Haug Handslayer frowned as he watched Y’lanna Sparti leave the galley car. She was good enough to look upon, no doubt about that, for all her strangeness. He assumed she was a shapeshifter. They get that way sometimes, stuck carrying bits of their changes permanently. That just made her the more alluring to him. Yes, indeed, he’d go for a roll or two with that one, any time she pleased.
But still, there was something about her that knitted the brows over his broken nose. She was too sweet and coy by half, the tease. Was she a spy of some sort? An assassin, maybe? And pulling the old “lost family treasure” ploy — cute. The mountains of Raurugia were fairly paved with “lost” family treasures, and he knew just the sorts of folks she’d be talking to find one, or two, or a wagon-load. Yes, this lady could be trouble, but trouble enough to cancel out the chance for fun? That was the question.
As she slipped out at the far end of the car, Ashcat and the others of his gang came in. Haug quickly made his expression neutral.
Ashcat jerked a thumb in the direction of the departed Y’lanna. “That one again. What in the Pit is she supposed to be?”
Haug shrugged. “Some faerie. Meadow tribe, probably, from Danul. They’re always turning into flowers and such like.” Making things up on the spot came naturally to him, a talent that had kept him out of a many a prison cell.
“What flower looks like that?”
“How would I know? Do I look like a corkin’ herbalist?”
Ashcat glowered, and Haug let his face slip deeper into neutrality.
“And what’s all this?” the gang leader continued, sitting down and taking a chunk of cheese. “I told you to check the train, not give a treat to a cheap doxie.”
“I did check it,” Haug lied again. “There ain’t nothing special on it.”
“Aye,” agreed the other searcher, “a few screws and jacks and the rest peddlers from the festival, headed home most like.”
Haug nodded as the others helped themselves to the remainder of the meal he’d shared with Y’lanna and called for another pitcher of ale. The four made a mixed group. A phooka faerie who went by the name Switchtail, with a narrow, goat-like face and his arm fresh out of a splint to fix a broken wrist. A dark elf named Elda, still nursing a crossbow wound to her shoulder. She was part of the reason they’d pursued the flying ship from Sesus, but only part. By rights, she should still be in town, but like all her kind, pain only made her more thirsty for revenge. And finally Ashcat and Haug himself, both strong and burly — Haug the larger of the two — their ethnically mixed features being a hallmark of Lyr’s Broken Realm, especially outside the elfin cities. The two men had a tendency to regard each other coolly.
Haug had only been with this outfit some two years or so, since the day Ashcat killed his former boss and absorbed his thieves and fighters into the Cobs Alley gang. Haug didn’t much like this half-hob, but then he hadn’t liked the earlier boss, either. Both of them had been half-copper leg-breakers running torch and fence operations, and neither was likely to take the Handslayer where he wanted to go.
But a job was a job, and one didn’t make one’s fame by not doing one’s job.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the train…
Ruili Windwolf smiled when he saw Y’lanna coming down the corridor as he was coming up it. Refreshed by sleep, a comb through his long, loose hair, and a fresh shirt, he greeted his companion.
“Ah, there you are. Did you enjoy yourself? See anything of interest? I awoke with a monstrous great appetite and am headed for the galley. I’m in a mood for a smoked herring if they’ve got any. Care to join me?”
Squeezing around Y’lanna in the narrow space, he tilted his head to beckon her along.
And from the other end of the train, a cloaked figure made his way silently up to the galley as well, as there were too many hours till the next stop to wait to eat in a town.