Rowan woke up late that morning. Beside her — or rather, with arms wrapped around her waist — Eloise clung to her like a lost puppy. Rowan had felt so exhausted she did not know when Eloise slept beside her. She wished Eloise would stop already. She did not know what to do. She had every right to be angry with her. And yet…she could not make herself hate her. Her body felt nice and warm draped over Rowan’s back. She hated that she seemed to like it so much.
In her dreams she sometimes felt the hands over her body, the sweat over her skin, the lips around her own. She felt the raw desperation for dominance, she also felt the pain. Yet she still could not think of hating her, or hating it, and she could not explain why.
Rowan looked behind her for a moment. Asleep, the terror of the basic programming halls actually looked vulnerable, confused, lost. She also seemed to have found peace. That she found it in her, that made Rowan worried.
She found something strung around her neck as she sat up. It was something heavy. She held it up to her face.
Rowan found two memory jewels, a ruby and a diamond, strung together in one necklace. She was certain they were not hers, therefore someone else owned them and gave or lent it to her. She immediately wanted to go to the bank and keep it in a safety box, or to go to a lending shop to get some money out of them. She was sure to lose it in a fistfight or some rumble. The jewels did not come with a paper of instructions, though, about what to best do with them. She could probably read through the jewels and see who owns them.
She quickly resurfaced memories for the memory diamond. She found someone she never met, but judging from his long red hair, the owner must have been one of the earlier Crimson Masters. She read through it a little more, and found someone she did know: a younger, still quiet and sullen, current Crimson Master, Assistant Lan.
She stopped reading. That meant the memory diamond was owned by Lan’s master. The memory ruby was probably Lan’s own jewel. But why did Assistant Lan leave her with both jewels?
The fastest assumption about Melancho of northeast left a bitter taste.
Rowan stroked Eloise’s hair as she gently loosened herself from the girl’s embrace. She hastily dressed in her most comfortable clothes — the shirt being one of Lan’s, incidentally — and left the room.
First she went up and down the defense committee building, asking anyone and everyone if they had seen Assistant Lan, ending with Marceau. That member of the defense committee wisely told Rowan to leave the jewels in her possession.
The guards of the building did say they found him walking out for a stroll toward the academic district. She took off on a run. Asking around the defense committee had taken half an hour. And she had woken up late, who knows how long it had been since Assistant Lan had left.
She first ran to the fire programmer guildhouse, hoping he just went home to get some things. But the people at the gate had not seen him; and in these moment of added vigilance, they could likely be believed.
She tried the advanced training halls. They have been closed this last week or two, due to the violence in the streets. Even the teachers were gone. No one had seen Lan.
She finally tried the basic training hall and ran into the building. The rooms were deserted except for defense committee guards patrolling the hallways for robbers. No teachers nor assistants had recently been seen inside the training hall.
She still hoped that, wherever that sullen redhead was, he was still alright.
She headed toward the main entrance of the basic training hall. Standing at the top of the stairs, she finally found her target.
Assistant Lan stood at the battered remains of the Harmony coffee shop. Beside him was the coffee shop’s owner, her chief.
Rowan arrived in time to see the chief swipe at the back of the assistant’s neck, and the assistant collapse onto the chief’s arm.
“Chief!” Rowan ran up to them. “What are you doing? Chief!”
The sandy-haired Selati ignored her, and hauled Assistant Lan over a shoulder.
Rowan trotted quickly, and blocked his path. “Put him down, Chief. You’re better than this.”
“Have you lost your mind, all for this personal revenge of yours?”
The irritation made her step forward angrily. “In the name of that One you think so highly of, he’s your friend! Let him go!”
He kept chuckling. “Here, Rowan? Like this? Master Lan will be robbed, yes?”
This made Rowan stop and glare at her chief. He had totally gone mad. “That’s it. I don’t care about you anymore. I don’t even care if anything I say still gets to your crazy head. I can’t help your people, if you keep on being like this. Now let go of Assistant Lan, or I’ll force it off you.” She clenched her fists, and readied to charge at any moment, expert fighter her chief may be or not.
Soji did frown at this point. Then he clamped a hand down at Rowan’s shoulder. “Come.”
“With you? Like that? No way!” Rowan declared.
Soji turned her around and shoved her forward. He clamped a hand over her shoulder again, and pushed her along.
“I’m going to tell on you to Marceau of the defense committee!” Rowan squealed under that heavily-clamped hand. “I’ll tell Miss Beika!”
“Tale-teller Rowan. Never happen,” Soji flatly said, pushing her forward again. “Walk.”
Rowan found herself pushed through a maze of narrow streets and alleys that she may have seen before with Chie. The paths turned left and right so much that she could not seem to master the exact directions, in order to get in and out of such a place alone herself.
Occasionally she looked behind her. The chief was still grim. The assistant was still unconscious and slung over a shoulder.
He finally stopped at the back of a house, a different one from the one she entered with Chie. He spoke a few words to the door in Selati, then waited until it opened.
He shoved Rowan past the door. Then he marched her through the kitchen and down through the stairs into the basement. This one was brighter but smaller than the one Rowan saw before.
They were met by a tired and familiar heal programmer. “Please don’t tell me he’s gone to kill himself again,” she said.
Soji gently lay the assistant down onto the floor over a sheet and placed a pillow under his head. “Just…ah…kept Master Lan quiet. Will be awake in a while.”
Beika bent down and placed a hand over Lan’s heart, then his head. “Maybe not for a while, he’s running a fever. What is he doing here, Soji?” she asked, rather sternly.
“Not sure yet. Want to talk,” the Selati replied, placing a thin blanket over the redhaired newcomer.
“Negotiate. Oh, sure, Melancho negotiate,” Beika said bitterly. “And the tomboy?”
“Worry about Master Lan.”
“Of course I’m worried about Master Lan!” Rowan chimed in. “You knocked him out, for no obvious reason! Then you take him away somewhere he doesn’t know! What am I supposed to think!”
Beika glared at the Selati. “Now who’s fault would it be that Rowan’s worrying about Lan?”
Soji meekly scratched his head. Then he faced Rowan. “You not there earlier. You no understand.”
“Then make me understand! Stop talking in riddles!”
“Keep calm, Rowan, keep calm.” Soji patted her shoulder. He still looked very tired, very spent, but a little more like the chief she knew. “Master Lan already that pale this morning. Waited at coffee shop. Told someone, want to talk. Not safe to talk there. But Master Lan too weak to walk here. So…”
“So you knocked him out and hauled him here,” Rowan finished. She slapped a hand onto her forehead. A bone-tired revenge-ready chief, dealing with a half-sick, always-suicidal teacher’s assistant by knocking him out. These crazy elders of hers will forever be impossible to understand.
The assistant began to stir, turning to one side, pulling the blanket over him. He groaned and muttered. “All…set…hu..rry….”
The healer and the Selati looked at Rowan. Rowan shrugged. She had no idea what the assistant muttered in his sleep about.
“Mar…ceau,” the assistant mumbled. “Mar…ceau…”
Both Beika and Soji raised an eyebrow each. Beika bent down and shook her friend. “Did the green hag put you on a trance or something?” She felt at his forehead again. She quickly withdrew it. “Someone get me some cold water and a towel!”
Lan’s mutterings became incoherent and interspersed with heavy snores.
They were interrupted by some heavy knocking at the main door to the street.
Soji suddenly steeled. Through pointing silently here and there, he ordered people away from them and into hiding. He was followed with a frightening efficiency. In seconds the only people left in the basement were Beika, Soji, Rowan, and a feverish Lan.
Soji lifted the assistant up in his arms and brought him to the living room of the house, where Lan was laid on the sofa.
The heavy knocking continued. “This is the defense committee of the central government,” a stern voice spoke from beyond the door. “Open up!”
“We wish to talk to Soji of the meridian!” a more familiar female voice said.
It was one they all recognized. “Mar…ceau…” Lan droned from the couch, tossing and turning, cold sweat forming over his forehead. “What…took you…so long…”
Beika stepped forward and yelled past the door. “Give us a guarantee that you won’t harm the Selati, green hag!”
“You have our word. In fact, that’s what I came here to do,” Marceau said aloud from her side of the door. “Now will you please let me in.”
“Not yet,” Beika said. “How did you find this place?”
“The firespark’s memory jewels are with me. It’s easy to track him down with it.”
Rowan slammed her forehead again with her palm. All the same, at least it was Marceau that she left it with, not someone sleazier.
“Stop with the theatrics already, crazy healer,” Marceau called out. “I came here because the firespark told me. He said he’ll try to find you, so I can talk to you. So here I am. Now let me in!”
Beika looked toward Lan on the couch.
Soji, however, approached the door. “Marceau. Not here. I come with you.”
“What?” Beika exclaimed. “But what about…”
“My people, know what to do. I am tired, Master Beika. Fighting needs to stop already. We go.”
“But what about…”
Soji bent down over Lan. He placed a hand over his forehead, muttering a few words in Selati. From his hand, a small sliver of ice formed on Lan’s forehead, and stayed there.
“Stay here, make Master Lan all better. Follow later.” Soji said to Beika. He gestured to Rowan. “You, come with me and Chie.”
Rowan found herself nodding and following him out to the door. She could not believe herself, still following after the chief after everything she already decided against him.