Atlaltal, the king’s city, and one of Pentimentaire’s greatest, stood quiet in the early morning light. The tall stone buildings that lined the cobbled streets were left dark and abandoned. Not a single light flickered in their open windows. Wooden shutters had been thrown open, but no eyes peered out onto the barren streets. No smoke rose from the chimneys that protruded from their roofs. The city’s usual vibrancy had been snuffed out, as if an old, crooked hand had reached out and wrapped it’s gnarled fingers around the city’s flame, suffocating it.
The road that ended at the city’s gate, however, was not vacant. The local people called it the Rue Finale, though no one could recall why, and stacked on its cobbles stood a pile of furniture. If you were to steal a look in the houses nearby, you would find them free of any upholstery. It had all been dragged out here, thrown one on top of the other, reaching ever higher until it could grow no more. Chairs and tables fit together like a large puzzle, each one finding their place. Even books and other trinkets had been thrown onto the pile, all finding their own place in the heap. But the people who had put this collection together were nowhere to be seen.
Not a sound could be heard anywhere, except for a single pair of bare feet slapping the ground as someone ran. The young teenager’s heavy breathing echoed through the silent streets. He raced down the Rue Finale towards the metal gate, still hovering open, waiting. It threatened to fall any minute. The boy picked up his pace, feeling the ticking time nipping at his heels. His dirty blonde hair stuck to his forehead with sweat.
He skidded to a stop in front of the furniture barricade blocking his escape. He stared up at its menacing figure looming over him with large eyes as it leaned ominously to one side. His heart was beating loudly in his chest, reminding him of thetime ticking by. So the boy began the treacherous climb to the top, grabbing the legs of chairs to pull himself up, balancing on drawers with the tips of his toes. The muscles in his legs felt like they were on fire as he climbed.
His shirt was old and torn, bits of dirt stuck to the linen. It was usually tucked into his breeches with his waistcoat buttoned overtop, but his waistcoat hung open and his shirt hung out on one side. The fabric caught on the jagged edge of a bed frame. He tugged on his shirt, trying frantically to pull it free. The feeling of being chased urged him to move, but there was no one behind him. The boy tugged one last time, and heard the fabric tear. He was free.
The boy gripped the edge of an overturned table, trying to find better footing. His toes knocked into something small. He looked down, just in time to see the small music box slide off the edge of a wooden cabinet. He cringed as he watched it tumble down the barricade, smashing as it hit the cold ground. It may once have been beautiful, with intricate pictures painted on its sides, but now its pieces were scattered and its beauty lost. For how could something be beautiful if it was broken?
Sweat dripped down the boy’s temple. He could not let himself fall, for fear of smashing like the music box. He had to keep going.
The peak of the pile of furniture looked almost within reach, but the objects were beginning to come loose closer to the top, not as packed in as the ones below. A drawer slipped from under his foot, nearly causing him to loose his footing all together. His heart leapt into his throat at the sudden drop before he caught himself. He closed his eyes, trying to catch his breath and clear his head. A cold wind blew up his back and he shivered. Never had he been so high up before. It was only the fear of being caught that pushed him higher.
Slowly, the boy opened his eyes again, trying to swallow his fear and climb on. It wasn’t long before his hand slipped, pulling a piece of faded turquoise cloth free from where it had been draped, revealing a dirt-covered mirror. Small designs had been carved into its wooden frame. He could see just enough of the mirror’s surface to catch a glimpse of a dark set of eyes staring back at him. They weren’t his usual pale brown. Instead, these eyes were cold and black, the kind of eyes only a traitor could have. The boy gasped, lashing out at the mirror and knocking it free from its perch. The mirror fell, crashing its way down the barricade like the music box.
At last the boy reached the top. He stood, balancing on the surface of a slanting table. From this height he could see the metal gate of the city and the vast field beyond it. Large boulders were scattered across the grass. The people called it the Field of Fallen Stars. He could almost see the Northern Forest in the distance, but that could just be the fatigue playing with his mind. He was so close to freedom.
The boy didn’t feel alone at the top of the mountain of furniture. He could have sworn he felt the comforting presence of others there with him, but when he looked around there was no one. As he looked, something caught his eye. He looked up. It was small and dark, floating down from above, coming closer.
The black feather landed softly on an overturned wardrobe beside the boy. He stared at it curiously, but then he heard the creak and felt the sway of the furniture under his feet. The pile beneath him groaned, unable to bear all the weight any longer. The boy only had enough time to widen his eyes and the air was forced from his lungs as the barricade collapsed. The clock tower struck nine and he fell, consumed by darkness.
The last thing he saw was the black feather being pushed back up into the air by the wind. He heard someone shout as he fell. It was a man’s voice, cracking with agony.
Jasper flinched violently as consciousness suddenly came flooding in. He groaned as his head smacked into one of the barrels that he was squished between in the back of the cart. He gazed over the edge of the wooden cart, spying the small town of Merydiant coming into view in the distance. The sun was setting in the sky, but they would reach the town before nightfall.
“Another dream,” he sighed, closing his eyes again and leaning against one of the barrels, but he didn’t allow himself to fall asleep again, however tired he was.