She stood at the small circular window, the one that peered out into the oceanic void of the beyond. For all that she’d craned her neck, she’d never seen him.
Had she even wanted to? Would that have done her any favors? To see his body drift away, hung in strange suspension like a fly stuck in some illusive spider’s web.
In the throne room, many and most would be in the cold revelry of a cruelty left unpunished and she was glad for knowing that her absence would be seen as normal. She wouldn’t be able to hold back her tears, and one does not cry for traitors. To do so would condemn her as a sympathizer.
It didn’t matter that he was no traitor. It didn’t matter that almost no one would have believed he’d been one. It mattered what the king believed, for royalty held more in power than just fancy names and titles. They held keys of less metaphorical implication. Keys that were the life or death of all those bound to these lands that, even now, swam through the inky black oblivion of eternal midnight.
The tap at her door made her start. Heart raced. Her hand came up quickly and wiped away whatever tears might have still remained. She took stock of her room like a wisp addict making sure their tubes and needles were well hidden.
She moved to the door with something resembling regal grace and stopped. Looking down, she pulled the white veil that she’d clasped to her right wrist – the sign of one who mourns for…
She gritted her teeth and pushed back the tears that threatened to come forth; pulled the veil from her wrist and quickly tucked it behind the obsidian and silver vase that sat by the door where ven stalks grew tall like ghostly soldiers standing watch.
The tap came again just as she meant to open the door, giving her another short scare.
“Tes?” a whisper came.
She opened the door, but just a sliver, to see Bentwhistle standing at the other side. She opened the door a bit wider as he looked up and down the hallway.
“Ben,” she said, “if you’re seen here…”
“I know,” he said, his whisper rising in volume. He caught himself, scrunched his face at having done so. As a man who wore his age with only slightly less grace than he wore his many scars, the action did him no favors.
She almost thought to tell him to come in, but stopped. Being seen together at all would be a problem, but if he were seen leaving her room…
“I didn’t have much choice,” he said as he pulled his left hand free of the old, faded gauntlet. Behind it, only a stump remained. Tes looked away from it as best she could, but some wounds were always hard not to stare at.
He held the gauntlet toward her to show a small folded piece of paper sitting at the edge that sealed around his wrist.
“You mind?” he whispered, “my hand is full…”
“I…” she looked down the hall briefly and took the note. “Ben…”
“Someone’s coming,” he cut her off. He put the gauntlet back in place and flexed the fingers; in the quiet of the hall, Tes could hear the sound of the mechanisms within like a series of tiny strings being rubbed with a wet finger. “Amber district,” he said.
“I’m…” he looked at her. His eyes hazed like glass. She could see him tighten his jaw. “They can’t know I’m gone and I still have to see…” he stopped speaking, the look of a man who had said too much. “I’m sorry,” he said and walked away from the sound of oncoming feet.
Tes closed the door, locked it and sat on her bed.
She could feel her heart beating like a hammer in her chest.
She knew very well who he was going to see and the very thought of it burned like she’d swallowed a hot coal.
She tried to put it from mind as she idly flipped the note around in her hands.
The amber district. Low in the layers, where the lights cast the world in red to remind everyone that it was a place of both lust and murder.
“Murder just begets more murder,” Hal had always said. “But sadly, there are times when it’s the only option.”
He’d been right. More right than he’d known. Someone close to the king knew as well, and they’d known it faster than Hal. Known it well enough to see him cast into oblivion…hanging suspended in the endless stretch of dots that flared like distant candles at the banquet table of the gods. Dead like a fly held securely in some terrible and illusive web.
I recently hit up Michael of Afterwards about collaborating on a back and forth story. There are no rules to this story. There is no fixed genre. Neither of us is beholden to any specific vision or end game. Whoever holds the proverbial pen is lord and master of the story. Any characters can be followed. New characters can be added. Maybe there’ll be a “Five Years Ago” entry to try to tie things together, or maybe this will end up on some distant world filled with cowboys, werewolves, and vampiric hummingbirds.
Next part is here: Part 4