Naevius Squalidus - swaswj
Chara'nira - Inkers

Wordcount: 5750

Dusk was fast setting on Terminus, and Chara'nira was lost. Terminus was large; much larger than the stories from his home in Boreas could have depicted. It was large, it was busy, and it was noisy. People jammed the streets -- walking, running, standing around talking to one another -- and the background noise of conversation clogged the air. It reminded him of the low roar of tree crickets during the summer months back home. Just as incomprehensible. Less comforting, though.

Chara walked the sprawling streets of Terminus looking precisely like someone who'd never seen the metropolis before; anxious tension in his shoulders, eyes wide, darting from one looming building to the next. He felt people watching him as he went, taking in the waist-length dust brown hair; the dark skin littered with cuts and scratches; the bow and arrow quiver at his hip; the three scars that cut across his left eye, only mostly hidden beneath his too-long bangs. He chewed his lip. He hated them.

Occasionally, one of his fits caught him, left him hunched over in an alleyway, coughing and gasping for breath. During the last, a young man with scales on his cheeks and long, pale-green fins along his forearms had touched him, jabbered something in Common. Chara had pulled away with his fiercest scowl and retreated, and had been swallowing against the rattling in his chest ever since.

Part of him wasn't sure why he was here. How was he supposed to learn what he wanted when no one spoke his tongue? He had nothing but his bow, a dozen or so arrows, and a sheet of torn paper jammed in the pocket of his leather vest --the last had been stolen off an inn bounty board and was crumpled from repeated foldings. But everything here took those strange, little -- coins. Exa. His village had traded in exa, but it had never been Chara's concern. Now he was in this place where people expected exa for everything.


"Terminus," the woman had said, when he'd shown her the paper in his pocket. She'd said a lot more, but that was the word she went back to, once she'd realized Chara didn't understand Common. Terminus.

So here he was, lost in a city he didn't know, on a continent he didn't know. He was lost, he was frustrated, and he was hungry -- where was he supposed to hunt in the middle of a giant city? When darkness took, he'd have to find somewhere he could curl up for the night with Tusara and Barapha. For now, the great Borean leovem were keeping an eye on him from the rooftops, earning their own fair share of stares from the civilians down below.

Chara walked until his feet were sore, then walked some more. When he stopped, it was to stare up at a carved wooden sign hung above a door. He tried to remember the Common letters for ‘Inn' and ‘Tavern'. Places to stay. Narama'hasi had once explained that these were places travelers stayed the night, where they gossiped and traded information.

(Narama was dead now, a gaping bullet wound in his skull. Chara remembered it, he'd watched it happen. He remembered the way the blood stained the grass and soil.)

Sickness twisted in his gut, and Chara was coughing before he could stop it. The rattling in his chest worsened, and for every line of ragged coughs there was a wheezing inhale. He doubled over, tears in his eyes -- calm, calm, he told himself -- then sank to his knees. There'd been herbs, back on Boreas, back before, that his family had burned to quell the rattling in his chest. Without them, he had to weather the fits. But he couldn't breathe -- couldn't breathe --

A voice, alarmed or concerned, came from nearby. Again, a hand came to rest on him -- his shoulder, this time. Go away, he thought. Don't touch me. His vision blurred, then went dark.

With dusk approaching, Naevius realized he would soon need to start lighting lanterns in the lofty workshop he had taken residence in. An alchemist by trade, the enlil was tall, but bony, seemingly emaciated. His feathers were a rich chestnut color, save for a diamond of grey in the center of his chest, and the very tips of the wild and unruly crest atop his head. He wore a long white lab coat and tattered slacks held up by a tightly cinched belt, without shoes or shirt. His irises were a bright shade of orange, signifying to some that he was blessed by Aquila. Then again, they were also dry and bloodshot more often than not, so maybe Aquila was just marking him for study.

Besides, if any of the Vis looked on the erratic chemist with favor, it was probably Serpens.

Naev grabbed a half-eaten loaf of bread and fiercely bit off a chunk, never taking his eyes off the decanter in front of him. He was carefully tapping single droplets of heavy bigatium volantis into the concoction, measuring the reactions before continuing. Once he had figured out the proper ratios, he would memorize them, but for now, he had to take things carefully.

Nearby, atop of stack of plates and one overturned bottle, there was a doll of some kind. To innocent eyes, it looked like it was made from a dark grey clay, shaped into the rough approximation of an enlil body, but no higher than Naev's knees. In reality, the 'clay' was a blend of explosive ingredients. Not far away, on one of the few clean and clear spots in the building, there was a silvery metal orb engraved with writing. A lid was screwed out of it, revealing the hollow insides.

"Hey Doc!" someone shouted before banging on the door to the street. Naev stiffened, accidentally double-tapping the bottle, prompting a furious hiss from the concoction. The enlil braced himself, but thankfully the reaction settled.

"Not now!" he yelled over his shoulder. In response, the visitor banged even harder, making Naev's eyes twitch. Growling to himself, he set the bottle of volantis down carefully and quickly scrawled down the number he had stopped at on a small chalkboard. A pair of sunglasses with thin, round lenses went over his eyes. Angrily chomping down more bread, Naev stormed over to the door and threw it open. "Who has the balls?" he shouted, glaring at the man outside, but then blinking in confusion.

The man was one of his regulars, Mason, a middle-aged blacksmith's assistant who frequently needed help to keep his energy up throughout the day. Another laicar Naev didn't recognize was with him, but more importantly, they were carrying a young man with dark hair between them. His pallor was sickly pale and his chest shuddered as he coughed, a wet and nasty sound. "Hey, this kid sounds like he's dying!"

"For fuck's sake, get him to a medic, to a healer!" Naev snapped out. "I'm a chemist, not a physician!"

"We didn't know if he'd make it! He seems really bad," Mason argued. "He's talking gibberish, like nothing I've ever heard before."

Naev reached out and placed a talon to the youth's forehead. "He's bad, but not yet on death's door. You have time." The alarmed look on the two men's faces forced a sigh from the alchemist. "I'm not a doctor! I don't even have very much medicine here to work with!" More importantly, he only had a few days to finish putting a plan together and couldn't afford the distraction. While he stood there with one hand on the boy's forehead, the delirious laicar mumbled something.

"There he goes again," Mason's friend grumbled. "Bell's ass, I told you this was a waste of time, let's get moving."

The strange words escaping the sick boy caught Naev's attention, though. "Not gibberish," he muttered, eyes narrowing. Taking in the boy's condition once more, Naev folded his arms and scowled. Healers here likely wouldn't know what they were dealing with. "Pointless... hell with it, lay the kid over on that table there and then fuck off."

"You'll help, then?" Mason asked.

"If anyone can. This little shit's got a Borean malady, and I don't have what I need to treat it, but I doubt anyone in this side of Terminus does." He would have to figure out a substitute and that was something he trusted himself with more than the random bleeding-heart healers. "Hurry up and get lost. I don't have time for this, and you'll slow things down."

Chara's heart slammed in his chest, and breath wheezed from his chest in strained, panicked bursts. So many voices. What was going on? Where had they taken him? He wanted to fight, to pull away from the hands holding him and run -- run --

("Run," A'Ma had whispered to him. "Run, and don't look back, Chara.")

The world tilted, and Chara thrashed helplessly. "Εασψ, Εασψ," said a deep voice from above him. Then he was laying down again. The buzzing chatter of the city seemed far away now. Was he inside? Where was he? He opened his eyes on a dimly-lit building, full of tables -- which were full of unfamiliar tools. Panic constricted his chest. He immediately made to get up, and another fit of coughing dropped him back down. They hadn't taken his bow or quiver -- he could feel the slings crushed up against his side. He could still --

"Amake sparśa karo nae!" he gasped between coughs. "A-ami tomake khuna karaba!"

Chaya -- he needed Chaya. Or Tusara, Barapha -- they couldn't be far, but he'd told them to stay back. He reached for the link between them, sent a wordless call of distress.

One talon pushed a wad of green herbs against the sick youth's mouth, muffling his threats. Before the boy could spit them out, Naev ordered, "Carbaṇa" in the kid's own language. "Karō na gela." At least, he hoped, a close approximation to it. He continued with a snippet of a half-remembered proverb.

"Mr̥tyu āsē, sabasamaya r̥tu a'uṭa." Naev put a hand to the boy's forehead, checking the temperature and scowling. "Dauṛābēna nā."

The herbs, bitter in Chara's mouth, were all but forgotten. He shoved himself upright again, one hand braced on the table, the other pressed to his chest as though that would stop the rattling. He stared at Naev. Had he...? Chara almost thought he'd imagined it; but he'd only ever heard that saying once or twice before...and the end was wrong. Like something a foreigner might say.

He hadn't noticed, before, that the man was an enlil. But he'd thought in Terminus, even enlil only spoke common; no one he'd tried to speak to had been able to understand him.

°You, you--° He broke off, coughing.

When the fit subsided, Chara obeyed the stranger's instructions. He didn't know if he could trust the enlil, but herbs had helped before...and he couldn't breath. The herbs were miserably bitter, and it was a trial to chew them up between coughs. By the time the leaves were pulp in his mouth, however, the painfully constriction and wheezing rattle in his chest had eased. Enough for him to talk, at least.

Chara shoved his hair out of his eyes and tried again. °You speak Gagana Jati?°

°I speak,° Naev confirmed. He didn't have the vocabulary in the obscure language to better explain it, and didn't feel the need to tell his life's story to a strange youth that might not stick around much longer.

Speaking the tribal dialect brought back memories of a time when he was much younger, a little wilder. Still a teen, and already thinking he knew the whole world, Naev ventured out from his family's estate, heading off to various exotic locales, trying strange and exciting new thrills, eventually meeting up with a beautiful older enlil with gorgeous, sun-kissed skin. She came from a tribe -- possibly the same as this boy's, or at least similar -- but left her people to see more of the modern world. The two hit it off, setting off on a whirlwind romance that, like most teen romances, was doomed to crash and burn from the start.

Still, he walked away with some fantastic memories, a few new skills, and a basic understanding of a language he rarely had occasion to employ.

Naev pointed one finger at the sandy-haired patient. °Name?° He didn't wait for a response before digging up a few more words from memory. °Medicine, not strong. Death is possible.°

°It isn't,° said Chara, fiercely. °This isn't,° he coughed, cleared his throat, and continued, °isn't the worst it's been. My name is Chara'nira.°

He looked up, near the workshop's upper levels and rafters. One of the large second-floor windows had been propped open, likely to vent out some of the workshop's fumes, and two white-feathered heads were jammed in the open space.

The leovem were large, although not yet fully-grown, with white plumage; dark speckles patterned their wings, currently folded against their backs. They had identical icy-blue eyes, and would have been impossible to tell apart, but where one's ear tufts were as white as the rest of its face, the other's tufts darkened to black. Out of sight, their cat-like tails flicked to and fro in anticipation.

Wait, Chara told them. Easy.

Chara nodded at the two leovem, directing the enlil's attention to them. °That's Tusara and - and - Barapha.° He waited for his next coughing fit to cease, hesitated, then asked, °You?°

Naev scowled up at the beasts, clutching a silvery ball in one talon. Luckily Chara was coherent because if the creatures had popped in while the boy was unconscious, they would have been in for a nasty surprise! Now that his initial surprise had passed, though, Naev laughed in relief. The enlil slipped the small bomb back into a hidden pocket in his sleeve, still staring up at the beasts. It was rather ironic.

Turning to Chara, he answered, °Naevius Squalidus, Apothecary.° Turning toward the cluttered work table, Naev picked up a half-eaten apple and chomped off a bite. Scanning eyes around the table, he found another loaf of bread, probably half-stale, and threw it toward Chara. He paused, looking at the pair of leovem, then back to Chara, and considered his condition.

°You have not taken medicine recently. Why not?°

Naevius Squalidus. A Common name. Chara's hands fumbled the bread a bit, caught it, and held. The boy looked down at the loaf. He was wary of accepting the kindness of strangers, especially strangers with common names, but if the enlil had meant to harm him, he could have just let Chara lay in the street and cough.

Chara pulled off a small piece of the bread and put it in his mouth.

°I haven't seen any pras'antaplants outside of Boreas,° he said, after he'd swallowed. °The traders I tried to speak with didn't seem to recognize the name, and...° He stifled a cough, fighting back another fit. °And I don't have your exa pieces to trade with, either.°

The piece of bread seemed to have kickstarted his appetite, and hunger won out over caution; Chara tore into the bread with his teeth this time.

Naev laughed harshly while finishing off his apple, tossing the core off to an unused part of the workshop. "Fucking ignorant and broke," he remarked in his own tongue, shaking his head. Money wasn't so much an issue. He often dealt in favors, anyway. With his deadline approaching, though, this was a distraction he didn't need. So why shouldn't he get something out of it?

Because fuck him, that's why.

°Call friends down,° Naev instructed, rummaging through drawers and slamming them roughly. He pulled out a pair of heavy wire strippers and tossed them onto the table. Those would work. Next he grabbed a warped metal bowl, wiping it with a dirty cloth, then again with a cleaner one, tossing both onto a pile on the floor.

°Plant not native to Boreas,° the alchemist explained, as best he could in the language. There were nuances he would have a hard time going into. Caudaleones, Lion's tail, or pras'anta as Chara called it, was a gold flowering version of a relatively common weed. It was an herbaceous perennial with a thick taproot that managed to dig into the slightest patches of soil. Its leaves were basal, emerging from the crown of the plant, and toothy. Although appearing as one flower, the crown of the plant was actually a tight collection of individual florets, each tiny petal a flower of its own. The stem was hollow, filled with a thick, sticky substance. You could extract it in more controlled quantities by crushing the leaves and chewing on them, but it was safe enough, if unappetizing, to just eat the weed whole or drink from the stem.

The weed grew in most of Araevis, even in some of the sunnier areas around Terminus. It normally blossomed with white petals, however. °Plant not important. What feeds plant important.° Normally, that was, except when fertilized by certain creatures more prevalent in Boreas than elsewhere. The 'medicine' that Chara needed didn't actually come from the plants themselves -- they merely absorbed it under the proper circumstances.

Chara worked through his hunk of bread and watched Naevius bustle about his workshop with a small frown. Whatever the Enlil had said in common, it hadn't sounded friendly, and it immediately set Chara on edge. Still, what Naev was saying might save his life, if it were true. And why wouldn't it be? The enlil might look bizarre and act unfriendly, but he had no reason to go out of his way to harm Chara. Had, in fact, given him herbs that eased his condition, given him food, and was now giving him possibly invaluable information.

It made Chara suspicious. Even in his tribe, rarely was something given for nothing. Goods were traded. Meat for clothes. Leather for vegetables. Lumber for labor. Always, something for something. From what he'd seen of the rest of the world, it worked the same no matter where you went -- only, everything was traded for exa.

So, what did this wild-feathered enlil man want from him?

Chara glanced up to the window again, and pulled, easily, on his bond with the leovem. Barapha clicked her beak in reply, using one large talon to force the window open enough to get inside. The two leovem swooped down to the ground floor and landed, surprisingly graceful, next to the table where Chara was sitting. The laicar boy's expression softened, and he gave each of them a scratch under their chins. A thought occurred to him. He turned to Naev, eyes narrowed.

°They aren't for trade. Even if I am...thankful...for your help.°

Naev responded with a cackle of laughter, turning to raise one bushy, feathered eyebrow over his shades. °Clumsy beasts! Destroy my work, all they would do!° The enlil turned back to what he was doing, digging through a pile of random tools until he found what he wants: an iron file. Tossing that onto the table next to the bowl, Naev instead scooped up the wire stripping pliers and moved across the room to Chara and his pets.

They were actually quite fine specimens, Naev could tell. Even if he wasn't an expert in rare animal trade, he would wager that either of the beasts would bring in at least a thousand exa, easily. If the boy wanted, he could live comfortably in Terminus just by selling one of them. If Naev wanted, he could easily get rid of the youth and keep the leovem for himself. He didn't even need to do anything illegal: he could get Chara committed to a hospital while they tried to figure out his malady. Naev very much doubted there were more than a dozen people in all of Terminus who would recognize the tribal language and it didn't seem like Chara could speak the common language.

Finding buyers would be a hassle, though, and even moreso to find buyers that didn't ask questions. It was just an opportunity to sit in the back of his mind. There was that pesky oath, too, although it meant less than nothing to just about anyone.

°Paw,° Naev barked out, staring at the white-eared leovem, holding out his empty hand. When the creature lifted its paw, either well-trained or spurred by its owner, Naev took a moment to appreciate the strength in its talons. Far more bestial than his own, the eagle-like claws were terrifyingly sharp. Although juvenile, the leovem could still easily rend the slender alchemist into pieces.

So he probably should have exercised more caution before he raised the pliers to the smallest claw and squeezed, snapping off the black nail at the halfway point.

Any number of things could have happened next. One talon clipped, that still left two leovem with plenty of large, razor-sharp talons between them, and enough strength in their massive paws to cave in the enlil's scrawny chest.

Tusara's ears kicked back, and his tail gave a single, agitated flick -- but otherwise, the snowy leovem gave no indication anything had happened. He stared at Naev, surprisingly docile. Chara kept his companions calm and steady through their shared link, even as he lunged forward and seized Naev's wrist.

°Hey! What are you doing?!° he demanded.

°Watch!° Naev snapped, scowling at Chara. He held up the leovem's talon between thumb and forefinger, eyes boring into Chara even from behind his sunglasses. °Leovem talons are better medicine! Best medicine!° Best for the strange youth's condition, at any rate.

The alchemist grabbed the collar of Chara's shirt and dragged the boy from the table over to his work bench. The iron file was scooped up, then held out for Chara to see it. Then he was filing the talon down, letting the shavings fall into the bowl he had cleaned out. °Grind to dust,° Naev instructed, rapidly shredding the entire talon, possibly some of his own with it. Then he tossed the iron file onto the table.

Next he reached into his labcoat, deftly plucking a small, off-white crystal from an inner pocket. Gypsum was a common mineral and useful as a binding agent, with some minor . °Spear stone,° he explained, using the tribal word for it and holding it up so that Chara could see how much he was using. He set it down on the work bench and then grabbed a hammer from the pile. Without warning, he smashed the soft crystal repeatedly. With the bowl at the end of the table, he brushed the pulverized mineral in with the talon shavings.

A beaker of water was next, pulled from an inner compartment of his coat, already boiling. Offering no explanation for that, he poured it into the bowl, then began stirring the mixture with a wooden rod. °Stir until mixed.° Naev put the stirring rod in Chara's hands and walked off toward a shelf of metal bins, grumbling as he searched through them.

Leovem claws were expensive and valuable, with miraculous curative properties. It was something about their biology in general, since even a simple weed like the caudaleones could become valuable if 'fertilized' by the creatures. The decoction he was mixing together was a simple one, but it would be many times more effective than eating the weed or chewing a bucket of pain-killing leaves.

°Only those ingredients necessary,° Naev explained, walking back over with a small handful of ingredients. These were not native to Boreas, so there were no Gagana Jati words for them. "Foxglove, red peony, root of red peony," Naev further explained, holding each ingredient up and using the tribal word for root. °These will make it last longer. Keep stirring."

The chemist ground the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, adding just enough water to make it into a paste. He then poured that into the bowl. When Chara began to slow, he commanded again, °Keep stirring.°

Chara did so, albeit grudgingly. He was interested in a potential remedy for the coughing fits which seized him, of course, but if the enlil man thought he was going to memorize that list of ingredients and instructions this quickly, he was crazier than Chara had initially believed. Barapha started forward, curious about either Naev's unfamiliar scent or the concoction he was forcing Chara to stir, and Chara clicked his tongue sharply. The leovem settled back on her haunches with a short hoot.

°Talon dust and crushed spear stone, I can remember.° Chara frowned down at the bowl of ingredients, now an unrecognizable paste from the grinding and stirring. °The purple tube flower... Foxlove? And the one with many petals was...?°

"Foxglove," Naev repeated, "Peony." The enlil peered into the bowl and clicked his tongue thoughtfully. Nodding, he scooped the bowl out while Chara was still stirring. There were further refinements that could be made, and nuanced application of volantis could potentially heighten the effectiveness of the decoction -- that would require some research, first -- but the simple truth was that ultimately the effects would still be temporary, and Chara was nothing close to learning pharmaceuticals, chemistry, or alchemy.

Unless Naev wanted to keep the tribal boy around and make the medicine for him, he needed to dumb down the recipe to be effective enough and yet simple to recreate. Luckily for Chara, he was carting around the best possible ingredient without even knowing it. Without the leovem claws, or something of their caliber, his condition would rapidly worsen in the cold, icy climate of Hiemis regardless of what medicine Naev could provide.

One bushy eyebrow raised and Naev turned to regard the boy. A laicar, but the language was clearly from one of the tribal societies in Boreas. Initially he just assumed that he had taken in with someone from the tribe and learned the language, neglecting the very obvious detail that Chara didn't appear to know any of the common vernacular. To be sure, he asked aloud, "Do you speak any of the common language? Anything modern, civilized?"

Chara gave Naev a baleful look from beneath his bangs.

If there was one phrase he'd heard more than anything else in the months since leaving his homeland, it was the first thing Naevius had just said -- or variations of it. "Do you speak any common?" Usually asked in a slow, imploring sort of way, as though that would make him understand the foreign language any better.

Still...after a while, the meaning had become obvious. Common. They wanted him to speak common. They didn't understand him. He'd picked up on a few other words, as well, from sheer exposure to the language, but the words felt wrong when he spoke them. Stilted, awkward. Foreign.

"No." Chara scowled. °Are you mocking me? I'm Gagana Jati, from the Nila Bana in Boreas. No, I do not speak your tongue. I'm here to, to--° He broke off in a series of weak coughs, triggered by his rising temper. Once the fit had subsided, he carried on as if there'd been no pause at all. °I am looking for the ones who killed and enslaved my tribe. I know they left Boreas, and I found this, this poster, I know this man. He was there when we were attacked.°

Chara fumbled the crumpled, worn piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and thrust it towards Naev. On it was an artist's rendition of a man, the details of his face well-defined. He was a dark man -- his skin was shaded, his short, scruffy hair and beard were nearly black, and a dark bandana or scarf was tucked up under his chin. His eyes, however, were pale -- lightblue listed a note alongside the man's hair color, height, and estimated weight. He had a scar that sliced from his right cheekbone, and whatever had left it had also taken a chunk out of his ear. A name was stamped in bold, inky-black letters at the top of the page:


Chara assumed it was a name, anyway. He didn't read common any better than he spoke it, but, apparently, the picture had come from here -- from Terminus. Right now, this lead was all he had.

With a toothy sneer, Naev ignored the paper and instead answered, °I am mocking you. Too proud to learn another tongue? Clever is the mind that has traveled.° That was another proverb, one he knew better. It was his former lover's very reason for setting out to see the world beyond her tribe. °Your body traveled this far. Where is your head?°

The alchemist reached for an empty decanter with a flared base. He considered it for a moment before setting it aside. Instead, he grabbed a tin flask and started to lift the bowl before shaking his head and setting it aside. Finally, he grabbed a large, cylindrical phial. The glass was thick, cloudy but not opaque. Its cap was wrought silver, with a loop that one could slip a chain or string through. Using a funnel, he poured three quarters of the bowl into the phial, very nearly overfilling it. He sealed the cap.

Naev shoved the bowl into Chara's hand and took the paper finally. °Drink,° he ordered. He pulled his shades down, reading over the top of them. The name he didn't recognize but the face tugged at his memory. It felt familiar... not one of his customers, but perhaps someone that he had seen with one of them? The enlil didn't offer any sympathies for the loss of Chara's... friends? Family? It wasn't exactly his problem, and he had met any number of people with sad stories and tragic pasts.

He preferred the ones that brought good business.

°I have seen him,° Naev finally decided and said aloud. °Not soon, not known to me. I have seen this face somewhere in Terminus.° He dropped the paper to the table. The bounty on the man was pitiful, a mere two thousand exa. It spoke to how little the authorities cared, or perhaps knew, about any victims of the alleged killer. Small bounties meant there'd be little information, few people chasing the leads. Naev might have had some contacts that could point him closer to the right direction, but it wasn't something he wanted to invoke.

Chara would have to stay in Terminus, though, and that meant he'd need to continue taking the leovem decoction. Until the fool boy went to warmer climes, there really weren't other options. Chara obviously had no money, and although the claws of his pets would sell decently by themselves, Naev had no particular need of them. It seemed like the boy would have need of him, but Naev had no use for a hot-tempered child without money or connections he could exploit.

He needed to get the boy out of his shop so he could resume planning something far more important.

°W-What?!° Chara spluttered and nearly choked on Naev's concoction. °Seen?° He could barely believe it, and it showed in his voice. °You saw this man?° The boy jabbed a dusky-brown finger, calloused and scraped from regular bow-work, at the bounty. °This one? You're sure

Chara searched the enlil's face, hunting for any trace of a lie. His heart slammed in his chest at the possibility of a lead -- a real lead. The vis must have guided him to this man.

After a beat, he added, flustered, °Well? W-where? Where in Terminus? What was he d-doing? ° He smothered a cough in his sleeve. °What was he wearing? What, what...° he broke off, wheezing raggedly. He had forgotten Naev's medication entirely, and his excitement had set off another attack. He shook his head as he coughed. His thoughts were suddenly racing.

°I only know that I have seen him,° Naev explained impatiently. Because of the bounty, it was likely somewhere in the Lupanar District, but more than that he couldn't guess. °Bad side of city.°

°That's not good enough!° Chara barked. He coughed out his next few breaths and stopped, both to calm down and to think. °I mean...°

Chara took a deep breath (like A'da had taught him) and said, °Thank you. For the...for this,° he lifted the bowl slightly, °and telling me what you know.° He forced down more of the mixture Naev had made for him. It was bitter, hard to swallow. Not unlike his anger, even if it was...maybe...misplaced. More grudgingly, he added, °What do you want? In return? You know so many of our sayings, you ought to know that you get naught for nothing. I owe you.°

Naev wanted to laugh out loud! How rare for someone to decide on their own that they owed him! Of course, it was a backwards fool who had nothing that the enlil was interested in. Unless Chara was very lucky in his search, he would inevitably end up owing Naev even more.

No, he was simply going to have to write this one off. Charity work. If nothing else, perhaps he'd earned a few notches of respect from his existing customer who brought Chara in, and maybe even a new customer from the man who came with him. It wasn't much, but Naev could count small gains if they led to bigger ones.

°I have doubt. Willing, unwilling, you have no barter I need. Yet there is much you may still need from me. Guide to bad side of city, I am sure. Translate, maybe. Food. Shelter.° Naev paused there, raising one talon to rub at his chin. Shelter? He had no shelter he wished to offer the boy, but his initial assumption was that he'd have to help put Chara up in a hotel else risk the fool sleeping in a gutter and dying of his cough.

There were places that would take travelers in for free, though, if they were in need. At least temporarily.

°Service,° Naev said, a smile slipping onto his face. °Simple service to another, in exchange for my aid, your food, and your shelter.°

They would have to see if the good brotherhood at Saint Juno's would accept a boarder.