You've got dirt on you

Lyen was clutching a brown paper bag to her chest, fingers tracing the shape of what was inside. She'd left the shop Jacy brought her to an hour ago, but she was still wandering the streets of Valentine aimlessly, holding the package like a kitten she was trying not to get attached to. Along the way, she stopped at a bazaar to browse the vibrantly colored fruits. The streets were pleasantly busy but not overcrowded and an aroma of freshly ground coffee and various foods filled the air. Drawn in by a particularly ripe dragon fruit, Ly let the package settle at her waist height while her left hand traced the smooth surface of its cool and rubbery flesh.

In an instant the package was gone.

With a gasp, Ly saw the brown paper gripped tightly between tiny fists. A spritely brown-headed child had nicked her purchase and bolted down an alley, a garish smile was his only recompense. Ly gave chase over some carts and through the brick alley adjoined to the bazaar. The child's hair waived wildly as he sprinted full-bore toward a crowded venue with carnival music blaring. It would be easy to lose anyone in the throng of people transfixed on the lights and sounds around them.

Diverting to the right, the thief took a moment to throw a nearby trash bin in her path. Sailing over the bin, Ly thought herself just within reach when she slipped on the rubbish and fell back-first. "De érzi..." rolling forward, she craned her neck to see dirt and filth all down her back.

Ly lurched to stand and snapped back to the pursuit. The boy was about ten meters ahead and slipped through a gap in the fence surrounding the carnival. Diving through the hole after him, she caught sight of the package and the boy walking into the hall of mirrors. He stopped, and shot a look behind him but his pursuer was nowhere to be seen. Hidden around a corner, Lyen watched him disappear into the hall of mirrors and in a moment she was at the entrance.

"You can't just walk in there," a graying attendant said, oblivious to the child who had passed by moments before.

"Why's that?" Ly stopped short, brow furrowing.

"You got-to pay," his palm was out.

What would Jacy have done? Riley probably would have intimidated him into the fetal position. The Captain would have talked circles around him. But Jacy would have...

With a tug on her shirt, Ly leaned in toward the carnie. "But my son is inside and he'll be afraid if I'm not there to hold him," Ly tried her best to emulate Jacy's signature sultry voice. The man's stare diverted ever so slightly, careful to trace from her hip-hugging pants to her wide almond eyes. Ly pursed her lips.

"Well, I sup-pose you better go in an' find him." The man licked his lips.

With a wink, Ly straightened and disappeared through the entrance, while the attendant watched her leave.

She could hear the crinkling of paper, while the shapes and shadows of the mirror house made millions of stretched Lyens in every direction. Slowly, deliberately, she tip-toed in the direction of the sound. Around a corner there were more cascading Lyens, but there was also a shock of brown hair. Leaping around the corner, Ly came face to face with a little boy, holding a shiny metal object that buzzed furiously in his hand. His wide eyes transfixed on the sleek shape, the wrappings strewn about his feet.

"Give me that!" Lyen shrieked, snatching the object from his pink little hands.

"Hey!" he interjected, "What is that?"

Stuffing it in the tea bag still fastened to her hip, she replied curtly, "If you had bothered to ask me before you stole it, I might have told you." She stared down at the child who was probably no older than nine.

"I'm askin' you now."

"Nah-uh, doesn't work like that." Ly's finger wagged with her words. "What's your name?"

With a sideways glance, he answered, "Charlie. But I'm not suppos'd to talk to strangers."

"You're probably not supposed to steal, either. C'mon Charlie, let's go. I bet we can find some ice cream."

Instantly friends, Charlie reached out for Lyen's hand and she obliged. Strutting out of the house of mirrors, Charlie made a B-line straight to the ice cream cart.

"You know you've got dirt on you," he said.

With a look of fake surprise, she answered coyly, "I wonder how that got there..."

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