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She was full of bullshit. From the first line out of her mouth, Robin knew that he wasn’t going to get the whole story—or even part of the story. She’s the sort of person that gives just enough truth to make what she says plausible, a grain of sand in an ocean of lies.
He didn’t even know her true name. Ms. Heart, Alicia, Saralynn: all of them were aliases that she had used at one point or other. Whatever her name, he had finally caught her; he wasn’t about to let her go.
Robin led her on a rope, her hands bound. He would have hobbled her as well, but that would have been another liability. Escaping from the restless is far harder with a girl that can’t run. He hadn’t spoken much to her over the past few days for a reason. There’s no reason to form an attachment, after all.
But all of that had changed that morning. A homing pigeon had found him; its message was short, but grim. He was to deliver the girl to Point Hope, a town that was known for its rash of disappearing people—especially those that happened to travel through it. Robin didn’t mind sending the thief there—he did mind walking into the town himself. He didn’t want to risk his neck without knowing all of the facts.
I guess a job’s a job. Robin sighed inwardly; he was going to have to negotiate a pay rise for all that the girl had put him through. Now, they were travelling through the back country: dangerous territory. But it would have been far more dangerous to take the roads. Bound as she was, the girl would have attracted too much attention—and others may have sought to release her.
After days of hard travelling, though, they were finally approaching the town. Robin could smell the earthy stench of the swamps, the aroma of decay and rot. It wafted in the bitter wind, a scent that he would always recognize; it smelled of home. The ground was becoming softer, wetter, muddier. The trees were beginning to thin, allowing less cover and fewer places to escape to. If it came down to it, they’d have to run.
There was the sound of rustling leaves, and Robin turned his head. A small figure appeared from the underbrush, her layers of clothes wrapped tightly around her, her face looking out from beneath a heavy hood. Robin nodded toward her, “Anything to report, Danielle?”
Danielle seemed to hesitate. It was hard to tell where she was looking with those black eyes, but Robin sensed that she was glancing at the thief. News better left unsaid, then. He nodded toward her and let out the lead on the rope, casting a firm glance back at the girl. She looked slightly bored, her blue eyes glancing at the surrounding scenery as if she were on an afternoon stroll. Robin leaned forward so that Danielle could whisper in his ear.
“There’s a surfa…I mean, a man following us. He has a large burn on the side of his face, and a gun.”
Robin leaned back and nearly swore. Jay, why the hell are you still following us? His mind raced. What could the man hope to gain by this point?
He probably wants a slice of the pie.
He shouldn’t have expected anything less. Robin quickly leaned forward again, whispering to Danielle, “What I tell you next is very important, so listen well. He’s probably following our tracks, so I need you to mislead him. Pick up our trail about half a mile back and start leading him in circles. We need to delay him until we get to the town.”
Danielle remained silent. Robin could see his reflection in the black surfaces of her eyes, a dark mirror. She gave a quick nod and turned, darting off into the trees. He felt a twinge of guilt, but quickly shook it off. Guilt was for the weak, for those that couldn’t get the job done.
He turned to look back at the thief. She had an arched brow, her mouth turned upward in a cheeky smile, “Trouble in paradise?”
Robin didn’t respond. He shortened the lead again and continued to walk, dragging her with him. I only have to put up with her a little longer. Just a little longer.
They walked for hours, only stopping to drink some water and eat the last of the jerky that Robin had brought with him. Danielle still hadn’t returned. The sun sank low on the horizon, casting the marshy forest into darkness. If Robin was correct in his calculations, they were about two hours away from the town; he wasn’t going to stop for the night.
A stiff wind began to pick up, bringing with it the crisp cold scent of snow. Robin closed his eyes, listening as branches snapped against one another. Still, the sound of footsteps remained elusive.
“Do you think she’s coming back?”
Robin didn’t bother looking over his shoulder at the thief, “She will.”
“She’s been gone a long time. She could have gotten lost.”
Robin didn’t respond. She was resourceful; she’d be fine. He didn’t have to worry about her.
“If she went too far back, she may have run into the restless. Maybe that’s why she’s taking so long.”
Robin turned. His eyes picked out the thief’s features: her red-brown hair, her slim figure, the red welt on her neck. He tightened his grip on the lead, “The restless calm down during the winter months. It’s cold enough tonight that they shouldn’t be an issue.”
The thief glanced toward the side, as if considering what he had said, “It was cold the night they attacked the first time. What’s to say they didn’t rise again?”
Robin jerked the lead so hard that the thief gasped, her bound hands flying to her throat. He pulled her inches from his face, his eyes gazing into hers as he tried to contain his irritation, “You’ve been lying continuously…from the very moment you opened your mouth when we first met. You’re selfish and arrogant. You’re a thief, a lowlife. You’ve been caught, and I may not be able to kill you but I can make things very uncomfortable for you. So take my advice and for once in your life, shut up.”
The thief remained silent for a moment, staring at him. Slowly, she lowered her eyes. Her voice when she spoke was barely over a whisper, “It’s Kari.”
“That’s my real name. It’s Kari.”
Robin watched her a moment longer, “And why should I believe that?”
She slowly raised her eyes to look at him again, “Because for once in my life, I’m not lying.”
That’s when Robin heard the sound of someone cocking a gun. A man stepped out from the tree line, his face warped on one side from a bad burn. The smile he gave them was more of a grimace, “Well isn’t that fucking sweet. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything. Now hand over the girl, Robin, and no one gets hurt.”