He’s reloading for the trip home, just in case, casting quick glances at the charr at his feet. Cowering, but alive. A juxtaposition from the past few years where he’s watch with quiet glee at how their bodies would cave in upon themselves, and the only proof he had to bring back was a head and a completed writ of contract. Now, there are witnesses. Now, there are standards. It’s not just bandit leaders anymore, with the Minister well and truly dead, the networks begin to fall apart. No new criminal empires. Nothing but the blue grass under his feet, and the constant gaze of superiors.
“You’re not terrible at it” she says, fixing the greatsword upon her back and standing off at a distance, “Actually being effective, I mean”
A quiet huff leaves him as he swallows back the bile that rises with her words. He says nothing in response and kicks the charr to get him moving. “Let’s get moving”
“No need to rush, Ironwood”
“Believe me, the less time I have to spend doing this, the better”
He doesn’t look, but he can feel the Exemplar’s eyes boring holes in the back of his head, and he can guess what she might be thinking, he’s seen the way Soha looks at him with nothing more than a sneer, the way someone might look at a stray, starving dog. This isn’t her first choice of assignment. She isn’t his first choice to be his jailer, and yet! Here they are.
Desperately trying not to tear each other’s throats out with their teeth.
The letter had been overkill, he thinks, and he knows because he was sitting in the room when she wrote it, watching every pen stroke as she forcibly stole him from the only thing that had given his life meaning, rather than spending his days being punished for something he had already nearly given his life for (‘You could have been nicer about it’ ‘I didn’t think it needed that kind of falsehood’). he thinks about it though, and quietly hope that the Vanguard will make their appearance one way or another — in the middle of wondrous things, a prison break wouldn’t be that hard to manifest, would it?
She whistles at him and pulls his attention back.
“Grab him. They’re expecting us back by nightfall”
His hand grabs the collar of the bandit’s shirt and he drags him along, towards the edge of the fields that lead back into the queen’s province proper, steeling himself for the harrowing, brutal road back behind the Exemplar and her haughty bullshit. Through the backroads and in through the remains of Doric, no one will look twice and we can avoid any kind of setback with separatists and their ilk–
He stops listening halfway through, they’re passing Ascalon Settlementf when the landscape shifts, imperceptibly. Like a shadow passing overhead.
Something catches the Captain’s eye, and he glances right. A glint. A glimmer.
He quickly ducks as the bullet soars right over his head and whifs the feathers in his hat. Soha has time to shout “What was that?!” before another bullet comes flying past and dings her armor. And then another shot, but he feels this one, and hears it much later–
but the feeling, he recognizes. Like a splinter slipping under his skin, like a needle under his eye pushing out.
Another shot and the panicking, squirming charr in his hand falls limp with a bullet point. Soha draws her shield but Jesse is already sprinting towards the terrace where the guards are calling about an active attacker, something that isn’t a centaur for once. He’s dropping into the shadows, desperately searching through the mire of the darkness to find the source. That bastard, that son of a bitch, he’s already done enough, he’s already serving this sentence, you can’t take that away from him too —
He pulls through the shadow on the top of the wall and sprints along it, looking for the fading, telltale sign of the thief. He finds nothing, and the Seraph forces are already pulling back on him, while Soha pushes through and grabs him by his lapels.
“What in the gods-damned blazes was that?!”
All he can find is silence, and a growing itch in the back of his neck.