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Rated: E · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2190500
Ali’s Books
CHAPTER ONE

Ali’s Books


“Seems like a long time ago.”

TALABRAY
Divider (2)
Provinces
Sandia
Aquamarine (March) 12, 2013

“Nothing beats the classics,” Relic said to himself as he slowly rested his hand on the door.

At any other time, they would have thought he was referring to the trove of books – and they’d surely be right. But this was different: They knew in the slight pause, in the set of his shoulders, that he was waiting for them to move into place.

The classics.

At Firefly Farms, each one of them had learned this lesson—

It gave Relic a brief tingle of satisfaction to realize he could sense every little action behind him. How, even if he had been unable to smell the rose oil, he knew instinctively that Isabelle was nearest to him; that the others were on the right and left.

They’d had the advantage of practicing this together thousands of times – but even if they hadn’t, every forerunner had diligently repeated it over and over until it was an instinct drilled down into their bones. Clearing a room was a precise dance, and it was one they had mastered.

Surpassing, perhaps, even Constable Thean himself.

Relic knew that only three seconds – four, five – had passed since he made his intention clear to open the door. The flurry of motion that had set off was the most comforting thing he could have asked for. Because, after all, it would be him framed in the door.

What Thean had wryly called the fatal funnel.

Six, seven, eight ...

Avery was first across the threshold, veering left with a brilliant economy of motion that saved every scrap of energy for what might await him in the dark. Even after all these years, there was a shock of adrenaline one could never repress—

Spreading to the strangest places, like fingertips and ears.

Jace mirrored him, swinging right no more than a pace behind.

“Clear left!” Relic shouted as he reached the far opposite wall.

“Clear right!” Jace called an instant later—

For less than a heartbeat, Relic could imagine the satisfied smirk that would be on his face.

Cedwyn and Isabelle stirred at the report, entering practically shoulder to shoulder as they made their way for the stairwell. That way led to the quarters of whoever lived here, and it would be the focal point of any ambush led by occupiers stationed up above.

But none came, and Relic slowly felt the tides of adrenaline shift in his veins.

He had entered first, so it was his duty to make contact and end the clear.

He lingered, listening to the sound of his breath – then, the rustle of all theirs.

What’s behind you?

Like a cork popping, Relic found the strength to drive forward across the floor, moving toward Isabelle and Cedwyn. The floor beneath his feet creaked as he moved, but it could draw no more attention than their shouts already had. From the corner of his eye—

The dim light through the upstairs doorway drew his gaze upward.

But it was Jace who spoke first.

“If the front door’s a fatal funnel, I don’t know what the word for this would be.”

“Deja engrais,” said Cedwyn, glancing to Relic. Both Relic and, a breath later, Jace, looked at him with confusion evident even in the dark. “The feeling you’ve seen this shit before,” he explained. Isabelle glanced sharply his way, as if wishing she could punch his shoulder.

Relic let out a small, low whistle, bringing their attention back.

Jace took position beside Cedwyn and Relic, then stepped behind Isabelle on the opposite side.

“Just promise,” said Jace, voice low but clear, “you’ll kill the shit out of whatever gets me.”

Sometimes, it didn’t matter how well or how long you trained. There was no controlling the risk: You simply had to face it. All the Republic forces knew how to endure those moments. But only the Outriders, thought Relic, have been trained to seek them out.

Relic made to signal, but then let his hand drop.

There was no need to sign that Jace would take point now: These moments were his.

Jace glanced at Relic – maybe for Relic’s own sake, or maybe to avoid looking at Isabelle.

And he smiled.

It was a shock to Relic for more reasons than one—

How long had it even been since Jace smiled?

But there was no time to ponder – Jace was running up the stairs.

Relic followed at once, practically leaping over the distance Jace had opened. When his feet struck the threshold, he landed unevenly, twisted sideways, and saw Jace’s shadow bounding away. Only the telltale shape of his hat distinguished him from some fairy tale phantom.

Isabelle and Cedwyn were only a heartbeat behind, and Relic lowered his head and sucked in a breath. The light up above grew brighter all of a sudden: Its afterimage burned in the dark behind his eyelids when he shut his eyes. Something was up there—

For just an instant, he remembered a very different light.

Isabelle reached his shoulder, her breath coming in a hot gasp against his cheek.

A ghost-light suspended from the trees in a forest where he was lost, lost.

A loud crash from above startled Relic just as Isabelle would have jostled him.

“Jace,” they both said at once, and Relic led the way up the steps.

***

As Relic crossed the last step, he passed into a blinding light—

Nothing more than Jace on the landing, holding a freshly-lit lantern.

“Bookshelf!”

“Jace,” Relic murmured, waving a hand to warn him: Lower the lantern.

Relic’s head was swimming, dozens of wisps of that same light crowding his vision. But when he closed his eyes tight and waited, the glare fled and so did the cold that came with it. When he opened his eyes, the other Outriders were around him.

Isabelle passed him by in a flash, taking the lantern Jace had found in one hand – her crossbow was in the other, unholstered as she ascended the stairs. Relic pinched his nose and slowly widened his eyes, finding only Cedwyn looking his way.

He took stock of himself: His breath and the ticking of his pocket-watch. Slowly, he pulled a handkerchief from his cloak pocket and dabbed at his forehead, then pushed it back into place without even folding it first. For a few seconds, he simply felt numb. But—

The others were moving forward into the room, and he was obliged to go on. As Cedwyn moved past, the older Outrider placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, bringing him into the present.

Somehow, from the barest glance at his eyes, Cedwyn had known.

That alone was enough to reassure Relic. Cedwyn was different—

One great tree, not a whole forest.

“—your average lantern,” Cedwyn was saying, and Relic focused.

“Yeah,” Jace said, his grin slightly crooked. “It just sorta ... fell into my arms when I knocked over that table.” Jace motioned down to the table, which had broken off three of its legs when The Kid stumbled into it. “Pretty lucky break.”

“More than luck,” Cedwyn said, narrowing his eyes on the thing. He raised his eyes to Isabelle, sharing a silent moment with her before she handed the lantern over. As he brought it closer to his chest, his shadow fell across the room, his body blocking the light.

“It’s made of ...” Jace licked the lantern to confirm his suspicion. “Salt?”

“Sure looks like it ...” said Cedwyn, raising an eyebrow. “If I understand correctly, the enemy’s magic is channeled through precious stones. But, even some ordinary materials can have unusual properties in the right hands. Pearls, for example. And I would say this is pretty ... unusual.”

Indeed, Cedwyn had removed the covering from the lamp, revealing a pale, spherical mass—

There was no place to add oil or kindle a fire: The flickering light was simply trapped inside.

As he looked at it, Relic felt a headache begin to pound at his temples. This time, there was no respite – the others were already turning their attention to him. Already knowing that, through Thean's old logbook, he would know more about this than any of them.

Relic looked up into Cedwyn’s eyes as he spoke.

“Salt, amber, even honey – light can be trapped in all kinds of ways. It’s hard to explain.”

“Give us the short version,” said Cedwyn.

“It just ... gets stuck,” he said lamely. “It’s likely the most common skill at their disposal.”

“Their magic, you mean,” said Jace. Around them, Isabelle was carefully moving from one corner of the room to the other, lighting the more conventional lanterns. As they spoke, more and more light was flooding in. It created, at least for the moment, a nest of warmth.

“It’s not always helpful to think of it that way,” Relic countered.

What? Jace mouthed, tilting his head in exaggerated confusion.

“As magic,” Relic said. “The word suggests something beyond our comprehension. But, at least based on what we’ve seen so far, it can be understood.” Relic’s voice hitched as he noticed Isabelle, who was now watching with sudden interest. “Albeit not easily.”

Relic glanced down a moment, gaze raking his boots—

“Does that mean they’re here? Or that they’ve been here?”

Relic glanced up to Isabelle. “Not necessarily.” He swept across the room, stopping at the window, and gazed out at the streets they’d just passed through. “The ancient Magondan people were also said to trap light like this. A particularly successful scholar could have one.”

“Or a scavenger,” Isabelle said, with some satisfaction. “Because it doesn’t burn out, does it?”

“No,” Relic acknowledged. “Used carefully, a lamp like this one could live as long as a nation.”

“If I had to make a bet,” Cedwyn said, “there’s been more scavengers here than scholars lately.”

Relic looked up from the window, finding himself unexpectedly nose-to-nose with Isabelle. He drew away quickly, turning back and clearing his throat—hoping against hope none of them had seen him start to blush. He could barely make out anything down below, but he stared.

One thing was certain from this vantage: There were no street lamps at all.

The room was small: Fastidious and sparse, with nothing that spoke of wealth. The moonlight shining through the three small windows was blotted out now, but it was easy to imagine how it would outline the small, hard bed, the nightstand, and a few small curios.

Three small statues of courtly figures stood on the nightstand, along with—

A hand-mirror: An oblong oval of dark, flawless glass with a frame of obsidian.

Cedwyn snatched it almost before the others were aware of it, struck it sharply against the corner of the nightstand, then deposited it inside the drawer without ever quite looking at the single great crack that now ran across the surface. The others knew better than to ask.

Then he bent low to pick up a passel of heavy blankets discarded in the corner.

“Do they catch fire?” Cedwyn asked of Relic.

“Huh? – Oh, err. No; no, they just go out. You know. Eventually.”

“Good,” Cedwyn said with a nod. He set the salt lantern down on the floor and dropped the heap of blankets on top of it. “It’s probably nothing, but I don’t care for the light this thing puts out.”

“There’s more than enough light,” Relic said, relieved at getting the permission he hadn’t known he was waiting for. “In fact ...” He did a two-step from the window to the center of the room. “Maybe literally. If there’s anything out there, we’re shining a beacon for it to find us.”

Dropping to the floor, Cedwyn checked under the bed.

“Town’s bigger than it looks,” he said, voice slightly muffled. “Finding us would take a while.”

Discovering nothing, he bounced back to his feet and clapped the dust off his hands.

“The more we move around, the more likely it is we’ll attract attention, especially if there’s something that patrols. Or hunts. Besides ...” And now he moved to the closet, taking a quick peek inside. “If there is something, I’d rather be able to see it clearly if it comes after us in here.”

Isabelle had taken up a space on the other side of the room, peering through the windows that looked down on their horses – still standing as still and disciplined as if their reins were tied.

“There’s not a single other light on,” she reported.

“Nothing in the whole town,” Jace said, as if completing her thought.

Isabelle nodded, looking to each of her comrades in turn. “Nothing.”

“We should get the horses inside,” said Cedwyn.

“We should also get some sleep,” Jace pointed out, yawning. “First night indoors in a month. If some kind of trouble happened in Sandia, I’d like to have a night's rest before it happens to us.”

The others hesitated, freezing in a way that betrayed their efforts not to look at one another. Jace had always volunteered for overnight watch, and when he slept, it was light and brief. That was how things had been throughout the whole mission – what passed for normal, now, with Jace.

For him to be the first one to suggest sleep was strange.

More than strange, Relic was thinking.

It was ... It was almost—

“Or we happen to it,” Cedwyn said. The two of them shared a brief, companionable nod – now they were the two who were willing the enemy to come out of the shadows. Relic knew, spying her from the corner of his eye, that Isabelle was more wary.

As well she should be, he was thinking.

“I’ll take first watch,” Cedwyn said.

“Sound good,” Jace answered, already pulling a blanket free from the knot Cedwyn had made in the corner. Rather than lay on the bed, though, he shook it out and laid it down on the floor. “I hope whoever these blankets used to belong to wasn't disgusting.”

Isabelle smiled a little.

“Relic, you’ll get second shift,” Cedwyn said. “Come on. Let’s go grab the horses and update our supply inventory. If all the shops are empty as this, we need to figure out what to take with us.”

Isabelle let out a hmph that drew their attention.

“For the good of the nation and all,” Cedwyn said, taking it and starting down.

Isabelle stared at him, as if expecting more.

“We can leave them an I.O.U. from Creed,” he added. “For what it’s worth.”

“Be careful,” Isabelle told them, handing over a lantern to him.

Glancing over his shoulder, Relic answered: “I’m always careful.”

But the reassuring smile he offered her didn’t reach his eyes.

***

Relic was down the stairs and halfway to the open door when Cedwyn reached the landing.

“Wait up a second,” the older Outrider said simply. Relic watched with interest as his comrade roved through the room, intently searching – for what, even Relic couldn’t tell. Then he found it. A basket of fruit: Apples, looking only slightly waxy.

Relic thought briefly of the orchards now several days’ ride behind them.

“Catch,” said Cedwyn and tossed one over to Relic. He snapped it from the air, turning it over in his hands as Cedwyn continued to pad this way and that – striking the lamps in the shop room one by one with his battered old tinderbox. A crunch announced Relic taking a bite.

“Still good,” he announced over a mouthful.

“Yeah,” said Cedwyn. “You know what that means.”

But the light had not merely chased back the darkness that doggedly followed them through Sandia: It had revealed the shop’s wares, arrayed in row after row on sandalwood shelves. Air that should have been thick with the pungency of moldering pages had a sharp, tangy perfume.

“The shelves—”

“Mm?”

“They’re perfect ...”

Cedwyn had come downstairs with a mission in mind, but he couldn’t help yield a moment to that tone – one that meant true happiness for his comrade. He was familiar with that tone, whatever it sounded like, from each of the others; and from Thean himself, and even from Creed.

He’d heard them all too rarely lately. Even from Relic, who had fared best of all.

So, he turned with a game smile on his face—

And then started to laugh.

The shelves were perfect, but only by a very specific definition. They had been painstakingly set up so there was not enough room to slide a knife’s point between the books. Arranged by height, they rose and fell like waves with no more than half an inch variance between adjacent volumes.

It was something only Relican Avery – and one anonymous librarian – could fully appreciate.

“There’s no way these could be in alphabetical order ...” Relic said, bending close to investigate.

“Hey, be careful,” Cedwyn interjected. “You’ll get apple smutz on ‘em.”

At first, it didn’t seem this would deter Relic one jot. He was running his fingers over one gilt-edged spine, his mouth set in wide open surprise; belatedly, the words reached him. Like a great stone tumbling into sand, they entered his mind with a muffled thunk.

“Oh. Oh, yes – right. Thank you,” he said, full of earnest gratitude for not spoiling the pages.

“The apple, Relic,” Cedwyn said slowly – and the scholar’s racing mind settled down.

“It’s still good,” he repeated, looking down at it, then back to Cedwyn. “They come from the orchards back east – good, tart cider apples. That means whatever happened here hasn’t even given this time to rot.” He took another bite, chewing thoughtfully. “Three weeks.”

“Around the same time we left Fairlawn ...”

“Around that time,” Relic said slowly.

Something dark had begun to creep into Cedwyn’s tone.

“Is it possible the enemy beat us here?”

“I don’t see any reason to think so.”

“Hm ...” Cedwyn loped forward and settled against the shop counter. The man had the languid grace of a panther and was the tallest and broadest among them, but only once – second-hand – had Relic heard any suggestion he would use that strength in anger. Now, he was wondering.

The silence was gnawing on Relic’s nerves.

“What are you really thinking about, man?”

“You,” said Cedwyn. “When you broke away from the group earlier, what did you see?”

“Nothing,” Relic said. “There was nothing there.”

“Okay,” Cedwyn said, spreading his palms. “That’s a start. But what did you expect?”

“I just thought I saw a flash of something.”

“Something like ...?”

Cedwyn wheeled his hand in the air to prompt more. Relic glared at it, then at him.

“Look, are you suggesting something about my ... my work?”

“Not at all. It just seemed to me, what with everything ...”

“Everything.”

Relic wouldn’t let up. He wasn’t usually this direct; Cedwyn knew he had to change tactics.

“Laying my cards down on the table here, Rel. I know you’ve done well enough with all that happened. Mostly. But I’m wondering if there’s more you’re not telling us. Anything you’ve noticed or even thought about that could help us.”

Relic’s lips pursed in thought.

“Even if you’re not sure,” Cedwyn threw in, voice gentling even as he plugged away.

“No,” said Relic. “I know what you’re getting at, and I don’t appreciate it. There’s nothing I’ve read, nothing in the logbooks that would be relevant. Certainly nothing we could aspire to do in a week, even if we were willing – even if we were able to use magic.”

“Nothing Thean wrote?”

“The parts about Sandia are vague, even for him.”

“And what about—” Cedwyn raised his eyebrows to indicate the room. “These books?”

“If there were genuine magical treatises in Sandia,” said Relic, “why would they be here?”

“That’s not the point,” said Cedwyn. “The point is: If they were, would you read them?”

“Of course,” said Relic without any hesitation. “Our mission could depend on it.”

“I’m just concerned,” said Cedwyn, “that you don’t go too far, too fast. You seem shaken.”

That was the last Relic was willing to hear.

“Listen, Jace has been dragging his ass this whole trip and I didn’t see you get on him about it.”

“We don’t know what we’re getting into, Relic, and if there’s something on your mind, I want to help. With Jace still feeling off his game, it’s up to you and me to watch the others’ backs.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Isabelle,” Relic pointed out, tone sullen.

Cedwyn didn’t walk into that – he simply straightened up and waited.

“On that night, at the sentry house ...” Relic said, beginning to pace as he did. Cedwyn watched him, nodding along to the words but not interrupting. “One of the things I saw was – was the well. The enemy came in and they poisoned it. All the flowers around it were dead.”

“Mmm ... and?”

“There was a well in the cul-de-sac, so I checked it out.” Relic let out a sigh of mingled frustration and relief. “I couldn’t see much in the dark, but if there had been something, I would have spotted it. That poison discolored all of the soil around it in a long swath.”

His jaw set as he worked his way through the memory.

“It wasn’t meant to kill people unaware. It was just meant as a sign. To show there’s no escape.”

Cedwyn opened his mouth to answer—

Instinctively, Relic’s hand drew down to his pocket-watch—

And off in the distance, a faraway gong began to sound.

One. Two. Three.

“You’re sure?” Cedwyn said, drawing a little closer. “Absolutely sure?”

“I’m positive,” Relic said, and the two of them locked gazes. “It was just an ordinary well.”

“Did you check the water level?” Cedwyn asked.

“I didn’t need to,” Relic shot back, his voice low.

Four. Five. Six.

“Fair enough,” said Cedwyn. Then shrugged. “You could’ve just said.”

“I didn’t want to cause any trouble for Jace,” Relic said, glancing away.

Seven. Eight.

Cedwyn let out a thoughtful hm in the back of his throat and was about t—

“He’s been having a tough time, hasn’t he?” Relic interrupted. “Being in charge.” Relic began pacing again, but took only a few steps before turning in a full circle. “Really in charge. There’s too much he doesn’t know, or doesn’t know he knows, or knows but never did before.”

“He’ll find his way,” said Cedwyn. “But we have to stay focused so he can learn.”

“Hell of a time for an apprenticeship! Who knows what the hell happened here?”

”We will,” said Cedwyn. “By tomorrow night, no doubt about that. But there’s no telling if Lucas is gonna follow us over the mountains, so we might be on our own for a while. If that happens? No holding back. If you can’t tell Jace something, you tell me instead. But you tell someone.”

“Understood.”

Cedwyn was walking past him to the door now – but glanced back.

“He trusts you.”

“Yeah,” Relic said, letting out a long, low sigh. “I know that.”

“Let’s go check on the horses, bro. Maybe they want an apple.”

Relic glanced down at the apple in his hand, which he’d all but forgotten about.

“I know,” he said, half to himself, as he followed Cedwyn out onto the street.

***

Jace was lounging on the floor, stretched out like a great cat.

After all their rough travel, even a wooden floor was better than their accustomed bed of pine needles or, as they could expect from this place, sand. He’d thought to leave the bed for Isabelle, but she hadn’t stopped moving since they had settled in.

As he heard her pass him by again, he rose up on his elbows.

“If I’d known you were gonna go for a jog, I would’ve taken the bed.”

Isabelle heard him – he knew it – but didn’t say anything. She was at the window again.

Now, the silence was becoming a challenge. One he planned to rise to, even in this place.

“You know what would be messed up?” he said to her back.

Mm? went Isabelle.

“If there was something in the pawnshop. Like ... imagine if everyone in town is holed up there right now. We're all sitting here trying to figure this out, but it turns out, we just cleared the wrong building. If we would have cleared that one first, we'd already have all the answers.”

He laughed a little at the thought. There was a certain note of manic bitterness there.

It was only the second time Jace had laughed in months. Isabelle knew better than anyone.

And yet, she thought it was worse than nothing.

Taking her silence for a thrown gauntlet, Jace went on—

“Or, even worse, if there's some kind of threat over there, and we missed it by clearing this bookstore first. Seriously. Even if we died, word of that ever got back to Thean, he’d be so—”

“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Thean.”

Finally, she turned to regard him – and the itchy feeling under his skin started to subside.

Only to be replaced by something far more dire when he saw the pensive look in her eyes.

“Guess I’m thinking back to the days when he was all we really had to worry about.”

“Seems like a long time ago,” Isabelle said, bending halfway so he could see her face – then her hand held out to him. He knew better than to ignore it; he let her pull him up. Slowly, he rose and stretched ... before casting a half-interested glance to the window she found so captivating.

“We could still just – get up and leave,” said Jace.

“You’ve been saying that since Firefly Farms,” she answered, a wry note in her voice.

“Have I? That fast, huh ... well, there’s never been a better time. They’d never catch us.”

“Sooner or later they would,” Isabelle mused. “Cedwyn knows you too well.”

“Not you?” Jace asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, no.” There was a smile in Isabelle’s voice, but nowhere else. “They’d never catch me.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Jace said, padding over to the window and finally looking out. Even with all his skills, all his training, he’d have to admit there was not a damn thing he could make out down there. They might as well be standing on the surface of the moon.

“Do you ever think about – before you left? When I snuck into your tent?”

Jace didn’t respond. Isabelle looked at him seriously, studying him—

Something she saw, something only she could, confirmed what she was thinking.

“You can't even remember it, can you?”

She watched as Jace brought his gaze down to the floor.

“There’s something wrong with you, Dabriel. I know there is – so why don’t you just ...”

Jace broke away suddenly.

Isabelle was sure he was angry: But then, she heard the distant clock tower begin to toll. It was easy to imagine a great sheaf of brass like the ones the monks had carried away from their camp.

Once upon a time.

“There’s nothing wrong.”

“There is,” she pressed. “There has been since ... since you came back.”

“Oh, you mean the whole almost dying thing? Yeah. It's had an effect.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes.

“Knock it off and remember who you're taking to, idiot. You know I know it's more than that.”

At this, Jace paused.

For a time that felt longer than it could have been.

“I had a dream once,” he said, gray eyes fixed straight as could be toward the sound in the dark. “About a place with a broken clock tower. The bell was cracked, and every hour it would sound off – it made, like, a quiet that swallowed up everything.”

Isabelle felt a little shiver run down her spine.

When the silence stretched a little too long, he turned back toward her.

He was smiling, but it was not a happy smile.

“Stupid, huh? Sounds like something Relic might dream up.”

He was walking past, again – she didn’t know to where, only that she had to stop him. So she did, one hand shooting out as fast and sure as if she were in battle. She leveled a loose grip onto his shoulder and was surprised to feel him tense. As if ...

He thought she would strike him.

“You can tell me,” she told him, slowly enunciating each word.

“There’s nothing to tell. Unless really messed up dreams count.”

“Fine,” Isabelle said, letting him go and turning away in the same motion.

“Fine?” he asked.

“When you’re ready to tell me what’s really going on, you know where to find me.”

“Isabelle.”

She paused a moment, took a deep breath, and looked over to him.

His eyes always seemed to be holding something back.

“I’m just on edge. About the mission ... about you. About everything.”

She knew instantly it’s not what he’d wanted to say; she recoiled, but the pain in his eyes suddenly held her fast. She realized that, perhaps, it wasn’t that Jace had not wanted to tell her, but that he couldn’t. Something had held him back; the wounds themselves or something more.

Jace Dabriel, the cavalier, the effortless, was struggling with every word.

For her.

“I’m sorry – sorry about not opening that message as soon as I got it. You taught me better than that.” Isabelle let out a soft sigh; they were close enough for it to caress his cheek. “I know better than that, and feeling sorry for myself was no excuse. I mean it: I’m sorry.”

“I know you are,” she said: Then, tilting her chin up ever so slightly – and with her hands still in her pockets – she kissed him. They were together long enough for Jace to reach up and touch her face ... but by the time he opened his eyes, she was already at the stairs.

“I wouldn’t use those blankets or sit down in that bed if I were you,” she called back—

And then her voice was echoing up from the shop below:

“You don’t know whose they are – that’s disgusting.”

Upstairs, Jace walked slowly back to the window so he could watch Isabelle down in the street. The horses were gone, and she was moving toward the pawnshop next door without a care in the world – the glow of many newly-lit lanterns falling on her as she went.

Her hands were still in her pockets when she disappeared inside the other shop—

The sight made him smile.

Despite it all, she still made him smile.

The sound of wind chimes, just on the edge of hearing, slipped through the open window.

A part of Jace wanted nothing more than to join his friends down below. But his muscles ached, and he knew, somehow, that they would still have tomorrow. Whatever had befallen Sandia, it wasn’t enough to break the Outriders apart. Not by a long shot.

“Goodnight,” he said to himself, and doused the lanterns. “Sweet dreams.”

And, for the first time since that night, they were.

Divider (2)
 Chapter Nine  (E)
When the Birds Fly South
#2190501 by Dan Hiestand
Divider (2)
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