Tricorn Captain Lea didn’t have a last name, like most people of old Loiys. Last names stayed reserved for nobility and those of some repute. Exceptions existed, such as Athia who preemptively picked her own last name. She also picked one for Lea.
“Captain Lezari!” Athia said, running over to give Lea a hug. “I’m so glad at least two of my parents are still sleeping together!”
Lea’s eye twitched and she flicked Athia’s ear, hard. “Will you please stop that? We have not and do not share a bed.”
Athia stood a few inches taller than the middle-aged captain. Years of hard work showed in all sorts of little nicks and imperfections over her dark skin. They went well with her blue and gold trimmed tabard. She kept her dark hair just long enough to tie back without being a bother while loose.
Kamil said, “I do not know where she gets such information.”
Lea patted Athia on the back as the miscreant snickered. “Anyway, Athia, it’s been almost six months now. Thanks for the letter.”
Once, Lea and Kamil made up a third of Athia’s traveling family. Whereas Kamil taught her mostly of combat and protection, Lea was the most levelheaded of the group in matters of adventuring and risk taking. She’d taught Athia much in the way of survival skills, military matters, and how to make money. Unfortunately, none of the others knew a thing about economic matters.
“It’s been fun,” Athia said. “I fought an army, kicked a despot in the ass, and killed a lurker. And that was just last month.”
Lea rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you did. Now, would you like a real job? That pays actual money?”
Athia inclined her head forward, “how much?”
“Twenty rens, if you pull it off.”
Athia looked back over her shoulder at Kamil, “I guess I’ll let you finish your classes after all! Gonna take your wife out to lunch!”
Lea’s eyes narrowed, “I’m going to slap you if you keep that up.”
“Sure, sure,” Athia said. “How’s Lane doing?” She hooked an arm around Lea’s and the two walked out into the city.
“He’s well, they’ll soon test him for admittance into the Tricorn.”
“Is he sixteen already?” Athia asked.
“Almost,” she said. “If he were a little older, I think you two would be a great match.”
Athia said, “basically my little brother, so I’m gonna pass on that.”
Lea smiled, “unlucky fate. He’d be happy to see you, if he wasn’t away on training.”
Tricorn members saluted Lea when they passed. Common people bowed their heads. Further out, a large sail convoy loaded up on trade goods. One day, the city of Olstin promised to connect other cities via tracks with carts that traveled them nonstop. But that would take a while.
The two walked past the convoy, where someone shouted about a lying merchant, and another argued with his help on matters of pay.
Athia turned to Lea and said, “what’s the job?”
“A lurker has infiltrated a town, two days up the road. Locals claim it’s a bog-skulk. It imitates people by killing them and taking their heads.”
“Wait, didn’t my mom kill one of those before?”
“Yes, but the way I’ve heard the story, she got lucky. It wasn’t fully infiltrated yet.”
“I’d have to figure out who it is and kill it then? That would be much more impressive a feat.”
“Yes. They’re formidable combatants, or so I’m told, and very good at imitation. Take the job, solve it within a week, and twenty rens is yours.”
Athia leaned forward to look at Lea, working her jaw back and forth. “Why so much?”
Lea lowered her voice. “We can’t let this continue. As word spreads, then Unseen grows and lurkers will find an easier time penetrating into other holdings.”
Athia bumped her shoulder into Lea. “You’re trusting it to me?”
“I am. You’re reliable and honest. That’s what’s needed.”
They stopped at a public garden, kept warm by the heat mirrors so it bloomed even as fall set. Colors radiated in ripples from the center, circles of flowers bisected by walkways and benches. The two took a seat further in, using it for discretion as few used the garden during a workday.
Lea looked up at the sky as clouds moved over Olstin. A moment passed, then she turned back to Athia. “You can get this done. I trust you.”
Athia gave a thumbs up with a grin. “I absolutely will, for that payday.”
“If you do it, I can get you into the Tricorn. A full member. You’d be an officer within a year, more in two.”
Athia shook her head. “I told you I’m not interested.”
“I don’t want anyone to bow to me.”
“Wouldn’t it be better you than someone else?”
Athia put her hands on her knees and stretched her legs. “I don’t think so.”
Lea put a hand on Athia’s back. “I’m going to be straight with you. Don’t waste your potential like all of us did.”
“You’re doing pretty well for yourself.”
“I could be in the inner circle of the Tricorn. The rest gave up chances of power, wealth, a secure future. Just to chase fun and dreams.” Her hand tightened, just a hair, on Athia’s back. “Whatever it is you want, you’ll find it much easier with money and stability. As a Tricorn.”
“Mom and dad have problems, but the rest of you are happy.”
Lea pulled Athia closer in a motherly way. “What do you want out of life, Athia?”
“I want to be happy and make the world better than I found it.”
Lea poked a finger to Athia’s chest, over her heart. “You’ll do that better as a Tricorn. I promise.”
Athia worked her jaw, looking at a row of yellow flowers ahead. “I’ll think on it.”
“Good,” Lea said. She handed over an envelope. “This will have more information in it.”
Athia took it and placed it in her pocket. “I have a demand, if I take this.”
“Don’t tell them my connection to you. I’m just a mercenary with some experience. Ok?”
Athia sprang up to her feet and shoved the letter into her pocket. “How have things been, Lea?”
Lea grabbed Athia’s arm and yanked her back to sit. “Good. This city is going to change the world. That’s your goal, right?”
“Only if it’s for the better.”
“It will be.”