when he also turned the corner, he couldn't see any trace of her, and stopped disappointed. He hadn’t seen her face, but had undoubtedly recognised her leather jacket. The body of the woman in the garment had looked thin, almost emaciated, the trousers had also been significantly too big, and his concern for her continued to grow. Since Aron went missing, he hadn't even met her, and he decided to finally get in touch with her as he had planned to do for a while.
When he went back to the store, and entered, Ed was standing behind the counter, and looked up.
"Good evening", Eralion greeted his boss.
"Likewise. You sure want new jobs. I'm sorry, but I couldn't get more than this one for you.” Ed handed him a roll of parchment. "You don't have to accept it; I can also give it to Meyja."
Eralion unrolled the document and read what it was about, then dropped his hands with a sigh. “Why always these poor families, Ed? Five kids…” he mumbled sadly.
Ed replied, “We don't like it. But if I start turning down orders, we can close next week. Then you all have no more income. Do you want it or not?"
The assassin thought for a moment, looked again at the written words, then handed the parchment back to Ed. “I can't do this, I'm sorry. Five children are just too many, even if I know that there shouldn't be any room for any scruples. But I ask you not to give it to Meyja, but to Deval or Raemur."
"Why shouldn't I give it to her?" Ed asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I just saw her, Ed, and you know how it is with her. You can also see how much you miss Aron, but she is a wreck. Does she even eat anything now and then? She's only skin and bones!” Eralion exclaimed.
"Mind your own business? Why don't you just leave her alone instead of kicking her?” Ed growled.
“That's not what I had in mind, it's just about her well-being. You should know that I am not a person who has resentment towards others. She is more successful than any of your men. In my eyes she has worked for it and I grant her it from the bottom of my heart. But if you're not careful, she'll be dead soon, Ed.” Eralion blinked.
"And you think that I'm not talking my mouth fluffy? The only effect my sermons have is that she comes here less often. Please go and try to talk to her, or leave a message for her. I would be surprised if she listens to you rather than me,” Ed replied.
“She evades me. I called her, but she just disappeared. Sometimes I stand by the window and stare at the entrance to your shop, but today I saw her for the first time in six months,” Eralion muttered.
“And she's not just avoiding you. The others have already asked if she is still working for me at all. But stop this staring thing. She'll see you anyway, and will wait for you to turn away before she even sets foot in front of your eyes,” Ed grumbled.
"Alright. I know where she lives, but I don't think she'll open the door if someone knocks, so I'll leave a note for her. Do you have something to write for me?” asked Eralion.
Ed passed him an empty sheet of parchment and placed his quill on it. “You really worry about her. Am I right? And you like her. I can see it in you."
Eralion avoided his gaze but he nodded silently.
“Keep your hands off her, she won't do you any good. You'd better find another woman, a really nice one, at best. Meyja is not exactly at your level, Eralion. This is not meant badly, but the two of you are too different, and I don't think she could find a place for you in her heart. Not after the thing with Aron, "Ed said seriously.
“Then we have the same opinion. I'm still worried,” replied Eralion.
After he started to write Ed turned and went into the back room where he noisily sorted his goods.
A few minutes later Eralion had finally found the right words and wrote them down, afterward he folded the letter and wrote Meyja's name on it.
He pushed his head through the curtain. “I'm done and left the note on the counter. Please give it to her when she comes."
"Okay. But don't get too hopeful,” Ed replied. "Until next week."
Eralion nodded again and then left the shop.
Not long after the door slammed the old gentleman went back to the front, unfolded the message, scanned the words, and sighed. Then he folded the slip again, put it back on the counter, and turned back to his list.
He had just returned to his work when suddenly Meyja was standing in front of him and he was startled. “Heavens, child! Don't sneak up on me like that!"
The left corner of her mouth twitched briefly but she said nothing.
He only looked at her for a second, but he already knew that Eralion was right because the young woman looked really neglected. The worn clothes her skinny body was in had seen better days, her hair was unkempt and greasy and her cheeks sunken.
“You stink of schnapps again. Didn't I tell you not to drink so much?” Ed growled.
"Are you happy with my work?" He nodded and she mumbled, "Then just leave me alone."
He couldn't think of anything anymore, so he shut up, pushed a stack of orders, and the list on which she signed at every point that he indicated with her finger. As usual, she didn't bother to look at the assignments beforehand, but simply accepted whatever he gave her.
“There is a family again, five children. Can you do it?” he asked softly.
She nodded. "Of course."
When she tucked the rolls of parchment under her arm and turned to face the exit, he stopped her. "Wait. Here's another message for you.” He handed her the folded piece of paper.
With another nod she grabbed it with two outstretched fingers, went out without a word, and made her way to her room in the Drunken Beggar.
When she arrived at the tavern, she had long since stuffed the orders under her shirt, and walked down the long hallway upstairs to the last door. She just couldn't go into the room in which she had slept with Aron for the first time, so she had forced Seth to give her another one. She unlocked the door, dropped the parchment rolls indifferently on the table, and sat down on the bed where she took out the note Ed had given her. Her fingers trembled as she unfolded the note, so she reached for the open liquor bottle that was by the bed, and took a long drag before starting to read.

Dear Meyja.
I thought I saw you on the street today and called for you, but apparently it was a mix-up. Nevertheless, this woman reminded me of you and I wonder how you are doing.
I mostly spend my days alone when I'm not working, so I think it would be nice to cook something and invite you over to my place.
No worries, I have no ulterior motives regarding this invitation, we would just eat something and chat a little – done.
It's just a meal, nothing more.
I'll do some shopping tomorrow and will be waiting for you in my flat in the evening.

For a few seconds she thought about accepting the invitation, but then she crumpled up the note and tossed it in some corner.
Eralion had known that it was her who he had seen when he wrote this message, otherwise he could never have been sure that she would still enter the shop today and so his motives were more than doubtful. Perhaps Ed had even asked him to invite her, so he could speak to her conscience. But she didn't want to talk to anyone, neither about herself nor about work, and certainly not about Aron.
Angry, she got up, stripped off her clothes, and crouched in the wooden tub where she washed herself with cold water. As every night after seeing Ed, she performed the same ritual, making sure she was clean from head to toe, and putting on fresh clothes. Afterwards she lay down on the bed, and waited, but because of her constant intoxication with alcohol she did not stay awake for long, and fell asleep after a short time.

She only woke up when the door opened, and sat up sleepily, a look at the window showed her that it was already completely dark.
"You are late today," she grumbled when she noticed.
Raemur turned the key in the lock. "I just had work to do." He sank down on the bed next to her and took off his boots. As he put his shoes aside, he noticed the crumpled parchment laying on the floor, and picked it up to read. "It seems like I'm not the only one interested in dating you." He grinned.
"As you can easily see, I decline the invitation," she replied.
He leaned over her. “A good decision. My cock is much bigger than his anyway."
She couldn't stand his glee. "Yours isn't that big either, so no reason to be conceited."
For a moment he looked at her, as if she had slapped him, then slowly nodded. "I understand. Would you prefer me to go?"
Her words weren't true, she had only wanted to hurt him by badmouthing the part of his body that was dearest to him, but she didn't want him to leave, even if she didn't care about him. The relationship between them was nothing more than a weekly meeting, during which they fell upon each other once or twice, and then went each of their own ways.
Raemur was an arrogant idiot, but he kept the necessary emotional distance from her that helped her grieve. Whenever she saw no more reason to hate herself, she slept with him, and then found herself again in the downward spiral of pain and emptiness. Beyond this state, she could no longer see any perspective, and didn’t know that there was something else in her life that was worth fighting for. Together with Aron, all happiness had vanished from the world for her.
"You stay here, and we'll have it, after that you can go," she whispered.
After he had finished with her, got dressed, and left, Meyja lay naked on the bed and cried silent tears when her self-hatred finally returned. When the mental anguish overwhelmed her, she reached for the schnapps bottle again and let herself fill up.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 39 – Key

The next evening Eralion waited in vain for Meyja and when the dinner which he had elaborately prepared, had finally cooled down, he put on his jacket, and left the flat. He headed purposefully towards the shop and pushed open the front door.
"Let me guess, she didn't come, did she?" Ed asked immediately when he saw him.
Eralion shook his head. “So, you've read my message, too. Well, I don't care, but you said at some point that Aron left a key for his flat with you..."
"No, you don't get that," his boss interrupted immediately. “Aron gave it to me in confidence, and I won't let him down. Sorry."
“But it's about Meyja. Aron loved her, and if he knew what was going on he would even want you to give me the key. We have to do something, there is no other way.” Eralion looked at Ed urgently.
The older man hesitated visibly, but then nodded. "Fine. Still, I won't let you walk around with the key alone, we'll go together. Wait here, I'll get it.” He turned and disappeared behind the curtain, after a few moments he was back. "Let's go."
They left the store together, Ed locked the door, and they walked side by side in silence until they reached the house in which Aron's flat was.
"The windows are dark," Ed muttered. "It looks like we're unlucky."
"Let's at least have a look," replied Eralion and looked up at the building.
Ed opened the front door without a word, and dragged himself up the stairs, stopped in front of the flat and knocked. "Here's Ed!" he shouted and both listened intently.
But even after knocking several times and waiting several minutes in vain, no one answered, so Eralion put his ear to the wood and listened. "Nothing. Not a single sound."
“Then she's just not at home. At least, she got a mountain of tasks, so she'll have her hands full with that.” Ed turned around and was about to go back down the stairs.
But Eralion quickly took the key from his hand. "I prefer to play it safe."
"You can't just break into her apartment!" Ed scolded, but then the door swung open, and he fell silent.
Eralion moved slowly into the room which was only illuminated by the faint moonlight that penetrated the clouds in the sky. He lit one of the lanterns and Ed who had followed him as suspected to satisfy his natural curiosity closed the door.
A finger-thick layer of dust lay on the furniture, covering almost every stain although the apartment was still furnished with Aron's personal belongings, there were even several pairs of boots near the entrance, but unlike the rest of the apartment, these things were clean and free of dust. In the midst of all the dirt, Eralion discovered footprints that could only have come from Meyja in terms of size – no man had such small feet.
Ed whispered, "She doesn't live here anymore, but it looks like she goes in and out regularly."
“It is almost reminiscent of a kind of shrine. As if she was just coming here to check on his old stuff,” Eralion said softly, and went to one of the dressers, opened a drawer, and looked inside.
Meanwhile, Ed made his way into the next room. “There's even some wine left here. Smells old."
When Eralion turned to follow his boss, he was almost scared to death.
Meyja stood right in front of him and stared at him with hatred.
Although she was much smaller, he involuntarily got scared, and mumbled in a trembling voice, "Ed..."
Ed stuck his head through the door and was about to say something when she hissed, "What are you doing here?"
"We wanted to check on you because we're worried, that's all," Ed replied, stepping closer.
"So, you're breaking into strangers' apartments because you're worried, I understand," she whispered. “Your worries are unwarranted, as is your intrusion here. And now out."
Eralion replied, "Meyja, we..."
"Out! Immediately!” she yelled, beside herself with anger. "Shear off! I don't want to see you!” She snatched the key from Eralion's hand and pointed to the door.
When neither moved, she stormed out of the room, and down the stairs. The outburst of anger had cost her so much strength that she could no longer hold back the tears. She made it around two corners of the house, and collapsed there, fell sobbing on the snow-covered ground, and curled up, arms around her legs, and forehead pressed to her knees.
Despite the loud protests of his boss, Eralion ran after her immediately, and was relieved to find that he hadn't lost her this time. But before he dared to go to her, he waited for Ed, and with a finger on his lips motioned for him to be quiet so that she would not flee again.
"Come on, we'll just leave her alone," Ed whispered.
Eralion shook his head and whispered back, “I can't just leave her sitting here, after all, it's snowing right now. Go ahead, I'll take care of her."
Ed nodded and gave him a quick pat on the shoulder before walking away.
Reluctantly, Eralion stepped up to Meyja and sank to the ground next to her, sat for a while, and watched as thick snowflakes fell from the sky and remained on his knees. There was something calming and peaceful about the sight, but it did nothing to alleviate the turmoil in his heart.
At some point he realised that Meyja had stopped crying and when he looked over at her, she also watched the slow fall of the white flakes.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" he whispered.
She just nodded silently before her jaw began to shake again and tears ran down her cheeks.
The snow reminded her of her home country and of her brother whom she like Aron had also lost. There was no one left in this world that she could trust, or even want. Every person she had loved was gone or dead. She felt the hopelessness that tore her down as Eralion put his arm around her shoulders.
Inside her there was nothing, but black emptiness, and she didn't even notice that the man sitting next to her was just waiting for her to accept his help which he would be only too happy to give her. Nor did she notice the cold which slowly crept into her limbs and quickly made her thin body tremble, the pain numbed her senses too much. She felt as if she was bleeding to death inside, as if her existence had long since faded, and would soon disappear completely, she could no longer breathe although her chest rose and fell almost in panic.
When she began to cry uncontrollably again, Eralion looked at her anxiously, and just didn't know what to do, so he held her until she began to shiver from the cold.
"I'll take you out of here, you're freezing," he muttered kneeling in the snow.
He gave her the opportunity to turn down his offer, but she didn't react, kept sobbing, so he took her in his arms like a child, and picked her up.
Then he carried her through the deserted nocturnal streets of Sharaya to Ed's shop because he didn't know where she lived now that the apartment was so neglected. Fortunately, the door wasn't locked and he pushed it open with his back. He backed through the curtain into the back room and continued up the stairs, being careful not to bump into anything.
Ed stood up from the table without a word and opened the passage to his bedroom, even took off Meyja's poorly laced boots. Eralion put her gently on the bed before he covered her and left the room again.
Ed quietly closed the door behind him. "She should eat something warm, at least some soup."
"I'll cook some, it won't take long." Eralion nodded.
Ed pointed to his little stove in the corner. “I have everything here; you don't have to go to your apartment first. You can both stay here, if you wanted, although I don't think Meyja will be able to make a decision.” He looked worried.
Eralion was just putting a saucepan on the hot surface of the oven. "It's okay, I'll wait until she sleeps and then go home."
"You're too good for this world, boy," Ed muttered.
“What nonsense. Better help me cut the vegetables before you get maudlin again,” Eralion answered and winked at him mischievously.
Sighing Ed reached for a knife, but had to suppress a smile as he started chopping up onions, potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables. Eralion put everything in the pot and sautéed it with a little lard before throwing a few chunks of meat afterwards to make it a little richer and finally topping up the mixture with water.
“It doesn't take five minutes, just stir occasionally. In the meantime, I'll see how she's doing,” Eralion said quietly.
Ed nodded and took the soup ladle, stirring the fragrant contents of the pot before going to fetch three bowls and spoons.
Eralion carefully opened the door to the bedroom and went in, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Meyja's eyes avoided him, she lay there with an expressionless face and tried hard to suppress the chattering of her teeth. Her lips were blue and she couldn't feel her toes anymore, but she didn't let it show how much she was still freezing in the hope of being able to get rid of Eralion.
"How are you feeling?" he asked softly.
"Good," she lied flatly.
He sighed. “I'm sure you feel all but not good. You're still cold, I can see it and the bed is shaking from your shivering. I could go get you another blanket."
She just shook her head.
It was dark in the room, but when he took a closer look, he saw that her hair was wet, so he raised the blanket in alarm. "You are completely soaked."
He got up and left the room, but she could hear him asking Ed for dry clothes, so she quickly got up, unlocked the window, and pushed it up silently. She climbed through carefully, being careful not to slip on the icy roof, and then jumped out onto the street. Before either of the two noticed her escape, she had long since disappeared between the houses.
Eralion was walking back into the bedroom with one of Ed's shirts and linen pants when he saw that she was gone. Resigned, he closed the window, threw the clothes on the abandoned bed and went back next door.
"She ran away," he said quietly and sat down at the table with his boss.
Ed made an annoyed sound. "Bloody hell."
They were silent for a few minutes, then he pushed a bowl of soup over to Eralion and they ate together.

Copyright: Larissa Doe

Chapter 40 - Sarpeydon

Sharaya, Kingdom of Jevarish, Fulgyr of the year 69

A year after his disappearance still no one had heard from Aron. The target he was planning to kill at the time also did not divulge any new information under torture. Apparently, the missing person hadn't even tried to carry out the assignment. The thought that Aron was gone and from now on she was alone again hadn't become more bearable for Meyja and she spent many evenings getting drunk to the point of unconsciousness. For an entire year after his disappearance Meyja sometimes ran after strangers on the street and hugged them because she thought it was her fiancé but she only got confused looks.
Although she was still grieving so much, she worked obsessively for Ed taking on the jobs that would have previously gone to Aron and even replacing him entirely.
She still avoided all the places she had previously visited with Aron and did not go back to her flat because Ed and Eralion had discovered her secret. She had kept her promise to fight Crom, but he had easily defeated the runner-up and she has not visited the Stone Hall since then. She would not have cared, if someone had challenged her, but that would have had to defeat her or Crom and that someone beat him was next to impossible.
Meyja just left the shop where she had received the reward for an order and stepped out into the street. Now she needed something to drink first, so she turned left and walked towards the Gravelpath Tavern closest to the shop. She opened the door, entered the dim dining room, and greeted the landlord Jared whom she still knew from running errands. Then she went to a small table with two chairs not because it was the only one free, but because it was a little apart and she wanted her peace and quiet. The two guests who were here besides her were sitting at the bar and had studied her for a moment when she came in.
Jared stepped to her table and greeted her, "Meyja, long time no see. What can I bring you and how is Ed's business doing?"
“Good evening, Jared. Sarpeydon and please always refill. Business is going as usual as far as I know. But I haven't been Ed's messenger for a long time so you'll have to ask him about it yourself,” she replied.
Jared nodded and went to get her Sarpeydon. When he got behind the counter the door opened again and a familiar face strolled in.
Eralion greeted Jared with a handshake and was about to sit down at the counter when he saw her.
'Please don’t...', she thought.
Instead, he came over to her table. "Meyja, what are you doing here?"
"Just drink and stumble home afterwards," she replied honestly.
"Do you mind if I sit down with you?" he asked politely for her permission and sat down when she was forced to allow him.
Eralion knew that Ed had washed her head after she had simply fled the store, but she hadn't cared, she had just shrugged and said nothing. She still looked just as finished as last year, the only thing that had changed now were the dark circles under her eyes.
Jared came back to the table, brought Meyja’s Sarpeydon, which was drunk from a kind of square glass flask and a mug of beer for Eralion.
"The usual for you, I assumed," growled Jared and Eralion nodded his thanks.
"You seem to be a regular here," mumbled Meyja and took a sip of the strong schnapps, as if it were just water.
She was annoyed by her ignorance in this regard because he probably came here often and she still hadn't been able to avoid him successfully.
Eralion nodded again and pointed to her drink. "That was apparently no joke with the staggering."
She made no reply. "Forgive me, please. What are we drinking to?” she asked flatly.
Eralion raised his mug. "On you."
She didn't care what he wanted to toast to she just did it, but she wasn't really comfortable sitting here with him and drinking together. Nobody should notice that she had a problem giving up drinking. Although he knew about her addiction, she didn't care about it either.
"How are the orders going?" he wanted to know and took a sip from his mug.
"Good," she replied tersely.
"What else?" He looked at her worriedly as she finished off the rest of the Sarpeydon all at once.
"Second place in the Stone Hall" Meyja mentioned evasively, but kept silent that she had not been there for half an eternity.
He also emptied his mug. "My greatest respect. That is a remarkable achievement."
Jared came to their table and brought supplies for Meyja.
Eralion went with her to her displeasure and also ordered Sarpeydon. Besides wanting to be alone she didn't want to be responsible for him getting drunk.
"And with you?" she asked, pushing her flask against his.
"Very well, I have a wife and three children so it couldn't be better," he remarked cynically and took a sip grimacing.
"So bad." She drank, too, knowing that none of the Deathshade was married and that he would have wished it anyway.
He shook his head gently. "I'm sorry. It doesn't go that badly, but you only live from one day to the next."
"Who are you saying that," Meyja whispered.
They drank the rest of the schnapps in silence and hung on their dark thoughts until Jared poured again.
Eralion raised his vessel again and toasted it with her, "On happier topics." Despite his half-hearted attempt, they simply sat in silence at the table for several hours and drank together.
It didn’t matter that she was used to the alcohol Meyja already felt a bit drunk and she studied the Deathshade inconspicuously. She noticed that she still liked him very much, if not nearly as much as Aron, but she quickly pushed the thought of her fiancé aside and devoted the thoughts back to her counterpart. Eralion was a really nice guy and outwardly hadn't changed much in the last year and he also managed to not annoy her, even if he had been drinking – he knew how to shut up.
"What is it?" he asked when he noticed her look.
She looked down at the table again and shook her head. "I was just wondering how old you are. I find it hard to guess," she admitted when she looked at him again.
"Twenty-nine. And you?” he replied.
She frowned. "What year are we?"
"It's Fulgyr 69," he replied shocked that she didn't even know how old she was at the moment.
“Then I'll be twenty-two. Even if you shouldn't ask a lady such a question,” she muttered.
"Sorry, the Sarpeydon is making me naughty," he apologized.
"Me too." Meyja bit her tongue. "That... that was... meant differently... not like that..." She turned bright red.
Eralion laughed, and replied, “I didn't understand it that way either, don't worry. Even if it's kind of cute when you blush."
"Come to Renny and I'll show you something cute!" she snapped in mock indignation, but then she grinned cautiously and quickly drank off her Sarpeydon.
This stuff makes me too talkative…’ she thought.
"Better not. I would probably end up with a broken arm again,” he remarked and also emptied his butt.
They both laughed uproariously. The other two guests looked a little annoyed at them, but they didn't care in the least.
“It's late and we're pretty drunk. Maybe we should leave it for today. You'll stagger anyway so your plan actually worked,” he said and Meyja nodded.
When Jared came to refill them, they both waved it off and paid instead.
Shortly afterwards they stepped outside and Eralion had to catch Meyja when she almost fell over the doorstep.
Groaning she held on to him. "Thanks, without you I would have probably just made a fool of myself."
"It's okay, you're welcome," he replied and led her on, his arm around her shoulders.
She was a little surprised at this gesture, but she just let it happen since she didn't worry about her morals anyway when she had been drinking.
"Do we have to go the same way home?" he asked with a slight slur in his voice.
"Yes, at least a bit," she whispered and put an arm around him as well. She did not want to be alone again. Unconsciously admitted in her drunken state that she sometimes lacked the company of other people.
So, they walked through the almost deserted streets of the nocturnal city until they arrived at the alley in which Eralion lived.
"I guess I'll have to do the rest myself", Meyja remarked, and let her arm slip from his waist.
He let go of her, too, and turned to her when she stopped. "Are you going back to your flat?"
"No." She returned his gaze for a moment and then hugged him. "Good night," she mumbled into his ear.
Before Meyja knew what was happening she pressed her lips to his. Eralion returned the kiss and hugged her gently before pulling away from her and taking a step back.
"Meyja, you are drunk," he remarked.
"You also."
He went up to her again and kissed her again, demanding, pressed himself against her and Meyja felt the need in her midst which she had not felt since she had sent Raemur into the desert two months earlier.
When Eralion gently pulled her into the alley she willingly went with him. They couldn't let go of each other it took an eternity to reach the top of the stairs and again until he could put the key in the lock.
When Meyja finally staggered into the room behind him he slammed the door shut with his foot and kissed her again deeply while she slowly pushed her hands under his shirt and let her fingers glide over his skin. Eralion smelled incredibly attractive and she awkwardly pulled the linen fabric over his head then eyed him. As she had once suspected he was actually not overly muscular, but rather wiry in shape. Then she stripped off her own shirt and gave him an embarrassed look when he looked at her bare torso.
"That suits you a lot better than me," he remarked in a dark voice as he loosened her chest strap.

Meyja woke up dazed and looked around the room, disoriented. Where was she? She turned her head to the left, Eralion was laying next to her and had an arm over her.
'Crap...', she thought.
When she started to keep her distance unnoticed, he woke up.
For a moment he also looked confused, then he realised who was lying next to him and where they were. He took his hands from her, closed his eyes, and whispered, "We haven't...?"
"Yes, we have," Meyja replied softly and bit her lower lip, pulled the sheet over her naked body before she got up.
"We probably had a little too much Sarpeydon last night, it seems to me." He looked up at her, then realised that he, too, was naked, and he hastily covered his middle with one hand.
"It's okay, that's nothing I haven't seen tonight," she said dryly and sat down on the edge of the bed, giving him back his sheet.
He asked in astonishment, "You can remember everything?"
He had already noticed the scars on her back on the evening of their welcome party, but now he realised that these could hardly be injuries that one sustained in a fight. In addition, she had become so thin that he could see each of her vertebrae and the individual ribs.
"Not everything but a large part of it." She didn't dare look at him.
“We said goodbye, didn't we? The memories are slowly coming back,” he mentioned.
She nodded with a sigh then covered her face with her hands and looked at her knees.
"Are you alright?" Eralion asked worried and sat down next to her.
"I was just wondering, if that was a mistake," she whispered.
He thought for a moment then shrugged. “I don't know to be honest. Do you think it was?"
"I don't know." She dropped her hands again.
A beautiful woman was sitting next to him on his bed, a woman he had the greatest respect for and last night something had happened between the two of them that he had never expected and yet in a certain way wanted for so long. He'd been in love with her ever since they'd danced in the shop at her welcome party. When she got engaged to Aron just minutes later, he was both happy for her, and sad at the same time. But now Aron was gone and Eralion had a guilty conscience because he had attended her although her heart belonged to someone else. Aron was his brother in battle and if he was still alive, they would have both so to speak betrayed him. Still, he had to reveal the truth to her – now or never. She was alone, Aron was gone or dead, and neither would change the situation in which she was because she was alone one way or another.
"Meyja, I..." he began, pausing when she looked at him questioningly. Her gaze encouraged him to pour out his heart however, and he continued, “I have to confess something to you. I've been feeling it for quite a while and now after this night I feel obliged to tell you. My feelings for you are not just friendly. I love you and miss you all the time when I can't see you.” He looked down at his hands and waited for her to answer.
"That really honours me but I don't know if I'm ready," she replied quietly and when he looked up at her he saw sadness in her eyes.
“I am aware that it is difficult and that will not change anytime soon. But know that you can always come to me when you are ready."
She nodded before standing up and reaching for her clothes. Eralion stopped himself from watching her get dressed, only when she said goodbye, he did turn his gaze back to her.
"I'll think about it, I promise. See you soon."
Before the door closed behind her, he replied, "See you soon, Meyja."

Copyright: Larissa Doe