9-7

Anladet had been busy. As soon as Raulin had left, she had sat down on a nearby bench and began to listen to the people nearby. At first, she had thought to hone in on the ones traversing through the area on their way to work or tending to errands. But, they often didn’t speak unless they were with someone and they passed by too quickly.

She moved on to those who were working or living in the area. There was a woman leaning out her window, gossiping with her neighbor. Their cadence was easy to follow and the stories, while peppered with the occasional bit of slang, were straightforward. Occasionally she thought she could figure out some unspoken emotion associated with different subjects, but it was hard to tell if she was picking up new things or just guessing.

Anla moved on to the man in the store behind her, who spoke kindly to most customers. It was easy to hear when his voice grew hard or formal or impatient, but there was a little more to each that she wish she could label. She enjoyed the practice, but this wasn’t going to help her unless she could confirm her guesses.

There was another technique she could try that involved the overall emotion of a group. There had been a baerd who had been commissioned by many politicians and officers to give speeches. He had been particularly masterful in understanding the common thread of feeling in hundreds even thousands of people and then swaying them on many levels to what he wanted them to feel. One of the more famous riots in New Wextif had been circumvented by just him speaking to the mob.

This again was something she was able to touch upon, but not really grasp. Together, the people in the area seemed somewhere between resigned and appreciative, with pops of joy and anger here and there. It was hard for her to keep track of the emotional vapor of the block for more than a few moments, but it was something she couldn’t do yesterday and that brought her some pride.

She checked in every minute or so, to see what differences she detected. After perhaps a half-hour of this, she noted there was an undertone to conversations that began to grow. More and more people arrived home and they spoke of this need more and more. Even when she could isolate someone talking, it was there, even when the person said nothing of it.

And then she smelled it. Bread baking, pasta cooking, meat sizzling in pans. The undertone grew, and not too long after, abated as people ate dinner. Moods improved as people were satiated both by food and by company.

Anla enjoyed the tones of the neighborhood until it suddenly hit her: where was Raulin? She turned and looked inside the market behind her to see a clock that read 6:12. She had seen one when she had been walking with Raulin that had read 3:04 sometime before they had entered this area. Over three hours, and he had said a half-hour tops, plus travel time. That couldn’t have been more than an hour for him to get to the house and back.

She stood, not having moved the entire time she was observing, and stretched as she pondered the situation. Should she worry about this? He had said it was going to be quick, just minutes of work once he reached his destination. Anla wondered if there was something else, like he was playing a prank or testing her by seeing if she could guess where he was watching her. She looked around but dismissed the thought quickly as he likely would have grown bored with the idea hours ago.

There was no immediate rush, but Anla was getting hungry and would prefer to eat after things were in order. Then it occurred to her that she was stuck; she didn’t know which direction Raulin took and she couldn’t go back to Tel and Al without triggering the chalice spell. She would need to move one of the outside groups in so that she could move to find Raulin.

Anla waited another twenty minutes before she caught the eye of a boy around her age, not quite ready to shave and still lanky in the shoulders. She waved him over, and after a quick glance behind him, approached her. “Yes?” he asked.

“I was wondering if you or someone you knew would like to make a little money tonight.”

A broad grin broke out on his face. “Yes, miss,” he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat and spoke a little deeper. “What do you need help with?”

“I’ll give you one silver to go to my hotel, find two men named Fiar Auslen and Telbarisk, and tell them I need them to come here. If you escort them, I’ll give you another silver. I’d be very appreciative if you did this for me.”

His neck snapped back for a moment and he blinked a few times. A flush crept across his face. He took off after she told him the location of the hotel, but before she could give him the silver piece she promised.

She sat on the bench again and waited, hoping that she hadn’t just wasted two silver and that Raulin would pop in shortly. There was no such luck. Al and Tel showed up with the boy close to seven o’clock, the boy having run ahead of the two.

“I brought them. May I have my kiss now?”

It was her turn to blink a few times in confusion. “Kiss? I thought…”

“You said you would, if I brought those two men here.”

Anla considered this for a moment. She was unsure what had happened exactly, but in an immediate sense she was saving two silver and giving this boy a kiss, perhaps his first. He wasn’t asking for anything more and he wasn’t being disrespectful to her. It was also a bonus that he was by himself, not being egged on by his friends. She shrugged and pulled his shoulders in, kissing him square on the mouth.

The boy froze for a moment, then gently cupped the sides of her face and kissed her back. He let go when she pulled back, but still didn’t leave. He moved to the side, but started and stopped himself from saying something several times before stomping off in frustration just as Al and Tel showed up.

“Who was that?” Al asked.

“I don’t know. Someone who helped me and wanted a kiss instead of payment. So, we have a problem.”

“That was uncouth of him.”

“Focus, Al. Raulin never returned from his job.”

“So? He’s late. Or probably wenching somewhere before he comes back.”

She crossed her arms. “He made it very clear to me that this job was only going to take him maybe an hour to do, including walking to and from the location, and then he’d be back to get me to go to the hotel. It’s been three more hours since that point. I don’t think he’d go to the effort of telling me he was going to be back quickly, then getting sidetracked. I think he’s in trouble.”

“I have to agree, Alpine. Raulin might do any number of things you find unsavory, but he’s strict on promises he gives. If he said he was going to be back by dinner, which I heard him say, too, then he would do everything in his power to make it back.’

Al sighed. “You two are making a problem where there isn’t one. I say we go back to the hotel and wait until he comes back. If he isn’t back in the morning, we’ll look for him then.”

“We can’t. I have no idea where he is, so we can’t assume the hotel is within a mile of his location. Also, what if he’s hurt? Or captured? The longer we wait, the more likely he is of being arrested. Or killed.”

This seemed to do the trick. Al walked over to the bench and sat, leaning forward and rubbing his fingers over his lips. “Which way did he leave? Can you track him?”

“He went that way,” she said, pointing to the northeastern street, “but it would be too difficult to track him. There are too many people here. It’s sort of like tracking someone’s footprints after a storm.”

“You followed Silfa from Hanala to the country, though.”

She pressed her lips. “That was possible because she was screaming and crying the whole way. Gagged or not, she made a lot of noise. Raulin didn’t.”

“Oh,” he said, sighing. “Poor dear. So, we know he’s within a mile of here. Did he tell you anything that might help us?”

“He said a half-mile, but we should know that only slightly less than a mile is verified. Um…whatever he was stealing was something that took some perception to find. He said it was ‘like a book’, but I didn’t get the impression that was correct. He had a knotted belt on that was unusual, but wore his normal tunic, leggings, and boots. Oh, and a kerchief around his shoulder.”

“Those are mason’s signs,” Al said. “Aggie was affiliated with one, since you can’t work masonry jobs without belonging to a guild, even if you’re a wizard on loan.”

“It was likely a pretense,” she said. “Although, maybe he had to steal something from a workshop, like a particular statue.”

“I’d say we should look for a mason shop, but we’re still in Vladi and there are likely a few here, even in a town this small. We should put that idea on the back of the shelf for now.”

The three of them spent a quiet few minutes trying to think of more information. Finally, Al threw his hands up. “I wish we had a different way of finding people. I can’t at all, Tel can locate people but no one specifically, and your magic doesn’t work with someone like Raulin.”

“Did you two eat dinner at least?”

“No. I was reading and waiting to see if we were leaving tonight or not. I guess we can ponder this over dinner.”

Not wanting to disturb their radius, they headed northeast and stopped at the first restaurant they came to, a small place that served hearty Aroukean food. Anla found herself only hungry enough to abate her need, but didn’t enjoy the meal nor want anything more than a third of a roast beef slice and a few augren potatoes.

Anla played with her food while Al and Tel discussed Raulin’s situation and their options. Somewhere in this town he was stuck and she felt frustrated and worried and maybe even a little irritated with him. It was supposed to just be a short time, he had said.

She toyed with the salt shaker, tilting it back and forth, then placing her fingertip over the top. That was Raulin. The three of them were on the table, some radius of a mile around him and no way to know exactly where the salt shaker was. Unless, of course, they triggered the spell and grew sick. But, that would only tell them he was outside their circle, not where his circle was.

Anla picked up the salt shaker and noticed Al look at her quickly, then went back to her conversation. She placed it on her leg for the moment and closed her eyes. The table was now the domain of not the salt shaker but her fork, which she placed in the center. She imagined the fork moving until it hit the edge of its boundary.

Tel was done eating, so she grabbed his fork, too, and held it in her hand far out from the table. “Anladet?” he asked.

“Shh. She thinking u-tense-ily,” Al said, laughing at his joke.

The second fork moved out farther until it, too, was triggered and couldn’t move any more. She made a line between the two forks with her asparagus, at least as far as she could before they fell off the table.

“What are you doing?” Al asked.

Her eyes darted back and forth, remembering lessons her father patiently taught her about geometry. She inhaled quickly and looked up at him. “Oh, I think I’ve got how we can find Raulin.”

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