"I don't believe you," Khaled said, very certainly. Walker laughed, rolling his eyes as he listened to the wonder in his voice. "I do not believe you, but I can't...I cannot argue with what I see."
"You must be a wizard," Vivian agreed. She still rode with Khaled, but Walker paced the horse, giving meaning to his name with every step.
"No." Walker hesitated. "Well, maybe once. I ain't sure about all that yet. Memory's scrambled, see? Been so long, I barely remember anything of who I was. In the process of putting it all back together." Belatedly, he wondered if he'd ever done this before, only to forget all about that too in time.
"So you do this and..."
"Every time I die, girl, I come back a little bigger, a little tougher, and a little dumber." He laughed, and it rang off the trees.
"It sounds like a fairy tale," Khaled repeated.
"Shoot me," Walker invited. "I'll blow up, and you'll see for yourself. Hope it sates your curiosity, 'cause I'll have to hunt you down and kill you when I come back."
"And you took up with the Army of the Scour, on a lark?" Khaled shook his head. "My gods, man. You are made of steel and will."
"Ain't the best of us?" Walker chuckled. "I'm glad you made it out of the pack all right. It would've been a downer to die for nothing again."
"Thank you," Vivian murmured. Walker shrugged.
"You ain't gotta say it. Doing the deed is reward enough."
"You could be rich," Khaled muttered. "A man like you would be the world's deadliest assassin. A mercenary warrior unlike any other-"
"I ain't got no use for riches." Walker eyed the sharpshooter. "I can't take nothing with me when I die. I get stabbed, I get shot, I catch the flu...I wake up bare-ass naked in the middle of nodamnwhere. I ain't even get to take my socks. I can't take my wealth."
"But you could come back and reclaim it-"
"Sometimes it's weeks or months between death and return," Walker objected. "Sometimes it's years. Ain't no way to know. I'm happy dying and coming back, and figuring out a new thing or two about the world every time, everywhere I pop up. There's too much of this place to soak up in a dozen lifetimes."
"You...are a boundless optimist," Vivian muttered.
"Now that ain't so," Walker objected. "Idealist, yeah. Optimist, no. There's shit in this world too, and some real screwballs who need a proper thrashing. You ever heard of the Owner?"
"Should I have?"
"No. Thank your stars you ain't know what he'd do to someone like you." Walker spent a long few minutes trying to remember, and he shivered when he did. "Best to live in ignorance, Vivian."
"You remind me of..." Khaled's eyes darkened. "You're a lot like someone else I used to know."
"Hope that ain't an insult."
"Not by half." Khaled returned his attention to the road, looking very somber. He didn't elaborate.
"I'd bug you," Walker admitted, "but I got a few more pressing concerns."
"Like what?" Khaled navigated his mount over the last rise, and all three travelers spent a moment glancing at the little town looming ahead.
"First off. Vivian?" Walker examined her critically. "You got an air about you. Something I sense."
"Sense?" She blinked.
"Yeah, sometimes I smell things. Smell, or hear...I ain't right know how to describe it. I feel it." Walker felt it then, too, invading his senses. "Destiny, or power, or trickles of fate from Heaven. A touch from above, perhaps. You got one."
"I..." Vivian looked away. "No. That's wrong."
"You got a tattoo, ain't you?"
"What?" She jumped. "I...no, I..."
"Go on," Walker invited. "I'll wait."
Vivian exhaled. "All right. Yes, I have a tattoo. Vexis."
"You have a..." Khaled stared over his shoulder. "You have a magic tattoo of the Goddess of Luck, and you've had it this whole time, and you never..."
"I don't do magic anymore!" Vivian turned her head. "My master doesn't approve."
"Right." Walker chose to tackle the next big problem of his life. "Your master, girl. Who's he?"
"I shouldn't say."
"Because...I shouldn't. I'm on an errand of secrecy."
"You're buying vision glass," Khaled pointed out. "The entire merchant caravan saw you. I saw you."
"How can we take you home if we ain't know where to take you?" Walker pressed, as they descended the slope into town.
"Take me to Archer and-"
"Listen, that ain't gonna fly," Walker insisted. "You're late! You said it yourself. Let me and Khaled explain why, and we'll smooth it all over."
Vivian hesitated. "I don't know that...maybe..." Finally, she eased up. "Would you do that for me?"
"Why not?" Walker asked. "Ain't it just right?"
"No one does something because it is right." Vivian's eyes were dark and serious. "That's bad business."
"Clearly you ain't get out much. There's a laird giving away clothes and food for nothing in Archer, just 'cause it gives her warm tingles."
"Lies," Vivian insisted. "Business move. Negotiating tactic. Public relations. There are many reasons to be charitable, but for charity's sake is foolishness."
Walker rolled his eyes. "You're a lovely soul, ain't you?"
"It's...it's bad business." She sounded very defensive. "No one is good for the sake of being good. There's always profit and gain involved."
Silence. Walker listened to his footfalls, and those of the horse's hooves.
"Who do we take you to?" Khaled finally asked. Vivian eyed her boots.
"What?" Khaled tugged on the reins, and his horse came to a sudden halt. Walker stumbled, trying not to outstrip them, and he had to reach out to keep Vivian from tumbling to the road.
"What's the matter with you?" Walker demanded, as he pushed her back up by her arm. "You ain't like the man?"
"I don't..." Khaled moaned, reaching up to clutch his temple. "You take her, Walker. You take her right on back, and I'll just head for my kin in Crater, the dwarven city mountainside."
"I can't show my face around him," Khaled insisted. "Not until I have to silver to pay him back for my..." He ground his teeth. "For failing to kill Reznos."
"You!" Vivian jumped, and lightning might have struck for the recognition that appeared in her eyes. "You're the mercenary! The hunter!"
"Have we..." Khaled trailed off, as he looked over his shoulder. His face paled. "Oh, for what...what stroke of stupid, ill-conceived, feckless luck is this?" He banged his head into one of his wrist cannons. "You're the daughter!"
"That's right." Her tone was quite chilly. "I should have recognized you, if it weren't for all your injuries!"
"Obtained in service to your father!" Khaled growled and spat. "That's it. I can't...I cannot show up at his house with her in tow, and expect to see the dawn. He'll never listen to a word I have to say. He'll presume I'm trying to connive a reward."
"Don't act like the thought never crossed your mind-"
"Take her!" Khaled insisted, glaring at Walker. "Take her and let her be your problem."
"I can't just take no one," he snapped. "She goes where she says she goes. She ain't cargo, son."
"Stop calling me that." Khaled sighed. "Whatever. I'm done. Take your horse if you want it, but-"
"Her father will offer a reward, Khaled." Walker crossed his arms. "Maybe it'll be enough to pay him back."
"If he realizes-"
"He ain't got to realize nothing," Walker insisted. "I go in with Vivian, I claim it was all me. I take the money, act all gracious...when I leave, I give it to you, and you're either in the clear or well on your way. She's back with her family, you're set and off, and my job with you two is finished."
Quiet. The mercenary turned that one over, as if hunting for the hidden catch.
"...don't mention my name," he finally yielded. "Either of you." He glared at Vivian. "Promise?"
"I..." She let out a low breath. "I don't want to ruin your life, Kairos. I won't go out of my way to do it."
"I promise," she snipped, and something about the proper way she clasped her hands and looked down was very mocking. "Sir."
Khaled's shouldered eased, just a little. He glanced at Walker. "Your word you'll not take the money and run?"
"Easy." He nodded.
Khaled's eyes were cold. "If you try it, I'll hunt you down."
"I can't take none of it with me whenever I die next, can I?" Walker asked. "I told you. I ain't got no use for money. I get by without it." He patted the bag of MacTavish charity slung over his shoulder. "More people should try living with less. It's humbling."
Khaled nodded. "Then it's a deal."
"Right." Walker glanced around the town. "Let's see if we can find a little alley or park somewhere-"
"Alley? Park?" Khaled scoffed. He reached into his boot, and out came a little pouch.
"You had that and-"
"I didn't," he told Vivian, tossing the bag and grinning as it clinked. "It's a drop in the bucket on what I owe, but those dead merchants didn't need all the loot they left scattered around the clearing." He winked at Walker. "You ever caroused with an Ardwalian mercenary, my friend?"