She woke up tucked away in sheets.
The ceiling above her were run-down and old. The bed in which she lay was rough and hard against her back, but she was used to worse.
Careful not to make her presence noticed, she silently sat up, testing her muscles. How long had she slept?
She tried to recall what had happened before she passed out. Her heart sunk as she remembered what had happened in the alleyway last night. She looked around as all sorts of alarms fired off in her mind, surveying the room and searching for exit points.
"You cry in your sleep."
Startled, she looked around to find a boy standing next to the doorway. He held what seemed to be a wooden tray in his hands.
He slowly approached and put it on the bed beside her, and she saw that it was simply roasted fish with bread. The aroma made her mouth swell.
The boy pulled out a chair from under a nearby desk and took a seat, but the girl didn't even notice. She wolfed down the food greedily.
Once the pang of hunger began to settle, she stole a glance towards the boy. He had rough black hair with harsh, narrow eyes, making him look almost angry or cold. His eyes were focused on her.
Her heart skipped a beat and she directed her glance elsewhere, and it landed on his bare chest. Her cheeks flared up.
"Sorry, my only shirt got stained with blood. Your blood. I'm drying it outside."
"Who are you?" she asked.
"My name's Auga. You're in my home." He gestured towards the walls. "I live here with my brother. Well, used to."
His eyes grew distant for a slight second but he returned his gaze towards her.
"Do you remember what happened at that alley?" he asked.
The girl nodded slowly, hesitating. "Why am I here?"
"Out of the goodness of my heart. Now tell me your name."
The room fell silent, the tension almost tangible. Auga felt uncomfortable at the sudden stillness.
"I can still turn you into the constables. You know that, right?"
Her eyes narrowed.
"It's Fela," Her voice was shaky. "-and I steal because I need to."
"You could choose to live without stealing," Auga stared harshly into her eyes. "Where's your home."
"I don't have one."
"Any family? Relatives?"
Auga nodded. "Well then, Fela, you can choose to go back to being a thief, in which case your clothes are hung on the rack by the door and you can pick them up on your way out. Or, I can give you a shot at living an honest life." He stood up and picked up the wooden tray.
"You will be fed, clothed, and given shelter here in my home, although I'm not going to let you stay for free. On work days you will help me around the shack, and you will contribute to putting food on the table. I will teach you how to fish and cook, and eventually we will find you honest work somewhere."
His voice was upfront and serious. Though it wasn't flowing with kindness, Fela couldn't sense any hidden motives or malice behind his offer.
"What will you do?" Auga asked.
Fela spent some time staring at her hands, recalling the events of that took place in the alley. Her left shoulder still ached, and the bruises across her body weren't much better. She was sure she had broken a rib or two – or three – and took care not to move her torso in any sudden way.
Then she thought about Auga, how he had decided to save her instead of leaving her on the streets.
"… I will stay."
"Good. Rest for today. You were out for three nights total. I had your wounds checked by a physicker, you're to remain in bed until the last compress change, due tomorrow."
He stood up and left the room.
Fela sat silently for a while then leaned back onto her pillow, closing her eyes.
'Thank you', she thought as she fell into a deep slumber.
The next night, the usually silent shack was alive and… energetic.
"Come back, you cur!"
"Fela, god's sake, stop!"
Auga was struggling to survive against the onslaught of Fela's blind frenzy, her recent injuries be damned.
Furniture were thrown, tables were flipped, and insults were spat. Auga isn't one to be easily pushed around, but Fela's fiery rage rivaled that of a demon. Auga was genuinely afraid.
For the last five minutes he had been trying his best not to let Fela get her hands on something dangerous, like a kitchen-
A silver flash zoomed right above his skull. Every bit of Auga's muscles were screaming as he barely dodged what would have been a fatal attack.
"What the hell!? I could've up and died, moron!"
"I don't care, freak!"
Fela was already leaping for Auga's throat.
'I'm in serious danger…'
His instincts were telling him to run, escape as far away as possible from this fiend in front of him.
"Stop and listen!"
Auga had never felt this much threat before in his entire life. He prayed to come out of this in one piece. Dodging a flying chair with a half-assed roll, Auga leaped for his bed. Hoping it will actually work, he grabbed a pillow and readied a striking stance.
Fela, blind with rage, launched at him like a tiger.
Feathers exploded into the air as the leaping terror suddenly fell to the ground.
Seizing this moment, Auga jumped on top of her, holding her wrists to the floor.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?! You don't need to kill me!"
Fela was baring her teeth at him, little fangs pointing menacingly.
"Let me go!"
The fiend howled.
"I put them up to dry!"
"In what mind did you think taking off someone's undergarments was a good idea?! And who told you to wash them in the first place?!"
"But they were stained!"
A fist tore free from Auga's grip and landed squarely on his jaw.
Everything darkened, his hearing vanished, and soon he was nothing but a saggy rag-doll on the cold, hard ground.
A voice woke Auga from his peaceful sleep.
"… find this?"
Confusion began to set in as his sights returned.
"You can't take a hit at all…"
'That condescending voice… Fela?'
His face was swollen and hurt, as if it was stepped on by an horse.
"Ughh… Oh god."
He groaned miserably as he sat up, realizing that he was on his bed. Rays of sun were peeking through the windows.
It felt as though he was punched out just a moment ago, and daylight came in a span of a second. It was incredibly vexing.
"What was that for, you feral woman?!"
Fela recoiled from his sudden outburst but quickly regained composure.
"That's what you get for abusing me!"
"But I didn't even touch you!"
Truth be told, Auga was as oblivious as a rock when it came to the opposite gender. Completely hopeless.
"Anyway, where did you find this ring?"
A golden object gleamed in front of him, with a red ruby in the shape of a rhombus affixed to it.
"It's a ring I found from my brother's belongings."
Fela's stern expression softened, then turned into suspicion.
Auga tried to stand up, almost losing balance in the process.
"Yeah, now give it back."
He tried to snatch it back from her, but in his current state he might as well have tried to catch a butterfly from the air with his hands.
"I'm not buying it."
Auga sighed. He began to question whether taking her in was a good idea or not.
"Look, if it's something shiny you want then I'll find you something else. Just give me back that ring."
Auga tried to take it back in a futile attempt. She was surprisingly fast. He flash-backed to when he was chasing her through the marketplace.
"I'm not looking for something shiny! I need to know how you got this ring."
"As I said, I found it in my brother's belongings. What's it to you, anyway?"
Fela thought for a moment, her eyes unfocused and distant.
"The men that usually associated with my father wore rings similar to this… I think."
Fela was still aloof.
"H-hey, if you know anything else about this ring, tell me. It's my only lead to finding my brother."
Fela's attention shifted to him when he finished the sentence.
"He left about three dozen nights ago, and I don't know why. I looked around the city and the nearby towns for him but found nothing so far."
"… I see."
Fela examined the ring in her hand, taking in all the details.
"Hey, what happened here?"
She held it against him, and Auga saw a small dent in the ring's frame. He hadn't noticed it before, but now that Fela pointed it out, the dent was pretty evident.
"I… don't know."
Fela nodded and continued eyeing the item.
"I think it's tied to the Confederacy."
"What makes you say so?"
"I mean, at least that's what I think. Those people that wore the same rings were from the… Monetary Administration…? Either way, it's purely hypothetical. Take what I say with a pinch of salt."
"The Monetary Administration, huh?"
Auga sat back down onto the bed, lost in deep thought. He racked his brain for any memory that tied his brother with the Confederacy. As long as he could remember, him and his brother lived here for all his life.
However, now he had somewhat of a lead and if he wanted to track down his brother, this was the trail to start with.
"Fela, can you to tell me more about your dad's acquaintances?" The room felt oddly still. "Fela?"
Fela wiped her eyes.
"If my parents were still around, I could have asked them about it, but..."
"What? Still around…?"
Then it hit him. 'She doesn't have parents.'
Considering that she was homeless, having to commit to thievery to survive, it would only be logical that she might be an orphan. Somehow, the thought never crossed Auga's mind. He felt dumb for not seeing it sooner.
Not wanting to force her to dwell on the past, Auga was about to drop the subject when Fela turned around and left.
Auga was at a loss at what to do. Should he go after her and apologize? Maybe that would just annoy her even more? Unaware of what he was doing, he thoughtlessly stood up and followed her out the door anyway.
Fela strolled along the river. Just as Auga caught up with her, she suddenly stopped.
"It's hard to live alone, with no one to depend on," she spoke softly. "You don't know what it feels like to wake up everyday, not knowing whether you'll live to see tomorrow or not.
"But this is the life I live, and I'm used to it now. I've stolen and betrayed, and I will still do what I need to do to survive…"
Auga noticed that Fela was trying to keep herself from shaking.
"I'm not a princess in distress. There's no hero to save me, nor a fairy godmother to solve my problems. Whether or not I will live depends entirely on me."
She turned around, looking Auga straight in the eye. He stood up, still lightheaded but focused. His eyes were sharp, peering deep into Fela. Her knees gave way as she fell, sobbing.
She wailed and wept, letting out feeble cries. Auga stood beside her with a grim expression.
Intense emotions that had been bottled for years finally burst out, flooding endlessly from within her. She tried to stop it in vain, wiping away at her eyes in futile attempts. But the tears kept coming.
Auga and Fela sat under a large tree. The last rays of the sun were slowly vanishing, the twilight sky burning in a beautiful orange hue. The evening gust gently breezed past the sloping hills, the grass subtly dancing along.
Fela's eyes were still sore, but her heart felt light. The breaths were becoming easier now as she took in a lungful of air and exhaled, relaxing under the evening sky.
She tried to think of something to say, wanting to break the ice.
Fela opened her mouth, but no words came.
The silence continued, heavier and denser now that the sun had set. The first evening star shined proudly.
"You try to carry all your burdens on those small shoulders of yours."
Auga was first to break the silence. He stood up, looking at Fela.
"It must have been hard for you."
Fela got to her feet as Auga continued.
"I won't ask you to stay and help me find my brother. You're free to go if you want to."
She looked him in the eyes, and for a bit they seemed kind and caring.
"If you want to stay, that's fine too. I'll have your back, you'll have mine, and we will look after each other from here on out."
Fela stared at him, dumbfounded. She couldn't understand the boy standing before her.
Auga held out his hand.
"So, what do you say?"
Fela's blank expression shattered. She was tempted by the idea of having someone to depend on. Someone to share the hardships of life. So very tempted.
Fela's eyes darted between Auga's gaze and his hand in front of her, and after a moment of hesitation, she reached out and shook his hand.
Auga grinned warmly as his grip tightened, and Fela felt the happiest she was since what felt like forever ago.