Thanks: Mac, again. Reena, again.
And Carys says to tell you the name’s not Karrys or Sarrys, it’s ka-REESE.
Short chapter, needed to keep the cliffie in its proper place.
As the golden sunset began to tint the storefront green through the blue glass, Carys closed and locked wooden shutters over the windows, and came into the back room, pulling on a heavy brown coat.
“Come on. And listen, whoever-you-are. Where we’re going is dangerous, and you will have to do what I tell you. If you stay with me you’re safe. If not, at absolute best you’ll be painfully embarrassed. At worst you’ll be dead.” She opened another door, one leading into a narrow alley running behind the row of stores, and checked both ways before stepping outside. When Obi-Wan joined her, she ordered him crisply, “Put your arm around me. I’ll be leading you, but you have to try and look like you know the way.”
As they made their way out of the alley into the main street leading to the gate, they joined a stream of other beings going the same way. Some looked tired, some – especially the younger women – sad, still others merely resigned. Carys leaned her head on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, hissing softly, relax, go with it. When they reached the gate guards, who stood stiffly across the narrow postern-gate that stood open, she raised her left hand, palm inwards, to show them a gold ring set with a great red stone, on her fourth finger. Grinning, the guards slouched out of the way, letting them both through.
“What was that?” Obi-Wan asked uncomfortably, as soon as they were safely out of earshot of the gate.
“The ring told them I’m a hooker,” Carys replied matter-of-factly. “What? We got through, didn’t we? You want to find Mi Amarok, don’t you?”
“In the name of – what will they think of me?”
“You’re a grown man. Draw your own conclusions. It’s the safest way in, they won’t notice one among a hundred or so. Now stay close.”
For all the apparent affection of their position as they wandered along the wide stone-laid street, Carys was not in the least relaxed. Even without the aid of the Force, Obi-Wan could feel her racing pulse, the cold clamminess of her fingers in his, and the stiffness of her spine. He pulled away from her, retaining only a light hold on her hand, and after a few more steps let go altogether. Carys shrugged.
“If that’s the way you want it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Only a hundred more meters along the street, a tiny, thin Pantoran girl sidled up to him, tugging at his sleeve, drawing him with disproportionate strength down a narrow side-alley.
“You come with, yes? Ver’ pretty girl. Ver’ cheap. You come?” The hand pulling at his jacket wore a ring like Carys’ – but he suspected this one was real, and the story it told only too true.
Carys hurried up behind them, and slapped the teenaged girl on the face, leaving a dark handprint. The red stone flashed in the dying sunlight.
“Back off. He’s with me. Go find someone else to kriff about with.” As soon as the teenage prostitute vanished down her alley, Carys turned back to Obi-Wan, green eyes blazing. “I should not have had to do that. Now will you kindly stay with me.”
They went on through the darkening streets, and as they went, gradually lights began to come on in the houses. There were no gardens, no yards, only front doors opening straight into the roadway. A sheer red curtain fluttered open in a first-floor window, revealing brilliant golden lamplight, and something else besides, and Obi-Wan hastily averted his eyes.
“Carys, this looks like the beginning of the red-light district. Are we really going to find who I’m looking for here?”
“No.” She did not look up at him. “We have to keep going. Sunrise House is near the center.”
Kijé, what have you gotten me into?
Obi-Wan didn’t hear the footsteps creeping up behind him. Barely even felt the heavy weight crash into the back of his head. Thought he heard Carys scream. The Force shouted urgently, but he couldn’t… possibly… be expected to keep his eyes open after they had turned to lead… could he?
“You stupid, stupid, stupid little schutta! You bishwag! You idiot! I should throw you out my door right now.” With difficulty, Obi-Wan sorted the words into their proper order and realized that they weren’t directed at him, but at the girl attached to the sobbing that came from somewhere nearby.
“I didn’t mean to – I didn’t!”
“But I won’t,” the other voice relented, “because that’s not how I do things. It’s all right, Carys, but you’ve got to be more careful. Be grateful he’s not dead. Then we’d really have a problem.”
“Excuse me…” He didn’t mean to whisper, but his throat was so dry… “Excuse me?”
“You’re awake.” The first voice came to sit down beside him. It was attached to a Balosar woman, perhaps a little over sixty Standard. She frowned, and smoothed a strand of damp hair out of her thin face. “Can you remember your name?”
“Well, what is it, then?”
The woman smiled faintly. “First good news I’ve heard all day. Can you remember how old you are? Don’t just tell me yes, tell me the number.”
“Thirty… six. I think.” Why was he telling her this? A total stranger. Because her anxious smile and gentleness under the cloak of scolding reminded him of someone.
“Good. Now, do you know where you are?”
“No.” He was in a wood-paneled room. It was warm and the light came from a fire behind her and a candle in her hand. Underneath him was something soft, which proved on inspection to be a mattress laid straight on the wooden floor. The room seemed to be a kitchen, for he could see glass jars and bottles gleaming on a shelf beside the fireplace, and there was a long scrubbed table in the center of the floor.
“Do you know who I am?”
“I know who I hope you are. Where am I?” That was important. Kijé had said Carys would take him the rest of the way, not how far that was.
“Who do you hope I am, then?”
“I hope you are Mi Amarok. Kijé Yenseh said you can help me.”
“Well, at the moment you’d get the best help from a doctor, but since there isn’t one of those to be had until those gates open in the morning, we’ll have to make do. You’re right, I’m Mi Amarok. Now do you know where you are?”
“You’re in the Black City of the Malastare Quadropolis. Welcome to hell, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”