(This story is a product of the author’s fiction. Its content is not necessarily reflected on the already established lore of the world of Tyria)
The arrow sprang through the air, wobbling slightly before hitting its target. Lydia allowed herself a small smile before she approached the deer and started skinning it. Halfway through, she heard a growl behind her. She glanced around to see her animal companion glaring at a tree. The big cat growled again, and she heard a strained voice come from the branches.
“Call her off, Lydia! I’m tired of climbing trees every time I’m around you.”
Lydia smirked. “Here, Bena,” she called, and the cat crept to her side. A man emerged from the tree line and grinned sheepishly at her. He was dressed in court clothing that was torn in a few places from the tree he had just vacated.
“What are you doing out here, Faren? I didn’t think hunting was really your thing.”
“It’s not. I was sent to fetch you; Minister Senela wants to see you.”
Lydia raised her eyebrows. “And whatever it is was so urgent she didn’t let you change clothes?”
“No, I just felt like giving you something nice to look at.”
Lydia rolled her eyes, but suspected Faren was avoiding the question. “Whatever. Do I at least have time to drop this off?” she said, motioning to the deer.
He shrugged. “I guess. Why are you even hunting? It’s not like the palace needs food.”
Lydia returned to skinning the deer. “No, but I know someone who does. And besides, I could use the practice.”
Faren shook his head as he watched her. “Savior of the world, and she still thinks she needs target practice.”
Divinity’s Reach had many defining features, but the first thing to assault the senses was the noise. Merchants called out their wares, beggars rattled tin cups half full of coins, women gossiped, and drunken men started impromptu brawls over whose turn it was to pay. Compared to the relative peacefulness just outside the walls, it was overwhelming.
As Lydia and Faren pushed their way through the teeming crowds gathered near the entrance, Faren shouted, “Where are we going?”
“Rurikton,” Lydia yelled back.
When they had muscled through the majority of the mob, Lydia checked to see if the pack of deer meat was still full. Her burdens had been lessened by light fingered thieves too many times to take chances. When the inspection was complete, she shouldered the pack again and started the descent into Rurikton.
From the outside, it looked like there was an eternal party existing in the district. Brightly colored confetti was strewn on the cobblestone streets, streamers hung from buildings, and banners proclaimed how proud the residents were of their Ascalonian heritage. But under the bright exterior, the people of Rurikton still mourned the loss of their homeland. They tried to make their little slice of the city feel like home, but it was hard.
Maybe it’s for the better, Lydia thought as she passed the portal to Ebonhawke. If they saw what their once great nation had become, they might not want to go back. I sure don’t.
Lydia had been to Ebonhawke only twice, both times on official missions. Since she was of Ascalonian descent, she was naturally curious, but that curiosity had been stamped out within minutes of being there. After seeing the land that was ravaged by the Searing and years of war, she never wanted to return.
Shaking her head, she walked past the portal and onto a side street with a row of small wooden houses. She knocked on one of the doors and waited until it opened.
“Lady Toran! How nice of you to stop by, please come in! Your friend too, if he wants.”
Lydia smiled. “That’s very kind of you Mary, but Lord Faren will wait out here with Bena.” She shot a glance at Faren, who blanched and backed up against the wall. Leaving him to his own devices, she followed the woman inside.
Mary Castor was a mousy, middle aged woman with long brown hair that had gray streaks far before it should. Lydia had met her in a market with her daughter, who was a cripple. After conversing with her, Lydia felt compelled to help.
“Would you mind saying hello to Brianna, my lady? She just loves when you visit.”
“Of course. And I’ve told you before; it’s Lydia, not ‘my lady’. You make me feel like an old aristocrat’s wife.”
Mary giggled, but then stopped herself. “Alright, if you insist.”
“Where’s Gavin?” Lydia asked.
“Oh he’s been working a lot lately. It’s been helping with the money, but I worry about his health,” Mary said of her husband. “Oh, here’s Brianna.”
Brianna was nine, with dark blonde hair and dancing blue eyes. She pushed herself into the room with her wooden wheelchair, and beamed at Lydia.
“Hi, Lydia!” Brianna wasn’t old enough to care about proper names, which suited Lydia just fine.
“Hey, Brianna. Is that a new necklace? It’s very pretty.”
“Yep! Daddy got it for me at the market last week,” Brianna proudly exclaimed, fingering the string of shells around her neck. Lydia smiled and turned to Mary.
“I just came by to drop this off,” she said, handing the woman the pack of deer meat. She opened it and gasped.
“Lydia, thank you! This will last us for a month!”
Lydia winced internally, thinking of how little they would have to eat to make it last that long. “It’s nothing. I had to cut my hunting trip short, but maybe next time I can get more.”
Mary expressed her gratitude again, and the two said farewell. Lydia walked outside to find Bena sitting demurely by Faren, who looked utterly terrified.
“Took you long enough! I thought she was going to eat me!”
Bena licked her chops, as if to make a point. Lydia rolled her eyes.
“She may not like you very much, but she knows better than to touch you. Right, Bena?” The cat butted her head into Lydia’s hand. Faren looked dubious, but followed them out of the district and into one of the elevators going to the upper levels of the city.
“You know, you can’t help everyone, Lydia,” Faren said, straight-faced for once.
Lydia sighed, and walked out of the elevator. “I know.”
At sunset, the palace garden’s beauty was accentuated. Rays of light pierced the glass ceiling, illuminating the flowers and fountains. Lydia took a moment to admire them before leaving Bena with Faren outside and walking into the offices of the Ministers. She was shown into one of the spacious rooms, and moved to stand at the floor to ceiling window overlooking the city. She marveled at the difference between the levels of the city; she could understand why the Council felt they had such power. Up here, isolated from all the unpleasant matters of the lower classes, they’re invincible. Or so they think.
The door opened behind her, and a tall, imposing, gray haired woman walked in. “Hello, Minister Senela,” Lydia said, walking forward to greet the older woman. Senela gave her a small smile and sat down behind her desk. Lydia took the chair opposite, and regarded the other woman. She looked more worried than Lydia had seen her lately, but also distracted, as if her mind was in several different places at once. The minister leaned forward and put her chin on her hands.
“Things aren’t going well with the council. They passed another tax law today.”
“That’s the third tax raise in three months! Are they insane?”
Senela sighed. “Apparently they are. I opposed it of course, but the majority won.”
Lydia gazed steadily at her. “Senela, tell me my father didn’t vote in favor of it.”
Senela looked down, avoiding her eyes. Lydia pushed back her chair and stood up.
“I’ve had it with this,” she proclaimed, starting towards the door.
“Lydia wait,” Senela said quietly, standing up and moving towards her. Lydia halted and turned around. She didn’t like most of the Ministers, but she trusted Senela, because she had a decent head on her shoulders.
“I know you disagree with a lot of your father’s actions, but don’t be hot-headed about this. Do you want him to put you on a tighter leash?” Senela had a point. Lydia’s father didn’t care much about what she did, as long as it didn’t interfere with his political aspirations. If she protested too loudly, he could stop turning a blind eye to her activities, and she definitely didn’t want that.
She sighed and nodded. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I just think about all of the poor people this law is going to affect, and I can’t…”
“I know, Lydia. But I didn’t call you in just so I could give you more ammunition against your father. I called you here to warn you.”
Lydia looked up in surprise. “Warn me?”
“Passing this law may give the middle and lower class citizens enough incentive to revolt. I know you spend a lot of time among them, so just be wary that a noble like yourself may not be welcome.”
“I see. Thank you, Senela. I’ll be careful.”
The women said goodbye, and Lydia went outside. Faren was nowhere to be found, probably off at a party somewhere. Bena came trotting to her side, and together they set off towards the Salma District. She briefly considered talking to Logan about what the Minister had said, but decided it could wait. There was one person she wanted to see first.
A man hurried down dark alleyways, clutching a small package within the folds of his coat, frequently glancing back to see if he was being followed. If anyone caught him now, he’d be dead. After navigating the labyrinth of narrow streets, he came to a brightly glowing tavern and entered. Once inside, he pushed his way through the dirty, noisy crowd to a table near the window, and sat down to wait. A few minutes later, a man dropped into the seat opposite and eyed him. He was wearing a dark hooded coat, so only his mouth was visible.
“Do you have it?” he asked.
The first man nodded, swallowed nervously then withdrew the package and slid it across the table. The other man took it and hid it out of sight. He withdrew a parcel of his own and handed it across the table.
“Don’t look so nervous, comrade,” the hooded man said gruffly. “You’re doing this fine city a favor.”
“I’m just – I’m just doing this for my family,” the first man stuttered. “Thank you for the reward.” He stood up and bowed his head politely to the stranger before leaving. He hurried down the dimly lit streets, trying to get back home. The money in his pocket felt like a heavy weight, and indeed it came with a heavy mental burden. Yet he tried to push the matter out of his mind and focus on what this would mean for his family. He smiled a little when he thought of what he would use the money for. The first thing he was buying was another shell necklace for his daughter. She would love it.