She pressed her back against the wall, quieting her breaths and hoping they would pass. Their footsteps were close, so close. And their gruff voices could be heard from where she stood. She shut her eyes and stood up straighter, listening for the footfalls to stop. But they walked past her hiding place and she sighed in relief.

"Wait!" one hissed. The girl imagined the speaker putting an arm out, blocking his companion's chest.

"What is it?" the other asked. The second was by far younger. But, then again, the other was most likely around fifty. She shook her head, a slight grin playing on her lips.

"I heard something…might've been an animal." He sounded unsure and she liked that. The alley she was in wasn't very long at all, but it did have a door at the very end. She inched sideways, still against the wall, until she was directly across from it.

"I don't think it's a creature." The second voice trembled. "And we don't have many that would be out this late."

"Shh, you stupid fool!"

Adithe slipped forward and looked sideways. Their shadows could now be seen from the alley. She ducked down and pulled a pin from her cloak. It had the family emblem on it and she wanted no reminder.

"Well, don't be a coward!"

"Me?" the younger asked, outraged. "I'm not the one trying to act calm and make another go ahead of me!"

"It's your training, or have you forgotten? I say go, you go. Now."

"Yes, sir." The voice responded. Adithe looked over her shoulder and saw a silhouetted male. She turned back and began moving the metal in the keyhole, listening for the click that would verify she had unlocked it. When the boy was entering the alleyway, it clicked. She returned the pin to its place and stood up slowly. The male was alert now. And the other had been warned. Adithe hissed between her teeth and pushed the door quietly. It opened, quietly at first but then a loud creak sounded. She slipped in and closed it behind her, locking it back.

She pulled her hood up, making sure nothing could distinguish her face if they needed to, and looked around. She had entered a shoppe full of weapons. Adithe smiled at her luck and walked around, touching a certain knife or trailing her fingers across the cold steel blade of a sword when it called to her. The room was dark and gloomy. The prices on some of the poorer works of art (imported, no doubt) were outrageous. She laughed quietly and continued walking, the swish of her cloak on the floor being the only sound.

"Stop." A voice commanded. Adithe grinned and turned around. A young man stood before her, no doubt close to her age. He had jet black hair that went to his shoulder blades, but was currently pulled back. His face was set and serious, his sword drawn. Her cloak was closed; none of her skin showed.

"Good. Now—" he stepped forward, and she did the opposite. "I'd strongly suggest you don't play with me, sir."

Adithe grinned. She resembled a man as much as dog resembled a bird. But the belt around her waist made her look heavier there and the bulk of the cloak helped also. When she did not respond, he shot forward. Adithe sidestepped him, drawing her own weapon. A sword. It had a dark blue handle and a lighter blue for the blade.

Almost like ice.

This was a very acute observation, since it had the ice symbol upon the handle. She grinned and dodged the guy once more before taking off. He kept up with her, if not a little behind because of her head start. Adithe jumped on a display, grinning and stepping over the precious tools that lay on it. He swiped his sword, aimed at her feet. Adithe jumped up, landing in the same place. He moved away as she pointed her own blade at him.

She descended gracefully, landing without a sound. Where had he gone? She looked around but was forced towards the wall before she could spot him. When he had her pinned, his own weapon blocking hers and a dagger in his hand, he smiled. She saw gold glinting on the middle finger of his right hand as he pressed the dagger against her chest.

"Drop it." he ordered. Adithe saw no other way. She glared at the man, although he couldn't see her face. But instead of dropping it, she concentrated. Ice spread from the deadly pointed tip, crawling up the blade and settling on the floor like the roots of a tree. The male stepped back, looking at it, then her. And he laughed, somewhat uneasily, as Adithe removed her hand from the blade.

She rolled her eyes. Men and the way they cover their surprise…

"Lower your hood."

She lifted her arms, revealing skin with a deathly, light blue hue. Her veins stood out.

"Now." He urged, pressing the dagger closer to her heart. Shame he didn't move it to the right a little, she thought. He might have figured out I am not a guy.

"Your shoppe?" she asked, pulling down the hood. He stepped back and she grinned. She gave a fake little gasp. "Yes, a woman. Can you believe it?"

He only stared. After a few minutes, Adithe sighed, placing her hands on her hips. After another minute or two had passed, she put a hand on her sword. The ice melted, drawing back into the blade, and she picked it up.

"Well, then. I will be off." she pushed past the man, wondering why he was so still. She knew it wasn't her this time.

"Wait!" he called out. She turned around quickly, her cloak billowing out, finally resting against her legs. She cocked an eyebrow, which was the same light blue, almost silver, color of her hair.

"Yes…?" she ventured after another silence in which he continued staring at her. She huffed and turned around, walking to the door and opening it slightly. It was still dark outside. More voices came. She heard fast footsteps and watched as more men trotted by the shoppe, clutching the hilt of their blades. She shut the door quietly and turned back around.

"Nice shoppe…" she said, walking to the counter and leaning against it. "The prices for those Wellinch blades are too high. I suggest you bring them down a few notches. Wouldn't want an unhappy customer, would we? No, no, no…" she clicked her tongue against her top teeth and peered at him closely.

"I know you aren't a mute. You've proven that. So what could possibly be keeping you from telling me off right now?"

Her grin said she knew the answer. She looked away and he snapped out of his reverie, looking startled and a bit off balance.

"What did you say your name was?" Adithe asked. She glanced from the store records to him. The room was hotter than she would have liked, but she felt no need to remove her cloak.

"Ambrose." He said. She smiled.

"Good. We're making progress."

"Why are you here?"

"I was just…well, I didn't see a sign saying I wasn't welcomed."

He stared directly into her shockingly blue eyes. "Might it have been because you came in the back way?"

She cocked her head to one side and pointed at him. "You know, that could be it."

He nodded toward her waist, where she had placed the sword. It, too, was under her cloak.

"Nice, isn't it?" she asked, stroking the hilt.

"Where did you get it?"

She glared at him, her once playful grin gone. "It doesn't matter."

"You're not from around here."

"Of course I'm not!" she snapped. "Look at me: it doesn't take a foreigner to figure that out!"

"I'd suggest you don't yell. You're search party is just outside."

She grinned and said, "Don't think about it."

"It never crossed my mind." He paused, stroking his lip thoughtfully. "But there's only one door in that alley. And it leads here. Someone saw you go in it, did they not?"

She studied him for a few seconds before nodding.

"You have to leave." He said. "They'll come and I can't help you."

"Can't, or don't want to?"


"Do you have any idea where I could go?"

Ambrose shook his head. "An inn. They may not take you. Pubs sometimes have rooms above their main floor."

He shrugged and she nodded, walking to the window. Adithe grabbed the ledge and pulled herself up.

Ambrose watched her jump out of the window, her cloak flowing behind her. He shook his head in disbelief and returned to his sleep.

Adithe opened her eyes and looked around, temporarily forgetting where she was. It came back to her and she groaned, propping herself on an elbow. She got up, collected her things, and hurried out of the window before anyone could enter the room.

The streets were busier than they had been when she came the two nights before. She pulled up the hood and began walking with the crowd. Two children pushed past her, one grabbing her cloak and letting go, causing it to swing. She stopped the movement and looked up. There it was. Adithe pushed the door open and looked around. It wasn't near as gloomy as it was during the night.

People stared at her, trying to see her face. The woman from the counter looked up also and made her way to a man needing assistance. Adithe walked to the Wellinch blades and checked the prices. They had, indeed, been lowered.

"Do you need something?" the woman asked.


The woman left. Adithe turned and walked to another display. A dagger was laid out on a stand. It glinted when she looked at it. Adithe went to pick it up, but the woman was standing over her shoulder.

"No touching!" she snapped, slapping Adithe's hand away.

"Then how would you expect anyone to buy anything?" Adithe replied calmly. The woman looked flustered, then angry.

"If you break it…" she warned, turning and walking away. Adithe watched her walk up a flight of curving stairs, wondering how she or anyone else could break such a strong metal. She turned back and admired the knife, picking it up and running her thumb against the blade, testing it. The remaining customers stayed clear of the corner she was in. Adithe sighed, giving up, and took the knife to the counter. She was surprised when the woman wasn't there. Ambrose was. He didn't look at her, but recorded her purchase.

"Nice blade, isn't it?" he asked.

"Yes." She replied, taking a few gold coins from her pouch and scattering them on the countertop.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, still scratching the parchment with his pen. Adithe leaned forward.

"What is everyone doing here?"

Ambrose looked up as she took the blade and walked away, her cloak dragging the floor behind her.