Chapter 47 of Lead Heart has arrived. What is Karina hoping to do in the future?
Wind ruffled Leliana’s hair as she stargazed, waiting to fall asleep. It blew through the forest, over trees and beasts, and rippled the waters of countless streams before finally brushing the crowds of the main body of the traveling monks. More than once a listener whipped their head toward the darkness beyond their campfire. Jumping at shadows, most decided.
Most were asleep already, sore and drained from a day of tearing down pavilions and preparing their own gear for travel. Veterans of the march understood how terrible it felt to spend the day packing and set off the next, so everything was usually completed two days before they set off.
More than night-owl returned to their conversations to find something out of place. Knives, coin purses, bottles of alcohol, vanished into thin air.
A few cries of confusion caused those nearby to check their own possessions. In just a few minutes, the camp erupted into chaos. Neighbors accused neighbors of theft,a few started brawling outright. Many of the monks were drawn from their posts at the perimeter to mediate disputes. Amid the chaos of it all, a slim figure skirted the throng of people before slipping into the darkness. No sound issued from the retreating footsteps. No eyes watched the figure become the darkness to watch them from afar.
Karina’s blood raced and she was smiling ear to ear, having a hard time forcing herself to be quiet.
I forgot what it was like acting under peoples’ noses she thought to herself.
Crisp, sweet honey sticks snapped and dissolved in her mouth. Wordlessly, she watched the robed figures sort the crowd from atop a grassy knoll. Guilt gnawed at her, demanding the return of the stolen possessions – and she would! Most of it.
Not the candy.
“It’s unhealthy. I’m doing them a favor.”
Not too much time passed before the situation had calmed below, allowing the monks to pull back. “I guess it’s time to get back to work.” She sighed.
Karina slipped the blue shirt over her head and pulled off her jeans, revealing the tight black-and-grey mottled body suit. The fabric was sufficiently loose at the joints, yet tight enough elsewhere to be quiet while she moved. It was also extremely soft.
The discarded clothing was shoved into a small cloth bag that made a soft whump as it was tossed aside. Karina slunk back down the slope. She stayed well away from the flickering firelight this time, instead tailing a young man in the customary brown robes. The monk orbited the big encampment, one of a score that patrolled every hour or so.
Grass crunched beneath his wooden sandals, covering her approach. She kept a good dozen feet between them as her feet re-learned the art of stealth. They walked in sync, Karina matching the youth’s cadence, a trick she was praised for many times as an amateur footpad. The young man’s head lolled in front of her.
Probably tired, she mused. Not a particularly difficult target, admittedly.
A sudden thought set the blood pounding in her ears, her fingers itching to be used. An amusing way to up the difficulty, she smiled.
Small sticks and stones, and an unfortunate mummified prairie dog, all made their way into the boy’s loose pockets over the next mile. She wasn’t exactly sure this counted; sure he was a monk, but he couldn’t have been more than 19, and the boy was practically sleep-walking.
Well, practice is practice.
Karina lobbed a rock to the left, timing the next throw so the two collided with a crack.
The boy looked left, she escaped right. She stalked carefully until well outside earshot. The mile-and-a-half back to her bag was a good warm up, late-fall air caressing her flushed cheeks with its icy tendrils. She allowed herself to enjoy the exercise
“Might as well enjoy it,” she huffed.
“Might as well enjoy it.” A sinister echo crawled in her ear. Dirty claws traced a line down one exposed shoulder. “The task is simple. Climb to the top, or die.”
This promised to be a long night.
“Are you quite sure you’ve made up your mind, weary little friend of mine?”
Gib set aside the copy of The Traveler he’d been reading while his best friend slept. He’d been positive he’d caught every last one, but she’d snuck a bottle by him anyway. He realized his oversight when the sound of retching oozed out of the tent.
Jovi’s bloodshot eyes seemed unclouded by both doubt or spirit. “I’m sure Gib. I love you dearly and I’m sorry to say it, but I’m not cut out for that lifestyle anymore – if I ever was-” She was cut off by a spell of dry heaving. “I’m holding you back big guy, you need room to stretch your legs, after all. Go have some fun, see the sights, come grab me in a year.”
Gib embraced his friend. An acrid tang hit his nose like a blow, a sensation he focused on to halt the tears threatening to escape. “Alright then. Indulge me once more. Allow me to be the steed to carry you triumphantly into the presence of the Speaker. For old times’ sake.”
Jovi squealed as she was hoisted up, playfully punching the shoulder she was sat upon. “Be careful you brute. Any jostling and I can’t guarantee you won’t be in the splash zone when I hurl.”
They marched to the edge of the camp together, and Jovi would don the brown robes once again.