Child in a Mist
A time of trial is coming. Scriptures
say clearly about it.
Day third. Still not a trace. I begin to doubt if he really exists. A gossip appeared last year about one noble who robbed the wealthy to give to the poor, now in the same way somebody made up a perfect thief. Nobody has seen him, but everybody’s certain that he exists and lives well. One of the frequent visitors in the tavern has even shown me a place in a tenement house in the south part of the city, where he presumably lives, but for two days when I’ve been watching it, nobody appeared. I even managed to talk to a landlord of this house, but he has never heard of a person of such name. I guess somebody’s been making great fun of me.
Day fourth. I have had enough. I’ve seen through all the documents I could get in the town hall and Hammerites’ library. I’m certain that they hadn’t shown me everything, but I doubt that invisible thief would be so important to them that they would prevent me from any mention about him. Has he robbed the Hammerites’ temple? :) In the meantime, it's the second evening when a minstrel in the tavern is singing about him and his unbelievable actions. This time he exaggerated: my thief of genius is said to take part in events which resulted in destroying the Trickster. I wonder how much money did he get for it :).
Day fifth. I think I’ve got something. I’ve met a man in the tavern who affirmed that half a year ago in the City there had been some riots and that strange creatures had appeared, defeated eventually by the Hammers and the City Watch. Strange, but nobody seemed to remember about this important event. Obviously, ordinary riots must’ve grown in his imagination to a rank of an event almost mythical. I started to suspect that the man was an amateur of ale sold here, but I found one mention about that event in the City’s chronicle and something about… Keepers whom – as I could guess – nobody knew anything about. My work is not easy because of the fire during the riots, which had burned northern part of the City with a town hall. I don’t have to add that all books and manuscripts that had been written before that magical date were burned as well. Most people are willing to talk with me but those, who might be of some help, look at me distrustfully and walk away without a word. Actually, I can’t blame them – I should’ve started my search from the Downwinders. But how the hell should I get there?!
‘I told you, get out!’ Loud voices disturbed me in my notes. I looked up. Little, maybe ten-years-old girl in a dress, which definitely remembered better days, was awkwardly lifting herself up from the floor. A fatty man stood above her, probably unhappy that somebody disturbed him in his dinner. A landlord was already approaching the pair from the counter.
‘Please sir, I’m hungry!’ Like a real lady, she smoothed her dress and made an unhappy face. But her eyes widened with sudden fear when landlord’s giant hand gripped her lean arm and pulled her to the exit.
‘How many times do I have to tell you not to disturb my guests?’
The girl hadn’t got a chance in a fight with the enormous man but somehow she managed to break loose. But she put too much force into it, which threw her right to my table, turning over my mug and spilling ale.
‘I’m very sorry, my lady.’ The landlord was about to strike the girl with his cloth and she gave me a pleading glance.
‘It’s alright.’ I rose to my feet, restraining his hand. Fortunately the ale spilt over the table, sparing the sheets of paper. ‘I’m sure she’ll find the way out, won’t you?’ I bent to see her face and she zealously shook her head. ‘Just bring me another mug.’
The man bowed with respect and went to the counter – at least he should be grateful for all the money I left in his cash desk. The girl smiled at me and turned to the door. I watched her for a while when she was walking away. Weird, she didn’t make the most of my goodness and didn’t ask for money, now she was moving in an odd way, as if she’d been carrying something heavy under her arm. I looked at the table and suddenly everything was clear – she didn’t come here to beg.
Before the girl managed to get to the door, I made a short gesture with my hand. Nobody noticed anything and the girl tumbled down spilling my notes over the floor. She turned immediately, trying to get up but, to her surprise, she couldn’t; she also didn’t know why nobody had noticed her fall. I slowly walked to her and pointed at the sheets of paper.
‘I suppose it’s mine.’
She made a sad grimace again but this time she didn’t pretend.
‘Please!’ She whispered. ‘I—-’
I bent over to collect my notes and helped her stand up. Then I pushed her outside, on the street.
Fresh air of the chilly evening was a pleasant change after sultry interior of the pub. It was growing dusky and lanterns on the streets were already lighted, as well as the candles in the windows of the houses.
I drew the girl into the shadows to avoid drawing attention. She didn’t even wait for any sign from me but she didn’t try to run away either.
‘Please! He will kill me, if I don’t bring it to him.’ She said very tearfully but also very seriously.
‘Who will kill you?’
‘Hugo.’ She sniffed. ‘He said—-’
‘Who is Hugo?’
‘He is my protector.’
‘Does he know anybody from the Downwinders’ Guild?’
‘From the Downwinders?’ She gave me a surprised look. I thought she was too young to know about such things but she only shrugged. ‘I guess so. He knows everybody.’
I sighed. This Hugo was probably some little fish who set a task for another little fish, even smaller than he was, maybe to train her or because he didn’t want to draw attention himself. But for now I didn’t have any other possibility to contact the Guild. I straightened up.
‘Tell… Hugo that I will be pleased to meet him. I’d prefer no witnesses.’
‘I promise you shall not be harmed.’ I looked at her to see that she watched me with astonishment. Her eyes were unbelievably blue. ‘Go now.’ I pushed her slightly and waited until she disappeared round the corner. Then I went back to the pub.
Big book turned to me and opened on the page with a five-pointed star written in a circle. There was no pedestal for it to be placed on, the book was simply floating in the air. There was nothing but the book. I had no idea where I was but it must have been outside, as I saw stars above me, with the Ophiuchus constellation directly in the zenith. Everything else was veiled in darkness and only the book was glowing with a strange light.
I slowly approached it and touched its pages. The book hissed as if it was a living creature and escaped my touch. Its leaves rustled and it opened on the other page. This page I knew all too well. Refined curves, which decorated the quotation, didn’t change a bit and weird writing didn’t become more understandable than it had been previously. But strangely I knew what was written there. I understood the words but still I couldn’t get the meaning.
‘You play with the fate.’ I didn’t notice her until she was about six feet from me. The book floated to her exposing its leaves to her hand and I could swear I heard a murmur as she touched it. As usual she was wearing a bright dress and the light that was shining behind her made me blink. As usual – I couldn’t see her face.
‘You should know that whatever what you think about yourself, you’re not omnipotent.’ There was a scent of mockery in her voice. ‘And, like everyone else, you bear the consequences of your actions.’
‘I thought I can make it much simpler and—’ I heard my own unsure and silent voice. Hey, this was not how it was supposed to be! I didn’t want to say that!
‘You thought?!’ It was probably the first time I managed to throw her out of her balance. ‘Since now there has been nothing in your actions that would indicate such process. Your ignorance will destroy you.’
‘If you hadn’t gone to this pub, it would have been sufficient just to take this log.’ she said sharply. ‘Now the innocent man will die. He’ll die because of you.’
‘Because of his greed.’ At last I managed to control the overwhelming fear of this white-clothed person. I raised my head but still her face was hidden in dazzling brightness.
‘No.’ her voice was impatient as if she had to explain an obvious thing. ‘His path was different. You’ve changed it. And you’ve changed also yours.’
She pointed at the book, which suddenly appeared before me. It opened on the same page but the letters of quotation was changing in front of my eyes like falling pieces of domino, creating a new sentence.
‘You cannot carelessly change the future.’ I was frozen with the tone of her voice and with the awareness of what would happen in a moment. The light began to fade.
‘Don’t go!’ I couldn’t make a step. ‘Don’t leave me!’
She took no notice of my scream but from somewhere I heard a frail voice:
‘Elementals. Remember about the Elementals.’
Elementals? What the hell…? But well then, if they don’t want to talk to me, I will find another way. I gathered the energy and sent a beam. Damn, I’ve never been good at this but if it could help…
The beam returned hundred times increased, lighting fireworks in my head and causing an explosion of pain. I staggered backwards, unable to regain balance. I was falling.
I sat on my bed, breathing violently. The cold night air stunned me for a moment. Candle was burning on a stool, where I left it; steady flame as a silent evidence that it didn’t take much time since I had fallen asleep. A cloak was still lying on a chair with a travel bag and mice took to the bits of fruits, which had been left on a table. Through the rectangular holes in a shutter I saw a ray of moonlight and a moment later I heard shouts of the Watch near the city walls.
I combed hair with my fingers. It was the same dream, which has haunted me for five nights since the first day I had come to the City. This time it included some new elements but still it was mainly about me reading words of a prophecy. The prophecy destined for me alone, which meaning I could not understand. And what had the Elementals to do with it?
Angrily I threw away the blanket and walked irritated around the room. For the first time, however, I tried to attack someone, who was hiding in the darkness and – as I could suppose – I wasn’t successful. Also for the first time I… perished? Did it mean I was close? Too close?
My thoughts were hindered by a silent grating at the door. This time it wasn’t mice.
‘Lady?’ I heard a weak voice and at once I recognized the owner of the blue eyes. ‘Hugo is ready to meet you now.’
I immediately grabbed my coat and, after having hidden my notes under a loose board on the floor, I put out the candle and opened the door.
‘Good. I could use a walk.’
The City had changed since my last visit here. Almost all the trees were gone, replaced by new factories that produced smoke which constantly polluted industrialized quarters. People responsible for this, the Mechanists, were a new sect, established as an independent fraction of the Hammerite Order. The common townsmen were discontent. What I heard was that nothing changed for the better, at least for them. The higher standards of living were affordable for the nobility and the richer merchants alone, while the commoners experienced only air pollution and greater unemployment, as they had been replaced on their working places by the mechanical facilities and devices of the new sect. The most discontent were the Hammerites, who treated the Mechanists’ detachment as heresy and in fact I couldn’t blame them for it. Their importance and position, which a year ago allowed them to control almost the entire City and enforce their law on the community, whether the community liked it or not, now rapidly decreased, giving the priority to the Mechanists.
Life wasn’t easy also because of the new sheriff, Gorman Truart, who – to be honest – quickly brought peace to the City and successfully limited the activities of the illegal guilds. But in his obeying the letter of the law he moved as far as to arrest everybody who found himself in the wrong place in the wrong time. The life did not look easy and it was even harder than it looked.
The girl knew many shortcuts and took the lead without hesitation. Few times we managed to avoid the approaching patrol and some mellowed guys, who were right away taken up by the City Watch. Finally, in some more deserted part of the City, she couldn’t resist asking.
‘How did you know I would be alright? Hugo didn’t even shout at me. Do you know the future?’
Damned, all I needed was a nosy kid. I grimaced.
‘Sometimes I have those feelings.’
‘Hugo always shouts on me when I’m doing something wrong. But now he was even glad.’
Sure, I would be glad if a pray came to me voluntarily. You did not need to waste time and means to get information.
Little hand pulled my coat.
‘Are you a fairy?’
I stopped, astonished.
‘Well, there, in a pub,’ She lowered her head to avoid my gaze. ‘It wasn’t my fault I’d stumbled.’ Damned, maybe I should start being more careful. I knew children were sensitive to the Elementals but I didn’t know they felt it that much. ‘And you helped me.’
‘Because I had an interest in it.’ I moved along leaving her with her mouth dropped. ‘I wouldn’t count on my kindness in the future. I do absolutely nothing for a mere charity.’
After a while the girl caught up with me. She was silent and gloomy now. Hopefully she didn’t like me any more. Of course, I was wrong.
‘My mum once told me the fairies are good and help children.’
Oh no, that was more than I could bear. I turned to her and the girl, surprised with my move, almost bump into me.
‘I want to make this clear. I’m not fairy and I hate children. Understood?’ Four inches from my face the girl nodded and I straightened up and crossed my arms. ‘I would be grateful if you stopped asking about such nonsense. Just lead.’
‘These aren’t any—-’
‘They would hear us in the other end of the city.’ Gosh, I wondered if she would ever stop talking. I felt like silencing her the other way but it wouldn’t be wise to squander Elementals.
‘That’s not true.’ The girl flared up and blew out her cheeks. ‘There isn’t anybody anyway.’ And with a countenance of an owner she pointed at the passage to the backyard of the one of tenement houses with a huge grille, where a hooded person moved from. ‘We’re here.’
Heavy, wooden door shut behind me without any noise. Hugo, about 17-years-old stripling, who was showing me the way in, suddenly disappeared and left me in a drawing room, on a first floor of a tenement-house. The room was empty but the fireplace, which lightened the room, indicated that there must’ve been somebody here a while ago.
I pulled down my hood and walked to the fireplace. A colorful rut rustled under my feet. At least thirty merchants’ heads looked down at me from the ceiling. Glassy slabs that was hanging from a chandelier gave a faint sound when moved by a sudden breeze.
It couldn’t have been the Downwinders’ headquarters. They couldn’t have been so unreasonable to uncover themselves so much by leading me there. The tenement-house must’ve been a place where some more legal businesses took place and it must’ve been a representative place for them. The attire suggested that it belonged to a wealthy merchant, or rather collector. I noticed some items, that couldn’t have possibly been bought, like the beautifully adorned little box which – I could swear – only recently was a reliquary in the chapel of the Hammerites’ Temple or eggshell vases, that were conveyed from Cyric only for ritual purposes.
I turned around and saw a figure in the corner of the room, not lightened by the flame of the fireplace. I didn’t know if he had been standing there for a while or has just entered via some secret entrance. He stepped closer and I noticed he was a short thickset and a little plump man. He gave me a curious look as he passed me on his way to a massive desk located under one of the windows. He pulled open one of its drawers and took out a thick book but he didn’t sit down. His bald head glowed when he raised his head to look at me.
‘So, you’re looking for Garrett.’ To my surprise his voice was pleasant and his long fingers touched the paper gently. He didn’t even bother to conceal the fact that he’d ordered someone to spy on me. I also didn’t keep my knowledge to myself but, unlike him, I had a good memory.
‘Can you explain your reasons, miss—-’
‘—Ryen.’ I walked to the table and laid my hands on it. He wasn’t altruistic, the same way I wasn’t altruistic. He just collected scraps of information. ‘This is a business between me and Mr Garrett.’
‘Oh, how mysterious,’ he presented a faint smile and waved a hand over one of the armchairs next to the fireplace, offering a seat. ‘But you’ve started your search from a wrong place: you should’ve come here at the very beginning.’ He made himself comfortable and the fire lightened his dress: an ordinary doublet of an ordinary merchant. In that dress nobody paid him more attention than he needed. ‘In the Hammerites’ library you will find no valuable piece of information. But I must say I am impressed: they don’t let the ordinary folks in.’
I decided not to mention an attempt of stealing my notes. He wouldn’t admit to it anyway.
‘I have acquaintances.’
He probably didn’t expect such an answer; he couldn’t help expressing his astonishment.
Dark shape, which just a moment ago appeared by the man’s armchair, now jumped on his lap and the fire lightened its black fur. The cat looked at me with its green eyes and hissed. Didn’t like me very much, I suppose.
‘But you’re not from the City, are you?’
‘So what? Anyway, coming back to—-’ He knew a lot about me already.
‘You see,’ he scratched the cat behind its ears. It closed the eyes and murmured with contentment. ‘We are looking for him as well.’
That was too much to bear. It wasn’t enough for them to complicate matters, they tried to made me believe in such nonsense.
‘You can’t even find your man?!’
The man looked at me with reservation and probably at this point all respect he had for me vanished.
‘He isn’t "our man". He isn’t a member of the guild.’
‘I can hardly believe that.’ I said but I already knew that the man was telling the truth.
‘He is an independent and recently… he’s been owing us something. But this thief is not easy to find. Especially when he doesn’t want to be found.’
I raised my eyebrow but – taught by experience – said nothing. I should’ve known more about this legendary thief. Damn, I’d like to know anything.
‘I suggest a deal.’ He bent in his armchair to look closely at my face, as if he’d tried to read something from my eyes. ‘You need information and I want to know where Mr Garrett lives. I am ready to provide you with some info about him and I’ll try to make him hear about your search. Of course, I can’t assure you that he will contact you but sooner or later he will run out of money and will be forced to look for some work. All I want in return is your… cooperation.’
The cat on man’s lap stretched at its full length and jumped down on the floor. I watched it till it disappeared in a shadow somewhere next to the door.
‘I didn’t expect such a trust.’ He couldn’t have actually been helping me entirely disinterestedly. There was a catch somewhere, that’s for sure. ‘What makes you think I will keep my promise?’
The man stood up and walked to the desk. The fire brightened and threw a shadow on the man’s face which made him look a little ghastly.
‘Breaking our agreement? No, I do not even consider such possibility.’ He took out a few sheets of paper from a thick book. In spite of the poor light I was able to recognize an adorned initial on the first page. Furious, I stood up. ‘I’m sure you wouldn’t want the Hammerites to know about your occupation.’ His voice wasn’t pleasant at all. ‘If I’m forced, I will use it, although I would hate to do that.’
Certainly, using me was a more profitable alternative. I clenched my fists.
‘You’d better find him soon. Do we have a deal?’
Now I knew why Xavier had chosen me: he was sure I knew enough to succeed but at the same time little enough so that he could leave me on my own, if I loose. Apparently, I didn’t have a choice. I ignored his stretched hand and nodded.
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