Cato, his brother, Kyros, and their new accomplice, Kieran, ran down the lone street of the small port town, a mob of angry, drunk locals on their heels. Every so often, a rock or mug went flying by, but thankfully their pursuers seemed to have poor aim. All around them, bystanders looked out of open doors in their shack-like houses, some clearly trying to decide if they should join in the chase. Up ahead, Cato could see the docks, largely unoccupied save for a single, massive ship that Kieran had some connection to.

As they made for the docks, Cato couldn’t help but run his mind through the events of the last few minutes. He still wasn’t completely clear how the patrons of the tavern had gone from stereotypical small town people that didn’t like outsiders to trying to kill them. This all looked like a gross overreaction on all ends, and–

Something cut through the air right between Cato and Kieran, far faster than anything could have been thrown. Cato turned to look back and could only see the mob chasing them, not able to pick out what had just happened.

“Someone’s got a crossbow!” Kieran sounded far more excited about that than any sane person should.

Cato did his best to keep pace running and turned to the Elf, confused, “What did you do to them?!”

“Yeah!” Kyros hopped over a crate that someone had dropped to get out of the way of their charge, “How did that brawl turn into them trying to kill us?”

Kieran started to move faster as they reached the first wooden planks of the not-so-expansive docks, “It’s been a long week! It was bound to happen eventually!”

“You’ve been antagonizing these people for an entire week?” Cato shook his head, once again wondering where his sanity had disappeared to recently. He missed it.

But Kieran didn’t respond. He was waving his arms at the ship not far from them and yelling things in a language that Cato didn’t understand, probably Elvish or Elven or whatever the hell Elves spoke. But after only a few seconds, Kieran switched to yelling words that Cato knew, “HEY! Help! Need some help down here! QUICKLY!”

It had sounded far less pathetic in the original language.

Cato wasn’t even sure anyone had heard the words, anyway. The ship they were running for was huge. The deck was far above them, with a sharply angled ramp to get on board ahead of them, and Cato couldn’t see anyone up there. Sure, it was fairly dark, but there should have been some sign of movement.

But the whole ship design struck Cato as off, much like the extremely well-made clothes that Kieran wore. The ship had elegant carvings all across it, but was intimidating in size and looked to have been built to stand up to a good fight. Who the hell was Kieran, anyway? He didn’t look military, but the ship sure did…

Over the sound of the mob of drunks approaching from behind, Cato heard something new. Ahead, there was a rumbling. In moments, the deck of the ship was lined with at least two dozen heavily armored soldiers, all holding bows and drawing them back in perfect unison.

“Approach any closer and my men will loose their arrows!” a voice from the deck called over the entirety of the docks, causing everyone to freeze.

Cato looked up to see three figures at the edge of the plank leading up onto the ship’s deck. Both Anica and Pel stood there, with another woman in front of them, clearly the speaker. She had jet black hair pulled back to show ears that clearly identified her as another Elf, and wore the same green tunic as Kieran.

In the silence of the moment, Cato turned back around, noting the angry drunks standing not far off, staring up and at the soldiers on the ship. They were very obviously outmatched, and Cato sensed that this was not the first time things had grown tense between these parties.

“Kieran, what did you do this time?” the Elf woman’s glare could be seen from where they stood, and Cato feared it might burn a hole in the wooden deck beneath them.

Kieran seemed not to notice, shrugging as if he truly had no idea, “I just wanted a drink!”

The woman rolled her eyes and marched down the plank to meet them. Pel and Anica followed silently behind, the latter giving Cato a look that he already knew. He was going to get yelled at next, but for some reason Kieran and this woman had priority.

“You promised you wouldn’t go back there after what happened last time!” the Elf woman stopped a few steps in front of the three of them. She was younger looking than her voice had suggested at first, but the sideways glance she gave to Cato and Kyros was enough that he wasn’t about to say a thing.

Kieran looked down at the dock for a moment and then waved a hand back at their unmoving pursuers, “They attacked me! I just wanted a quiet drink and–”

The excuses were quickly silenced with a quick kiss, which surprised Cato more than it seemed to surprise Kieran. The Elf woman pulled back and gave Kieran a quick smile, “Next time I’m going to let them shoot you.”

She stepped up the ramp to the ship and turned to the crowd that was still growing, “We’re leaving! Try anything before we’re off and my men will not hesitate to act!”

“What is going on?” Kyros broke the momentary silence just seconds before Cato could ask the exact same question.

The Elf woman looked to the two of them and nodded politely, “You will be happy to know that we are your transportation for the next few weeks. That is, if you promise not to encourage my husband’s desperate need to find trouble at every turn.”

Cato looked to Kieran, completely lost now, “Husband?”

Kieran shrugged and started up the ramp behind his supposed wife, “You don’t say no to royalty. Apparently it makes them insist even more.”

“Royalty?” both Cato and his brother exchanged confused looks. What had they gotten into now?!

Anica walked over to them and started pushing them both up the ramp, “Come on, before they leave us behind. Gape later.”

“I don’t even know what’s happening anymore,” Cato spoke that more to the sky than any particular person.

But Anica seemed to assume it was directed at her, “Stop acting like an idiot. We’re lucky that Maeira was so close when Pel sent the message a few days ago. You can at least be grateful!”

“Maeira?” Kyros did his best to not be pushed off the edge of the ramp and into the water below, “Who is she? You’ve got royal contacts?!”

“Maeira is first in line for the throne of Me’enai, the Elf Kingdom to the northwest,” Anica continued to push them along, glancing over her shoulder to make sure the crowd was staying back, “She’s also an old friend of our organization and was happy to assist us. But you can bet she’ll throw you overboard if you keep this up.”

As they reached the ship’s deck, Cato began to wonder what could happen next. Now they were with a bickering royal couple, quite a lot of armed soldiers, and there was horde of angry drunks behind them. At least they had transport to wherever insane place they were off to next, but he couldn’t help but wonder if things would start to improve.

And still, from far away and yet always close by, they were watched.