“What the hell,” she began conversationally, lifting her grand prize, “do you think this is supposed to be?”
Corra scrunched her nose. “A man I think?” she guessed with a shrug. “A man who got mauled by a pack of stray dogs.” She snorted a laugh and held up her own prize: a short, finely-tailored dress in deep maroon. “What doya think? Kinda my style, yeah?” Before Leta had a chance to answer, Corra declared, “I’m gonna try it on!” and hurried off into the back of the stall.
As Corra darted away, Leta grinned to herself. She had personally avoided the array of dresses, gowns and lingerie — she could not imagine she’d have any reason to dress up anytime soon.
Dropping the sculpture with a clunk, she reached for a small half-moon shaped brass lever, or maybe it was a tool. She was turning it over in her hand, trying to imagine what it could possibly be for, when a low voice spoke in her ear.
“It’s a Poitan festival harp. Missing its strings perhaps. But still a harp.”
Leta looked over her shoulder to find a broad-shouldered man standing directly behind her. He wasn’t tall, but built broadly enough to part the crowd around him, his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was not recognizable to Leta at all.
“Oh?” she said dismissively.
“Difficult to replace, too,” he went on. “The strings. Made only from the finest silks in Synechdan.” The man lapsed into a brief, thoughtful silence. Finally, he looked up at Leta and stated, “Forgive me. You’re probably not interested in the minute details of instrumentation in an aging artform.”
“It’s alright,” she said after a moment’s pause, wondering quickly why this man was still engaging her. “I don’t mind learning something new.”
Politely, she started to turn away, but it was then that her eyes passed over him and she noticed a familiar symbol on his arm, and went very still. The black Society librera was displayed proudly on his shoulder. Well, that didn’t take very long, she thought as cold panic snapped through her. She’d gotten far from Vescent, but not far enough to evade her previous affiliations.
The harp fell from her hands and into the bin, and she wondered if it was even worth it to try and run. Even here, they’d found her after all —
“Relax,” said the man shortly, decidedly less friendly than before. “I’m not here for you.”
Her mouth was very dry. “Who then?” said Leta sharply, with more strength than she actually felt.
The man’s stare cut right through her, and he ignored her question. “You are an interesting case, though,” he remarked casually. “From your upbringing….to a criminal ship. From a scalpel. To a gun.” His eyes moved down to the holster hanging from her hip and rested there. “I wonder. Do you believe you’re making a fair trade?”
The noisy crowd moved around them, oblivious to the young woman who was fighting back fear. “Who the hell are you?” she demanded through gritted teeth.
“For now?” said the man calmly, finally lifting his eyes and blinking slowly. “Just an observer. I’d like to see where this goes.” He looked away from her, casting a mildly curious glance over her head, as if he were considering something as innocent as the weather. “Give your captain my regards.”
Just as Leta opened her mouth in shock, Corra’s cheerful, oblivious voice called out to her, “So much for the prowess of Tarinian craftsmanship! Pretty sure that dress was made of cardboard.”
Leta blinked, and the man was gone. He must have melted back into the crowd, for she could see him nowhere, even as she gave a jolt and turned in a frantic circle to seek him out in the flood of people.
“Hey,” said Corra as she approached, grabbing her arm to still her in place. “You alright, chika? You look even paler than usual.”
Shaking her head, all Leta said was, “I need to talk to Fiearius.”
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
She found him in the bridge. He was lounged back in the pilot’s chair, scrolling through a screen, his long legs propped up over the console. He turned his head as Leta entered, looking immediately annoyed at her interruption.
“Met a friend of yours,” Leta said at once, eyeing him for signs of recognition. “In the marketplace. A Society agent, he had all the same tattoos.” Technically, it was the same librera Leta had hidden under her sleeve on her arm, too, but she wasn’t quite ready to admit that. According to Cyrus, Fiearius would kill her for it.