Lyro couldn show the huntress she had caught him off-guard. The baby stopped crying. ”I neither ran, nor was I hiding. ” He relaxed his shoulders as much as he could while keeping his eyes from the deadly edge of her curved blade. ”In fact, I was expecting you. ” He wasn . Ill see how far I can push it. I don wanna use my hex. Shell catch me again either way. But if I fail to reason…I mustn hesitate to kill her at the first opening. Even though he knew he wasn likely to get one.

”Ill play along. ” She smiled, lowering her left hand, her blade going down. ”So lets assume that were true. Now, what does it change? I had a lead in my case, you killed him. ” She shrugged. ”One cannot evade the consequences of their actions. ”

”Thats why you
e chasing the thief and not wasting your time, I know, ” Lyro said sarcastically, keeping his emotions to the minimum. Suppression of self was an old skill he had to reach for. He had to use all the weapons of his past, even though the memories would haunt him afterward. ”And killing me will obviously push you closer to finding the culprit who stole that daemon mask and that enchanted dagger. Isn that why instead of resuming your search, you came all the way here, looking for me. ”

She snorted softly, tilting her head. ”Are you trying to provoke me by any chance? Let me warn you, it will not work. At least not in your favor. ”

Well see about that. ”We both know why you
e here, huntress, ” he said. ”I bested you. An Outskirter besting me? I must not let this spread! I must kill him before anyone knows of it! Isn that the actual reason? ”

She raised her chin. ”You like to talk. ” A confirmation. Some part of her did come for that reason. But…it seemed she had others as well. ”Fond of using fancy words, are you? ”

Lyro tucked his chin, holding his arms a bit out. ”Its better than dismembering people. ” He shrugged lightly. ”Though, what do I know? Im just a savage filthblood of the Outskirts. ” One reasoning with a city girl with a killer sword. Would she see the irony?

”So thats how it is, eh? ” she asked. ”You think you
e not like them just because you can talk like us? ” She chuckled. ”It takes more than that to deny the blood running through your veins. And even more to convince others of it. I can let you live, not because you ested me or anything like that, but because, as I said, you interfered in my mission. ”

”And as I asked, how will that achieve anything? ” Lyro said, a bit too desperately than he intended. Collect yourself. Her blade is down. Shes listening. ”Am I to apologize for killing a man who told his goons to violate me? Would you have not done the same—? ”

In an instant, the point of her blade was inches away from his throat. ”Careful, now, ” she warned. ”Just because Im entertaining you, does not mean you can put me into the disgusting scenarios you found yourself in. They may be common for you, but keep in mind we
e worlds apart. You are not allowed to assume anything about me. Don dare it. ”

Lyro didn move a muscle, looking straight into her eyes, though he knew a big part of it was his body knowing even a fidget would mean a pierced throat. ”See how it provokes even the best of us? ” he said as calmly as he could manage. ”Perhaps only because we hate to think of ourselves in that situation. As we should, obviously. It is, after all, inhumane. ” He thinned his eyes. ”Yet it didn take you a heartbeat to assume that it was common for me. Is that how your world sees us? Is that why you don hesitate to kill me? ” He nodded. ”Now I get it. You don even see me as human. ”

Her expression soured, but her blade didn move. ”I just told you to not dare assume anything about me. ” She lowered her blade to his chest-level, as if to draw attention to her furrowed brows. ”If I didn see you as human, why would I have jumped in to stop them? ”

She had him there. But the rust was shedding off his old skills, allowing him to think of something quickly. Not the best choice. Not with her. Guilt won work. But he needed to keep the words rolling. ”Why save someone just to kill them later? Does that make you any better than the ones you say you saved me from? ” Even to his ears it sounded like nonsense. Im out of practice…

The huntress gave him a look of confusion. ”Better? They were all filthbloods. Just like you. Im better by birth. How dare you compare us! ” Her blade rose slowly, this time with deadly intent. Of course she felt no guilt. Her ruthlessness shouldve made that much clear. But Lyro had only one thing left, and he couldn pull that now. It would only escalate the situation. He needed a hook, a chance, a window. ”I was curious why a bastard like you is so pathetic, using his words more than his maegecraft. Seems like that spell was just a fluke, after all. ” Bastard?

She thinks Im illborn! Neither of Lyros parents were maeges. The huntress seemed to have mistaken his hex for a spell, thinking him a bastard of some maege. The hook! ”It was no fluke, ” Lyro said clearly. ”Illborns awaken their maegecraft late and have a harder time with it, but I can do it on command like a trueborn maege. I just decided not to, because as I said at the very start, I was expecting you, not to deal you any harm, but to ask of… ” He paused for a moment to breathe. This isn a good idea…

She raised a brow. ”Ask of…? ”

”Your help, ” Lyro finally said. ”I need your help, huntress. ”

”H-Help? ” she repeated, baffled. ”Help? You said…help, right? ” Her brows furrowed as she looked at him with thinned unsure eyes. ”Wwwwwwwwhy-would-I-help-you? ” she blurted quickly. ”You did ask for my… ” She blinked. ”…help, right? ” She still couldn believe it.

And neither can I, Lyro thought, holding off his sigh. But here goes nothing. ”Help me…because I can help you. ” He knew what her reaction would be.

She laughed, the tip of her sword shaking. ”You? Help me? ” She laughed again. ”Why would I need your help? Are you slowly going insane? ”

”You surely will if you keep looking for your thief like this. ”

Emotions fled her face. ”You are going insane. ”

e worlds apart. You said it yourself. Just like I don know of yours, you don know of mine, of the Outskirts. ” Lyro pointed to his chest, his finger next to the blade. ”But I do. So I can help you find the one you
e looking for. ”

She scoffed. ”This trap is even more obvious than the ones youve laid down this hallway. ”

”You still fell for one. ” He didn mean to say that out loud. It was sure to offend her.

”Who? Me? ” She looked disgusted. ”If you
e talking about the one already tripped, it wasn me. ”

Lyro found truth in her eyes. But if she didn trip it… He had designed the traps to be too heavy for rats to activate. ”Theres someone else in here, ” he said out loud, glancing over his shoulder, forgetting for a moment the blade close to his neck. ”Could be more than one. Either way, they
e good at staying hidden. ”

”Not my problem, ” she said, stepping closer. ”But before killing you, Id like to hear just how you were going to help me. ”

By doing what he was going to do tomorrow. Paying a tribute to the Lord of Whispers, the informant, the one who knew of all the comings and goings and happenings of the Outskirts, and asking him who and where the thief was. The plan was to somehow rob the thief, selling the mask and the dagger, then using those funds to get into a hunter academy. The huntress had messed it up.

So he had to resort to helping her in finding the thief, hoping the favor would turn her into a bridge he could then use to cross over into the city and get admission into an academy. A weaker plan, but hed to improvise. Hed failed to prepare for her. Anyone finding him here this night was not a possibility hed even considered.

And now not only is she here, Lyro thought grimly, ut also someone else…hidden… His old skill of anticipation had rusted the most, it seemed.

”I asked something, ” the green-haired huntress reminded.

Lyro sighed. ”Look at you, ” he told her instead. Up close, he realized just how young she was. Perhaps of his own age. She mustve been super talented to become a hunter at such a young age. Skin of a light tan, hair of a green leaning on turquoise, eyes of a deep emerald hue, her deadly sword was the only thing warning against her innocently deceiving looks. ”You think going around dressed like that will open people around here? Not a chance. They don like hunters. Hunters are at the top of the world, constantly reminding them of their own standing. So I couldve been the one gathering information for you, while you sat and rested. ” But because of the situation hed found himself in, there was no choice left. I have to use my hex—

The watch on the wrist of the hand holding the blade blinked. ”K here, ” a voice came from it. ”Ive returned from the mission the hunters called me for. You don need to substitute for me any longer. Ill resume the case in two days. Trainee hunters are supposed to take it easy— ” She pulled her arm back, covering the face of the watch with her other hand, muffling the rest of the words coming from it.

The blade was finally away from Lyros throat. Trainee hunter? That was what the hunter academy students were called. She isn an actual huntress? Her age made sense now. But still…why was a trainee handed a case instead of an actual hunter? Was it normal or was she the exception? ”You
e not— ” He cut himself off.

The girls face was flushed in a red that was a mix of both rage and embarrassment. It seemed Lyro wasn supposed to know who she really was. ”Now I have to kill you, ” she said coldly.

That was when the cries of a child came. And not from the recorder.

Lyro glanced over his shoulder when he heard the nearing steps. ”Huh—? ”

The little girl stabbed Lyro in the chest with a sharp knife as her eyes cried out red tears.

Where did she come from…? And how was she so fast?

In less than ten seconds, everything changed. From reasoning with a huntress, to realizing she wasn really one, to getting stabbed by…a little girl?

Whats going on? Lyro asked, delirious. Am I…dead?

Mezlok laughed, finally breaking his silence. ”Now this is getting interesting! ”

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