Fucking. Rain. Again.
It was all he had seen since he arrived in this shithole little town in the crack of the Anders territory. Usually it was a welcome thing, washing away all the filth of humanity, leaving rainbows and happiness and things he had no business sticking around for, but this. Fuck it all, this was an overflowing chamber pot. Nothing washed away, it just filled and lingered, slithering its way into the skin. Body parts that had no business sticking together were agonizingly glued and even the damned rubber cloak did not-a-Gods-damned-thing. The air itself was nearly water, coating his sweat-drenched skin that was already suffocating under the rubber. To top things off, it was actually cold here, not like where he had been just before coming here. When he puckered his lips in a sniffling pout, he could feel how icy his nose was against his upper lip.
When he finally stood up from his crouch on the covered stoop of the derelict building he hid out in, he squelched. Actually fucking squelched. His mood hit black. He could see the kid he was after had stiffened, those little feet slapping the puddles slightly faster.
“Oh no, you don’t,” he grumbled, gaining on the kid in a few quick strides, a wounded yelp when his large hand grabbed the kid by the scruff of their neck.
“I didn’t steal nothing, honest! Oh!” the kid switched from autopilot to human recognition, although only slightly more relieved. Mostly the kid's face twisted in chagrin. “The hell are you here for?”
He dropped the kid, giving them a quick pop on the back of the head. The kid’s stupid blue hat nudged forward as if it might jump ship, but the kid jammed it back upright with indignation. It might have done more than annoy if the kid weren’t wearing a thick rain hood too. The kid rubbed the back of their head as if it did hurt, but no chance of guilting him. His moral compass didn’t touch empathy.
“I oughta tell your mother you talk like that,” he threatened, pushing the kid into walking again. Standing there attracted attention and that was the last thing he needed.
The kid grinned toothily, eyes sparkling up at him with mischief. He hated smug on a kid’s face. Especially this one’s.
“You’re welcome to it. She’d sooner beat you for showing your face,” the kid reminded him, a look of triumph he didn’t care for topping it off for the finale.
Yeah, so he tended to piss a few people off. Came with the territory. The entire Anders territory and beyond that too.
“You’re holding something for me, Brat,” he reminded the kid. If the kid had a name, he never bothered to learn it. ‘Brat’ was sufficient since the kid did answer to it.
Brat nodded, sniffing with discomfort.
“I didn’t sell it, if that’s what you mean. Got my storage fees?” Brat returned with indignation. Brightened right the fuck up at the mention of money though.
If he really wanted to keep something secure, Brat was normally the last person he’d turn to. Except this time. He counted on everyone in this city both knowing the kid would sell the rug out from under your feet and that no one in their right mind would give the brat anything of value. He rattled his bag of coins to indicate he planned to make good on those 'storage fees.’. Normally that sound made Brat's eyes dance, but those eyes lidded and dulled, followed by a curt jerk of the head.
He would have taken it with him if he could, the object he left with the kid. The thing of it was, what he had couldn’t leave the city. It was a piece of something he was trying his damnedest to figure out. This was a shifting city, a great puzzle of a thing that rarely stilled, and as unreliable as Brat could be, it was really his best choice. He sure as hell didn’t want the King getting his hands on it.
The kid kept looking behind them and he wondered if there was a color darker than black because his mood apparently had room to darken. He had their back and the kid’s constant surveillance was drawing eyes in return. He grabbed Brat’s bobbly-head and bent to their ear.
“Knock it off. I’m watching our six,” he finally grumbled before giving Brat a push again.
Brat skittered a few clumsy steps forward but caught themselves, shooting back a wounded look before obeying. He honestly didn’t know at this point if Brat was male or female. Didn’t give a shit. Talked in a high-pitched little whine, a voice that croaked deep sometimes, but kids talked so much they lost their voices too. Brat certainly did anyway. Didn’t really know too many kids. Or any at all.
Brat caught the railing of a banister, swinging wide before stopping abrupt in front of a storm cellar door with a ridiculously large padlock on it. He could see the warm orange glow of one of the many brothel windows in this part of the city, hear the raucous laughter. It only caught his eye at all because most people, even whores and drunks, had the sense to stay out of this downpour. Brat stuck their tongue out while fiddling for the key in their pocket. He had time to grow more agitated that the kid hadn’t done so before they reached the spot. Standing in the damn rain was pretty suspicious too.
A hand reached over his shoulder and he caught it quickly, his other elbow already swinging back. It cracked into the culprit with a sickening thud. He used that momentum to swing the attacker over his head where they landed a few feet ahead only to slide further through the slimy, drowning street. A cutpurse, if he had to judge by the rusty piece of broken metal disappearing out of sight from where it shot out of the guy’s hand. Makeshift shiv. He should’ve gone for the coin purse. The downed man hydroplaned, spinning out a bit as he struggled to find his feet.
He didn’t waste time closing the gap between them; a quick flash of his dagger before the moonlight caught the arc of something darker spurting free. The man slumped unmoving back into the shallow pseudo-river.
He dragged the man’s body with one hand, an easier feat with the water floating it, pushing it into an alley. His face remained impassive as if he did nothing more than take out the trash on a Tuesday.
He caught the Brat’s round frightened eyes shining like two damned spotlights on alert.
“Open the damn lock,” he growled out and the kid scrambled now, hands shaking. The kid dropped the key three times before he snatched it away and did it himself, tossing the key and padlock to the kid while he unthreaded the thick chain from the handles. The kerplunk and subsequent splashing told him the kid couldn’t catch for shit, but at least the kid was gripping it soon after, looking all too self-pleased. Otherwise ignoring that, he pulled the cellar doors open.
Brat rushed ahead, digging around again until a silver box glinted, a dry flicking noise followed by a sputtering flame that lit the sconce on the wall. The kid seemed anxious to get it over with, but still spun to face him, eyes unable to meet his.
“Get the doors, will ya? Don’t want that water filling this place up,” Brat grumbled, less spunky than before. Gods, he wasn’t going to kill the kid for being a little saucy. He was a mercenary, not an assassin.
He reached back up through the cellar opening to grab the heavy iron doors, not bothering to close them carefully. Even if someone’s head moved to the direction of the noise, they wouldn’t see anything. Much less conspicuous than a whining creak.
It did almost put out the sconce, but Brat was already busy lighting the others.
He had expected this might be a small worthless hoard of objects that Brat kept from their mom, but had been surprised to see Brat was a bit more enterprising than he suspected. It was neatly decorated, objects carefully stacked or filed or lined up. Even a little bed was nestled in the corner although he didn’t imagine the kid’s mom often let them get away with skipping curfew. Provided she was home herself. Even then she had ways of keeping tabs.
Brat hurried over to one crate and rifled through it, once again sticking their tongue out and squinting one eye in concentration. Recognition lit their face when they had clearly found what they were looking for.
Brat tossed the cloth-wrapped object at him and he caught it with ease, peeling away the rough fabric and tossing it aside. He grabbed the coin purse at his belt, yanking it free to toss it to Brat, that twinge of annoyance resurfacing when it clattered to the floor before the kid scooped it up.
“You know they have nicer daggers than that in the Nouveau Quarter,” the kid said, wondering at the appraising look in his eyes as he ran his hand over it.
“Not a chance in hell. There’s nothing like this in the world,” he insisted and drew the blade. The metallic swish lingered in the small room, long enough to border on impossible. Drawn from its sheathe, it sparked to life, glowing like fire itself.
“No fucking way…” Brat murmured in awe and he crooked an eyebrow at the kid.
“You mean to tell me you never once looked at it?” he asked in disbelief. This kid couldn’t even manage to keep their hands out of other people’s pockets…
Brat shook their head with emphasis.
“You said look after it, not look at it,” Brat insisted. “W-what is it?”
There is a first time for everything…
It didn’t take much to see it wasn’t ordinary. Magic had left the world long ago, along with a society far more advanced than theirs today, if what he learned was to be believed.
“It’s called the Flame of Arkhades. It’s not a weapon, it’s a key,” he explained to the kid. Something in his gut told him that he could trust the kid with that. He had underestimated the kid when he thought they might have peeked or sold it off and he wouldn’t do that again. It wasn’t in him to trust anyone, but he had more use for Brat yet. He jammed the ‘key’ back into the carved bone sheathe and tossed it back to the kid.
Brat caught it nervously-- but even a broken clock is right twice a day-- fumbling with it as if it were something far more precious and a lot more dangerous now. Brat looked askance at him and he gave a curt nod. Brat licked their lips and drew away the sheathe with reverence.
As he suspected, the flame was blue this time, reflected twice more in the awestruck orbs of the kid’s eyes. Brat felt a sudden shiver dance up their spine and shoot up the arm holding the blade, the trail of flame along its length trembling as well. The kid swallowed with difficulty and shot another look at him.
“Hey, mister, why is it blue?” Brat asked, but he said nothing for a while as he watched the flame, a studious set on his face.
“Guess we’re about to find out. Pack some things, we’re going on a trip. And leave a damn note for your mom,” he added.
“But it’s late! Can’t we meet up in the morning, like when it stops raining?” the kid whined, sheathing the dagger and tossing it back.
“If we waited for that, we’d never fucking leave,” he grumbled. He thought for a moment then sighed heavily. “But you actually have a point. You’ve already attracted enough attention for the night. I’m staying in the Red Mare Inn. First thing in the morning. Rain or shine. I’ll drag you out of bed by your neck if I have to.”
He peeled down his hood and he heard Brat gasp quietly. He knew he was a sight. Even with his head covered, his short hastily cut hair was soaking wet and dripping. He had that massive sets of scars from where he’d narrowly escaped the clawed swipe of a Gardell, a doglike beast twice the size of a war stallion. A hell of a fight. One scar barely missed his eye and split the left side of his face. One had nearly taken his ear and just passed along the artery in his neck. The third was hidden under his cloak, the knotted tissue bunched over the shoulder and chest. The fourth scar was little more than a nick under the ribcage. His eyes betrayed nothing as he shot a glance at the kid, their mouth hanging open until noticing and clamping it shut with a loud snap. He roughly combed a hand through the mess of his wet hair to relieve it of the weight a bit before snapping the hood back up. His head jerked towards the exit to signal their departure.
Sure enough, when the two of them headed back out again, the kid was already plunging through the water, splashing in great cannon bursts as they scurried back towards mommy’s house. He wondered and not for the first time how the hell the kid didn’t have both hands cut clean off for getting caught thieving, but whatever Brat did, it worked.
He spun around in the other direction, flinging droplets from his drenched cloak and strided with little effort on his way back to the Inn. He’d tossed the last of his coin to the kid earlier, so he had his eye on the stables. He kicked the loose board in the back and slipped in, hanging his cloak on a bent nail and hunkering down in the hay to catch some beauty rest. Not enough hours in a lifetime to fix his mug.
He winced, already flailing in aggravation before he opened his eyes in time to see yet another drop of water splat on his forehead but rolling away before the next could hit. He pushed his upper body up, noticing the lilac hues of dawn peeking through the boarded up window, the absence of the sound of rain.
Thank the Gods. Although it was ass-backwards that the roof picked a time right after the rain to spring a leak. Raising himself up to peek out of a high thin window, he caught a glimpse of the city. With the morning sun hot and strong, there were odd distortions of icy evaporation trails bending the view of the city in serpentine waves.
There was a clapping sound as someone fiddled with the stable door, so he rolled back towards the loose plank. Yanking his cloak from the nail as he went, he slipped out just before the door had whined on its hinges.
He brushed the hay out of his hair and clothes as he walked, flipping the cloak back up and around him, fastening it only at the neck. Off to roust the Brat.
The rushing sound of water hurrying towards the over-clogged grates and songbirds taking the opportunity to stretch their wings assaulted his ears. He was never a morning person. A few late night stragglers were wincing from the offending light of the sun as they shuffled by, one nosy asshole who thought he was invisible in the shadow of his stoop, a couple of cheerful old ladies too old to care if anyone in this part of town wanted to bother them…
His feet slapped against the shallow remains of water as he headed back towards Brat’s hovel. He really hoped he didn’t have to make do with his threat to drag the kid out of bed. Maybe he’d get lucky and the kid’s mom had been out whoring so late that she wouldn’t be home yet. He didn’t have anything against whores, but they didn’t make the best parents. Saying as much was why she didn’t fancy him at all.
He almost forgot that he had a quick pickup to make at the vendor’s stall and took a detour to grab the package that he paid for when he first came to this gods-forsaken town. It was small, wrapped in insignificant brown cloth and he shoved it in the pocket of his cloak.
It wasn’t like him to be distracted but he heard the clomp of rushed feet only an instant before someone short plowed into him. He stumbled back but gained his feet, holding onto the offender. If he was going down, he was taking this one with him.
Only it started to feel like an embrace once the urgency had passed and he looked into the red face of Brat. The kid pushed back nearly falling backwards in the rush to get away, brushing at their clothes with the indignation of someone who hadn’t been the one responsible.
“Watch where you’re going!” Brat mumbled, embarrassed and angry.
Apparently the kid wasn’t afraid of him anymore.
He grumbled unintelligibly under his breath and drew the small package out of his cloak, tossing it to the kid. Brat predictably fumbled trying to catch it, but did.
The kid frowned at the rattle of metal and cautiously unwrapped it. Brat’s eyes widened as they covered the contents again.
“Ah, the hell did you get these?” Brat whispered in a way that was far more suspicious than just talking. People did unbelievably stupid things when they thought they were being discreet.
It was a ring of cast iron lockpicks and the kid was shoving them into one of their voluminous pockets, looking around in yet another skittish alerting way. They were going to have to have a talk about this on the way.
“You know how to use them, right?” he asked, folding his arms with a demand in his eyes.
“’Course I do! Just… you’re not that nice, so what’s the catch?” Brat asked, making it clear they were suspicious.
“You’re going to help me break into the Palace,” he said easily, turning and heading back towards the main road while the kid was fumbling with the small pack they brought with them.
The kid was coughing from wrongly-swallowed spit and stumbled to catch up.
“H-hey, you can’t just say that and act like it was nothing!” the kid sputtered in shock.
“I just did. Is there a better way?” he asked, humoring the kid’s inane statement as they shuffled beside him, two steps for every one of his.
“Ah…. Uh,” the kid’s argumentative objection dipped into concession. “’Spose not…”
He concealed a smile by screwing up his lips, the first time he was genuinely amused since he’d arrived.
It still baffled him why any king would have chosen Orendon, of all places in the Anders territory, to set up the capital city. It wasn’t fortified like the Rathbern Province, nestled against the Falys Range. Even the Galled River ran to the south through Kylrith City. It would even make sense if the capital was set in a port city like Uther, so it would be made rich by the fishing trade. Instead, it was in the middle of everything, rich in nothing. Nothing but secrets, at least.
He grabbed the flap at the top of Brat’s pack and jerked them back to a halt.
Brat was too startled to fight back right away, but he grabbed the kid’s jaw and forced their head in the direction of the problem.
Brat’s mom hadn’t noticed them yet, but he threw his cloak around the kid. He meant to sweep into the alley but she saw him already, so he stayed put. She was a sharp woman, mark of her trade, and might notice an extra set of feet.
She tilted her head and pursed her lips, no mistake about it. She fucking hated him.
Okay, it wasn’t just the comment about parenting. He might have possibly trashed her room at her brothel on one of his drunken rampages. It wasn’t just overindulgence, he was running a distraction mission, but keeping that in confidence with his client was a condition he couldn’t break. He ended up paying her for the damage, but she had pouted and said she lost three days’ wages. Which he knew was bullshit and told her so. He wasn’t great at scoring points with her and he didn’t care to.
Brat’s mom was harmless. At least she would be up until the point where she found her kid hiding in his cloak. Brat had gone stock still after seeing Mom swishing around, but he could feel the hammering of the kid’s heart everywhere they were pressed together. He was an expert at schooling his face. He wasn’t exactly an expert on smiling (okay, not at all) so he didn’t bother trying. Fuck, why did you always get an itch somewhere you can’t scratch it?
“Bastard…” she drawled, her voice cheery yet dripping with contempt.
“Whore,” he returned with the same aplomb, wincing at the sudden pinch of Brat’s nails in his side.
“I have a name!” she spat back. “It’s— “
“Lovely, I’m sure. Equally unimportant. And not what you stormed over here for,” he added drily.
“Stay away from my kid. I suppose it’s wishful thinking to think you’re just passing through,” she pressed, exaggerating a sneer in case he missed her initial disgust. Gods, whores were theatrical…
“No one ‘just passes through’ Orendon. It’s next to nothing,” he reminded her. Another reason he hated coming here. You basically announced you had a purpose and saying otherwise was a dead giveaway you were hiding something. It certainly wasn’t a vacation destination.
She edged closer, squinting her eyes with a shrewd tilt of the head and he resisted the urge to pull the kid closer. She was dangerously close to ‘her kid’ now. As twiggy as Brat was, they wouldn’t pass a touch test. He was solid muscle and the kid was all bone and the squishy skin of prepubescence.
In that moment, two things happened. He primed himself to pitch forward in a coughing fit to force space between them and the sky opened up suddenly for another downpour. Brat’s mom squealed and ran back to the eaves of the tavern she’d sashayed out of and he was never so thankful for the blasted rain in his life. The moment her back was turned, he pulled the kid into the nearest alley and dumped Brat against the wall, leaning against the opposite.
Brat shivered from the onslaught of cold rain and fumbled to get their own rain cloak out of their pack. He knocked the kid’s hands aside and yanked them around to do it himself, shaking it out and fastening it around the kid’s neck before buttoning up his own.
The kid was acting weird now, refusing to meet his eyes and he couldn’t get a read on it so he focused to the far end of the alley. No matter where you were in the city, alleys were ripe for criminals so sticking around was a bad idea.
He held out his hand and flicked his fingers towards his palm in a ‘gimme’ gesture. Again, the kid looked frozen with uncertainty, so he let out a quick sigh.
“Follow me,” he elaborated before taking off in a jog down the narrow alley. He didn’t go full blast because as quick as the kid was, there was no way their stamina would last. Kids could be masters of reflex, but usually zipped about in short blasts. He couldn’t afford to let the kid get snatched by some wandering slaver or hurt.
He never said as much, but it was technically a protection mission throughout. Whatever else he had to do to accomplish things, he didn’t throw anyone under the bus. He always found a way to protect assets. If you were short-sighted and let someone die to save your own ass, you lost that option for later. Call it cold, but it still fell under a virtue, so fucking semantics.
Pulling the kid into a back kitchen entrance, the cook’s assistant was busily plowing one of the kitchen maids, his body undulating and his hairy bare ass on display. He heard the kid squeak-- bright red with embarrassment and looking ready to run back out into the rain-- but he grabbed Brat’s collar and shook his head to stay silent, half-dragging the kid past them and through to the adjoining room.
“Your mom headed back in the tavern, so stay sharp,” he murmured quietly but with command. “There, up the servant’s stairs. There’s a fire escape on the second floor. Open it when you get there.”
“Where the hell are we going from there?” the kid whispered in that stupidly alarming rasp of a whisper. He shot the kid a look that told Brat to just do it. Orendon was always going to be a labyrinth of places he would do best to avoid.
He stood at the door, making sure he could block Brat from being spotted, then took the small winding staircase with surprising ease.
Brat had opened the window but stood there unsurely.
“Don’t scream,” he ordered the kid and Brat barely had time to clamp their mouth in confusion before he tossed the kid between the buildings and onto the balcony of the tailor’s shop. It was off of an empty attic that no one used, so as long as the kid didn’t start stomping around, no one in the shop would notice.
He leapt the window frame and propelled himself over. He grabbed the doorknob in an attempt to open it.
“Shit,” he grumbled. The door was unlocked but it was clear it had been nailed shut. He leaned out over the rail and saw the old iron ladder was still there and swung the kid over to it. Brat had the common sense to keep their surprise down to a sudden gasp and headed down the ladder. They ended up in another alley, so it was another jog for the main street. He slowed his steps before heading into the foot traffic there. The market was thin here but it would get more crowded as they went. No one stopped business for rain or there wouldn’t be any. It would be stupid to veer off the main road because rain also hid crimes better than night. Better to make slow progress for the Palace rather than risk it. They would need their energy for the shitstorm ahead.
“You never told me what you’re after,” Brat complained.
“And I don’t intend to. You’ll do as I say and you get to keep your head,” he gritted out through a menacing smile that was meant to be reassuring and fell short.
“You wouldn’t trust anyone just because they said so,” the kid grumbled.
“Indeed. Now shut-up. You’re too noisy,” he reminded the kid, his mood already declining as he felt stickier under his rubbers. He’d probably need monkey grease to peel his balls away from his leg after this.
Markets were always saturated squirming places, an abstract of people, smells, and chaos. It was more like a stew than a blend; nothing stood out because everything stood out. Faces would swim into view the moment they collided, only to fade forgotten into the miasma once again.
It was moments like these when he realized the short yappy one he traveled with, no matter how rough around the edges, was in fact just a kid. Brat’s eyes lit up as they flittered between stalls, a whirlwind of feet and fascination. If the kid lingered too long and didn’t stay ahead of him, he’d whack them like a stray dog, setting them bouncing on an erratic course once more. Brat wasn’t long on the grudges, just followed the slight with a frown then chased after the next shiny thing.
Brat seemed to look at the world with a conflicting combination of shining innocence and the darker side of street life. Kids that didn’t know anything else never quite lost that childish hope. If it can’t possibly get worse, the alternatives are always better.
His own life hadn’t been as hard as the kid had it. At least not at first. Once upon a time in a land faraway, he’d been a brat with a silver spoon. You didn’t get to shine that bright and not tarnish quickly if you wanted to survive. At first, he hadn’t been sure he wanted to. Did a damn fine job of running head first into danger. Fighting a Gardell, for one, hadn’t been one of his finest decisions. Then again, neither had the alternatives.
He had to smack the kid’s hand twice more as they made to slip some cheap trinket into their bag. The third time, he scooped Brat up by the collar.
“Get the guards on our ass and I’ll give them your hands myself,” he warned, levelling his dark eyes at the kid.
“You won’t… Not while you need me to pick the locks,” Brat grumbled. The locks, right… It had been a stupid lie, but one he couldn’t back out on without coming up with another to fill its place.
“You won’t need feet,” he shot back with a frightening grin, but the kid was already flying off to another street vendor.
Brat had skidded to a halt at the mouth of the next alley and his senses stood on end. Slavers? Couple of teenagers fucking? Impossible to tell what the kid was frozen up about. The rain was breaking once again and the sun was peeking out. When the kid spun in his direction as he caught up, there was a shimmer of golden light in Brat’s pale blue eyes that almost stole his breath. Felt like his ribs drew shut in a vice, all that blinding sparkling naïveté. The kid was a butterfly that came bearing bricks.
Without thinking, Brat reached out and grabbed his wrist, tugging on him to follow. His feet felt large as they slapped on the street, moving only with limited mechanical function until he anchored himself, the kid jerking to a sudden stop as if letting go hadn’t been an option.
“I told you we’re sticking to the main street,” he growled, but the unsettling feeling he had only grew now.
Had this place always been here? He thought he knew the city like the back of his hand, but couldn’t remember ever being here. To makes matters worse, it wasn’t damp like nearly every other part of the city despite its lack of full sunlight.
No one was here for that matter. He looked back and could still see the bustle of the market, people passing. They splashed through the still wet street there, upsetting the one deep puddle in view. No one looked down the alley and he had the oddest urge to yell to see if they could. Of course it was stupid; they were right there.
He almost knocked the kid over when he jumped and spun around at Brat’s gentle tug, but the kid’s reflexes kicked in and they ducked. His hood fell back, his dark eyes wary as he narrowed them at the kid to hide the rapid rising of fear and uncertainty that made his heart race.
“The hell is this place?” he asked, hating how far away it sounded. It damn near betrayed the fragility under the surface.
The kid beamed with an odd sort of pride that kids seemed to get when they have the jump on you. He went to pull the hood up again, but Brat pulled him further in before he could, once again making him conscious of whatever weakness was plaguing him here.
“Pretty cool, huh? Can’t believe no one comes here… It’s not exactly a palace, but I like coming here to think,” Brat added with a chirrup. It wasn’t false bravado; he could see that the kid genuinely felt safe here, but didn’t share the kid’s blessing of having any useful thoughts himself.
He lifted an eyebrow, casting much doubt as to how much ‘thinking’ the kid actually did either.
At the end of the alley, it didn’t get less ominous. The place had broken into a large area with a ruined edifice, a forgotten hub of the city where about seven other alleys led to this spot. And the magic number is eight… Curiosity laced in with the sense of danger and he allowed the kid to pull him towards the building dripping with the long fingers of ivy. It was haunting in its architectural beauty despite its clear neglect. Did I just hear women’s laughter?
Once inside, he could hear the sound of water drops, but it wasn’t from a leaking roof. The floor dipped down in a familiar basin and there was a large spigot on the wall where the dripping came from.
“A bathhouse… How long has this been here?” he asked, hearing the echoes of his voice thrumming around them. The usual roughness of his tone softened in undisguised wonder.
The kid shrugged with indifference.
Right. Stupid question.
“Dunno. No one ever bugs me here though. Swear I’ve had people chasing me, right on my heels, but I always end up coming here and no one follows. You think this place is magic?” the kid asked hopefully.
It felt odder to him that the kid would want to share this place with him. There was a degree of trust he needed from his clients to get a job done, but he didn’t need or want this kid trusting him. He wasn’t anyone worth looking up to and he sure as hell didn’t deserve to be trusted.
He wanted to tell the kid they were full of shit, but words failed him. Magic was long gone, if it ever was. Yeah, the Flame might have been an oddity, a remnant of that time that he had to keep hidden, but come on. Magic? Orendon was just some shit capital in the middle of nowhere with…
A really big secret. He knew what the hell was here. He’d almost gotten in deep shit digging for information here, not knowing just how much the wrong sort had been searching for the Flame. He had to head back east, all the way to the damn Archives, the biggest library in the Anders territory, just to find any mention of it.
It read like a damned fairy tale. All this talk of Rain Maidens and Gates and the key to salvation. It didn’t make much sense then but he got all he wanted to know—the Flame of Arkhades was a key to whatever the hell was in the King’s Vault. Whether or not that was another stinking metaphor, the kid was definitely not just some common street rat. Something was going on here, but he was balking at the word ‘magic’ and not coming up with a single better word to brush it off with.
“Bullshit,” was all he could mumble before his eyes landed on a roughly painted symbol he had almost missed while he was too busy being thoroughly creeped out.
The kid followed his eyes, but they flicked back to his with dull indifference, perhaps edged with frustration that he wasn’t being captivated by the same things. He stepped past the kid and undid the buttons on his cloak, drawing the blade out. It glowed with fire, but it was muted here and he could see the symbol matched the one welded into the Flame’s surface. He wished he hadn’t skimmed past the rough meanings of the runes littered through the books.
Brat had followed, getting on tiptoe to frown between the blade and the trepidation on his face.