Chapter 4: Fredryko's Mercy

                Kanso enters into the busting Yurai Plaza feeling both victorious and defeated. The plaza isn’t quite as welcoming as the Bysc Marketplace. Gone are the wholesome kiosks and stands that do business beneath the light of day. Instead, Kanso finds himself in a web of dimly lit shops. There isn’t as much noise here either. Those who haggle often get beaten or shot so most just observe the price tags and make their silent exchanges. There’s an air of tension in this place. One can almost sense the shady dealings that go on here. Without having to hear or see anything, one simply knows that there is a drug deal happening behind the rug store or that someone is getting mugged beneath a staircase. A nan who passes by Kanso could be a gun-for-hire, a wonan who peers at him could be a lady of the night, and every shopkeep could be more than they appear to be. Danger lurks at every turn. It dwells behind everyone’s eyes. But Kanso is really only scared of one thing.
                He’s late. As flawlessly as he completed the job, Kanso is sure that there’s no way Fredryko is just going to let his tardiness slide. He knew when he took the mark that this would be a high-stakes mission. He knows Fredryko has already been under fire by the client which will in turn mean that Kanso’s head is on the chopping block. Kanso wonders what it will be this time. Will Koku and Yvinka take him out back and brutalize him till he can’t move? Will they bring out a bucket of water and see if he can actually breathe while submerged? Maybe he’ll get lucky they’ll just beat him a little, then tie him up and leave him in a closet to think things over. He worries that maybe this time is actually the last time he fails. Maybe this is the time that Fredryko has him killed. Kanso ponders the chances of this happening. He doesn’t think Fredryko wants to lose him, but for all he knows there could be a bunch of others just as good as him under Fredryko’s employ. He also has no choice but to face him. Fredryko is one of the few nen on the entire continent who will give work to a Fendaren. Kanso can’t make a run for it, no matter how badly he’d like to.
                But he’s also not ready to face the punishment waiting for him just yet so he ducks into a clothing store. He keeps his arms crossed while he peruses the merchandise just to let people know he isn’t going to try and steal anything. This shop keep is used to seeing him come in here. Sometimes he buys a shirt or some gloves so she doesn’t say anything when he comes in to hide from someone or something. He appreciates this courtesy so he tries to make a purchase as often as he can afford to. Today, he’s just going to browse and torment himself with wondering what’s going to become of him. He’s frustrated with himself for being so scared. He wasn’t this frightened when he faced off against Mon Patel and his nen. But this situation is different. The people he has to face now are just as likely to do him serious harm, but they’re also the closest thing he has to allies. He needs them, needs the work Fredryko provides, and that makes him vulnerable. Whatever they decide to do to him, he just has to take it. The thought of being so at their mercy makes him tremble. If he weren’t in public, he might even spill a tear. He’s so lost in his thoughts and emotions that he doesn’t even hear the nan coming up behind him. Two hands clamp down on his shoulders and squeeze his traps.
                Kanso gasps in both surprise and pain. He twists downward, flinging an arm up to chop at the person clutching him, but he’s released before the hit can connect and ends up falling face first onto the tile floor of the shop. A throaty chuckle resounds behind him. Kanso scrambles to his feet and backs away from his attacker, terrified that Fredryko’s already sent someone for him. He sees that it’s Gart, one of Fredryko’s hired thieves that also sometimes doubles as an assassin. They completed a job together before and Kanso found himself horrified at the nan’s ruthlessness. His stomach twists at the idea that Gart might be here to kill him. His nostrils and his gills flare as his breathing intensifies. He can feel the eyes of other shoppers on them, but for now, that might be a good thing. A crowd will make Gart a little less likely to do what Gart does.

                “Whoah there, a little jumpy are we?” Gart taunts.
                “What do you want? I’m done with the job, I’m just about to see Fredryko now…”
                One side of Gart’s mouth curls upwards into an amused smirk. “You think Fredryko sent me for you?”
                “I don’t care, just leave me alone, I have to go.”
                Kanso makes for the exit, but Gart throws a hand to Kanso’s chest, holding him at bay. Kanso isn’t sure if he can fight this nan. He’s not overly opposing in either size or stature. At first glance, he almost looks kind of pathetic. He’s short for a Hyunan, though still a little taller than Kanso. He’s also skinny and he only has one good eye. The other is covered by a black leather patch. Anyone looking at these two would certainly deem them to be worthy opponents, but Gart is just too willing to do too many things that Kanso isn’t.
                “Gart, please, I swear I’m done.”
                “Oh I believe you fish-boy, ease up. Fredryko hasn’t paid anyone to get you just yet. He is real mad though.”
                “So what, I’m supposed to just believe that you happened to find me here? Nice try, but I don’t plan on going someplace you can stick a knife in my back.”
                “Kansooo,” Gart mock-whines as he shoves Kanso back a couple of steps. His lip curls into a pretend pout as he says, “I’m hurt.”
                “Stop screwing with me,” Kanso snaps. Rarely does he let his voice raise to this volume.
                “Fine, I didn’t just happen to find you, but I’m also not here to collect on your head. I was just turning in a mark I had when Fredryko and the gang were talking about how late you are. They were so mad, I figured I’d hang around here a while and wait for you. I saw you come into the plaza, hide out in this shop and figured I’d stop by to see how you were doing.”
                “That’s very thoughtful…” Kanso states sarcastically.
                “Yeah see, I think you should apologize for thinking I was here to do something bad to you. I’m only here to see you squirm before you grow the balls to go in and face the big boss nan.”
                Kanso crosses his arms. “I’ll be fine…”
                Gart laughs even harder. “No, sir, you are so screwed, that’s for sure. Honestly I think I might just hang around and see if they drag your screaming ass outside. Maybe they’ll let me watch while they beat you, that’d be funny.”
                “There’s something seriously wrong with you…” Kanso shrinks away from Gart as he says this.
                “That coming from a Fendaren, there’s something seriously wrong with all of you.”
                “You’re a real bastard, you know that.”
                “Ouch!” Gart pretends to stumble back in pain, clutching his chest as though he’d been shot. “Come on, Kanso, kid, I thought we were pals… Plus tell me you wouldn’t enjoy seeing me get punished for being late.”
                “I wouldn’t”
                “Well that’s lame of you. This world’s no place for the faint of heart, gill-face, sooner you learn that, the less likely to wind up dead you’ll be.”
                “I don’t have to be like you to survive.”
                “We’ll see about that,” Gart snickers. “Well, you better get going. You don’t want to miss your hot date with Yvinka.” He steps aside, waving his arm in an elaborate arc towards the doorway.
                Kanso, keeps his eyes on Gart as he passes by and leaves the shop.

He isn’t convinced that Gart isn’t here to do something to him so he speeds towards Fredryko’s shop. It isn’t hard to believe that Gart would come just to see him in terror and he certainly believes that he’d love to see Kanso tortured. But he’s too close to where he needs to get take chances so he does his best to avoid any sharp corners and narrow walkways. Fortunately there are enough people out and about, even as the evening sky turns blood red, to make him feel safe while he’s out in the open. Not that anyone would come to his rescue, but it’s always nice to know that there’d at least be witnesses. The further he gets from where he left Gart, the more his mind contends with a different source of worry. Even if Gart didn’t come for his blood, that doesn’t mean none will get spilled. His heart thumps as he nears the stairs to the terrace that Fredryco’s shop is on. Waiting at the base of the steps is a familiar figure, one he hastens towards.
                “Kanso,” the lady calls out.

                “Maiya, I’m in a hurry, I’m late to see your father.”
                In truth, Kanso would much rather stay here with her, but he’d like come across as being in earnest to see Fredryko in case there are any listening ears around.
                “Hey, slow down,” she orders, placing a hand on his chest and taking hold of his lower bicep. “You’re shaking,” she observes.
                “I’m just in a hurry.”
                Kanso stares ahead, tying to will his eyes not to water. She’s seen him in a sensitive state before, so he’s not really sure why he’s putting on this false bravado.
                “You’re going to be fine!” she soothes, tilting her head in front of his face in an attempt to force eye contact. “I talked to my father for you. If you have what he sent you for, then you should be fine.”
                Kanso’s face softens and he finally looks her in the eyes. “Why would you do that? It’s not your problem. I messed up and your father knows that.”
                “He also knows you do good work. You know why I did it.”
                “No I don’t. You know I don’t like owing people.”
                “You don’t owe me anything.”
                “Yeah, I do. Why don’t you get that?”
                Kanso is flustered, but his tone isn’t harsh. Deep down, he does appreciate Maiya trying to protect him. A part of him does understand why she does it, but he also can’t help but feel angst at being indebted to her. Maiya can see the struggle in his eyes. She feels sorry for his inability to accept a gift.
                “What I don’t get, Kanso, is why you don’t think someone can do something for someone simply because they want to. Not everything in life has to be a barter. Sometimes you can do something just because you want to.”
                Kanso nods as he takes her hands in his. He sighs deeply and closes his eyes, too tired and too scared to argue the issue any further.
                “Come by later,” he says as he reopens his purple eyes. “We can do anything you want, that way I can at least make this up to you a little bit. If you think of something else you want me to do, just let me know then.”
                With that he releases her hands and starts to walk around her. He’d like nothing more than to be wrapped up in one of her warming hugs, but right now, he needs to stay hardened. Before he can get far though, she grabs hold of his wrist, causing him to twist around.
                “Just be meek with him, be apologetic. He’s mad, but if you’re honest and humble and genuinely sorry, then he will forgive you.”
                “Thanks,” is all he can manage.
                She’s not hurt by his terseness. She can feel his racing pulse before she releases his wrist. She knows how scared he is, how scared he should be. But she knows he’ll be alright. She’ll be there for him tonight when he’s at his most fragile. She watches as he ascends the stairs to the terrace, wondering if one day he’ll come to terms with the fact that she’s in love with him.

                Kanso marches over the clanking metal plates that form the terrace walkway. He does feel some relief at the idea that he’ll get mercy if he only just begs for it. While Kanso has never been a fan of begging, he’s not above it so far as Fredryko is concerned. When he first became a freelancer for him, Kanso had to get down on his knees and plead for a chance to prove himself. The first five people he turned to for work all sent him away and he didn’t know how much longer he could feasibly go without eating a proper meal. Back then Fredryko wasn’t so well known and Kanso agreed to work for half the price of any other professional thief so he got the job. Begging also got him extensions on some of his early marks. Now perhaps it would get him out of the harsh punishment he knows he deserves.
                Kanso comes to a stop in front of the entrance to Fredryko’s Kitchen, both a legitimate cookware shop and a front for Fredryko’s more profitable side business. He inhales deeply before taking the plunge through the door. The shop has fairly pleasant lighting consisting of various electric lamps lining the walls making guests feel like they’re at a half decent restaurant. A young girl stands behind the counter. Kanso doesn’t know her name.
He just nods to her and says, “Here to see the boss.”
She recognizes Kanso and motions for him to move past her. He takes a quick look around the store before going behind the counter and entering into what looks like an employee closet. To any peeking in, it would still look the part given the various cleaning supplies stashed on a shelf within, but those that enter inside know that it leads to a narrow hallway that wraps around to the back of the shop. Kanso steps lightly down it until reaching the small, stuffy lounge in which Fredryko and his enforcers await.

“Well hello, Kanso,” a deep, wonanly voice greets. The sound of it sends a shiver down Kanso’s spine.

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