What if I were gifted my dreams?
The ideal built by my mind, desired by my heart. A world both bitter and sweet, where I could enjoy every bit of the happiness. And even the sadness, unknowingly though. Could I remember the reality?
Or would I remember a dream?
“Did you see the elf? It had no eyes!”
“Quiet down, idiot. Calling it names will only get us in trouble and you’ve done plenty.”
“This is Ironcourt. The heart of the Empire, the mightiest homeland of the Humans and I can’t say what I want any more?”
“As if you have anything valuable to say.” Aerin was speaking more to herself than her companion.
“Our homeland is being taken from us right in front of our noses and all you do is mutter. All because human blood has thinned the elves now march in and do as they want.”
This made Aerin stop and turn around. She was sick of that stupid phrase Will constantly repeated.
“Would you shut up already? Blood this and that. You are not a bloodied mage. Not even a simple acolyte or healer at that. You had to scribble on your arm like that, didn’t you? All it did was get us into more trouble. It is not a bloodseal; it is not even a tattoo. Give it a good scrubbing and it’s gone! All that pureblooded legacy you’re babbling about is nothing but ancient, forgotten, useless history.” She regarded her lanky companion with a stern look.
“So, you’re okay with these Alyar prancing about as if they owned these lands. They’re ours, have been for centuries.” Will grinned.
“Yes, I am.” Aerin turned around and continued walking. She would only waste time trying to argue with Will.
“Wait. Mind repeating that, Miss Pearl?” Will jogged after Aerin and grabbed her arm. Aerin was having none of it though and pushed Will away.
“Stop calling me that or I will hurt you.”
“Just because you worked at...”
“Shut up, now! We have work to do.”
“Not before you tell me what you mean by that.” Will wanted this fight bad.
“Garret gave us a job; you’re wasting our time on menial problems.” Before Will could recover from his acted-out shock, Aerin continued. “These are merchants, craftsmen. Not warriors armed to the teeth or battlemages waiting to turn you to ash with the flow. Merchants mean trade, trade means more jobs in the city, more jobs mean more people with money and new valuables. All that means more coin for us. That is why I am okay with it.” Will looked unhappy, but did not say a word.
The sun was already setting. Autumn had arrived, with a chill and a promise in the air. You could see the riverboats in a rush now. Everyone was in a hurry to make their final journeys up and down Irbis to earn that little extra silver before the river would freeze over.
Aerin had to turn around and look for Will who had fallen behind. “What are you doing? Stop wasting our time. Let’s get this over with.” She rolled her eyes, barely registering the pale and tall figure of Will. The brief sight of his long, malt coloured hair was enough. As of late the company of Will was getting on her nerves. She did not hate him, but more often than not she found herself thinking the boy wasted his life on nonsense.
“Someone’s eager. Looking to grab some extra coin tonight?”
“As long as it gets me away from you.”
“So, tell me again where are we headed? And why couldn’t Dresden handle this job?”
“Dresden has always had his sights on bigger fish.”
“Yeah, but he has the manpower. He is almost like a keeper.” Will kept whining.
“That’s why he can refuse these sorts of jobs.”
“What was it?” Will sighed and rustled with his mantle, pulling it tighter around him. “The Luxor estate? Named after the city beyond the Spine?”
Aerin grunted in response.
Aerin and Will were thieves. This profession had not been her choice, but these days few people could afford the luxury to choose their own path.
Tonight, their keeper, Garret, had sent them to scout out a promising heist. The owners of the house had been minor nobles, recently deceased. Without children or heirs to claim the inheritance, the property had been locked down until someone could figure out what to do with it.
As they turned a corner and headed up the hill Aerin noticed Will fumbling with something on his belt. A brightly coloured lump, out of place on a person like Will. “What is that?” She asked with a sharp tone. A passer-by glanced towards them, but did not linger. Before Will could hide it, Aerin grabbed a coin-pouch from Will’s hands and headed towards a side street. “Are you insane? This is Alyar. When did you even got your hands on this?”
“Talk a little louder please, so everyone can hear us. Also, that’s mine now. Hand it over.” Will made to grab the pouch, but Aerin swiftly moved away.
“It’s not. You need to get rid of this now.” She made to throw the pouch further in the side street, but Will caught her hand this time. She may have been faster than Will, but he was still stronger than she was. He wrested the pouch from her grip.
“It’s mine! Tax for entering my city.” Another wild grin from Will.
“You are insane! You would steal from an Alyar. How did you? When?”
“We do this for a living. Besides, it’s not stealing, if it’s an elf. More like, taking what’s ours.”
“When and how?” Aerin did not know what was worse, that Will had stolen it or he had actually managed to.
“The clumsy idiot dropped it and didn’t notice. It makes no sound when you shake it. Neat, eh? Much better than my old one.”
“That’s even worse! It means the thing’s invested. Damn it, Will! This might be like a beacon in the dark for its owner right now. Alyar invest everything with the flow.”
“Look, I might not be a mage, but I can read presences. There is nothing suspicious about this. Besides, my old pouch broke and I haven’t had the time to get a new one yet.”
“So you would use this one?” Aerin punched will in the arm. “You would use something clearly not yours, something you would have no chance of ever owning for any justifiable reason?”
“We do this for a living. And it’s not stealing, we’re taking what we deserve.”
“The problem is not taking things. The problem is that you are so stupid you think you can use something that no human owns. It might be a simple pouch for you, but no human carries around something this... this. It is obviously Alyar made, it’s clear that whoever had it made, had it made for themselves. Everyone can tell even at the dead of night that this does not belong to you.” Meanwhile, Will was busy fixing the bag to his belt and tucking the side of his undershirt on it. She had to admit, the pouch was pretty. Leather dyed light blue against all odds and traced with intricate silver embroidery.
“Relax.” Will patted her on the shoulder. “I told you, I can read presences. This thing is fine. And think of it this way. Maybe they will bring these things in. You know. Trade is good and all that. Until then, I’ll keep it out of sight.”
“It’s a coin-pouch, how are you going to keep it out of sight when you need to spend coin? How many times are we going to have this talk about not wearing the wrong things? We need to keep out of sight, not show off.”
“Look, Aerin. Right now, you sound like my brother’s wife and I do not remember getting married to you. Thank the Makers they don’t visit often.” Will grinned and stepped out of the side street. “I’m telling you, it’s all good. My point still stands. It’s elf tax for entering my city. We need to show that this city is ours and we want no filth in here.”
“Orion has boiled your mind, hasn’t he?” Aerin was angry now. “You waste time at your retarded little cult...” Will turned about and stared daggers at Aerin.
“He teaches us things. The truth. How it all used to be before humans gave up on themselves. And the power that courses through our veins. What it was all like before blood had thinned.” Will argued.
“Yes. How it all had been. Useless history. Things that are long gone and should be buried. An excellent idea to teach someone who can barely read. That’s not teaching, it’s afflicting minds with trash.”
“I want to make a change. Humans are sitting on their arse, watching the world pass them by. We may be snatches, but this way we can send a message.”
It was hard not to yell at Will but Aerin had been losing her temper too much as of late. So, she settled on hissing at him through her teeth. “We are snatches. We work in the dark, we do not show off, we do our best not to stand out; we do not do this to send out a message or change the world in some shattering way. We do not fight, we run, we dodge, and that means living to steal another day. We do this to carve out a small piece of the pie for ourselves, so we can someday settle down somewhere far away from this and lead a decent enough life.” She purposefully bumped into Will as she started uphill.
“Now remember you twat! Take the routes they gave us, observe carefully and don’t cause trouble. I am sick of Garret breathing down my neck. All because of you. The only reason I introduced you to him was that I owed you a favour. Never should have done that.”
Although she was angry, Aerin was hoping Will did not hear those last words. It was a big favour she had owed. She prayed that Will was right, and the coin-pouch was not invested with the flow.
The evening was closing fast. The sun was hanging close to the horizon, and the shadows were creeping in. Aerin had stopped at an overlook to rest. The city was all she had known her entire life. A mismatched patchwork of domes, spires, buildings from all Ages. Some already reduced to ruins and plots of overgrown greenery in the city. She could see all of this bastion of humanity in the river valley below her.
In the lower city, all over Ironcourt, you could see small rainbows flickering to life and slowly turning into bright white lights. Aerin’s gaze followed the trails of soul gem lanterns snaking throughout the city. The lamplighters had started their rounds.
And a cold wind had arrived from the highlands to the north behind her. But she barely noticed it, as her mind lingered on tonight’s task and Will. Aerin was not sure, which vexed her more.
There were ways into the estate, but no options that offered cover. There were too many ways to get caught. The upper city had been built on a series of hills and there were too many eyes further up the hill or on the neighbouring one. The only option Aerin had come up with so far was to do it as quickly possible. Smash the door in, grab what you can and run. But they would need a lot of people to grab all the valuable stuff.
And someone would know the moment anyone touched the door. If only they had more time, they could make a real fortune this time. This was the problem with the houses in the upper city. Nobles could afford extra security.
Lost deep in thought, Aerin heard someone sneeze. Turning around her gaze found Will. He had his cloak wrapped around tight and his arms deep in the pockets. “How are you not cold? The weather turned.” Will asked Aerin.
Aerin shrugged and turned her gaze back to the city.
She saw a few people here and there. These autumn days were like that. A hollow feeling lingered in her mind when looking at this bastion of humanity. Ironcourt was a huge city but it seemed to have lost its grandeur Ages past.
“Well? What do you reckon?” She drawled with a sigh.
“There might be something on the street below it.” Will was jumping on the spot and blowing warm air onto his hands. “How are you not cold right now? Or were you this frigid to start w... OW!” Aerin had punched Will in the side.
“Damn it, it was supposed to be a joke. Follow me. It might be warmer downhill, and I need your help to check out that spot I saw.” Aerin’s mood was still sour. Same old Will though. He had already forgotten the fight earlier.
It did not take long to reach the spot Will had mentioned. “A park?” Aerin had not been here before.
“Yeah, the back end of this is against a cliff side. Something caught my eye. Didn’t have a chance to look closer, you’re better at climbing than I am.”
Will was mumbling something. Counting steps. Aerin looked behind them and saw that the road had forked. “Thirty-eight. Do you see that? Wonder why no one lights these lanterns here?”
Aerin squinted at the almost vertical hillside. It was quite a way up to the next level. Branches, leaves and other small vegetation made it hard to see what Will was looking for. And the park was dark and gloomy, the trees and bushes overgrown and wild.
“There! Isn’t that a grate under the vines? Cellar ventilation maybe? Or the waterways?”
“The waterways don’t open up in the side of the upper city.” Aerin cast a look at Will who was now pacing back and forth, still rubbing his hands together and occasionally jumping. “Are you okay? It isn’t that cold, you know.”
“It’s damned freezing.”
The cold wind that had risen was blowing strong, but Aerin did not mind it this time. Usually, it was her who was whining about the cold weather. “Never mind. I’m sure I’ll be fine. Now climb up that tree. You should be able to reach the grate from there.” Will rubbed his hands and blew warm air on them before moving into position under the tree to boost Aerin up.
The first branches were high up. She could probably make the jump with Will’s help. But she was still angry at Will. She was reluctant to continue any further tonight.
“Garret told us to scout it out, not go right on in.”
“And we’re nowhere close to the entrance. We need to make sure we can get where we want to from there. Now get up there so I can throw you the rope.”
“What rope?” Will’s words confused Aerin. They did not bring any gear along tonight.
“Don’t you worry about that, now get up there or are you going to keep me squatting like this for the rest of the night here?” Looking closely Will was outright shivering. Aerin sighed and went for it.
With Will’s help, it was easy to jump and grab hold of the branches above. But looking from up here, she realised, she would have to dive headfirst into that small hole. The branches did not quite reach where she wanted them and those vines would not hold her full weight. But the grate had fallen off, tangled in the vines and the hole was open. No point in thinking too much about it. A job needed doing.
She had to land flat on her chest. That hurt. There was not much headroom in the tunnel. It looked like parts of this shaft were ready to fall apart, here and there were a few stone plates and bits of metal jutting out of the wall. You could still go through most on all fours.
The sun was rapdily nearing the horizon. Daylight would not reach this spot much longer. Suddenly a rope tied to a rock flew in through the tunnel opening. A sequence of quiet whistles followed shortly.
“Tie it down and help?” She looked around the tunnel. A piece of metal from the wall would have to do.
It took a while, but finally, Will was crouching beside her. “Doesn’t look too good.”
“It’s this or try a less subtle approach. This way we might have time to work inside the house. Let’s hope they only warded the doors. If this even takes us where we want to.” Aerin crawled along the tunnel. Behind her, she heard Will mumbling something. “What was that?”
“I said it’s not that.” The reply was oddly dispirited. She made to look behind her, but Will nudged her forward. “Keep moving. I want to get this over with already.”
Although her mood was still sour, other thoughts were bugging her mind. “Where did you get the rope? I didn’t know we had a stash in this area.” Will said nothing for a long time.
“Orion. He does more than speak to us. He teaches those with even a shred of potential inside them. I might not be a mage yet, but I will be one someday.”
“You can conjure rope. Fancy that.”
“You can’t conjure rope. But I can hide it and lots of other things where you’d least expect it.” Some of that usual smugness had returned to Will’s voice.
“Does Garret know of this?” Aerin demanded.
“This isn’t Garret’s business.”
“He is our keeper.”
“Ow! Damn it.”
Aerin had hit her head. Light in the small shaft was at an increasingly uncomfortable angle, distorting shadows and shapes. Although the shaft went in a straight line, the limited room made it difficult to react to sudden obstacles.
“Don’t suppose you can conjure light, Will?”
“The wrong kind for this situation.” She could still hear and feel Will shivering behind her.
“Not sure if this tunnel is a good way to get in either. Feels like we’ve gone too far inside the hill. Hey, Aerin? You sure about this?”
“You were the one who got us in here. We’ll go as far as we can. If we hit a dead end we have to back out.”
“Hold on. I think I just... Yep. I did!” Will’s voice suddenly came from behind a corner.
“What?” She heard Will grunt and something metallic shifting on stone.
“A cover. Leads up.” Will was panting from the effort. Aerin could barely guess the struggling figure behind her. But she saw enough to see a pair of legs suddenly jump up and out of sight. “Back up a little.” She heard Will shout from somewhere above.
There was no light above her, a curtain of nothingness stretched out all around. They were in a vast underground hall. That much Aerin could understand. But the way it was built, the way their footsteps sounded on the floor, something felt off. The air was stale, full of dust. Down in the shaft, there had been the constant sound of the wind, but here, nothing moved. Even their voices sounded muffled. A flash of fire illuminated the vast cathedral. Will had thrown fire in the air. However, it only made the darkness surrounding them seem deeper.
“Don’t bother. You’ll blind us.” Aerin stood still and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark again. She heard Will pacing around. “That will not help either.” Looking around, she saw nothing. The hall extended into darkness all around her. She could guess all she wanted, there was no way to tell how large this place was. Darkness played tricks with her vision. Aerin turned on the spot and headed towards the sound of Will’s footsteps. “Wait up. I can’t see you can I?” Walls of pitch-black tar were closing in around her.
Another flash of fire tried its best to keep the darkness at bay. It helped for a mere moment. She could barely guess the silhouette of Will as she carefully felt her way around the place. Will conjured yet another flash of fire that died in vain.
“Will! Stop. You’re blinding us.” He did not respond.
This time an inferno lit a good part of the hall. She did not know Will could do that. In awe, she stared at the deep orange flames swirling around a cavernous cathedral. For the briefest of moments, she saw twisting reliefs on the walls and something even more bizarre. The darkness was smothering the flame. Another inferno burned through the darkness and was quickly fading now. Many bright lights danced in front of Aerin’s eyes. But she couldn’t have mistaken tendrils of darkness eating into the flame.
“Will. Will! Will damn it!” She shouted. “Will, stop!”
“Not so damned loud.” Will hissed.
“Stop doing that! It’s no use!”
“I can’t find the exit anymore! It’s gone.” Will’s voice was a panicked whisper.
“Will, calm down! The exit is right here, behind me. If you would stop throwing fire around like a lunatic!” Aerin was losing her patience.
“Do not yell!” Will hissed.
“What is the matter with you?” She made no effort to calm her voice. Will was really getting on her nerves tonight.
“I made a mistake, alright! This is a bad place. We shouldn’t be here.”
“Have you been smoking dreampipe again?”
“No. Not tonight. We were supposed to meet with Garret. You know I never smoke then. We should hurry, Garret might be waiting.” Will was all over the place with his thoughts.
“Since when have you cared about Garret waiting on us.”
“I don’t, now hurry up by the Makers. We shouldn’t be down here.”
Will was hurrying towards Aerin. His footsteps were coming closer, and she was afraid they might bump into each other. The footsteps stopped and she heard bare hands patting a stone surface.
“What are you doing? What is the matter with you? What do you mean we should not be down here?” She cautiously wandered towards the sound of Will’s hands. “What happened to you?”
The patting stopped. “I can’t find it. The exit is gone. Aerin, the damned hole and the cover are gone. I lifted it off the hole and put it right next to it. Both are gone!”
“You lost the hole because you blinded us! I am still seeing lights flicker in my eyes, you twat!”
“Stop speaking so loud!” Will hissed again.
Aerin had had enough. Guessing by sound, she found Will and punched him. “Shut up! Now tell me what is the matter with you? What is this place?” She punched Will again.
“Answer me, you idiot!”
“Stop it with the yelling and the punching... OW! Alright, alright, damn it stop!” Will shook himself free from Aerin’s grasp and scurried away from her.
“What’s wrong?” Aerin huffed.
“I don’t know. This place does not sit right with me. This darkness feels wrong, the air is heavy, no one has set foot in this place forever, but there is something here. I don’t know why, but my thoughts keep telling me that this is no place to be. Especially not tonight. Let’s get out of here.”
“We still have a job to do. Pull yourself together. A little darkness is nothing to lose yourself over.” But Will’s words had something to them. This place felt lonely.
“The hole is gone.” Will said again with a tired voice.
“Shut up and listen.”
“The hole...” Will started again.
“Is somewhere around here. We lost it because you kept spewing fire like an idiot and didn’t give me time to mark it. Now use your ears, you twat. There is flowing water nearby. We might get into the waterways from here. How on earth did you manage to pass Garret’s trials is beyond me. Losing yourself to panic and not using what’s in your head.”
It was unlikely they would find a way into the waterways, but Will had made her even angrier than before. Still, it was uncanny how she could not catch even a glimpse of the hole they entered through. The sun should still be shining into the shaft below it.
She made her way towards the sound of water. Now that her eyes were used to the darkness, she could guess her way around the place. There was nothing in her way, at least. Will was following her in silence. Considering what had happened tonight, she felt no guilt at all. She had every right to be angry with him. Will was a complete idiot. A powerful idiot. It had come as a surprise to see what Will could do. If you thought you about it, then it might have made him an even bigger idiot.
“There.” Will suddenly grumbled. “I think there’s another grate or something in the wall there.”
Another old and rusty grate. The bars took a few kicks but did not last long. It was a tight squeeze through the rough opening. The two of them ripped their clothes a little.
It surprised Aerin to see they were actually in the waterways. All known entrances were heavily guarded.
“Not bad. This is a silver mine.” Aerin breathed. “Tonight might not be a complete waste of time. Someone needs to go through that underground cathedral once more and mark the path through it. Getting larger items out of the houses might be tricky, but I bet we can find another safe exit around here. I don’t think we have ever had access to the waterways under the upper city. We can make a lot of coin here, Will!”
“I am not going through that cathedral aga... OW! Stop it with the punches! What is your problem, woman?”
“Use your head and think!” Aerin looked down both ends of the tunnel and set off to her right. The ground was rising in that direction. It was a good chance they would find an exit that way.
The way Will had lost it meant there was definitely something odd about that place. Even from this side the interior of the underground cathedral looked like a black wall. Better tell Garret so the others wouldn’t waste precious time down there.
“Feeling better yet, Will?”
“No.” He grumbled. “I hate you.”
“Good. Then the feelings are mutual. This looks promising.” Another tunnel branched off to the right, about the way they wanted to go. And the ground was rising at a sharp angle now. Stairs led upward next to the water canals.
They were in the upper levels now. Aerin saw the sun still peeking through the inlets. They were in a larger canal dotted with numerous grates and inlets in the low ceiling. Some of these might lead to houses here in the upper city, Aerin thought.
“Any idea where we are?” Will asked.
“Let’s open these up. See what we can find.”
“How are we supposed to find the correct house?” Will mumbled. Now that Aerin could see him better she noticed he was rubbing his arms.
“What are you doing?” She asked, tired.
“It’s cold! I told you. I feel really cold all the time. I swear by the Makers, there are cold tendrils crawling down my neck.” Will said with exasperation. “The time we spent down in that pit of gloom, did not make things better.”
“Get over here and help.” Aerin growled through her teeth.
After checking out the first four grates, the sound of shattering dishes and crockery somewhere above her startled Aerin. Immediately her gaze turned on Will.
“What did you do?”
“There was something on top of this, so I tried to nudge it out of the way.” The two of them waited in silence. Someone would have heard that. However, the silence was only broken by Will again.
“Lucky!” Will sighed aloud. “Looks like this is the one!”
“How do you figure that? Could be that someone’s not home.”
“At this time of the day, during this season, in the upper city? The only house not occupied in the entire upper city right now is the one we’re looking for. And even if the lords and ladies are not present.” Will made a mocking voice as he climbed into the opening in the ceiling. “There would be servants here. No one in the upper city wants a cold and dusty house.”
This time Aerin had to concede to Will. No rushing footsteps nor shouts came from the cellar above. As they slowly made their way up through the hole and up the stairs it became obvious that no one had lived here for a little while. Blankets covered most of the furniture. The house was damp and cold and peeking out of one of the windows, a familiar sight greeted Aerin.
“Lucky.” Aerin mumbled.
“What was that?” Some smugness had returned into Will’s voice again.
“You know, it’s never just luck with me.” He grinned wildly. But the next moment his face dropped, and he looked around alarmed. Aerin heard it too. Angry voices sounded on the other side of the front door. Will bolted to the second floor without saying a word. Aerin followed as quietly as she could. Will was not so subtle.
“Damn it, Will! Too much noise!” She hissed.
She heard someone break open the outside door downstairs. She had lost sight of Will, so Aerin jumped into the first available hiding spot she could think of. A small locker she had to crouch into. Only after she was in there did she realise how stupid acting so quickly had been. They would find her. There was no way she would come out of this alive.
Had there been wards inside the house? Did someone hear the commotion after all? Or did someone see them from the windows? How did someone think to break open the door to this house shortly after she and Will had entered? Was this a trap? Had someone set them up? A thousand thoughts ran through her head in the blink of an eye. And where had Will disappeared to? From her hiding place, Aerin could peek up and down the corridor, with the stairs to the left of her.
Muffled sounds came from downstairs, people were arguing. Then heavy footsteps trampled up the stairs.
“Ambassador, this is impossible. This house has been sealed for a moon now. No one could get in here; the doors were invested with power. Any access to a property under an inheritance dispute is prohibited no matter the circumstance. I understand your problem, but this is Ironcourt, we have laws here, different from those you would be used to.”
The steps did not stop. The one addressed as ambassador seemed to ignore whoever was talking. They reached the landing. A tall, hooded person was the first to appear followed by a man in red and silver. A royal guard! Two commons guards followed. They all had their backs toward Aerin. The hooded person marched straight to the middle of the hallway while the three men stayed behind. The hooded stranger stopped and looked around before drawing a sword and stabbing it towards a wardrobe.
Before the blade made contact with the wood, the corridor erupted into pieces of wood, dust and fire roaring through the hallway. Aerin had closed her eyes. Desperately, she fumbled around to make sure the doors of her locker stayed shut. She felt warmth fill the air and a multitude of sounds assaulted her. Shouts of surprise and shock, then a cry of pain and a grunting noise. A dull thud on the floor finished this mess and the following silence rang in her ears.
Opening her eyes was difficult. They stung from the dust in her eyes. Someone had destroyed half of the corridor. The wood walls and furniture were all singed and holes had been torn into the walls and floor at the point of impact. Against all odds, the destruction had spared Aerin’s hiding spot.
Through watering eyes, she saw the hooded person bend over a body and search it. After a small effort, the hooded person removed a light blue coin-pouch from it and turned around. It was an Alyar. The Alyar they had passed by a few bells ago. The Alyar who had lost her coin-pouch. Its eyes a deep blue, nothing else in them, but a feeling of emptiness. An expressionless and featureless face, without a proper nose, skin as if sandstone with many hues and layers of rock. She towered close to the ceiling above the heads of all the others in the hallway.
“Thief.” She pointed with her sword towards Will’s body. Blood was dripping down from the tip. The water from Aerin’s eyes now real tears, she had to bite her glove to not make a sound. “I told you. Thief. My coin.” Without waiting for a reply, the Alyar swept past the three humans in the room and headed downstairs.
She could see the commons guards looking helplessly at the royal guard who only shook his head. After a moment of silence, the man wearing red and silver had only a few words for the other two. “Get these remains to your morgue and await further orders. I will deal with this.” He left in a hurry.
The two commons guards waited around until the sound of a door closing could be heard.
“A thief is a thief.”
“Sure. But to end up like this. That Alyar. That’s not right.”
“Less mouth work, more with your hands. Let’s get this over with. We don’t get paid for holding a funeral.”
The guards turned Will over, grabbed his hands and legs and half dragged him downstairs. Aerin sat still, not making a sound. Barely even breathing. Tears were the only sign she herself was still alive. Will’s face flashed before her eyes. His long hair, in a bun against the back of his head and his eyes, the colour of the sea easily conveying his emotions. Slowly, but surely, the neat and happy face turned ghastly in her mind. She did not dare look at his face when the guards passed her hiding spot.
She did not know how long she had sat there. She did not even recall when the guards had left the estate. She had not heard the door opening or closing a second time. She crawled out of the cabinet and continued to do so until she reached the spot where Will had lain. Small pools of blood had stained the singed carpet.
The wind blowing outside had grown into a storm. All sounds were unbearably loud as if the entire world was screaming. This had to be a bad dream like the ones she had had as a child. Aerin looked to her right. With part of the wall destroyed, she could see through a window outside. She could see the light-speckled city outside and the bits where all the lights faded into darkness. The tears kept coming, but she refused to make a single sound herself. She was gasping and twitching on the ruined carpet, playing with its rough edge.
Uncaring of her anguish, the world outside erupted and for the briefest of moments, she could see the entire city appear from the darkness and drowned in blood red light for a brief moment. The entire city was laid bare before her. No lights, no shadows, all visible under the rays of a grey sun. This had to be a nightmare.
Far over the horizon, to the south, it had blossomed. A flower so dark, night had turned into day, a flower so gigantic, it shrouded the sky. A flow so violent, it reached into the minds of all living beings near and far, awake and asleep. All must witness the Mark of the Other One.