A trimmed oak cabinet stood by the wall, its surface reflecting mellow blue light. The source was an array of enchanted stones affixed to the ceiling, each by lustrous metal cables. They hung over a long table. At the far end, Delphine sat beside Gerbald. The plates in front of them displayed foods including a species of roasted bird akin to a turkey, except it had two sets of wings for a total of four.
Saphiria and Dimitry sat at the other end. After a long journey back to Ravenfall, they waited to report their success. That is, if a trip to deliver severed corpses to an indifferent patron could be considered a success.
Delphine wiped her hands with a cloth napkin, then spoke from across the table. “I’m assuming everything went well?”
“Yes,” Saphiria said.
“Did anything unusual happen?”
“The bridge to Vael collapsed, the cart flipped over, and…” Saphiria glanced at Dimitry.
“And?” Delphine asked.
Dimitry squirmed in his chair. According to Precious, the enchantment on Saphiria’s collar prevents her from disobeying Delphine. If she revealed what they discussed, it would be all over. He grabbed a pure vol pellet from his cloak pocket and prepared to chant ‘invisall’.
“It’s not like you to hesitate.” Delphine beckoned Saphiria forward.
The girl stood up and walked to the other end of the table.
Delphine’s eyes furrowed, exposing the crow’s feet lurking in their corners. She leaned forward to inspect the collar. “Doesn’t it look a little dull?”
Gerbald gnawed on a grilled avian drumstick. “Yeah, it would explain her attitude from the other day.”
“She threatened me when I asked her a question.”
“The enchantment must be wearing off.” Delphine grabbed the collar and pulled Saphiria forward with one hand and reached into a small pouch with the other.
“Servia. Get ready for the ceremony and wait for us in the stable.”
“Understood,” Saphiria muttered. As she walked out of the reception room, her head tilted down. She moved her mouth silently as if to say ‘I’m sorry’.
Dimitry clenched his fist; the vol pellet’s uneven surface dug into his palm. The one who should be sorry was him. He shouldn’t have told her anything until every preparation was ready. His impatience brought them to this point.
“Dimitry,” Delphine asked, “what happened during the trip that Saphiria hesitated to mention?”
He needed a believable lie. “I handled the transaction, and the nobleman bribed me to work for him. Saphiria must’ve wanted to avoid needless confrontation.”
“I think they’re getting awfully close,” Gerbald said. “You can’t trust him.” His infuriated gaze found a home on Dimitry’s face.
Delphine’s expression grew grim. She launched a gold gadot across the table that bounced off of a plate and fell onto a nearby chair. “We’ll find out the truth after the binding ceremony. For now, keep your distance from Saphiria. The traveling troupe is performing in the market square this afternoon, go have some fun. I’ll know if you leave.” She waved him away.
“Yes.” Dimitry pocketed the gold gadot. If they re-enchanted Saphiria’s collar, Delphine would force her to divulge the truth. If inromation leaked, a fate less pleasant than death awaited him. He left the reception hall, rushed into his room, and slammed the door shut.
There was no more time to plan; it was time to escape.
“The old woman’s suspicious of you and the oaf is pissed off,” Precious whispered into his ear.
“Obviously.” Dimitry threw his leather bag onto the bed and crammed a small stash of dried meat inside. “Is there any magic that can detect people’s location?”
“Well, I can.”
“I meant human magic.”
“I don’t know of any, but it’s possible. Why do you ask?”
Dimitry wrapped a bottle of aqua vitae in cloth, then placed it into his bag. “Delphine said she’ll know if I stay in the market square, but if there’s no spell then—”
“Then she’ll send someone to follow you!” Precious’s hand flew out from under his hood in excitement.
“Dumitry, you’re pretty clever for a dumb guy.”
He ignored her comment. “From how far away can you detect people?”
“It depends on how strong their emotions are.”
“If we stood in the middle of the market square, would you be able to sense someone spying on us?” Dimitry stacked strips of fabric between bottles of aqua vitae, boiled water, and willow bark extract.
“Humans trying to stay hidden are the easiest to find,” Precious said in a manner a hunter would about deer. “But what about me?”
Dimitry placed the bag’s strap over his shoulder. “What about you?”
“What do I get out of it?”
“All the fruit your little heart could possibly want.”
“But I might be risking my life,” Precious said, tugging on his ear. “You gotta give me something better than that!”
“Well, what kind of things do you like?”
“If you’re talking about gold, forget about it. I barely have enough money as is.”
“Gold? I can’t even lift that. Try to be more creative.”
Dimitry’s biggest weakness: guessing what women want. “You know that grass ribbon you use to tie your hair into a ponytail? I’ll get you something nicer.”
Precious paused for a second. “That’s… that’s not bad.”
“Keep track of anyone following us.” Dimitry pushed the door open, looked both ways to confirm that the hallway was empty, then left the brothel.
Aside from alleyways filled with homeless, the pleasure district consisted of desolate streets. The sun’s rays drowned out the light of glowing crimson stones bound to timber-framed walls. Hopefully, it would be the last time Dimitry saw them. He headed towards the market square.
“Anyone?” Dimitry whispered.
“There are lots of shady characters. It’s hard to tell.”
“I’m counting on you.” The words reluctantly slid out of his mouth.
Dimitry repressed his urge to run and strolled through the streets instead. Head held high—but not high enough to expose the faerie concealed underneath his hood—and chest out, he melded into crowds. It reminded him of a video game about assassins he played. Before long, they arrived at the market square.
“Two suspects trailing us,” Precious said.
Aside from food stalls lining building walls and women carrying trays of meat pastries, the open field the size of a football stadium no longer contained people hawking their products. Instead, a crowd consisting of the poor and rich, young and old, hollered excited words at a central platform. On it stood a group of performers wearing tights enchanted with a light pink spell.
“Tell me when one leaves,” Dimitry said.
Dimitry placed two sweaty fingers against his carotid artery; pulse was high. Although he was no stranger to adrenaline, this rush was different. He spent his life running from test to test, surgery to surgery, but none of it ever posed a tangible threat.
Now he was in a world far away from friends and family and held three lives in his hands. He’d prefer if they were trauma patients. However, his current task went beyond his skill set. Dimitry’s blunders killed Samuel and Arnest… would he repeat the same mistakes?
The cheering crowd bumped into Dimitry, waking him from his musings. He gave two stifled shouts to appear entranced by the show. It would be suspicious to be the only downcast faced man in a vibrant audience.
On stage, two performers held a third, while another stood in front of them.
They launched a man across a rough wooden floor and, like a penguin sliding along a snow-covered hill, he glided across the stage effortlessly, then up a ramp and flew into the sky. After several flips in mid-air, the performer landed unharmed in his coworkers’ arms. The crowd erupted into cheers.
Friction. That ability reduced the coefficient of kinetic friction. Did the people of this world know that?
“Ooh, I want to see!” Precious’s face peeked out from under Dimitry’s hood. Her golden ponytail brushed against Dimitry’s cheek.
“We’re being watched. Focus on tracking,” Dimitry whispered. “When we get out of here, I’ll bring you to all the shows you want.”
“You worry too much Dumitry.”
Dimitry tapped his foot against the floor. Didn’t she express concern for her life a short while ago? He tried to hold his head still while scanning their surroundings, but the sheer density of people made it difficult to identify pursuers. Dimitry forced his attention back on the show.
Each performer held a long iron rod and, one by one, chanted “Attractia!” They approached each other, rods facing forward like jousters, but an unseen force repelled them at the last moment. A boy beside Dimitry screeched an ear-shattering laugh.
The crowd went silent when a performer held out a finger. Iron rod held out, he dashed across the central platform and cartwheeled over another rod perpendicular to the ground. The other rod attached to his and, like a flag at half-mast, the performer held onto its side. Deafening shouts came from every direction.
This time it was magnetism. These spells could bring forth a technological revolution, yet the populace treated them as a mere sideshow.
“What happened this time?” Precious asked, her excited breath tickled Dimitry’s ears.
“Are the pursuers still there?”
She stayed silent for a while. “I can’t sense two anymore.”
“I asked you to tell me as soon as one left, didn’t I?”
“No need to get so mad.”
Dimitry took a deep breath. “I know the show’s exciting, but I really need your help.”
“Say that again.”
If padding Precious’s ego was necessary to succeed, he didn’t mind. “I really really need your help. You’re very important to me.”
“…fine. But try to cover up your brown-nosing a bit better next time,” she said in an amused tone.
A creature that reads emotions. A double-edged sword. A pain in the ass.
The crowd grew in size and density, flooding the entire market square. Forceful shoves of onlookers pushed Dimitry further towards the center. That was good. The more packed the venue, the easier it would be to sneak out undetected. He wiped a sweaty palm against his pants, then turned his gaze towards the central platform.
The performers on stage began to clap, and the crowd followed suit. Their speed and volume rose until shouts and hands slapping against one another drowned out individual voices. A dozen men in tights held hands, forming a circle. They spun round and round as if preparing for a dramatic finale.
Dimitry’s heart rate soared; the muscular organ pounded against his chest. He clutched the leather bag strap tighter into his shoulder, ready to barge through a compact cluster of people.
An onlooker in front of Dimitry, mouth open wide and throat red with protruding veins, made no sound. As if they were mimes, the cheering masses shuffled and thrust their fists towards the air without so much as a grunt. An eerie silence filled the market square.
“Hold on tight,” Dimitry tried to shout into his tunic. The vocal cords in his larynx vibrated to no avail.
He rammed into a narrow crevice between people and forced his way through the crowd. Like an ideal gas, they shoved from all sides and cut off every exit. Precious clung to his neck to avoid getting crushed. After a minute of tunneling, a cool breeze swept away the humid air of urine and sweat.
“Are you okay?” Dimitry whispered into his cloak.
“Warn me next time!”
“You know I couldn’t. Are we still being followed?”
“They’re pushing through the crowd right behind us,” Precious said.
Dimitry gripped a vol pellet in a clammy palm and dashed towards main street. He held it just in case; it was too early to cast invisall. Right now he needed something to enchant with dispelia. An object that could wrap around the neck of a slender girl’s collar without choking her.
If he let Saphiria down too, would he be able to live with himself?