Taking the scenic route
Chapter 3: Mypos or Bust
Location: The streets of Mypos
It was early evening when the newly-hired helmsman, Isaak Alkaev, went to pay the Steamhawke his very first visit. The graying man paused before it to look over it, taking in his new home before walking up to board, apparently unconcerned with the fact that the Captain wasn't around to show him where exactly he'd be bunking. With his bag of belongings slung over his shoulder, he looked like nothing so much as a sailor...or an attempted stowaway.
Meanwhile, Ashrieda was headed in the opposite direction, thinking of finding treasure and fresh olives. The first, she knew, she'd have to be patient about. The second, she hoped, she could still attain before dark. But then she stopped in her tracks. She didn't recognize the man who'd just boarded the Steamhawke.
Her first glance went to the bag...no, if he were armed and dangerous, he wouldn't have his weapon in his bag this close to the ship if he meant to attack. That would be foolish. Neither his demeanor nor his body language suggested that he was a threat, nor did he seem cautious enough if he were planning to stow away; he seemed altogether unconcerned about any obstacles whatsover. New employee for the Steamhawke, then.
Still, what she should have said was, Who are you? What she actually said was, "Do you know if there's a marketplace here?
Isaak stopped mid-amble and smiled at Ashrieda, "Yes. It is close but not advisable for vomen to valk alone on streets. I think it may be illegal? Probably not, but I never paid much attention. Also, I am Isaak Alkaev, new helmsman."
Despite his words, Ashrieda didn't look like she'd be deterred. "I'm Ashrieda. And that's no problem, I doubt it is. Could you give me directions?"
The question made him pause for thought. "Yes, but it's difficult to explain. The vay there is not very straightforward. Perhaps if I showed you? I could use drink anyvay."
Ashrieda grinned. "I like your way of thinking, sir. Tell you what -- if you get me to the marketplace, I'll pay for your drink."
The man brightened, "You have deal, follow me."
Isaak led the way towards the city, still carrying his belongings, and Ashrieda dutifully followed. As Isaak had warned, the way to the marketplace took many turns and detours. Left turn, right turn, right again, left. Myposia certainly wasn't built for practicality. It was still buzzing with energy, even at this hour, and people rudely jostled and bumped them about at every turn. With the sheer volume of people present, it was difficult to notice the oddities: the same couple people seeming to appear in the parade of faces going past, eyes darting to the pair to focus on them a little more often than was totally normal...little things, but a volume of them, and enough to be caught by the more wary eye.
With the setting sun, the city seemed to glow, all coppers and golds and bronzes. The glittering steel tower, which seemed as if it could be seen from all parts, amplified the effect. Ashrieda pointed at it.
"It's a little excessive," she said by way of conversation. "If the sun hits this place the right way, someone could go blind."
The further they went into the city, the more Ashrieda got the distinct feeling that they were being watched. But she dismissed the thought. Crowds and cities always made her anxious.
"Yes, tell me about it. It's gaudy. Not my favorite place," Isaak agreed, seeming to feel the same unease. He glanced over his shoulder, and then perhaps a little too casually told her, "Let's take scenic route. Less bright that vay." The man turned suddenly into an alley, his pace brisker than it had been a moment before, and motioned for Ashrieda to come along.
"Scenic route?" Ashrieda paused, momentarily caught off guard. "But it'll be -- oh. Oh." She hurried to catch up before she was left alone.
After she'd caught up, Isaak murmured in an urgent tone, "I think ve are being followed. I keep seeing the same faces around and behind."
Ashrieda groaned. "So it wasn't just me after all. Lovely."
Behind them, from the mouth of the alleyway, a rather disreputable-looking man swaggered past and watched. Turning abruptly, he went to consort with another man, slightly less disreputable, who stared after them for a few seconds before launching into some unheard series of whispers, resulting in the first man following the pair at a measured pace down the alley.
"Act normally, act normally..." Isaak murmured, half to Ashrieda and half to himself.
Ashrieda smiled wryly, doing what appeared to be her best impression of normal. It was possible that the men were simply ordinary, curious denizens of the city. But that was doubtful. Sketchy characters were good at recognizing their own in a crowd.
They were nearing the end of the alleyway -- the evening hour crowd was milling around back and forth. She glanced back at the men cautiously, but the men hadn't found anything else to distract them.
Ashrieda made a grand show of looking down at her watch. An obvious show, considering that she wasn't wearing one.
"We need to hurry back," she said. To the ship was the implication. But they were nowhere near the docks -- and getting back through the crowd was going to be a challenge in and of itself, though it would offer more protection. Then, more loudly, hoping to throw them off, she added, "It's getting late and I need to get supper ready. Come along, dear." Upon reaching the alley's end, they took off at a run through the streets of Myposia, shoving people unceremoniously out of the way. Neither Isaak nor Ashrieda -- nor the men, for that matter -- paid the mass any mind. People were still milling around, selling things, heading home, conversing with friends.
Fortunately, night was falling. The shadows were getting longer, and it was much easier for them to blend into the crowd. The Steamhawke was within sight. The men were not.
They breathed a collective sigh.
"What the hell was that about?!" Ashrieda exclaimed.
Until now, it had not occurred to either of them to wonder what was going on. There hadn't been time. But they hadn't done anything wrong. Had they?
"I owe some money, but not nearly enough to justify thugs..." Isaak glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. "I don't know vhat they vanted."