Knowing when she was made, Lula cursed under her breath. She didn't hesitate and immediately dashed off.
"Stop that kid!"
Grabbing onto the paperboy's cap she hid most of her red hair in, she dodged to the left of one of the dockworkers who made a swipe to grab her.
Why, they were treating her like a thief even though all she could be accused of was loitering!
Of course, she spent more than a decade as a pickpocket and a very recently reformed street rat orphan, so she was technically a thief—but that was not the point.
The things Lula did because of their benefactor seemed to be getting more and more ridiculous. It about scaled to the crazies the city's seemed to be sick with lately.
All the foreigners running around.
People like her, on the poor as dirt side, felt it the most, as always.
No doubt it was why the benefactor picked her, other than supposedly seeing talent and potential in Lula. After all, the golden spoon this "employer" of hers no doubt grew up with would not be able to catch news on the ground as fast as a fifteen-year-old petty pickpocket like Lula that knew the East Eddes like the back of her hand.
Unfortunately, she was at the docks and not quite as familiar with the area as the people chasing her.
Lula skidded to a stop as one of the men appeared in front of her. He was big enough that his wingspan meant she would have a good chance of being caught if she tried to try to squeeze through one side.
Bright-green eyes darted around before she internally grimaced.
"Can't a guy just take a walk 'round 'ere, Gents?" Lula pitched her voice low to keep the impression of an adolescent boy rather than a somewhat tall teenaged girl.
"You can't fool me, you feckin' rat," the man who originally outed her growled out. "I saw you sneakin' about Renner's place early the mornin' he was found gutted in a muggin'. What's to say you weren't finishing robbing the guy?"
"Hey, Gent'men. Ya see these thin arms? I knew wha' that Renner looked like and he ain't the type to be downed by lil' ole me, ya ken?" Lula said rather theatrically as she subtly tried to find an escape route.
A voice that was both annoying and relieving piped up that had the girl focusing on those words rather than the complaints about the constables and policemen basically getting in the way of these men's work. (Lula found it unsurprising these men were angrier at the uniforms invading rather than a man dying. Men died every day in the eastern dregs of the Capital, many unnoticed.)
"You might as well stand and fight. They're just making excuses to take their anger out on you."
Lula gritted her teeth, knowing the benefactor was right. Miserable people often shared their misery with others. And what were people on the east side but poor and unhappy?
Her eyes had looked around and saw not even a hint of the phantom-like figure of the benefactor. This was also expected, but no less frustrating.
The stand-off held for a long moment. A heavy silence of mounting tension and imminent violence suffused the air.
A faint sound was heard in the distance, something heavy being set down.
The stand-off broke. Lula erupted into movement, pulling out a knife and closely dodging a man rushing her like a mountain troll both in size and muscle.
Technically, most of the fights she's been in had been kill or be killed types. But she wasn't sure if that was the answer here because killing these men just might bring more trouble on her head than a would-be rapist might.
The truth was, Lula got it. Authorities around these parts were not to be trusted. Having the pigs nosing around always meant something was about to happen. Something often bad.
"You are hesitating. A show of restraint is a good sign… but can you afford it?"
This was why the voice was so annoying!
"Behind you. Duck."
No matter her feelings about the benefactor, she went low and kicked backward. The man who had tried to grab her in a bear hug and overextended got a rising heel to the chin in return.
He released a noise of pain, slightly distorted, and Lula figured she might have knocked things around up there a bit.
Lula quickly rolled away to dodge a kick to her side. She moved a bit frantically as she tried to get off the ground without being hit. One solid hit from these big dockworkers and Lula would be pretty much a goner.
"Do you need assistance?" That hated, cultured voice inquired with amusement over Lula's current predicament.
Argh! That was it!
The man closest to her tripped backward as she shifted things so his stable footing became unstable.
Standing up now that she had the space to, she made a full circle, the water coming easily to her considering how humid the area around the docks was.
"He's a feckin' warlock!" One of them exclaimed in shock.
Lula breathed in, the ring of water at the height of her chest seemed to shrink with the motion.
"Get away!" Someone else warned, no doubt thinking Lula was going to boil them alive, considering how common steam alchemists were in the country.
But it was too late.
All it took was a sharp movement from Lula before the ring of water blasted out with strong force, knocking all of the men back and leaving them bedraggled.
The men sputtered at their impromptu bath and were getting up, but it was already too late.
Lula was long gone, disappearing around a corner.
A chuckle. "Not bad," the benefactor said, the last half sounding a bit faded.
Green eyes darted around, both high and low, and was slightly creeped out how she couldn't see the owner of the voice. Again, unsurprising she couldn't find her. But the goosebumps still appeared nonetheless.
At the thought of their disturbing benefactor, the teenager hurriedly headed back.
In a run-down apartment building, Lula greeting the kids once she came into the door. Patting Lisa's head as the girl was mending a shirt. Grabbing a running Brian who was running away from Frankie.
Lula gave the kid a noogie as he turned to Frankie. "Liam in the office?"
"Yeah. The contact's here."
With that information, she let go of the boy and nudged him along before heading toward the windows and climbing to the apartment next door.
Slipping through the open window, Lula finally saw their "contact" for an employer she's never met.
"Lula!" Liam smiled at her, his pale little face dimpling as the lavender eyes that were equally beautiful as they were ill portents curved into half-moons. "Miss Brue mentioned you'd be back soon."
The fifteen-year-old restrained the need to ruffle his hair. She was dirty from being out and about and Liam's hair was always pale enough it looked like the slightest bit of dirt would be noticed.
Instead, Lula focused on the rather large and fluffy gray cat with vivid green eyes. She made a face as she started complaining. "I need extra for this last job of finding tha' Kenner man."
"Oh?" The cat tilted her head.
The redhead figured Brunilda was a familiar like they mention in those old stories of witches, but it was still somewhat off-putting to see a talking cat. It was creepier because the cat's mouth never moved with the voice.
"I found th' guy, mind ya. But I found 'im right as he was killed. It was set up to be a muggin' but I know who belongs and don't around these parts and that other guy was dressed too snazzy even if 'e was tryin' to blend in. If I was found from my hidin' spot, I would've died too!"
Brunilda chuckled throatily, though the only sign of her amusement was a small motion of her head. "Don't worry. I brought extra. Now, let me see your forms."
Lula counted the money really quick in the bag just to make sure before she grumbled. "You and your damned drills."
But, nonetheless, the fifteen-year-old walked to the open area before going through the motions Brunilda had painfully made her memorize.
"Tuck that elbow in more."
Brunilda's flickering ear was the only sign she registered his petting. Her fur was very soft and silky. She was warm underneath his hand.
Liam knew the feline that was verbally teaching Lula fighting techniques right now must have been Tinsel, the stray cat he used to know who had been run over by a carriage roughly a month ago. The cat who he saw heave her last breath and still in death, before a black mist went into the bedraggled lump of fur and she started moving again.
In that way, the boy knew the body was Tinsel but the insides were not. Her insides now contained "Brunilda."
He wondered, if he were to die, would—
Liam's wandering mind cut off its current line of thought when he saw Lula disappear into the apartment. The fifteen-year-old must have headed off to eat something before doing those repetitive motions that trained her body that Lula often bemoaned about.
Lavender eyes looked to the warm and breathing feline he had still been absentmindedly petting, only to see green eyes that almost glowed observing him.
"How about you, Liam?"
Lula and Brunilda must have been saying something other than the usual complaints and explanations, respectively.
"I'm sorry?" He apologized for having no idea what she was asking about, giving her a sheepish smile.
Brunilda was patient as usual. "Are you satisfied with your current circumstances, Liam?"
The twelve-year-old was a bit rueful. "Miss Brue has helped us get this apartment and a lot more. And… well, I don't have long before I'm gone." He gave a genuine, soft smile. "I'm happy seeing the others happy. And… Miss Brue has plans for Lula, right?"
The cat just stared silently at him for a long moment before he heard a sigh. "You are a wise child."
Liam ducked his head, feeling his cheeks flush a little. He wasn't sure how old Brunilda was but she reminded him of… of a mother figure. So he was never able to take any praise from her easily.
Lavender eyes shyly looked at the cat again.
"Liam, if I had a way to cure your disease, would you take it?"
Lula walked back into the office, munching on the weird but tasty bars Brunilda had been bringing recently and was surprised to see the cat still there.
Not that the sight of Liam teaching the benefactor to read was a new—or even surprising—sight anymore. Liam had taught all of them to read so what if one of his students ended up being a talking cat?
"What are you still doing here? Don't you need to go back to the Boss?"
Brunilda turned green eyes to meet Lula's own pair.
"He's holed up for the next two days so he doesn't need me around to protect him." Brunilda deadpanned. "That means we have more time to train you up."
Lula turned disgruntled. "Joy."