The Night Wanderers

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Toby woke before the sun was up and spent three hours slaving over the first scroll before he had to head for the Academy. He considered missing it, and his work shift, in order to get the scrolls translated. In three hours he had only managed to translate six lines of the script into English, and had made no headway with the numerical code. He read the first six lines to himself over and over as he made his way through the crowded streets, but they made little sense in the context of a secret code. It read like a journal entry.

He put away the scroll during his lecture in the hopes that he would learn something that would help to decrypt it. Elsa sat beside him again, but did not have much to say in the way of conversation. They exchanged brief comments about the method explained step-by-step on the blackboard, but otherwise they worked independently. Later, when Toby was supposed to be cleaning cups, he brought the scroll out again and stared at it hard, with his hands clawed into his hair. He had applied the method he learnt that day with no results, attempted other numerical decryptions that gave nothing other than a scramble of letters, and had translated the document fully. None of it made sense.

“I don’t remember that,” Elsa said, sitting at the counter with a glass of lemonade. Again, she was waiting for Jake, but Toby casually made himself forget about this. He was grateful for her company.

“It’s personal study,” Toby answered. “The professor didn’t give it to me.”

“Oh really? Where did you get it from?” Elsa leant closer to look at the scroll, reading it upside down. “You’ve translated it already, what’s more to do?”

Toby shook his head. “There’s more to it. I’m almost certain there’s a numerical code involved, but I don’t know which one, or how complicated it is. I’ve already tried the ones I know.”

Elsa heard the frustration in his voice and swept the scroll out of his sight. “Take a break and come back to it. Maybe it’ll come to you.”

I don’t have time for a break, Toby wanted to say, but held his tongue. He could not reveal the true source of the papers or risk making her suspicious of him. While she read through his translation, he unwrapped the second scroll and glanced over it. It was very much like the first, with only one major difference: It was split into six paragraphs, each paragraph labelled with a number. 3,7,11,3,7,11. He frowned at the numbers, wondering what they meant, what they added to the information in the encrypted message.

He slammed his hands down onto the counter, either side of the scroll.

Elsa flinched in fright. “What is it?”

“I might have it.” He snatched up his pen and the translated scroll and started scribbling on a fresh sheet of notepaper. He started with words; the third word, the seventh, and the eleventh. Then again, the third word, seventh word, and eleventh word. The first six words made no sense when strung together, so he crossed a line through them and tried again, this time with letters. He wrote a line of letters, but no matter how he tried to split them up he found no real English or Latin words. Letters from the original document made no sense either, but the words did. What he had assumed to be shorthand Latin and English turned out to be merely a jumble of letters that, when you took the repeating pattern of 3,7,11, made full Latin words that translated into a clear message, a fifth of the size of the original document.

In the depths of the castle’s dungeons lies a trapdoor marked with a pentagram. The source of the government’s secret lies within. Be careful and be safe, Night Wanderer.

Toby felt like whooping. He was expecting something far more complicated than this, and it had taken him less than half an hour to decrypt it fully. He could only assume that the other document could be translated using the same method. Keeping the first translation out of sight, he started on the next. The first few lines looked promising, but it was a longer piece of writing. Elsa watched, a small crease of concentration appearing between her brows.

Between serving customers and evading Elsa’s questions, Toby managed to decrypt the message in just over an hour. Elsa swept it out from under his gaze and read it before Toby could snatch it back.

“Night Wanderer?” she read, glancing up suspiciously. “Where did you get this, Toby?”

“I found it in the archives,” Toby lied, keeping his voice light.

Elsa’s eyes narrowed but she did not argue. She read through the rest of the translation in silence and handed it back. “It doesn’t sound like the Academy should have hold of it,” she said thoughtfully.

“It could have been intercepted,” Toby suggested.

“Maybe…” She gave him back the paper and took another sip of her drink. Toby folded up his assortment of papers and tucked them into his back pockets, out of sight. She suddenly choked on her drink, frightening Toby. He patted her awkwardly on the back until she stopped coughing. “Sorry. Apparently you aren’t supposed to inhale lemonade.”

He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. What happened?”

“I remembered I brought something for you. Hold on.” Elsa started rummaging in her bag while Toby tried to peer in, curious. Perhaps he had forgotten to pick up an assignment after the lecture in his haste to translate the scriptures. But instead Elsa brought out a small, round package wrapped in brown paper. She handed it out to him, and he took it with a frown on his face.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Open it and find out,” she said simply, taking another sip of lemonade. Cautiously, Toby unwrapped the parcel. Inside were three circular shortbread biscuits, home baked. He raised his eyebrows at her. “It’s for the drink you let me have the other day.”

“You didn’t have to get me something in return,” he said with a small, embarrassed laugh. It was like she knew that he had sacrificed a drink for himself in order for her to have it.

“I know. If I thought you were expecting it, I wouldn’t have given you anything.”

Toby’s mouth grinned against his will and he put his head down, hurrying to the other side of the counter to pretend to clean up a non-existent spill. When he could not pretend to scrub anymore, he glanced outside and paused. Twilight was not far away and Jake still had not made an appearance.

“You know it’ll be closing time soon?” he asked, coming back to Elsa.

She nodded. “I know. Jake was supposed to be here two hours ago.”

“You don’t seem to be too bothered that he hasn’t turned up,” Toby commented with raised eyebrows.

Elsa shrugged. “When Jake makes plans, I have to assume it’s always a maybe.”

Toby thought that she deserved to be treated a lot better than the way Jake was treating her. He kept his thoughts to himself but shook his head to show his disapproval. It made Elsa smile. “I finish in fifteen minutes. If you can wait till then, I’ll walk you home.”

“I am perfectly capable of walking home alone,” she answered with a detectable lift of her chin.

“Consider it a thank you for the shortbread,” he answered, popping one whole into his mouth.

With Lucy and Alex covering the paths ahead and behind, Toby struggled through the flaming streets trying to support his younger brother. He held his brother around the waist and supported his arm over his shoulders. The lower half of his face was hidden, and the upper half disguised in war paint, Toby was certain his brother had not recognised him. He hoped he would not have to speak.

“Where are we going?” Lucy asked, shooting down a roof-dwelling guard before he had chance to notice her. Toby, to refrain from speaking, nodded down the street to the right. Lucy understood. She, at least, was clever enough to see there was a reason he was staying quiet. Toby was not so confident in Alex.

At his side, his brother groaned in pain. The bullet had pierced straight through his foot, leaving a gaping hole. Toby had tried not to look too closely once he had assessed the damage. For now, all he wanted to do was get his brother home, preferably without revealing himself. He doubted his family would ever forgive him if they knew where he had been for the last year.

“Hey!” Alex called, catching up. “What’s your name, friend?”

“Joseph,” Toby’s brother managed to gasp out.

“We’ll get you home, Joseph,” Alex assured him, giving him a comforting pat on the shoulder. “Get inside and stay there until morning, then go for medical attention. I don’t know if you’ve had a bullet wound before, but they can easily get infected if you don’t get them looked at-”

“Watch the path!” Lucy snapped, throwing a knife that sailed over their shoulders and implanted into the neck of an approaching figure behind them. Toby remained silent, but gave Alex a hard look.

Alex hung his head and went to retrieve the knife. Toby heaved his brother’s arm further onto his shoulders and kept going, ignoring the stabbing pains beginning to form in his lower back. As soon as his brother was home, he planned to head straight back to the base. The fires were beginning to dwindle and citizens were locking themselves into their homes. Dead lined the streets, Night Wanderers, civilians, and Dark Keepers. Toby kept his gaze firmly forward.

When at last Toby had his old home in his sights, he picked up the pace and Lucy followed.

“How do you know where we’re going?” Alex asked Toby as he caught up for the second time, throwing knife in hand. Toby glared at him, hoping Joseph was in too much pain to notice.

Lucy took initiative. “There are guards over there. Stand by and make sure there aren’t any citizens in the vicinity,” she commanded with an air of authority that Alex did not seem to notice.

“There aren’t any citizens,” he argued with a frown.

“Good, so make sure it stays that way.”

Alex grumbled to himself as he took a sharp left down a concealed alley, away from the group. Toby relaxed slightly now that the immediate danger of having his identity revealed was out of the way.

A man in a red tunic jumped down from the roof to the right and landed in front of Lucy, a Night Wanderer’s blade in his grasp. She did not miss a beat as she swung her bow towards his head, knocking his temple with its limb. His head cracked against the brick wall and he lay motionless. It was hard to tell whether Joseph was disgusted by the sight, or if he had noticed it at all.

The path ahead was clear, and Lucy stood guard in the shadows as Toby carefully set his brother down on the steps of his home. Even in the dark, the brickwork reflecting the eerie glow of dying flames, it still appeared a safe haven in the midst of the morbid city; a haven he was now banished from.

Toby banged loudly three times on his own front door, hoped his mother was inside, and made to scurry off into the darkness. Joseph grasped hold of his wrist before he could.

“Night Wanderer!” he called out, his grip painfully tight. Toby met the watery gaze of his brother’s brown eyes, the same brown as his own. “I owe you my life. Please at least give me your name.”

It was hard to stay silent. He had not seen his brother in so long, the brother he used to bicker with every time they came into close proximity. There was nothing he wanted more than to tell him the truth, but he could hear movement behind the door. Staying hidden from his brother was one thing; his mother was something else entirely. He roughly shook off Joseph’s fingers and ran off into the maze of suburban houses, Lucy flanking him.

“Are you going to tell me who that was?” she asked when he slowed to a walk. “You shot off to protect him like he was your own flesh and blood, and then you refused to speak in his presence.”

Toby thought carefully over his answer. He was not sure whether he wanted to confide in Lucy, but the number of people he could confide in was minimal at best. “That was my brother.”

For the first time since Toby had met her, Lucy was stunned into silence.

The journey back to base went without much excitement. Lucy managed to shoot two guards at once before they managed to get within fifty feet of them. Civilians had retreated back into their homes and many Dark Keepers were too busy tending to their wounded to pay them much attention.

They were the last ones back to the underground hideout. Everyone from the Watch had survived. Marcus had taken a bullet to the shoulder, which Hannah was now tending to, and Oliver was nursing a black eye and a swollen lip. Lukas sat behind his desk, leaning back in his chair while he surveyed the room before him. Alex was the only one yet to wash off his war paint, along with Toby and Lucy. Jason sat cross-legged in the corner of the room, fiddling with some mechanism inside the rifle Alex had brought back. He had not been part of the battle. Toby retrieved the guns from the waistband of his trousers and dropped them beside the rifle before he and Lucy went to the bathroom to wash. Alex seemed too interested in what Jason was doing to accompany them.

As he shed his coat, Toby noticed blood stains on the sleeves from the cut in his hand that was still oozing. Washing the paint off his face would be a gruelling task with one hand. After he struggled out of his t-shirt, Lucy noticed his discomfort and made him sit in a chair next to the sink.

“You carried your brother all the way home with this hand?” she admonished, soaking a cloth in hot salted water. “He’d been on the ground. If this gets infected, there’s not much anyone can do for you.”

“Thank you, Lucy, I heard this from Alex less than an hour ago.”

She cleaned the cut in silence, ignoring his grumbles, and wrapped up his hand in gauze, nearly immobilising it. She left the bloody cloth to soak in the water while she grasped his chin and used a small soapy flannel to scrub at his painted face. Toby had not expected her to do this for him as well.

“Are you sure your brother didn’t recognise you?” she asked as she worked, her face coming uncomfortably close to his. He stared purposefully at the wall across the room to avoid looking at her.

“He asked for my name before I left. I don’t think he knew who I was. He hasn’t seen me in over a year.”

“So that’s why you didn’t speak?” Lucy forced one of his eyelids closed.

“You’re sharp.”

“Keep still.” She scrubbed at the paint on his eyebrow and pushed his hair off his forehead. “How much of this did you put on?”

“Being recognised was even more likely, seeing as I was sneaking straight into the Castle. Good thing too, seeing as a guard caught me up and pinned me to the floor.”

“Did he recognise you?”

“It was a she. But no.”

“Well, then.” She finished washing his face and handed him a dry towel. Whilst he dried the drips off his face, he watched Lucy wash hers. She had callouses on her fingers from extensive use of her bowstring, and a scar ran the length of her jaw from an incident some months back. She was covered in imperfections, and yet…

Knowing he would regret this later, Toby threw down his towel and stood. Lucy barely gave him a glance as he approached, reaching for a towel. He snatched it out of her grasp and threw it away. She scowled up at him in confusion and he pressed his lips to hers. She took a step back in surprise and found herself pinned between him and the wall. Her arms snaked up to his neck, but he took her wrists and pinned them above her head. The pain this would cause him later had to be completely self-inflicted.

He broke away and reached for his shirt, leaving her breathless. “I won’t touch you again,” he said quietly. “Consider this a farewell.”

Toby left before she could respond.

Toby paced the length of his apartment in restless anticipation of Lukas’ arrival. The door to his bedroom was left open so he could hear if Lukas came through the window like last time. He had the four pieces of paper in his hands, the two original scriptures and his translations. At one point during his wait, he had panicked and wondered whether he had translated the incorrectly, or whether the code he had found was a decoy to hide the true message from interceptors.

Dusk turned into night and the streets darkened until it was impossible to make anything out, but still Lukas had not appeared. Toby stared out of his window, watching the tiny torches marking guardsmen, patrolling the city. Logically, he knew it was too dark to see anything else, but his eyes played tricks and made him think he saw the ghostly shadows of Night Wanderers leaping across rooftops.

A muffled thud sounded from the bedroom and Toby jerked round, clutching the papers in a tighter grasp. He hurried to close the curtains across his window.

“Anyone would think you were born for this level of secrecy.” Lukas appeared, leaning against the doorframe. Again his face was uncovered with his hood pushed back. “You managed to translate those messages, I take it?”

“Y-yes!” Toby struggled to form words in his eagerness to show Lukas his translations. He handed over the papers. “I assumed it was English and Latin shorthand encrypted in a complex numerical code, but then I saw those numbers written down the side of the second message and it gave me a clue as to what was needed. It wasn’t shorthand at all, it was a Latin words broken up into three or four letters and separated by nonsense letters to cause confusion, but when you put them together and translate them into English-”

“I know.” Lukas skimmed through the two translations and pocketed them. “I wrote them. You’ve impressed me.”

Toby felt as though Lukas had thrown a bucket of ice water over his head. “So I spent hours trying to translate something that had already been translated? What exactly did you need me to translate them for if you’re the one that wrote them in the first place?”

“It was a test, Toby. I had to see if you could manage codes like these. If I gave you a document we had uncovered that had yet to be translated, how would I know if you were right or not?”

It made sense, as much as Toby hated to admit it. “So there’s trapdoor marked with a pentagram in the Castle’s dungeons?”

“There might be. I haven’t been down there myself to check, but I’m not known for my psychic abilities.” Lukas perched on the edge of the couch, folded his arms and looked Toby in the eye. “I have to ask, because your mind may well have changed in the last three days. Once you agree to this, there will be no way for you to leave the Night Wanderers, until the war is over or you die. Whichever comes first. This is the last time I will ask. Tobias, are you certain you want to join the Night Wanderers?”

Knowing he would have no way to leave once he joined frightened Toby and his answer did not come quickly. A life of deception and secrecy did not appeal to him, but as he pulled back the curtains to look down at the oppressed city, he knew that something had to change. Someone had to fight for freedom and equality, so why not him?


Lukas smiled. It was a tiny lift in the corners of his mouth, but a smile nonetheless. He held out a hand. “Welcome to the guild, Toby.”

Toby shook hands with Lukas, but it was not as satisfying as he had expected. He was now locked into the life of a rebel, and he could tell no one about it.
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