Reil and Cent picked their way between the throngs of people, Feldrin’s crowds had become normal to the two young men. Cent breathed a sigh as they passed a young woman and two children huddled against a indention in the wall of a skyscraper. The dirt covered children shivered despite the heat of the day, not a good sign. He slung a strap of his backpack off and brought the bag around front to grab a protein bar from the mess hall of the Thief House the day prior. Once they reached the black market dealer and friend, Victoria, the two friends wouldn’t be strapped for cash, so helping out the children couldn’t hurt.
“Hey, I don’t have much, but it’s really yummy and filling!” Cent softly said to the children and their mother, exaggeratedly rubbing his stomach. The younger of the children looked on the verge of giggling, but the older one protectively reached an arm around his younger sibling in a sorry act of defense. “Ah, well it’s clear you’re the strongest of all of us here, I’ll let you decide what to do with the food.” Cent raised his hands to each side, palms facing outward, feigning surrender before placing the protein bar on the ground in front of the older child.
“Thank you,” were the words Cent thought he heard from the mother, but they were scratchy and quiet.
Cent simply nodded, humble as always. “This city is falling apart, this war is going to be the death of all of us,” he ran a frustrated hand through his thick curls once they were back on their way.
“Even before the war, hunger and poverty still existed. And even if we win, it’ll still be around. You do what you can and that’s honorable,” Reil had had this conversation many times with his altruistic friend.
“I know hunger will always exist, but it wasn’t nearly this bad even just five years ago, when the Delkari weren’t as heavily hit by the war as they are now. Day by day I’m more convinced that the best way to help these people doesn’t involve me staying on this planet acting like Rorak.” Rorak was a character from a popular children’s story who was famous for stealing from the rich and powerful, to give everything to the poor. “As much as I detest violence, I have to join the war effort. I think I can make a bigger difference there than here in Feldrin. And without the Thief House and everyone holding me here anymore, well I’ve been thinking maybe I should enlist tomorrow.”
Reil’s eyes widened with surprise and he let out a high pitched whistle. “What brought this about, Cent? Those are some big words.”
“I know, I’m sorry for just dumping it all out but that starving family was just the last straw. I promise this isn’t rash thinking, I’ve been thinking about this for years. That bar I gave them will last them what, a day? Less? That’s not what they need. They need a government that can focus on the economy and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. They need the old Delkari Dynasty back, and that won’t happen until the Royal Family is not being forced to focus all its energy on the war.” Cent’s pale green eyes flared with passion.
His hands rubbed tightly together as Reil shifted his gaze from the floor to his friend and back. He wasn’t sure how to take in what he was hearing. He heard where Cent was coming from, and he felt for all the people suffering in Feldrin and across all the Systems right now. But he wasn’t sure he was ready to enlist, and if Cent left, there’d be no one in Feldrin that he knew or cared for. He didn’t want to be alone. “I agree, I-”
Cent stopped walking and looked at Reil with kind eyes. “I know, you don’t want to enlist. And you don’t want me to leave either. I’m sorry, I got so caught up in my fantasies I didn’t think about you. Look, I don’t have to enlist tomorrow, we can relax for a bit. We’ve earned a break, eh?”
Relief inched into Reil, it wasn’t a solution but at least it was a temporary halt to his worries. “Yeah, we have. And some coffee. Let’s hurry it up to Victoria’s.” He shrugged off the sad look Cent gave him, he didn’t like to feel pitied, and started off down the alley again.
Tall walls on both sides of him felt oppressive to Reil. They had to walk single file, and even with his lanky frame he had to inch sideways past air conditioning units at times. As much as he tried to keep his mind on the dreams of rest and coffee, Reil couldn’t help but think about Cent’s words. His friend was so confident all the time, and had passion and drive. He knew exactly what he wanted out of life and had the Soul and the Heart to achieve anything he decided. What do I want? Reil had always wanted just to be happy, to be relatively safe, well fed, and close to good friends. He had that, until yesterday’s raid.
Nearly tripping over an air duct, Reil stumbled and tried to pay more attention to his surroundings. The main difference between what I want and what Cent wants is that his goals help people, and mine only help myself. Cent always made Reil feel the need to strive to be a better person, but this was the first time he had made the connection between their goals in life. Reil could see that his old goals were just hopes of clinging onto his childhood, but he didn’t know what he wanted more than that. What did he want with the same passion Cent had toward his goals? Nothing short of being back on Taiath’Rhowar, no Godless war, and a nice big smile from Lyrin every Lightless day of my life.
Feeling his fist begin to clench, Reil breathed his anger out, instantly feeling the stresses leave him and his muscles unclench. It was a technique his father had taught him as a child when he had his temper tantrums. He taught him to view all his problems as gusts of wind, and to pull them all together in his cheeks, then blow them out of his mouth. At first it did nothing but distract him from whatever it was he was throwing a tantrum about, which Reil believed was the whole purpose to begin with. But after years of practice, Reil could bring himself from a state of near blind rage to a controllable level of anger, bordering on the calm.
“Sigil for your thoughts?” Cent cast a cool look at Reil, he looked to be as deep in thought as Reil.
“You probably already know,” Reil held back a curse as he nearly stubbed his toe on a piece of metal piping. “Hard to think of much else after a bomb like that.”
Cent huffed a laugh, “Sorry about that one, it all just came rushing out.”
“No apologies needed, actually, I want to talk about it,” Reil lept up onto a low hanging piece of piping and sat on it, motioning with his hand to the air conditioning unit opposite him. “We’ll get to Victoria’s later. Like you said, we’ve earned a break.”
Cent lifted himself onto the unit, shifting on the uncomfortable metal. “Alright, let’s have at it then.”
“How do you figure out what you want? You’re always so confident, Cent. You know your Heart shares my Light, but I can’t help but be jealous. Without the Thief House, I don’t know what to do. Rising through the ranks, training, stealing… that was my direction. Now? Well I don’t really know anymore,” Reil ran a hand through his hair to keep down the shaking. “You took it with such stride, had the thought to raid the infirmary, saved me, and now you’re ready to move on to whatever comes next. How do you do it?”
“I’m not the best person to compare yourself to, Reil. Sure I look fine on the outside, but it’s just that I don’t show my worry the same way you do,” Cent blew hair out of his face and looked up at the thin line of blue sky shining through the narrow opening between the buildings on either side of them. There was a long pause, while Reil looked at his friend and wondered what he meant. Finally, Cent leveled his stare and took a breath, “I’m terrified Reil. Of all of this. The House was my rock, it lit my path in every aspect of life. I thought I had everything figured out, thought I was being so righteous, always giving to the poor. But what was I? A low life thief who thought helping out the homeless somehow balanced my line of work? And what line of work, I couldn’t even finish a mission without my feelings getting in the way. Reil, I’m a failure. And one of the biggest reasons I want to enlist is because if I fail then, at least it’ll be the blame of whoever is commanding me. And maybe by fighting in this war, maybe I’ll stop being so childish. Reil, I’m more lost than you. In fact I’ve always looked up to you. From the beginning you knew what you wanted and how to get it. You wanted to be happy, and you did it. You were the star of the House, Quentin’s favorite thief, and the youngest to be nominated for Squad Leader. Every time you came home, it was with a big smile on your face and a bag of loot. To me, you were always the confident one.”
Reil swapped his wide-eyed stare between Cent and the sky over and over as he tried to process what he was just told.
“Well, now that I’ve poured out more than my share of my Heart, how’s about we get to Victoria’s? Today’s a big day for the harbor and it’ll only get harder to get through the crowds if we wait until afternoon.” Without waiting for an answer, Cent was back on his feet and headed off, clearly ready to change the subject. Reil couldn’t be sure in the dim lighting, but he thought he saw flowering blushes streaking Cent’s face.
Reil didn’t want to embarrass his friend after such an open and trusting conversation, so he let the blushing slide and agreed, “Yeah, and the sooner we get there, the sooner we get some silver.” His usual excitement wasn’t in his voice though, Reil was still in a bit of a shock after what Cent had said to him. Cent? Looking up to me? Reil could hardly stifle a laugh.
“Oh quit that goofy laugh of yours. And hurry it up, you walk through alleyways like a drunkard.” Cent took the lead and rushed through the alley not stopping to motion his friend to follow.
Reil smiled, happy to see that at least some of the tension had left the air. He hurried after Cent, feeling surprisingly better after the conversation. Cent had a point too; with the trade going on in the harbor, getting anywhere in the sprawling city would be impossible if they didn’t get there soon.