Chapter 7: Sandcastle
‘This way,’ Ada said, and grabbed Rayn’s hand.
Ada knew the streets of Sandcastle well, by night and by day. The two girls ran through dark alleys, climbed walls and fences, and jumped from roof to roof until they reached the gate at the outer city wall. Their pursuer was nowhere to be seen, and they allowed themselves to slow their pace before they approached the guards in front of the gate.
Sandcastle was so named because of its striking similarity to castles children would build on beaches in the summer. Located on a natural island some two hundred yards off the western coast, the city was magnificent to behold with its tall, white spires behind several concentric circles of yellow stone walls. At low tide, a person might walk or ride on the wet sand between the city and the mainland. Carts and wagons—as well as siege engines in wartime—would inevitably get stuck until the waves washed them away hours later. When the tide was high, goods and people would be brought to and from the city on flat bottomed boats, most of them owned by the mayor himself.
‘How’s the tide?’ Ada asked before the guards could initiate their bothersome routine questions. Nobody left the city through the main gates in the middle of the night without a compelling explanation.
‘Eh, it was low an hour ago. Why?’ one of the guards replied.
‘Perfect, we can make it over if we’re quick,’ Ada said, and walked past the guards, towards the gate. ‘If we don’t make it across before dawn, I will be dead,’ she added.
The guards hesitated and glanced to each other for guidance.
‘You can’t leave the city tonight. You have to wait until morning, and hire a barge,’ said the eldest of the two guards.
‘We’d love to,’ Ada said. ‘But then I will be dead.’
She turned her back to them and showed the burned skin under singed clothes.
The guards grimaced as they briefly examined her wounds from a safe distance. ‘Very well, you may pass,’ the guard said at last. He handed Ada his torch. ‘Take this. It will last until you’re ashore.’
‘Thank you, and bless your noble and benevolent souls,’ Ada said, curtsying for good measure. They slipped out the gates as soon as the guards opened them.
‘Why did we have to leave the city?’ Rayn asked, as the pair took their first steps into the ankle-deep water separating Sandcastle from the mainland.
’I felt his presence and intentions as soon as he entered the store. He was no common burglar. He was searching for you,’ Ada said.
‘No, he wasn’t.’
‘Why do you say that? He came straight at you and ignored everything else. He didn’t even notice me, until I poked his eye out.’
‘No. He came for this,’ Rayn replied, and pulled out a black pendant attached to a chain around her neck. Its polished sides shone in the torchlight. ‘Besides, the reason the man ignored you is that he was already dead.’
‘What? How do you know?’
‘What of it? The pendant, or the dead man?’ Rayn frowned. She never had much tolerance for ambiguity.
‘Well, both!’ Ada said. The water was knee-deep now, and they were not even halfway across.
‘My shard pendant has a twin. I kept it on the shelf in the store. I went to pick it up before we fled, but the man had stolen it before he climbed the stairs to the loft.’
‘Yes, he did take something from the shelves. But how do you know he was dead?’
‘Because he didn’t breathe, bleed or feel any pain.’
‘That’s ridiculous!’ Ada threw a quick glance towards the city, half expecting to be chased through the water by a dead man.
Ada stopped and looked down at the waves washing against her thighs. ‘It’s cold, and my back hurts like a hundred floggings. Why don’t you just toss the pendant in the sea, and we can go back to the store?’
‘Because the shard is part of me. We’re bonded,’ Rayn said.
‘What does that mean?’
‘I just told you. It’s a part of me. If I lose she shard, I lose part of myself.’
‘Like a pet dog?’
‘No. Not like a dog. Like a soul-bound shard,’ Rayn said, shivering. ‘Do you want to stay here much longer?’
‘I’m sorry.’ Ada resumed walking towards the shore.
They waded through the water in silence until the first waves reached the exposed burns on Ada’s back. She yelped in pain but kept walking.