Nova

 

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1: D'Ouro

Nova clenched her gloved hands as she eyed her new employer. He was short and round, with double chins, something that resembled a mustache, a receding dark gray hairline, and a coat of faux red velvet despite the summer heat. The man reclined on a cushioned chair painted gold, chewing on a wad of dark brown leaves. Nova stood there for two minutes, frowning at him underneath the hood of her black cloak. The man blinked at her several times before he spat out the leaves on his left and leaned forward.

“Ah, the great D’Sol,” he rasped as he rubbed a sleeve across his lips. “It seems your irrefutable reputation has brought you to me, Crassus, the Emperor of the Realms.” He gave her a dark grin, his teeth stained brown. “Aren’t you pleased to be in such service?”

Nova pursed her lips. Crassus was the self-proclaimed “Emperor of the Realms.” He managed most of the trade among the Nine Realms outlined in his “peace treaty” among all the Nine Realms, which gave each realm their independence ruled by their respective monarchs, yet abided by the Rules of the Realms that governed a basic lifestyle and moral code.

Crassus leaned back in his chair and waved a hand. “I’m sure you know by now that Stele’s the most wanted man in all the realms?”

“Yes.” She kept her voice low and gruff.

“And that’s where you come in,” he said, grinning. He gestured to a servant boy nearby. “Give our hunter the image of –”

“I know what he looks like,” Nova interrupted. Who didn’t? His picture had been plastered all over the nine realms for the past decade. The papers that littered the streets of the cities were not of the local news or events that were taking place, but of his wanted posters, with the promise of unimaginable riches for his capture.

Crassus blinked, and then called over the boy holding a rolled parchment paper. “He’s known to change his looks now and then, but this is the latest sketch we have of him.”

The servant scurried over to her and held out the parchment.

“My latest source was only three weeks ago,” Crassus added, scratching his chins. “But it’s fairly recent by most of the other realms.”

Nova took the parchment without bothering to look at it. “Is there anything else? Or I’ll take my leave now.”

“So eager to get started, eh D’Sol?” He motioned to the servant again. “Here’s a bit of motivation. You’ll get the rest once Stele’s captured.”

“I don’t accept advances,” she said. “Once you have your man, then I collect.”

Crassus chuckled. “This is why everyone loves you.” He waved a hand to his servant. “But I insist you take the money, as a token of my appreciation that you have chosen to work with me…and the rest of the Nine Realms.”

Nova took the dark leather pouch from the bowing young boy. Its weight surprised her as she pocketed the bag under her cloak. “Good day, then.”

*****

Nova stepped out of Crassus’s sandstone building and glanced up at the sky. The blue sun-star neared its zenith. The air was dry and the skies a dusty yellow, a sign of summer in the Realm of D’Ouro. She pulled out the rolled parchment Crassus gave. She glanced at the sketch before she crumbled it up and tossed it into a fire pit used for burning waste. She knew very well how this Stele looked. His wanted posters had been around for years and each year the man on the poster had a different look, whether it was the hair, a beard of some sort, or some flawed facial feature, but it was his eyes that always remained the same. It was how she always found her marks.

Nova adjusted her hood and the scarf around her face to filter the billowing grains of sand. She had been looking for Stele several years ago when she first started hunting outlaws and fugitives while working for the local authorities. Back when the reward was just one thousand gold coins for stealing some “priceless” royal trinket. But now it was ten million – one million from each of the Nine Realms, and a million from Crassus himself – and the list of crimes grew from thievery to treason and serial murder. With that much money Nova wouldn’t need to hunt down baddies anymore. She had to admit that she was surprised that someone would hire her now to hunt Stele down. No one had hired her to find him back then, even though many knew her reputation as the hunter who always caught her targets.

Nova held up the coin bag Crassus gave. Then she removed the sword strapped across her back. She pulled out the blade and tapped it over the gold coins. It was a precautionary habit she kept since she’d gotten the sword from her mentor years ago. The sword had the ability to remove any magic, malicious or not, whenever it was nearby. She wasn’t sure how, but it was something she’d learn her sword could do during her early days as a bounty hunter. And she didn’t question it.

Nova slipped the bag back into her cloak’s pocket and strapped the sword back across her back. Sand danced around as she made her way to the marketplace: a collection of semi-covered stalls and low buildings along the main road that led to the central city of Qizil, the capital of D’Ouro. She weaved in and out of crowds until she stopped in front of an ice-seller.

“A cold drink for your travels?” the vendor asked.

Nova slid a coin towards the older man across the makeshift table. The man’s eyes widened. Nova held back her smile, knowing the man’s thought: who in their right mind would pay for a cup of cold water with gold?

Although D’Ouro was the home of gold mines, most of the gold was exported to the inner realms, mainly to D’Terra, the third of the Nine Realms – and the wealthiest – before it was made into coins and other valued items used throughout the Nine Realms.

“Yes,” she stated. “But there’s something else I’d like as well.”

*****

The mug of ice water was a short relief from the summer heat. Nova thanked the vendor and headed towards the main road that led out from the marketplace. She walked for a quarter of an hour before she took a smaller path lined with shrubbery and a few tall, but thin trees. Then she sprinted ahead, turned behind a tree, and then crouched near a golden brown thicket.

Nova eyed a thin boy no older than a decade trudge his way up the trodden path. He wore the clothing of the locals: a loose, dusty brown tunic, and a pair of dark beige trousers folded above his calves, but his dark gray hair and eyes, and pallid skin betrayed his D’Pratan origin. Nova wrinkled her nose.

The boy glanced around as he walked. His eyes scanned the trees and shrubs opposite of where Nova hid. The boy frowned for a moment before he started back down the path. Nova shook her head and followed the boy, keeping to the trees. She pulled out a small coil of rope from her pocket before she grabbed the boy from behind.

The boy yelped before Nova pressed him against a tree and tied up his hands from behind. She tossed the other end of the rope over one of the branches and pulled, forcing the boy off the ground, and tied the end in a single knot. The boy dangled, shrieking as Nova turned and walked away.

“Wait!” he cried. “Don’t leave me here!”

Nova ignored him and continued walking down the path.

“It was Crassus!” the boy cried.

Nova looked back at him, amused that he’d betray his master.

“He told me to follow you,” he added. “He doesn’t want you to find Stele yet.”

Nova raised a brow. She knew Crassus would send someone to stalk her, and somehow make it seem like she was unable to get her mark, and thus would not have to pay her the ten million. This boy was perhaps the same child that stood by the fat “emperor” but without the hooded tanned clothing all his servants wore.

“Please don’t leave me here!” the boy shrieked as Nova turned away. “I’m telling the truth, I swear on the blue sun-star!”

Nova looked over her shoulder at the boy. “What’s your name?”

“Judhe,” he whimpered, his dark hair falling over his gray eyes. “Judhe Riar D’Prata.” Nova was right. The boy was from D’Prata.

“Well, Judhe Riar D’Prata, the ice-seller will free you in a few hours,” she stated. “That is, if he remembers to.”

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Greysh Velazquez

I'm in love with it so far, she sounds really independent! :)

2: D'Prata

Nova squinted at the massive stone arch structure that stood in the center of Qizil Valley, about ten hours south of the central city of Qizil. No one remembered how the giant arches came to be, or if they’ve been there since time immemorial, but everyone knew they were portals – the only way to travel between the realms – and there was one in each realm. Crassus’s men and a representative of their respective realm monarchy monitored each stone due to the peace treaty. Most realms required some form of documentation that authorized travel, but a few gold coins gave anyone access.

The seventh realm from the blue sun-star, D’Ouro was dust and mountains with a single, small ocean, and a handful of thin rivers. Vegetation was scarce, so food was imported from the Inner Realms – the first three planets closest to their sun. D’Ouro was known to have different colored skies for its seven seasons, which attracted wealthy visitors year-round. The D’Ouron monarchy relied on this tourism to keep the realm’s economy thriving.

Nova didn’t see anyone enter through the portal. Of course no one would, except Crassus. She was sure he had a few fat fingers in the gold mines, the realm’s primary export, which may be the sole reason for his permanent presence in D’Ouro.

The blue sun-star winked low in the sky. Nova wanted to confront Crassus, but then thought otherwise. Crassus would only deny the accusation and tell her she was no longer in his employ. She also assumed that Crassus would want her to confront him, so he could laugh at her, knowing the man could’ve hired someone else than a servant boy to delay her. Instead she decided to continue her search for Stele regardless of how many minions the fat fool sent after her.

Nova eyed the three men guarding the stone archway. The D’Ouron representative had his long, golden hair tied back with a metal clasp, and the colored ribbons of his uniform signified both a guard of the monarchy and an envoy. He looked young, but she knew the man was twice her age. Most D’Ourons were blessed with youthful looks due to their simple lifestyle despite living in a desert realm. The other two larger men wore all tan leather, Crassus’s semi-circle and three-pointed star insignia, and carried thick leather rods in their gloved hands.

The three men turned as she approached.

“D’Prata,” she said, tossing a small cloth pouch to the D’Ouron envoy.

The man pulled open the bag and counted ten gold coins. He looked back at Crassus’s thugs and nodded with a wide grin. Then he sauntered over to one side of the arch and pressed his palm against it on one of the nine symbols carved into the gray stone.

“D’Prata,” he stated. “Permission to travel granted.”

Nova glanced up. The arch’s center was no longer hollow. A deep indigo film appeared, dotted with winking specks of light and nine orbs of various colors that circled a large, glowing blue sphere.

Nova blinked, her fists clenched on her sides. She noticed the two thugs eyeing the visibly large sword strapped across her back. She gritted her teeth as she cursed herself for not checking D’Prata’s current regulations while traveling with weapons, but once she passed through the filmed center of the arch, however, she forgot all about it.

Nova rubbed her eyes and coughed. Dust left her lungs and filled up with snowflakes. It happened every time she traversed from the desert-like D’Ouro to the frozen tundra of D’Prata.

Most of the realm was covered with frost year-round and they exported silver from the snowy black mountains, but most claim they sell ice than anything else to the other realms. D’Prata received an occasional traveler, but it was still the neglected realm of the Nine Realms. Even its own monarchs spent more time in the other realms than their own, which seemed like the perfect place for fugitives to reside.

Nova pulled her cloak tighter around herself as she trudged through the ankle deep snow. The last time she came here was two years ago, when she turned in a local limb cutter after he’d been hiding out on D’Ouro. The authorities had been more than generous with her payment. Stele would be here, living under a guise, and not D’Ouro, which she had suspected before. Hiding under Crassus’s nose wasn’t possible since his eyes were everywhere in that realm.

She spotted Crassus’s two large men in tanned armor by the arch, and another shorter man in D’Prata’s native silver fur cloak. She kept her eyes ahead. The blue sun-star glowed through the silver-lined clouds that sprinkled snow. D’Prata’s capital city, Argentus, was a little more than half an hour away from its portal. Nova bit her lip, frowning. She knew she’d get there earlier if the people remembered to clear the path of snow the way they always did every day.

A sharp whistle on her right made her turn. A girl around half her age rode atop an enormous frost-fox.

“Good morning, guest!” the girl called, waving a hand. “Need a ride to Argentus?”

Nova turned away and continued her trek through the snow. D’Prata was known for their hospitality, but it was also a marketing tactic. The girl was perhaps employed by one of the city’s inns, or guest-homes. Nova suspected there were several other frost-fox or snow-horse riders circling the portal for potential customers.

“Don’t worry, guest!” the girl called behind her. “Vixi doesn’t bite! She’s the fastest in all of D’Prata! We’ll get you to Argentus in half a quarter hour!”

Nova didn’t respond as she continued trudging through the snow.

“I’ll tell Father not to charge you at his inn!” the girl added. She rode up alongside Nova. “You can stay the whole week free if you’d like.”

“Aren’t we desperate?” Nova said, turning to the girl.

The girl stopped her frost-fox and hopped down. She brushed off snow, then kissed the tips of her gloved right hand before touching her chest as a D’Pratan greeting.

“What do you get out of charging nothing?” Nova asked, eyeing her.

The girl smiled, her round red cheeks glowing. “A potential friend!”

“Not worth the risk, child,” she stated. “Hasn’t your father warned you about bad people?”

“Yes, guest,” the girl replied, nodding. “But bad people never come here.”

Nova raised a brow. “Really?”

The girl nodded again. “Vixi knows if someone is bad here. She eats them.”

Nova gazed at the frost-fox that towered her. Its silver-white fur glittered like diamonds, but its large silver-rimmed blue eyes never left her.

“Frost-foxes only eat snow hares and silver,” Nova stated, turning back to the girl.

The girl nodded. “They do, but only Vixi eats bad people. I found her as a kit in Father’s stables three years ago. When we heard that Bounty Hunter Nova D’Sol found Limb Logger and brought him here, Vixi ate him before he could be executed, limb by limb.” The girl stroked her pet. “A fair punishment if you ask me.”

“Has Vixi eaten anyone else since then?”

The girl nodded. “She ate a fat D’Terran merchant who smuggled frost-foxes to D’Mar, a butcher from one of the mountain villages, who starved his children, and a foolish mother who drowned her newborn in the frozen lake last summer.”

Nova exhaled. “What about Stele?”

The girl shook her head. “I don’t think he’s here. If he were, Vixi would’ve eaten him. You know, Vixi is like our own bounty hunter, only she eats bad people.”

“Well,” Nova breathed. “A beast like that would come in handy for me.”

The girl tilted her head. “How so, guest?”

Nova turned away. “Are we going to stand here and talk all day, or are you taking me to your father’s inn?”

“Oh, yes!” The girl nodded. “My apologies for the delay. I get so excited when I meet new people that I forget my duties.” She turned to the frost-fox. “Vixi, please allow our guest to travel with us to Father’s inn.”

The frost-fox lowered herself and the two climbed onto her back.

“Hold on to Vixi’s fur,” the girl said over her shoulder to Nova. “We’ll be there before you can say ‘silver snow’!”

The frost-fox launched itself across the snow. In a few short strides, they arrived at the marbled gates of Argentus. A silvery-crystal dome enclosed the entire city, which housed almost all of the inhabitants of the realm. A few scattered towns and villages dotted the mountainside, but most residences weren’t far from the capital.

“I know almost everyone and every place here,” the girl said. “There are almost nine thousand residents and ninety businesses. The best places I’ve gone are the silver hot springs and silver caves near the forbidden border. Have you ever been to those places, guest? No? Well, Vixi can take you there. She can take you all over D’Prata! Except past the forbidden border since we people can’t survive the harsh conditions, but did you know there are so many creatures that live there on the other side of the forbidden border? Creatures like Vixi and winter-wolves snow-serpents, and I’ve even heard there were silver people living there, but Father says they’re myth.”

The girl shook her head. “I know they exist, but that’s not my business. Anyway, we can also visit the palace, but there won’t be anyone there except Great-Aunt Fidza, who’s a cousin of Queen Chandi and a distant relative of mine, on my mother’s side. You know, that makes me related to Prince Valent? Of course, that also makes me related to every D’Pratan. We’re all related to each other from the first D’Pratans that came to this realm millennia ago. I’m sure I’m related to you, guest, but we’d have to go way back to know who our common ancestor was.”

“Interesting,” Nova muttered. Of course, she knew everything the girl rambled about. This wasn’t her first visit to D’Prata, but with the girl talking her ear off, it just may be her last.

“I know, right?” the girl gushed. “D’Prata is an incredibly wondrous realm. There’s so much do and you won’t even notice the cold! It’s just unfortunate Prince Valent and the Queen aren’t here. They even took their entire council to D’Terra! They stay longer there than they do here. I’ve heard D’Terra is always green and humid, so how can someone even think to stay there if there’s no snow? Ridiculous!”

The girl flipped a hand in the air. “Anyway, it’s always just Great-Aunt Fidza here, minding the palace, along with some of her grandchildren. I know it sounds somewhat strange, but if anyone does have a monarch-related problem, Great-Aunt Fidza just sends them to the nearest judiciary council, which just so happens to be right here in Argentus! My uncle serves as one of the judges and he used to be a constable decades ago. I visit the palace on most days, but it would be splendid if you can join us for a while, guest.”

She looked over her shoulder at Nova, who shrugged. The girl grinned. “Trust me and Vixi to give you the best time in D’Prata! OF course, it would be more fun if Talim were here! That’s actually Prince Valent’s common name, but don’t tell him I called him that.”

Then the girl prattled on about common names and how different they were to official names, and how all the people of the Nine Realms had five names: their common name, which is the name close family members were allowed to use, their official name, their mother’s official name, their father’s official name, and the realm one came from.

“But most people,” the girl added. “Say their common name, their official name, and the realm they’re from when they make introductions. For me, it’s Rupa Hopea D’Prata, but my full name is Rupa Hopea Candina Kumis D’Prata. Candina was my mother, but Father calls her Ayu. She passed away one blizzard many years ago when I was just learning to talk.”

The girl craned her head towards Nova. “What about you, guest? We haven’t made proper introductions. Of course, riding atop a frost-fox isn’t the best way, but –”

“Argentus,” Nova stated.

“What?” the girl said. “That can’t be your name! That’s the name of our capital!”

Nova pointed toward the domed city that towered before them.

“Oh, we’re here!” The girl gave a laugh. “Welcome to Argentus, guest!”

The frost-fox entered the domed city through the opened, silver gates before Nova and the girl dismounted. Nova surveyed the fur-covered shops and people. Everyone had on thick fur cloaks, but many did not wear their hoods. The air inside the city was warmer, but cool enough to see one’s breath. Black hair, silver-specked black eyes, and pallid complexion were traits native of the D’Pratan people. Stele was said to be from the second realm, D’Lua, whose people also shared similar physical features except their eyes were gray. Perhaps there was a chance that Stele was here, regardless of what the girl claimed about her pet.

“Oh, there’s Father’s inn!” The girl pointed. “It’s on the corner by the silversmith.” Then she bounded up the cobbled path.

The girl and her pet stopped before a fur-lined three-story dark gray stone building. Most of the buildings within the city were covered with various shades of silvery-gray fur, layered in between each stone, which gave the look that the buildings grew fur.

“Have you ever seen a furry building before?” she asked.

The girl didn’t wait to hear Nova’s response as she hurried inside. Nova watched, eyes wide, as the frost-fox ducked inside behind the girl. She supposed the inn was built to accommodate the giant animal.

“Welcome to Argie’s Inn, guest!” the girl said. “We were the first to fur-line this place. And anyone’ll tell you that Great-great grandmother Argie was the best hostess in all the Nine Realms.”

Inside the building, a massive stone hearth burned crimson in the center of the large common room. Soft gray cushioned chairs, benches, and tables filled the room. A large carpeted staircase in the back led upstairs to guestrooms. A few people sat around the tables, eating and talking, while others made their way down the stairs and towards a long counter at the other end where food was served.

“Rupa!” a tall, stout man behind the counter called. “Stop talking and get to the kitchens. Biri’s out with her husband, so we only have Srebra making breakfast.”

“But Father, we have a guest!” the girl replied. She took Nova’s arm and pulled her towards the counter. “Vixi likes him and I want him to stay a week for free.”

The man narrowed his eyes at his daughter. “Free?” He glanced at Nova before he crossed his arms. “We’ll talk about this later. Right now people are coming for breakfast and there’s no food ready. You want people to leave Argie’s forever?”

“No, Father!” the girl replied. She turned to Nova and grinned. “I’ll be right back, guest. You may make yourself at home!”

Rupa ducked behind the counter and disappeared through a back door.

“What’s your name, guest?” Rupa’s father asked, eyeing her.

“D’Sol,” Nova stated in a low, rough voice.

“You’re far from home,” the man said, raising a brow. “I’d ask more, but that’s Rupa’s work. Good luck with whatever you’re here for.”

The man gave her the same D’Pratan gesture Rupa gave before he walked over to one of the tables with a tray of steaming silver mugs.

Nova glanced about the place as she sat down on a bench near a window. She squinted outside. The snow had stopped and someone had cleared a path from the portal towards the city.

“Good morning, traveler.”

Nova turned to see a young man with his hood thrown back to reveal short black hair and silver specked eyes. He grinned at her as she narrowed her eyes. She then unstrapped the sword from her back and placed it in front of her on the table.

“Ah, correction. Armed traveler.” He cleared his throat and stood up. “I shall leave you in peace. Good day.”

He pulled up his hood and walked over to another occupied table. From the clinks of glass and the multitude of pouches the man had tied to his waist, Nova knew the man was trying to sell something. Many young D’Pratan men did so – it had become somewhat of a custom for them. But if someone bought something, then the seller wouldn’t leave them alone until everyone they knew also bought from him.

Nova picked her sword off the table and strapped it across her back. She glanced at the frost-fox, who curled up near the door, eyes half-closed.

There was no point in Nova being here if Stele wasn’t here in the first place.

She stood up and surveyed the room. No one sat by themselves except her. Or perhaps Stele had assimilated into this place. D’Pratans were known to travel in pairs or groups, but never alone. The realm’s climate was too unforgiving for that. Would the locals ever know that the man they kept company with was a wanted criminal?

Nova approached the frost-fox and ran a hand over her head.

“Please come with me,” she whispered.

The frost-fox opened her eyes and gave a purred chirp before she stood up and stretched her legs, yawning. Nova smiled. She then walked out of the inn with the frost-fox a few paces behind her.

*****

“This man,” Nova said, pointing to the wanted poster of Stele. “Is he here?”

The faded image pinned to one of the city’s bulletin poles showed a young man no older than herself with a thick, single brow and a jagged mustache than crawled towards his chin. The poster was outdated, but she supposed the frost-fox would know if such a man, regardless of his ridiculous facial hair, would reside here in the city.

Vixi yawned and shook herself, snowflakes sprinkling off her fur. She then eyed a butcher shop and bounded over. Nova crossed her arms and watched the frost-fox.

“Vixi!” the butcher greeted. “Here ya go, freshly killed this morn.” The butcher tossed a large snow hare at the frost-fox, who snatched it out of the air and chewed with her fangs snapping.

Once she finished eating, Vixi pawed back over to Nova.

“So you do know where he is?” the bounty hunter asked.

The frost-fox just tilted her head, eyeing her.

“Oh, great,” Nova muttered, pinching the space between her eyes. “I’m talking to an animal as if it understands me.”

Vixi then gave a low yip, lowered herself, and waited. Nova didn’t hesitate to climb onto her back. The frost-fox then strolled through the city and stopped in front of a dress shop. Women and girls entered and exited the shop, saluting them. Vixi lowered herself and waited for Nova to dismount, but the bounty hunter frowned, shaking her head.

“I’m here for Stele, beast,” she said. “Not gowns.”

The frost-fox straightened and marched over to a jeweler’s stall, an apothecary, a bathhouse, and a sweets shop.

Nova grimaced. “Are these the places Rupa goes?”

The frost-fox gave a purr-chirp, her eyes glittering.

Nova shook her head. “All right, I see what you’re doing. You know I’m not male, so you think these are the places I’d fancy.” She pointed towards the ground. “I’m not here to tour your city, beast.”

The frost-fox raised her head, her ears twitching, before she lowered herself and waited for Nova to dismount.

“Tell Rupa I left,” she said to Vixi as she adjusted her hood, and pulled the black scarf wrapped around her neck over her nose and mouth.

She marched towards the city gates when she turned back to see if the frost-fox had left. Vixi remained near a weapons shop, gazing at her.

“Guest!”

Nova noticed Rupa sprinting towards her. Nova shook her head, turning away.

“Wait, guest!” the girl cried behind Nova. “Please don’t go yet!”

The girl panted as she paused by her pet. Then she turned to the frost-fox and put her hands on her hips. “How could you let our guest leave like that? He could’ve been our friend! He could’ve told us about all the grand adventures he had while staying at Father’s inn! I’m disappointed in you, Vixi!”

The frost-fox tilted her head, blinking a few times at the girl. Then she turned her attention away, her ears flicking up.

“Please, guest,” Rupa said, turning to Nova. “Please stay for at least the night. Father has your meal and room prepared. And yes, I do want to hear of all your great travels.”

Before Nova had a chance to speak, screams echoed across from them. She turned to see a young woman in a billowy lavender furred gown chase after two men in tattered cloaks.

“Thieves!” the woman cried, racing into a narrow street. “They stole my bag!”

Nova glanced around to see if anyone would do something about the robbery, but people ignored it, walking as if they didn’t hear the woman’s scream.

“Come, guest,” Rupa said, tugging on Nova’s arm. “Father is waiting.”

Nova glanced at the frost-fox. She remained rigid. If the robbers were bad people, wouldn’t Vixi eat them?

“Don’t worry about them,” Rupa said. “If they were really bad people Vixi would chase after them. Vixi doesn’t eat foolish thieves. Let’s leave it to the constables.”

Nova gave a nod and followed the girl. Nova was a hunter. It wasn’t her job to enforce the law. Only when there was a known criminal she’d go after him, for a price of course.

Nova looked over her shoulder and saw the frost-fox tailing them, but then it stopped mid-stride and bristled.

The screams from the alley where the woman ran after the thieves were not from crying for help, but fear. Nova saw a man dressed in all gray dart into the alley, his hood and scarf hiding his identity.

Nova raced after the man. She paused behind a building’s corner to watch the man. He crouched in the shadow of a stall. The two thieves backed the lavender gowned woman against a building, brandishing knives. The woman shrieked as one of them lunged at her. The gray-cloaked man tackled one of the thieves to the ground. The thief dropped a leather bag he held. The woman scrambled for the bag, then swung it, striking the other thief back. The gray-cloaked man punched the disoriented thief unconscious, then grabbed the other thief from escaping and knocked him out, too.

“Thank you,” the woman breathed, clutching her bag to her chest. “For coming to my aid.”

The gray-cloaked man said nothing as he tied up the two unconscious men with rope produced from one of his pockets.

“I…think I’ll get the constable,” the woman muttered before she shouted for one of the silver badged men in dark gray uniform strolling down the street.

The gray-cloak man straightened and then dashed into another narrow street once the woman turned away. Nova frowned and followed the man.

Vigilantes didn’t exist in D’Prata. She knew that from the last time she visited the isolated realm. D’Pratans refused to get involved whenever there was a problem. Even the portly constables that sauntered down the streets waited until something happened before they went to investigate, or they’d wait until someone reported something. They would never involve themselves with ongoing criminal activity.

But the actions of this man – this vigilante – were contrary to a D’Pratan’s. That’s because Nova knew he wasn’t D’Pratan. The Nine Realms had been after him for decades. And now Nova’s hunt was over.

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