The Night Wanderers

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A Necessary Murder

“Forgive me for calling you away from Elsa so soon, Toby.” If Lukas had not sounded so excited, Toby could have believed he was sincerely apologetic. As it was, Lukas seemed to be almost vibrating with anticipation. Toby had sprinted back to the outpost, assuming Lukas was eager to get going. Alex and Marcus had gone scouting before Samuel’s message arrived, and Lucy was out searching for them. Oliver and Hannah had dragged themselves back before Toby arrived, and Jason sat examining some plans that had been attached to the message.

“What’s the purpose of the raid this time?” Toby asked, the question directed at Jason. Lukas answered.

“It won’t be long before we attack the Castle,” he said. “This is a scare. We want the entire city, government and citizens included, to be disoriented, frightened. We need to prove ourselves to be powerful, powerful in a way they don’t expect.”

“How do you propose we express this power?” Oliver asked carefully.

Lukas’ eyes gleamed. “Samuel wants us to kill. We need to weaken the Guard before we can think of attacking the government at its source. He hasn’t given me any direct instructions, but I want to set fires, cause disruption and fear. I want no civilian hurt, under any circumstance, but we need to make ourselves noticed. We need to be taken seriously.”

“Fighting them head-on won’t instil fear,” Toby argued. “Moving behind the shadows with our work seen while we aren’t sends a better message than attacking them like an army. We are meant to be ghosts, not mercenaries.”

“You can’t put a bullet through a ghost,” Oliver commented in agreement.

“They managed to get one through Toby,” Hannah pointed out. “But I agree with him. I don’t understand how attacking them the way they have been attacking civilians will help our cause.”

“Ghosting is doing little in the way of getting our message across,” Lukas pointed out. “Night is still forbidden, civilians are still being killed. But I understand your words, and this is why I want Toby to infiltrate the Castle.”

Toby’s mouth nearly fell open in surprise. “Alone?

“Yes. I don’t want you to do anything, except allow them to sight you in doorways, through windows. While the rest of us, including the other Watches, cause havoc outside, I need you to make them believe that the Castle itself is under threat. Steal objects of value, threaten those inside. Anything to make them feel insecure.”

“And you think I can come out of this alive?” Toby challenged.

Lukas leant over his desk and stared up at Toby, his bright eyes sincere. “You’re the only one that can. Because you now have something – someone – to live for.”

What convenient timing, Toby thought, but dared not say it aloud.

Lukas sat back in his chair. “Go and apply the war paint. You’ll need it.” Toby did as he was told and applied a new layer of paint, careful not to trace the stained lines that were already there. He was just reaching for his coat when the door swung open and Lucy almost fell through it.

“I heard Lukas saying he’s sending you into the Castle,” she said hurriedly.

Toby shrugged on his coat. “I think I’ll be safer than the rest of you. The entire Guard will be outside.”

“I’m not so sure,” Lucy responded. She looked unusually on edge. “The Governor and his family must have some sort of private guard, something to keep them completely safe from any kind of attack, whether from the likes of us or an external raid.”

“What makes you think that?” Toby tied his scarf around his neck, most of it hidden under the collar of his coat. The paint on his face was still too wet for the scarf to cover it.

“Have you never wondered why we’ve never launched an attack like this before?” she asked. “The Night Wanderers is a vast guild that extends across the entire city. What Samuel has organised could easily allow us to distract the Guard on the outside and infiltrate the Castle. But why hasn’t he organised that? Instead all we’re doing is scaring them.” She scuffed the floor with the sole of her boot moodily. “Whatever they’re trying to hide will disappear further into the unknown.”

“What makes you think they’re hiding something?” Toby asked sceptically.

Lucy stepped closer. “It’s just a feeling. Nothing else makes sense.” She lifted a hand to play with the collar of his coat. “They will protect their citizens with all the power they have during the day, but the moment night falls…” The edge of her finger caught the edge of his jaw. “They’re hiding something, I’m sure. Something they either examine or experiment with during the night, something they cannot risk anyone seeing.”

Toby had begun to lose track of what she was saying, particularly when their skin connected for the briefest of seconds. He shook his head to clear it and she dropped her hand. “I’ve never noticed the Guard protecting citizens before.”

“Other Watches have tried keeping hostages. It gives us a decent amount of payment, but we get nothing achieved in the long run, so it rarely happens now.” Lucy gazed up at him, letting her usual guard down just slightly. She was still impossible to read, but she no longer looked as though she were hungry for the blood of her enemies.

She stood up on her toes so that her face was an inch from Toby’s. Her breath was hot and soft on his ear. He thought she would kiss him, and this time he had no intention of pushing her away.

“See what I can do to you, Toby, and we’re not even touching,” she murmured, sending his blood racing. “Even now, when you have Elsa back and I’m not needed.” She inched closer, so close that he could feel her lips moving at the corner of his mouth. “What happened, Toby? Did she not run into your arms like you wanted?” Despite her cruel teasing, it only made Toby want Lucy more. She had been his source of comfort for the past year and now he had been handed back to Elsa and been, for all intents and purposes, rejected. He wanted – needed – Lucy’s comfort more than ever. He turned his head the distance to kiss her, but she moved back just far enough so that their lips could not touch. Her smile was teasing when he scowled in frustration.

“Oh- I’m sorry. I didn’t realise I was intruding.”

Toby jerked back and turned his head away, staring purposefully in the other direction. Lucy landed back on her heels, turned and swept away. Oliver watched her go as she stepped past him, then turned to Toby.

“Don’t you dare say anything to Elsa,” Toby said threateningly.

“When am I going to see her, Toby, really?” Oliver pointed out. “But you’ve been sent back to the city now. Lukas said you’ve seen Elsa. Why were you-?”

“I doubt Elsa is interested in accepting me back into her life,” Toby muttered. Oliver raised his brow questioningly. “She said she hated me.”

“And sleeping with Lucy will solve that?”

“I wasn’t going to-”

“No, but only because we have a raid to join.” Oliver patted Toby on the shoulder in a brotherly fashion. “I came in to tell you that Lukas wants you to take Alex with you. Don’t make that face, you’re being trusted with the life of our brother.”

“That’s exactly why I don’t want him with me,” Toby snapped back. “I haven’t been anywhere near the Castle before, I don’t know its layout. I’ll have enough trouble trying to get myself in and out of there alive without revealing my identity. I don’t want to have to babysit as well.”

“It isn’t babysitting,” Oliver scolded him. “Alex needs the experience, and he will be safer with you than he will be with the rest of us. Besides, he won’t be getting into the Castle with you, he’ll be guarding the entrance.”

“Because that’s safe,” Toby mumbled. He had yet to understand any of Lukas’ motives, but had learnt to not question them. He pulled up his hood. “Let’s get going.”

Toby returned to the open room, silently flanked by Oliver, intending to head straight over to the Castle. It would take at least an hour, even over the rooftops. Lukas stopped him before he had taken three steps into the room.

“I need you to survive this, Toby,” he stated. “Losing you would be a real setback.”

“Then why send me inside, if all you want me to do is ghost about and scare the governor and his family?”

“If Samuel wants to raid the Castle next time, we need someone that knows their way around,” Lukas pointed out as though it were obvious. “Make sure you visit every room in that building, because you’ll be drawing up some blueprints for me when you get back. And if you get the chance to assassinate the governor, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

Toby grabbed a small notepad and tucked it into an inside pocket of his coat in response. He gestured for Alex, now returned from his short scout, to follow him. Marcus sat with his toes tapping impatiently on the floor. Lucy stood in the corner of the room, her hood low over her eyes, but her tension could be felt throughout the room. Lukas sat at his desk, leaning back in his chair, his eyes down on some papers that he neglected to share with the rest of the group. Oliver stood with Hannah and Jason close to Marcus, conferring quietly about tactics. Toby turned away from them and led Alex up the staircase to the surface. Alex, who had prepared his disguise earlier in preparation to scout the city, followed eagerly.

Although he had spent many nights outside, the air this night felt somewhat different. It was similar to the way he felt about night when he first joined the Watch; brittle, on the verge of shattering. Alex, it seemed, did not feel the same. His eyes shone in anticipation above his scarf.

“Don’t fall behind,” Toby warned, before leaping onto the nearest tower wall, exerting all of his pent up frustration, anger and hurt on his climbing. Alex was not nearly as experienced in free running, but he just managed to keep Toby in sight as he followed.

The following three days of Toby’s life went by both too quickly and too slowly. He barely slept, his nights filled with dreams of shadowy figures in long coats, staring bright blue eyes, and the image of the exploding arrow taking down the helicopter.

Toby sat in his usual seat at the back of the lecture hall, staring at his professor without really hearing any of the words. He had a scroll in front of him covered in a series of letters and numbers, a message written in a code he had not seen before. Again Elsa sat at his side, making notes while the lecturer spoke, pausing every so often to translate some words on her scripture. Toby caught her glancing sideways at him, but he would not meet her gaze. His mind was too full of the Night Wanderers, and he was afraid to drag her into it.

At the end of the class, he was left with a blank sheet of notepaper and a message he had no hope of decrypting. Unlike the other students, who headed for the library for further study, Toby gathered his possessions and headed out. The Academy agreed to pay for his rent as long as he studied there, but he had to spend all of his remaining workday hours as a barista at the café in order to pay for everything else he needed. On the way there, he spotted Oliver, dressed in a pastel-blue jumper. He grinned and winked when he saw that Toby had recognised him, but did not stop or speak.

“You’re late,” his manager hissed as Toby stalked in.

Toby glanced at the clock. “By two minutes,” he muttered back, before ducking into the storeroom to change into his uniform. He took a minute to plaster on a friendly smile and lighten his voice. He could not afford to arouse suspicion from anyone, not even through a change of character.

The smile was dropped almost immediately as he stepped into the café. Two guards, dressed in their standard blood-red jackets, spoke over the counter with his manager. Toby stepped back behind the wall and listened.

“We need to speak with one of your employees. It’s urgent.”

“Why? What’s happened?” the manager asked. “Look, whatever’s happened, I need my workers. I can’t handle the place on my own. Do you realise how difficult it is to find honest employees in this city, thanks to your men?”

“Sir, we understand your predicament. We’re looking for Tobias Cartwright. We only need to speak with him.”

Say no, Toby willed. Please say no.

“Fine. Toby?”

Toby tried to maintain the air of nonchalance as he rounded the corner and faced the two guards. They looked sombre, but not quite hostile upon noticing Toby’s appearance. His manager stormed away to deal tend to customers himself.

They saw me outside after dark, Toby thought. Maybe they saw me with the Night Wanderers. Maybe they want names or descriptions.

“Is there someplace more private we can talk?” asked the guard on the left, a man in his early-thirties. His accomplice looked little older than Toby, which gave the impression that he was an apprentice of sorts.

Although he wanted nothing less than to be alone with the two guards, considering his meeting with the Night Wanderers the previous night, to decline would raise suspicion. Toby nodded and led them through the storeroom and out the door to the back, where the stock was brought in. The alley outside was darkened by the shadow of the walls on either side.

“You needn’t look so concerned, Tobias,” the guard said, but it did nothing to ease Toby’s nerves. He could see the pistols in their belts and was in half a mind that they would shoot him, whatever he said.

“He looks guilty,” said the apprentice, prodding unkindly at Toby’s side.

“Kyle, we aren’t here to find fault where there is none. That isn’t our job.”

Then what is? Toby thought.

“We have received a report of an incident that occurred four days ago,” the guard continued. “It appears that, during one of your work shifts in which you were left solely in charge of the café, one of our guards came in for a drink. He reports that he was harassed by you, discriminated against for being one of the Guard.”

Toby caught himself before he sighed in relief. This had nothing to do with the Night Wanderers. “I was protecting the property. Your guard was threatening another customer and knocking over chairs in the process.”

The apprentice snorted, but the other guard did not. “Yes, we heard about this too. The other customer, it seems, was a Night Wanderer. This made him a threat to the current surroundings, and it was the duty of the guard to deal with the situation accordingly. Night Wanderers are a threat to civilians and the fact that you protected this man makes you suspicious.”

“There was no evidence to suggest that he was a Night Wanderer,” Toby countered. He pushed the memory of the faint blue stains to the back of his mind. “It only seemed to me to be a guard threatening a customer.”

The guard took a step, coming into uncomfortably close proximity to Toby. It was not long ago that Toby would have felt intimidated, but his experience with the Night Wanderers had left the Dark Keepers looking little more than bullies in a playground. “The Guard is here to keep you safe,” he said coldly. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Toby could not stop the scoff that escaped his lips. The guard’s eyes hardened. Without warning, he struck Toby on the side of his face, splitting the skin over his cheekbone. Toby stumbled back and caught himself on the wall of the café, stunned by the unexpected blow. One bead of blood trickled down his face.

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?”

The guards and Toby glanced up. At the entrance to the alley stood a young woman, no older than twenty, looking both curious and faintly amused by the scene in front of her.

“Be on your way, madam, this does not concern you,” the apprentice said, squaring his shoulders to look important.

The girl’s smirk broadened. “Oh, but it does.” She lunged forwards and time seemed to slow down. Toby watched as she brought out two knives from her belt, hidden beneath a long shirt, and slashed them in a scissoring motion, cutting the guard’s throat. Blood sprayed from the gash in his neck, but the girl dodged to avoid getting any of it on her clothes. The guard stumbled for a moment before he crumpled to the floor. She used the heel of her hand to knock the apprentice’s head back into the wall with enough force to crack his skull. Toby was unsure whether he was dead or not, but he had no time to consider it.

At the entrance to the alley was another guard, his jaw slack as he took in the scene. The girl’s eyes locked onto him and, as he took a breath to call out, she threw one of her knives. It struck the guard dead in the eye, killing him instantly.

“Lucy. Nice to meet you,” the girl said, offering a hand that was dotted with blood. Toby could not find his voice and stared down at her hand, unwilling to take it. She shrugged. “I’m sorry about the mess. It rarely is a clean job.”

“You didn’t have to kill them,” he spluttered eventually.

Her face darkened. “Yes, I did. They would not have stopped until they beat a confession out of you. They wanted to hear that you were a member of the Night Wanderers.”

“You could have knocked them out,” he said, inching back from the bleeding bodies.

“And leave them alive with both our identities in their minds?” she pointed out. “It was necessary. Take my word for it. The city is better off without them anyway.” She hid her remaining knife back in her belt, hidden beneath her clothes. She started towards the alley entrance. “Get out of here before someone finds you with them,” she advised, stooping to yank out the other knife from the guard’s face. Lucy turned and grinned at Toby. “You have two more days.”

With a jolt, Toby realised that she must have been one of the shrouded figures in the alley last night.

Hidden in the brush less than a hundred metres from the Castle, Toby crouched with Alex at his side. Adrenaline coursed through his veins with the prospect of finally infiltrating the governor’s home. Even if it would do little other than map out the layout of the building for future raids, it felt good to be finally doing something.

“I thought you were angry with Lukas for making you do this,” Alex said in a whisper.

“I was. But now it doesn’t seem so suicidal.” The surrounding guards had raced away from the Castle the moment flames began to flicker from the rooftops and smoke coated the sky. Toby knew that the Night Wanderers would keep the civilians safe, despite the fires and the other property damage. They wanted to send a message, not butcher innocents.

“What do you want me to do?” Alex asked.

“Please don’t take offence, but I can’t take you into the Castle with me. It will be risky enough looking after myself, and I can’t yet rely on you to look after yourself.” Alex started to argue, but Toby stopped him. “I have no doubt that you have trained excellently these past weeks, but this is a case where experience outdoes talent. See that outcrop of trees over there?” Alex looked and nodded. “I want you to take cover there and make sure that no one follows me inside, from either entrance. Can I trust you to do that?”

Alex nodded once, looking a little like a petulant child being told to stay behind. Whether he knew it or not, Toby had entrusted him with a vital task. He had no idea how many guards were inside, and he could not afford to have someone tail him.

Toby clapped his friend on the shoulder and emerged from the brush, quietly making his way to the side entrance of the Castle, the servants’ door. If luck was on his side, everyone would expect all the Night Wanderers to be participating in the raid. The plan was to make it appear as though the group was pressing towards the Castle, to seem less like a distraction. Toby was not sure whether Lukas had alerted the other Watches to his plan to have a man on the inside.

A plume of black smoke shot upwards suddenly, quickly followed by a series of twenty-foot flames. Toby stilled and stared at the fire, trying to figure out whether it was purposeful or not. He suspected not. They were not trying to hurt anyone, and that fire would definitely have caused casualties.

Alex moved to the covering of trees. Toby continued towards the door and tested it. Locked, of course. He had a lockpick in his pocket anyway, but it would have been quicker and easier if the door had been left open. The lock clicked and Toby pocketed the little device. He pulled the scarf above his nose, glanced around for anyone that might see, and slipped inside.
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