Kyky strode with all the purpose in the world down the hallway to her door - only to pause for a couple of long, deep breaths as she pressed her back against the aged wood, as she pressed the warm bread and chilled meat in the thin wax packaging against her front and her ears opened for any sign of danger or suspicion…
Footfalls. Laughter, from young men and women. Even though she waited, expectantly, for the space of several slow breaths, she never heard the stern voice of a guard nor the hiss of a drawn weapon. So, Kyky pressed the heel of her hand against the handle of her door and whipped herself into the small dorm.
It was barely big enough for one person, to be honest, and it smelled quite ripe, what with the small, single window the one source of ventilation. But even in the stuffiness, Kyky sighed in relief. Yet another arrow dodged.
"Sorry, it's not much," Kyky said, as she stepped forward and sat on the edge of the bed and placed the package between them. "Guards…" Kyky seemed to need a break to both roll her eyes and pull her boots off as she went on. "Talk as if finding the runaways is…" she tossed up a hand in a gesture of outrage, "going to, like, bring the king back to life, or something..."
Manfred looked around the small room and shifted nervously. Small places made the horse side of him feel claustrophobic, and he was tall in his human form. Tucking a leg under himself he nodded at the blonde to affirm that he agreed with her.
“It’s a distraction…” he replied, before biting his lower lip and poking at the wax paper that hid her little bounty. Glancing up at her through strands of inky black hair, he mumbled out in a low whisper “… You’re taking a big risk for a thief.”
No, normally he wouldn’t merit too much attention from the guards. But they needed to feel like they were doing something… anything… Manfred could understand it on some level. “Thank you” he said, breaking a piece of bread off and munching on it like a starving man.
Kyky nodded - it was unfortunate for them that the guards were on high alert, but the guards had to do anything they could to re-establish themselves and their credibility. Probably, under normal circumstances, no one would have worried much about an escaped thief, but these days… capturing Manny could be the accomplishment of a lifetime for some guard, and the thief in question would undoubtedly suffer an unreasonable punishment. It was a hand for thieving, but they could easily tack on a beheading for escaping - and that said nothing about helping others escape.
Kyky shrugged, but her eyes were alert, her smile intent and present, and she was glad, relieved, to see the bread was acceptable as Manny began to eat. "If you hadn't been a thief, known how to pick a lock, how many people would be dead now?" Kyky asked, and her hand shot forward to squeeze Manny's knee. "Maybe you were supposed to be there, to help. I could never have opened that many cells on my own…" They were prisoners, and maybe dangerous criminals, but Kyky couldn't judge that, and her face froze a moment as she struggled with how to say as much.
"I like to believe that we are more than the worst thing we've ever done," Kyky said. And, after a breathy laugh, she corrected, "Were caught doing."
Manfred’s mouth curled and he tilted his head like a curious animal. His eyes focused on her hand on his leg, and he chewed carefully. Reaching up with long fingers he pushed his hair back behind one pointed ear.
“Kyky, it’s not just because I’m a thief… it’s because I’m centauri. And they need a scapegoat” he said, teeth firmly pressing against his lower lip. He was taking a big chance telling her what he really was. Some people didn’t care how many legs you had, or a fish’s tail. Other people did… a lot.
“This room is so small” Manny whined, feeling the sudden urge to divert away from the conversation at hand.
A Centauri. The words washed over Kyky like a wave from the Western Ocean in the autumn. So many people hated the Centauri - some even considered them creatures, although probably out of political or economic interest. Centauri weren't known for murder… perhaps, anecdotally - they overpowered humans so much that it was hard, sometimes, to distinguish an intentional killing from not… and, when in doubt, the Centauri always took the fall.
Although, not always the punishment. There were so, so many tales of Centaurs freeing themselves of their bonds and escaping into the wilderness, unafraid to fend for themselves.
And so, Kyky couldn't help but smile a bit. Even on two legs, Manny was that Centaur who had freed himself - and then others. Her hand reached out to grasp his, with appreciation in place of judgement.
"And if they ever find you, you will Centaur yourself out of here," Kyky said, with a smile so cheerfully hopeful that it made her seem too young and innocent to believe.
His complaint about the room, though, softened her gaze. "I know…" She shrugged. "Maybe after nightfall, we could…" Kyky paused, until she found a colloquialism that fit. "Go for a ride?"
Manfred was lucky to be half human in this instance, he didn’t have some of the more distinctive attributes of his race in his two legged form. His four legged body didn’t have horns or cloven hooves like some of his brethren, and he didn’t have a horse face as some called it either.
He wished he had the wild freedom of four legs, the speed, the power…his soul would sing. But this form allowed him to slip into small places and go far more unnoticed when in a place like the King’s City. Manny looked down at Kyky’s small hand in his larger one, and glanced upward in time to catch her smile.
A squeeze said more than words but Manfred knew they were important, especially for a race that depended on them. He huddled closer, spoke in a low tone “Yes… I’d like that…”. Manfred looked up through his hair at her, “Come with me… away from this place… it’s rotting from the inside… Can’t you feel it?”
Can you feel it? Yes, Kyky thought, and a nod of affirmation followed. King's City was going putrid after the king's death - but, she didn't know how to feel about that. Escaping seemed easy, but… without a central government, how stable were the outer regions? What if you had family?
"Yes, I feel it," Kyky nodded, and squeezed Manny's hand again, gently, as she obviously struggled. Her eyes cast toward the small window, and she sighed. "I want to say yes, let's go. But I have friends here. A lot of them." Jaya was her first thought, but then, Manny was in front of her. "And I know that the city is dying, but I can't just leave." Her school was still holding classes, and she wanted her degree…
Conflict played across Kyky's face, as she both fully acknowledged that she wanted to leave, and wanted to leave with Manny, but also couldn't. A nauseated grimace pulled across her lips. "I want to," she said, and it was true. "And I will. But… I can't leave. Not now…" Kyky struggled with emotion, tears threatening her eyes and her lips quivering because she knew what the solution was and she didn't want it. Didn't want to say goodbye.
"I can help you go, though. I can try…" Her lips pursed into a sob, but she tried to hold it back. But I don't want to say goodbye, she couldn't manage to say….
Manfred gave a nicker, logic and flight instincts telling him to get out while the going was good. He was no herd leader, but he had enough stallion mentality to know when he could still stand his ground.
“...I won’t be captured again…” he said leaning in to press his temple against hers. Girl was too kind-hearted for her own good. Nudging her with his nose like a protective mare over her foal, he added “...But I can wait for a little while…”
He would have to look for a horse no one would miss and a good hiding place if he wanted to change forms. It made him too vulnerable to do it alone. “...But if things…” he paused for a moment not wanting to say worse. “...Change… then we’ll leave, yes? Take your friends and go together?”
Manny looked down at Kyky and wiped her face with the ends of calloused fingers. She had saved and protected him. He could do no less for her.
To her surprise, Kyky didn't feel any hesitation, maybe that started when she pressed her cheek into his touch. She nodded. "Yes - when," not if, "King's City falls, then we'll leave together." Of course, her mind was full of thoughts of her professors, her classmates, her friends. But all of that only made her draw in a resolute breath and look back up at the Centaur. A hint of a smile crossed her lips, and she reached up to brush the hair back from his eyes as she met them resolutely.
It was hard to say, but not as hard as she expected, and her hand closed around Manny's - not in the same affectionate way, but palm-against-palm, like warriors did. "We'll leave. Together." Only one side of her mouth widened when her smile did, giving her a lopsided effect. "I trust you."
The human centaur gave a little pleased grunt as she tried to push some of that wild mane of his back to see his face. And his grip was firm, but not overpowering in their gesture of solidarity. “And I trust you… together, then” Manfred confirmed their pact.
He bumped her shoulder almost playfully, and gestured at the food she had brought. “Now eat, Kyky… for you are not a bird” Manny teased her to lighten the mood of the small room.
"Am I not?" Kyky laughed - for her nickname sounded more like a bird than any she'd ever heard of. Kyky - Kyky - Kyky. It could have been a bird's song…
The girl, though, wasn't wanting for food, and so she insisted her companion ate the food instead. If she'd learned anything, it was that centaurs needed sustenance!
Kyky turned back, shrugging a shoulder. "Manny, I wish we could just…" ...Go…" but it wasn't that easy. "I need to go see what I can...salvage from this… fucking disaster…"
Kyky stood, and she kept Manny's hand in her own. She spent several breaths just weighing his hand in her own…
"I need answers. I need to understand… to help people… to save us," Kyky whispered - she fully expected that Manny would leave. That he wouldn't get it and he would go. Kyky knew she wouldn't have got it on her own, but she also couldn't deny where she was...
Manfred looked up at the blonde haired girl, head tilted at a curious angle. He didn’t understand her need to find this information, or how it might be helpful in their current situation. Perhaps it was their difference in species, or education… But she was his friend.
“Alright… but after we eat” he replied, giving a little smile and tugging her hand for her to sit again. Manny knew this sense of safety would be short lived, felt in his bones. “We’ll find it together,” he assured Kyky, lacing their fingers together. A nicker escaped him before he mowed into the bread.