The desert kingdom was vast, built around an oasis. A massive gate surrounded it. The sentries stopped them and they were approached by a yellow-scaled reptilian feralial.
“Namess, occupationss and purpose?” He demanded.
“I’m Sylvie, these are Serena and Inés,” Sylvie answered. “Were Warrior priestesses in service to Athena and we wish to pass through on a pilgrimage.”
He looked them over. His forked tongue tasted the air. “I know that you priestessess enjoy taking matter into your own handss,” he said. “But be warned, we do not tolerate vigilantism very well. Please, report any troubless you encounter to the nearest member of the militia. If they fail to take your concernss seriously, tell them that Gabriel D’Morti, captain of the fifth division, promised you aid.”
“Do your people often ignore reports of crimes?” Inés asked.
Gabriel glared. “We are in a transition. Our empresss has instituted reformss since taking the throne. Unfortunately, not all our soldierss have been quick to respond. But it iss only a matter of time. Believe me on that.”
“Of course, of course,” Sylvie said. “Can we enter the city?”
“Certainly,” Gabriel said. He nodded to his subordinates and they allowed the priestesses and their pegasi to pass.
“All right,” Inés said. “I think we should stay a couple days so that Sylvie can recover from using so much magic.”
“You’re only saying that because you want time to earn money to reach Drahaven by boat,” Sylvie said.
“True,” Inés admitted. “But do you really want to go through the desert, constantly using magic to try and keep us cool?”
“You did look really tired on the way here,” Serena said. “And that’s after our meeting with Mr Ryufan gave you the chance to recover.”
“And we probably won’t run into anyone else who has a handy underground shelter like that,” Inés added. “Do you really want to go through that just to prove a point?”
“Fine,” Sylvie sighed. “I’ll give you a couple days but only a couple of days.”
They found refuge for themselves and their mounts at the temple of Hermes. Sylvie stayed to rest while Serena and Inés headed for the marketplace.
“Do you have a plan to get enough money for transport?” Serena asked.
“Not particularly,” Inés said.
“Then what are we looking for?” Serena inquired.
“I figure I’ll know when I see it,” Inés said. she checked her pouch. “We’re about a hundredth of the way there.”
“How much would it cost to charter a ship?” Serena asked.
“Probably three hundred coins,” Inés said.
A young woman with black hair bumped into Inés. “Sorry, Miss.” she said.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Inés said.
She and Serena continued on their way. “She was kind of cute,” Inés muttered.
“Did you drop your pouch?” Serena asked.
“No I…” Inés reached for it. “That girl… She’s a thief!”
“Should we tell the guards?” Serena asked.
“I’ll get it back myself,” Inés said. “Wouldn’t wanna bother them for three coins. Go back to the temple and stay with Sylvie. I’ll return when I’m finished with this.”
She ran, heading in the direction she’d seen the girl.
“Hey, she said, addressing a middle-aged merchant. “Did you see a girl around here. Dark hair, about a hundred seventy centimetres, strangely pale, yellow eyes?”
“Why are you looking for her?” he asked.
“I thought she was cute, wanted to talk to her,” Inés answered.
“Went down the alley,” he said. “Probably don’t want to follow. Some bruisers went after her.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Inés said.
She went down the alley. After a short time, she heard the sounds of a struggle. She moved quickly.
The girl was surrounded, bloody bagh nakh strapped to her hands. One man was down, five holes in the side of his head.
Another was holding her face, blood running down the front of it. Three more were surrounding her, swords out. They were closing in.
Inés slammed one of them in the back of her head with her staff. “Hey, ganging up is cowardly,” she said. “Back off.”
The thief took advantage of their surprise and bolted. Inés knocked the two thugs out with two quick strikes and followed.
The thief was quick on her feet and limber, moving nimbly through small spaces. But Inés managed to keep her in sight. Finally, she managed to corner her. The girl turned with her bagh nakh to face Inés.
“You know,” Inés said. “I only have three coins in that pouch. You might as well return it. And, while you’re at it, why don’t you tell me why those goons were after you. Maybe I can help.”
The girl hesitated, sizing Inés up. Then she smiled and tossed the pouch. Inés caught it without looking away from the girl.
“Smart,” Inés said. “So, what’s your name?”
“And why is a priestess so interested in a thief?” the girl asked.
“Because those three were going to kill you,” Inés said. “I doubt it was just because you’re a thief and I figure it would be a waste of a cute girl to see that happen.”
The girl smirked. “You seem more astute than I’d given you credit for, but I doubt you’ll help me when you know the story.”
“Try me,” Inés said. “At the very least, it couldn’t hurt.”
“Fine,” she said. “My name is Ashley Grameigh. My father was in charge of Malachi’s great thieves guild. Then, he took sick and died. At least, that’s what we were led to believe. I discovered the truth. He’d been poisoned.”
“Someone wanted his position,” Inés observed.
“Precisely,” Ashley said. “My elder brother. When I found out, he accused me of being a traitor and now, his people are out to deal with me. You should stay out of it. There are a lot of them.”
“Then why are you sticking around and picking pockets?” Inés asked.
“I need money,” Ashley answered. “I’m going to get enough to hire some mercenaries, break through my brother’s goons, reveal the truth and take over the guild for myself.”
“You aren’t going to run away?”
“I refuse!” Ashley declared. “I won’t let the guild my father worked so hard to build fall to my brother’s dishonour. I won’t let its legacy be tarnished.”
“Tarnished how?” Inés asked.
“Believe it or not, my father was an honourable thief,” Ashley said. “Under his leadership, the guild only took from those with excess. Under my brother, they’ll steal the last coin from a dying old woman. They’ve truly become scum!”
“I see,” Inés said. “And how much did you need for mercenaries?”
Ashley scoffed. “Unless you’re hiding a lot more, you can’t help.”
“No, I can’t,” Inés said. “But I could help you for, say three hundred. You can pay me after we deal with your brother.”
“After we…” Ashley was incredulous. “Are you suggesting that the two of us handle it alone?”
“Pretty much,” Inés said. She winked at Ashley. “Don’t worry, I’m stronger than I look.”
“You can’t be that strong,” Ashley stated.
“I killed Scotius,” Inés said. “Although you might not know who he is.”
“Scot… the right wanker who was a son of Zeus?” Ashley asked.
“Oh, good,” Inés said. “You’ve heard of him.”
“Is that really true?” Ashley asked. “You really beat a half-God?”
“Absolutely,” Inés reassured her. “Just tell me the plan and put yourself in my hands.”