The waking comes as it has for a long time now: sharp and quick, rousing the consciousness up violently in mid-breath. Perhaps it is something acquired in my travels in the jungles, where the time between sleep and wakedness could bring death. Not that such danger wouldn’t exist in the jungle of man as well.
It is near noon, I figure, but the half-light presented speaks of a cloudy day outside, a rarity of sorts at this time of the summer. A quick inspection of my surroundings also reveals that my two hostesses are both still asleep — something not very special considering the way the City, and especially citizens like they live.
My attention is caught on sleeping Chrysal, her figure painted clearly to my eyes through the thin blanket she is covered under. She sleeps facing me, without paint, her chest slowly heaving in the rhythm of her sleep. I can see the faintest of lines that have started to manifest around her eyes. She can still cover them easily enough, but nothing lasts forever. The old Derak would probably frown at her at this state, yet the man who I am now is filled with only confusion and longing.
The stunt I pulled last night shouldn’t have succeeded! It goes against everything I think is professional or rational. Still, as I see my chest lying there near my makeshift mattress I feel relieved that it is now behind me.
I proceed in getting back to my own garb silently enough so that my hosts are not awakened. It seems that I will need new clothes, now that I can afford it. I then move my focus towards my chest.
I start with the blades and their machinery. Carefully I dismantle the springwork and straps that hold them in their place. Then the gyros and kestros are coming out one by one. The broken ones, go in the pile last, including one of the main gyroscopes that ceased to function yesterday.
Dull ache in my left knee wakes me up from my work and I realize my hosts have awakened and are following my actions with curious eyes. I simply nod to them and continue my work, after spreading one of my ointments amply around the painful area. This is certainly not the first time my joints have taken a toll from the line of my work and nor will it be the last.
My hosts stay quiet, perhaps they do not wish to interfere with my work. I am filled with odd shyness. What I am to do now with Chrysal now that I have managed to get to her with such a great effort.
I continue my work. I use brushes from small to extremely tiny to clean up the parts that have aggregated dust or grime. I apply various oils of different fluency according to the requirements of each part. The broken machinery I dismantle and start to fix them. I inspect the casing of my mainspring. Luckily it is still in perfect working order, as it is something I could not fix easily if not.
— Cloudy day outside, I start and immediately reprimand myself inside. What a dimwit start for a conversation. Is that a smile in the corner of Chrysal’s mouth?
— Yes it is. Perhaps we should eat some breakfast and then proceed to settling our matters.
That has an ominously final ring to it in my ears. Still I nod and continue my work. Sharpening of the various blades is next. As my hosts are working on breakfast, I take care every blade until they are razor-sharp and ready for anything. Now I only need to go through the rest of my stash and arrange my bodybag for my alchemy and the jewels from my stash.
Putting my gear together fills me with newfound confidence. Just like an old man’s cane the familiar things tend to get me back on track. Surely I have to do something! I am not a coward, even with my newfound conscience. It is not possible to run away from my past forever. I have to reconcile it with my head held high or fall trying. Everything I can do to prepare for it can be done in this room, today.
I smile to the women as I attend to the breakfast they have conjured. It is much the same than the meal I had with them yesterday. Perhaps a bit more fruit and less cheese than the one before but nonetheless.
— What are you going to do next, Chrysal asks between the bites. A bold question, in line of bold statements and actions done on her part. I am not to stay in her shadow though. If I am to take horrible risks just to stay close to her, I need to try to make the best of it.
— Three things. Firstly I am going to give you this.
I drop a ruby of considerable value to her hand. I keep my grasp on her wrist for a few seconds and look her straight in the eyes.
— And thank you for all your troubles you have taken for my account. Secondly, I am going to tell you my story of my trip to the faraway lands. It will take a while and will sound like a ramblings of a madman, but nonetheless all of it is true and it explains why I didn’t recognize you even though I should have when you approached me.
— Thirdly I am going to search for the Mask Market using the name of my former mentor Papak as way to get an audience. And when you have heard my story you will undestand why, as it is that I can never be an endsman anymore.
After a small pause I take her hand into mine.
— I would gladly wish to hear your story as well. Perhaps we can have a part in each other’s stories of the future.
The match starts.