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“Hey, Riz. How long are you gonna ignore me?”

“...”

“You know you are acting like a baby, right?”

“Leave me alone. I am not talking to you”

“Com’on Riz. This is not a suitable attitude for a spy”

 “No!. You tricked me! The case you asked me to find. Project Aurelia was a witness protection case. That person died. I heard mom talking about this on the phone. You killed them, right?”

“Well, not me per se but…”

“Ugh! I hate you! I am gonna tell mom everything”

“What are you gonna tell them? Will you tell them that you were the one who found and leaked the information? They are gonna put you in prison. This, if they even believe you”

“No! M-mom won’t let me go to jail. And I didn’t do anything bad. You didn’t tell me what was gonna happen to them!”

“Listen to me, Riz. If you tell anyone what happened, they would surely fire your mom. You are a smart kid, you know the goblins don’t have a good reputation. I know that the kids are calling you names at school. And you forget about my power. If you tell anyone, I can make sure your mom pays for it”

“Fine! But I won’t help you anymore! I am done with being a spy! Leave me alone!”

“Are you really gonna abandon me after all I taught you? After all, I’ve done for you, is this how you repay me?”

“I am not. Talking. To you! Leave me alone!”

“Even if I paralyse you? Even if you won’t be able to walk for the rest of your life?”

“E-even then! I am not working with bad guys!”

“Don’t look so smug, kid. Something tells me that you are gonna change your mind soon”

~~

Two days after this conversation detective Daveej Falun died under mysterious circumstances while chasing some low-level thugs. His partner, Sklonda Gutgak was slightly injured.

Three days after this conversation Riz Gukgak returned to Kalina’s side and he never left again.

~~

Riz could feel the bags under his eyes weighing him down the next morning. He looked at the paper with the demonic runes and debated taking it with him, but ultimately decided against it. He had a whole week to slip it into Kristen’s pocket.

A whole week to find a way to kill Daybreak.

“Dude, are you okay?”, asked Fig

“Huh?”

“What Fig meant to say is that you look a bit dead on the inside”, added Fabian.

“What Fabian meant to say is that you looked a bit tired”, said Gorgug.

“I didn’t sleep well last night”

“Why? Did you have to study for a test or something?”, asked Kristen.

He avoided Kristen’s gaze. In all his plans no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop envisioning her betrayed face moments before her death. His fingers sank into the handle of his briefcase.

“I-I had nightmares”

Adaine nodded.

“Do you get them often?”

“A lot since my dad died”

That killed the conversation, but Riz didn’t care. He leaned his head on the table and tried to catch a few more minutes of sleep.

~~

During their fight in the abandoned factory, his briefcase got destroyed.

It slipped from his hand and dissolved in the acid.

This is fine.

His briefcase was gone. His dad ’s briefcase was gone.

This. Is. Fine.

~~

They find Fig’s dad trapped in a gem. That was random.

He turned away as Fig hugged him. 

I am not resentful over the fact that Fig has a dad. I am totally okay with that and happy or whatever.

More importantly Gorthalax the insatiable was a fountain of information.

He told them about the perditional contradoxy. Even though it was the second time listening to this information, it didn’t make it any less terrifying. His party’s faces quickly became grimaces of horror after listening to what could’ve happened to Kristen. Fig left her dad’s side and gave the human cleric a one-armed hug.                    

But now there was a clear target. The Harvestmen and by association, Coach Daybreak. He could rally the group against him! If he played his cards right, he could kill him before he’d tell anyone his secret.

However, his excitement was muted.

My dad’s briefcase was destroyed. My dad’s briefcase was destroyed.

Calm down, it’s only an object.

There is one part of my dad less in this world.

He dug his fingers into his palm hard enough to hurt. He noticed Fabian looking at him, but he ignored him.

Snap out of it! Everything is fine. The only important thing here is the mission. Kill Daybreak before the week is over.

~~

They got a text from Biz;

sorry guys, i can’t be ur hacker anymore

He also sent a picture of him in a hospital bed. Riz had to give it to him. If he didn’t know that Biz worked for Kalvaxus, there would be no way of him figuring out that this was all a ruse. 

Well, good riddance.

However, his party insisted that they should at least pay him a visit to figure out what or who attacked him.

This is how he ended up with Fig in the hospital, her imitating a doctor and Riz doing his best not to blow her cover. Even if that meant shooting a mummy coming out of a person’s tummy. At this point, this was just a usual Tuesday for his party. 

However Biz, after explaining that the Harvestmen were the ones who broke his bones, asked to talk to Riz alone. Fig looked puzzled but gave Riz a subtle thumbs up and left, closing the door behind her.

“What’s up, man?”, he casually said.

“Nothing much. I just wanted to congratulate you for joining the team!”

“T-the team?”, Riz asked, baffled.

“Yeah! With me, Penelope, Aelwyn! Gods, I knew when I first saw you that you were a good spy material”

Riz felt close to throwing up. His insides were burning.

“Who-who told you that?”

“Who else, my man? Daybreak! He told me to keep an eye on you, and I totally get it! You are a freshman, I am a senior, you need someone to show you the ropes. You get me, bro”

“Aha”, Riz responded, practically vibrating. “Yep, you’ve got it. I am part of the team”

I hate this. I hate this. I hate this.

“Cool, dude. We can also hang out sometimes. Not right now, because duh I’m in a hospital bed, but we can totally chill out at my place after that”

“That is an option that I will definitely consider”, he said through gritted teeth.

“Okay. So you go, and we talk later! Bye partner”, Biz winked.

Riz practically ran out of the room.

~~

“Okay, be honest. Are you following me?”

“Dude, no. We are just going in the same direction”, responded Fig smoking a cigarette. 

“The only thing this way is the Strongtower Luxury Apartments”, Riz noted.

“That’s where I am going!” Fig said with enthusiasm clear in her voice. “Is there where you live, Riz?”

Don’t let anyone know any personal info that they can use against you, his training screamed.

But this is Fig. She is an open book. No way she has any hidden motives.

“Yeah, me and my mom. How about you?”

“I don’t live there but my da- I mean Gilear lives there. So, I am paying him a visit. Let's walk there together!”

He let her chat about the lessons she was skipping, and the rock band she was starting with Gorgug. Until…

“Shit! Forgot to ask. What did Biz want to talk about?”

“Joining his AV club”, Riz dryly replied.

“You absolutely can’t do that! You’ll become a social pariah! You already seem weird wearing only suits -”

“Excuse you?”

“-but your popularity rises by being in the coolest adventuring party. Joining the AV club will drop your popularity score back to zero!”

“That’s it. I am done talking to you!”

“Riz!”, she wailed and ran after him, almost getting hit by a police car. 

Wait a second. Police car? Oh no.

His mom stopped the car and lowered the window.

“Hey, kiddo! Do you want to drive you home?”

“Uhm-”

“And who are you?”, his mom continued looking at Fig. “Are you Riz’s friend?”

“We are best friends actually!”, she responded beaming. “I am Fig. We are in the same adventuring party!”

“She is visiting her stepdad at Strongtower’s”

“Well, do you want a ride, kids?”

“I don’t know-” Riz started but Fig interrupted him.

“I’ve never been in a cop’s car before. I will have to get used to it!”

She opened the door and sat in the backseat.

Riz sighed.

“Alright”

The rest of the ride was full of his mom asking awkward questions and almost crying at the prospect of him having friends and Fig being surprisingly polite considering she was talking to a police officer.

Eventually (and thankfully) they arrived at their apartment building. 

“Well. I guess this is goodbye”, Riz started.

“No way! Now that I know you live close to Gilear, we can hang out all the time! Wanna meet later at the vending machine and do a study session together? I have some monk homework to catch up to”

“A-aren’t you a bard?”

“I am trying things out! So what do you say! Rendevous at the vending machine in an hour?”

“Which vending machine?”

“The one with the good snacks of course. See ya!”

“I don’t know which one you mea- and she skateboarded away”, RIz sighed.

He turned to face his mom.

“Sorry about Fig. She is a bit much”

“She seems lovely. I am glad you are friends. I haven’t seen you act and smile like a kid in a long time”

Riz’s fingers traced his face and indeed he was slightly smiling without realising it. 

Later, he would turn in his bed worrying about Fig knowing his mom and where he lived.

But for now, he let it go and smiled.

~~ 

Everything was going to hell these days, so you couldn’t blame Riz for thinking that there was a bomb in his locker.

To be fair his mind was full of worries about the things he experienced.

Daybreak knows about me being Kalina’s spy.

Biz knows some stuff about me.

Fig knows personal information about me, that she can use to threaten me.

My dad’s briefcase was destroyed.

I might have to kill Kristen.

The last two thoughts weren’t important, but they persisted in his head filling him with guilt.

So, yeah, when he found a mystery object in his locker, the first thing he did was to jump back and point his gun at it. 

When it didn’t move, he came closer to examine it.

It was a briefcase. Brand new, made of real leather. Riz was sure that this was more expensive than anything in his small apartment.

What? How?

It turned out that he wasn’t the only one who got a surprise gift. His whole party turned up with surprisingly insightful and personal presents.

“I think they’re from my dad!”, suggested Fig beaming with enthusiasm.

“Your dad bought me a gift card for new clothes?”, asked Adaine, doubt clear in her voice.

Her dad doesn’t know I lost my briefcase.

He noticed that Fabian was surprisingly silent and modest throughout the whole conversation. He hardly even looked at his gift, wax for his bike.

No way. He wouldn’t. Would he?

He cornered him later as they were walking to class.

“You are the one who bought us the presents, right?”

“What? Pff, no way! I would never- I mean why would I? No way, I-”

“You are a terrible liar, dude”

Fabian opened his mouth to defend himself but then closed it.

“Okay, I did buy them”, he said in a low voice.

“No shit”

“But you can’t tell anyone”, Fabian whispered. “I swear to all Gods if you tell the party anything I will make your life in high school a living hell”

He came across more scared than threatening.

“Why did you keep it a secret, though? You are Fabian Seacaster, you don’t miss a chance to bask in glory. Unless...”

Fabian remained quiet.

“Unless you care about us. You wanted to do a nice gesture because you like us”

“Shut up”, said Fabian, visibly blushing. “I just saw that you were mopping after that briefcase and you looked quite pathetic”

He lowered his voice.

“And anyway, I didn’t want you to think that I am buying you as my friends”

“Fabian, no one would think that”, Riz replied in what he hoped was a soothing voice. 

“You are worse than me! You are in no position to give advice”

Riz took a step back.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You always act like you don’t care. I think I’ve never seen you joke around with the rest of us. But when we are in battle, you have our backs. You helped Gorgug with his rage problems and Adaine always seems calmer when you are around”

“Sh-she does?”, Riz asked baffled.

“Yeah! So stop acting like you don’t give a damn about us because you do”

How do I explain that I am required to keep them alive long enough to fight a giant dragon?

He remained silent. 

“That’s what I thought,” Fabian said, clearly thinking that Riz’s silence confirmed his theory. He turned to leave “Enjoy your new briefcase”

Riz cradled it closer to his chest. It was a bit heavier than his dad, but its weight gave him comfort.

“Hey, Fabian? Thank you. Really”

“No worries, the Ball”

~~

The next morning Riz put his textbooks in his brand new briefcase.

“Stop acting like you don’t give a damn about us because you do”

He put in the tin foiled flower.

“Riz, if you were in danger I would save you”

He looked at the parchment containing the runes that would create a Hellmouth inside Kristen

“Would it be so horrible for us to be friends?”

He took a deep breath. And then another. And then he tore the paper. He tore it into small pieces and threw them in the trash can.

He knew his target.

~~

A couple of days later, they fought Coach Daybreak and the entire Owlbear team.

But Riz was an assassin. He was made to kill. 

Daybreak didn’t have a chance.

A few minutes later the fight was over and Daybreak laid dead on the ground, two bullet holes in his forehead.

Riz was an assassin. And if a small part of him cheered at the prospect of sparing Kristen for a few months, well that was okay.