Mallory slipped into the kitchen and peered around for whatever side room would give her the privacy to change. She spied a storeroom and headed for a corner of it, pulling a large crate of produce against the wall to conceal herself. Not ideal but it would do. She had changed clothes with far less cover, back in Galt.
She shook her head as she dug through her pack to pull out her “serving wench” clothes, bidding the thoughts to go away. Not now. There was a time and place to ruminate on the unmitigated clusterfuck of her life, but the back storeroom of the Right Place wasn’t it.
But as she shed her armor and donned the serving dress with its low-cut neckline, the thoughts came anyway.
Sure, it was the “Right Place,” but was she really in the right place? In the grander sense, was she? Was this really where she was supposed to be?
In a few weeks, she would be taking part in an operation to murder two women and a man. However justifiable it might have been, that was the blunt truth: murder. She didn’t know any of them. She’d beaten down a few thugs in the retaking of Artume, sure. Thrown a goblin in a pit. She was sure he hadn’t survived that, and she still felt terrible. But that was still somehow easier to justify than what she was about to do. She knew there was good reason. On Lenard’s word, these were the hitmen he used to work for… his own ex-wife and little Nora’s mother, whom he dearly wanted to protect her from. Of course there were reasons.
But there had been reasons for the murder of Mallory’s parents, too.
Would she really be any different from them?
She checked her appearance in a small mirror from her pack. She looked absolutely dynamite, and she knew it. She just wasn’t sure if she wanted to look herself in the eyes right now. She stuffed the mirror away and began packing her usual gear into her bag.
The truth was, she’d felt lost for years. The tales of Caiden Cailean reminded her of her parents. Hell, maybe they were Caedenites themselves. She wasn’t old enough to know when they died. But they always seemed cheerful and hopeful. They always treated people fairly—better than fairly, even. At least, that was what the very young Mallory had perceived. Maybe that quality was what drew her to the Caedenites. In the company of Jim, Jack, Johnny, and Bailey, nothing seemed insurmountable. Not with the attitude that naturally came from being around them.
When she’d finally made it to Heibarr, she’d tried to bring that same energy to the Meat Grinder, but Lenard was such a wet blanket. She understood why, but it didn’t help in dealing with her own issues. He always seemed to get her down. She’d turned it into a game, ribbing him and trying to get him to smile. She could count on one hand the times she’d managed it, and none of them were from her humor or good-naturedness. They were all just times she’d brightened Nora’s day. That was when Lenard smiled.
How had she started adventuring with this band of weirdos anyway? She’d just taken that initial job for some extra cash. Well, she certainly had that now, didn’t she? She’d seen more money just today than in all the years of her life before then. But then she got swept up in all of this other business… there were moments she’d faltered and privately thought how deep in over her head she was. That awful incident in Outsea flashed through her mind. The ghoul exploding its guts all over her in their first mission. The hobgoblins! And she was sure there were other brushes with death she wasn’t even remembering!
Adventurers don’t live long, she thought grimly. You need to quit. Go back to Heibarr and live in peace…
But then she also remembered Doc calling her the group’s conscience. Her chin quivered a little as she realized how much that meant to her. Maybe she was in the right place after all? She often liked to think of it that way, when she felt things were going well: her past trials, no matter how horrific, unfair, or cruel, had led her to where she was now, and made her the person she was now. The person Doc could call the group’s conscience, with utterances of agreement from the others.
Yeah, well, the “group’s conscience” seems to be okay with sending them to kill three people, she scolded herself silently. It was for Nora though. To protect Nora. To let Lenard finally be rid of his baggage. Maybe then he could really smile.