Beggars can't be choosers
Mission: Chapter 9: Steam City
Faizel Naji was a boatswain without a boat, but he didn't seem to mind. He loved seeing new places and Kanesville still felt very new. It was a good thing he had a keen sense of direction because the layout of the town was particularly maze-like. People and goods moved about like cogs in a chaotic machine which somehow still worked. Walking down the street, Faizel noticed that there seemed to be a layer of soot on everyone and everything, including the people. He could tell the locals apart from the travelers judging by how thick that layer was on their faces.
After two weeks in town, Every Saint Claire had already begun to look like a local. She’d been tailing her target for some time, and she was now thoroughly convinced that he wouldn't mind parting with some of his gains. Her stomach rumbled treacherously, reminding her of the reason she was tailing the man in the first place.
The man rounded a grim looking corner, and Every took this as her opportunity to strike. Quick as a flash, she reached out to swipe the bag of money from his belt. She took her prize and ran like the wind, darting to and fro with the bag clutched tightly in her sweating palm. The wild grin on her face was swept away when she realised that the stranger was chasing her. Every was small and fast, but Faizel was larger and faster and before the girl knew it she'd been knocked off her feet and the money was back with its owner.
"The fault was mine for getting distracted by this fascinating town." he began, securing the bag to his belt. "And the fault was yours for having too little patience. I spotted you out of the corner of my eye."
Every had the nerve to look offended. She had been patient enough, it was her stomach that had done the complaining. “Yeah, well try tellin’ my gut that,” she muttered saltily, frustration thickening her Brittannic accent.
She should have taken the opportunity to get out of there. The lack of food must have made her delirious, though, because she just sat there on the ground and waited to be hauled off to jail. That was what usually happened. Then she’d cry, and they’d feel sorry and let her off and maybe even give her a dollar or two. Except that she wasn’t being hauled off at all. When she looked up, her prize and its rightful owner were already starting to walk off.
“Wait!” she yelled, scrambling to her feet. She stepped in front of him, blocking his path. “Look, I’m real sorry,” she lied, trying to look pitiful. I don’t know what coulda gotten into me, I haven’t had breakfast in I dunno when…” She seemed to consider her next words for a moment, and then decided to just brazen out. “Say, you wouldn’t mind letting me have something for my efforts, would you? Consolation prize?”
"I'm not giving you a coin" replied Faizel, trying to step around Every and failing each time. "You give one beggar something and then you have a whole town's worth following you around. But... you're not from around here either, are you? Not with that little accent of yours."
Every grinned, thinking to use this to her advantage. “Nope. Sure ain’t. Don’t know a single soul in this dump. ‘cept you. These folks, they don’t care about anything except the militia and ‘rot-mouth round-ups’, as they say. No one would even notice, if you decided to, say, slip a bit of something in my hand.” Despite her assessment, Every glanced around anyway, making sure there were no militiamen around to cause trouble. "You think fast, but you haven't got much meat on you, have you?" the man inquired, lifting her arm and letting it flop down. "One meal won't do it. You'll never grow up big and strong unless you get steady meals. And if you don't grow up big and strong then you'll never see the world." He was gesturing in no particular direction.
Every blushed furiously. “I’m fifteen, I’m done growing,” she said grudgingly, giving herself a self-conscious once-over. “and anyway, you gotta have money to get steady meals and see the world, and I don’t have any. No one needs any cleaning done round here ‘cos it’s just gonna get back sooty anyway and I can’t cook and children hate me, so I’ll be stuck here forever. Although…” she paused in mock thought. “a charitable donation would get me started. Then when I’m fat and well-traveled I’d tell everyone how a merciful stranger got me started on the right path.”
Faizel didn't believe she was older than twelve, but this was a good chance to take advantage. He went down to one knee and put his hands on Every's shoulders. "Well if you're all grown up, you can come and work for us! We're... desperados... usually out on the open road, and just passing through. I've got a starter position open that's just perfect for a woman like you. Our meals have been a little hairy recently, but they'll fill up that little belly of yours. What do you say?"
Life on the street had taught Every not to trust strangers offering random kindnesses, but she was desperate. Besides, she hadn’t been hauled off to jail yet, so Every decided that Faizel must be trustworthy.
“You have a deal,” Every said, and they shook hands to seal the deal. “Wait, hairy?”
“Stupid, filthy, sonofa--”
Back at the dormitory, Every grumbled obscenities as she scrubbed at a patch of disgusting floor on her hands and knees. She’d begged and cajoled and threatened, but that old man who’d given her the porridge wouldn’t part with his third-favorite mop. She felt like she’d been had!
But at least her belly was full.