“You won’t be leaving this town alive.”
Finishing her next step, Jennika came to a slow stop, and made an even slower turn back to look down at the man. As far as threats went, it wasn’t very articulate. It wasn’t at all clever, cutting, or funny. And it sounded especially unreliable. It was difficult to be impressed.
“Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Your choice.” And the girl smiled as she said it, her mouth a charming, crooked line.
In her chair, she relaxed without leaning either forward or back, her spine carelessly straight. Her dark hair was braided loosely down her back and a too-bright scarf held it back from her face. With one elbow propped lazily against the table, she let the silence stretch. And she waited for the unnecessary reply.
The gravel crunched, echoing back into the cave. Counting footsteps, Eytan stared into the dark. When the four of them appeared in a loose line, he wasn’t surprised. The first man had a heavy sword at her hip, and passed Eytan without realizing. The woman behind him, a shadow in her dark leathers, caught the glint of bare steel in Eytan’s hand and murmured one word to pull them all to a stop. The other two stopped immediately, glints and echoes ten feet back and Eytan stayed where he was, borrowing some of the bulk of the stone wall while he stared at them.
“Lost, sister?” Eytan asked, and kept his voice low so that it was mostly echo as well.
The woman didn’t answer, tilting her head to get a better look at him.
The crackle of the fire didn’t wake Kennet. Eytan built it small and hot, the wood still too green to burn without smoke. He skinned the rabbit before he lit it, and doused the flames as soon as it was cooked through.
The smell, brightened by rosemary and coriander from Eytan’s pack, didn’t wake Kennet either, and Eytan bit into the soft meat on his own. The smoke clung to his clothes and hands. He breathed it in deep and looked at the open sky above them, nervous suddenly, for having cooked inside the cave. If they stayed another day, he would light the next fire outside, let the smoke mark the middle of nowhere instead.
When he had taken his share, he took a place in the shadow of the closed ceiling, watched Riva and listened hard for anyone coming up through the dark.
Kennet rolled over late in the afternoon. He glared at the sun as if it had insulted him. Rolling to his other side, he paused, blinking at the rabbit meat Eytan had left for him as it appeared in front of his nose. He took two thick bites and chewed them through before he dragged himself up.
Sitting, he found Eytan, and rolled to his feet to join him in the shade. He took another bite. “What do you think happened?” he asked, sucked the juice off his bottom lip, and swallowed.
“She died,” Eytan said.
“Dek,” Kennet swore dryly. “Do you think she took him down with her?”
The night crawled past in fits and starts. Eytan closed his eyes and opened them, felt an hour slid past as the shadows made their turns and the silence deepened into an older thing, but didn’t remember sleeping. The breeze kicked higher, and then died in the deep chill before dawn. The cave hummed, and then creaked. Gravel skittered haphazardly, abruptly, and Eytan lifted his head to listen, assuring himself there was no even human stride behind it.
Riva remained just as he had arranged her, the only thing in sight that didn’t shift while he slept. Sometimes he glanced at her from the side of his eye, and sometimes he stared. The shape of her was utterly familiar, while it seemed somehow she had been carved out of something heavier than flesh. Iron. Or something older.
The problem with having scarily brilliant friends was that it made surprises… complicated. Complicated and egregiously unnecessary. Aderon liked nothing better than the puzzle, the steady collection of found things that clicked and snapped together to outline weighted secrets. He was never able to keep his hands still, but worse was the way his eyes picked things up, turned them over, and abandoned them when they had emptied out for him. Cefin never grinned so hard a gift behind a door, as he did at a monster that he had guessed would be waiting. He liked the knowing, the awareness in the midst of an oblivious crowd.
They had never let Esyllt keep a surprise. She had battled the two of them, since they met at the age of six, for every secret. Each loss was a lesson, teaching her the hiding places for secrets thin as paper, and the secrets brittle as pyrite, and secrets bright like sunlight on ice. Each win was a victory that built along her spine.
When she thought about it – and she did, often enough, when she was alone in the dark – she thought it was a little unfair. When she won, really won, they had no idea there had even been a fight. But she had stopped caring a long time ago.
And this secret, the one itching between her shoulder blades and aching in the knuckles of her hands, needed its integrity more than anything else she had held. It was new, a bright thing only a few hours old. That might have been its one grace.
Newness was a hiding place she had learned to love, for all the frustration of it only being temporary. For a small precious while, it was a fortress.
Marnie found me in a corner where I’d begun to collect attention. Her boots were road-scuffed, the shoulders of her coat were rain stained, and her shirt and breeches were an average assemblage of homespuns and old clothes. In all her muted tones of beige and brown, she slipped across the room, tapping shoulders and elbows so they could make room for her to pass between the scattered tables and chairs, and no one even glanced up at her. When she was six steps from my table, they started to stare. She slipped into the seat across from me, unaware that any of them existed.
I tried not to hunch my shoulders farther around my ears.
Under starlight, everything turned to ice. Hills and stones and flower petals, none of them sharp enough to hold a shine, gleamed like water on the edge of melting. The air cooled and calmed, only numbing fingers and cheeks after they had stood in it for a while. Small sounds carried, clinks and clatters, all of them too hard in the silence, and ringing smoothly back into the nothingness.
It was too early in the year for the cold to bite deep. Still, Loena could feel the heat of Ami’s hand in hers as if there were an old coal between their palms. The air sliding into her lungs felt like weak peppermint, unable to hold onto the chill all the way down her throat. She sucked it in, grateful for the feeling, for the proof that she was not turning to ice herself.
At the corner, they waited, and finally, Ami squeezed her fingers.
Answers served with alacrity
Kate Kearney searched: Alright, who irritated the sun?
What? Did you expect an apology or an excuse to follow that?
She tried to remind herself to walk slowly, but she kept slipping into a happy skip. It was too late at night for anyone else to be up to see her. Too late at night to risk tripping and falling on her nose, but too late to really believe in reasonable strides either. It was too late to be awake, but she was. She might have forgotten how to sleep, forgotten the need for sleep, forgotten how to shut her eyes.
The moon had been too full. The white light falling off it had turned the air cool and crisp and clean. The silence had so much blank space, a promise that every word she spoke into the dark would be caught and held and heard. Everyone else shut up into their houses had made then world so wide. She could have run for miles.
Shai hadn’t of course – or she didn’t think she had. She only ever went into the woods in the dark, and shadows were hard to measure. Still, it never took long to work her way into the clearing and wait for all the others to tumble in after her.