Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Flower delayed a moment before she put down her quill. A year ago, she’d never have dared write such a letter, but now desperation drove her. With an irritated hiss, she sprinkled fine sand over the paper to dry the ink, rolled up the parchment and poured wax from the red candle that burned by her hand to seal it. She firmly depressed her own seal in the wax. There. She did not trust the Guild an inch – not that she had dared to write such a thing – but even they would not interfere in the affairs of the King’s own Chief Representative Diplomat.
The late afternoon sunlight that filtered through her window made the room warm and golden. She’d conducted her affairs from home today, she didn’t care for echoing silence of the Council Hall, or the way the Moon Troopers insisted on blocking out all the windows to keep the building cold.
But she must find a messenger, and soon, and that meant going back now. She swiftly bound her long brown hair into a single plait, and fastened a heavy overdress over her clothes. Night would fall quickly, and she cared neither for the chill it would bring, or to be caught out in it too long. For all their proclamations about keeping order, for all their nightly patrols throughout the city, the Moon Troopers had not nearly slowed the rate of disappearances. Muses, fairies, she’d be surprised to find a soul left soon.
Flower tucked the letter into her belt. The shadows in the house lengthened around her; she hurried down the stairs, through the sparse foyer, and then locked the door behind her and hurried across the cobblestone road that divided her house and garden, right on the edge of the Muse Quarter, from the labyrinth of tenements that spread throughout the rest of the city.
Sunset soaked the tall, narrow buildings a deep orange, and made the eye-like windows gleam. She had only to traverse two streets to reach the thoroughfare. A door slammed at her approach. A stray cat slunk around a corner.
Flower wrapped her arms around herself, comforted by the presence of the scroll in her belt. Not, she hoped, her last hope, but close to it. The king would come. He would put things right.
She almost walked right past the pile of tattered rags in a recess in the wall, one of the old street-stores the Guild had closed down a year or two ago, but something made her stop. Not a good idea, stopping in the street. Not now.
Flower looked up and down the empty road. Not a soul in sight. Perhaps some eyes, peering from a window high above, but she didn’t mind that. There was some little comfort in being seen by an ordinary citizen. She returned to the recess, crouched down by the rags, and cautiously pulled some aside.
A man slept under there. Her breath caught. Not just a man, a muse. A muse. She hadn’t laid eyes on her own kind in months! Flower leaned closer, checking for signs of life. Yes, he breathed, thank Mnemosyne, although his skin felt like ice, and he smelled as though he hadn’t seen water in weeks. He was in such a state, it took a full three minutes for recognition to not only sink in, but immediately ruin an already troubled day.
The Champion. She could see a lock of blonde hair under all that dirt, and something of the man she once knew in the sallow, too-thin face. She’d not seen him for years, and the last time – she clenched her jaw. He’d been brought to her five years ago, raving about lightning and ghosts. She’d picked him up, dried him out and sent him on his way, but the Champion, the man tasked with defending Shadow at all costs, had already been addicted to Vibe then for twenty years.
Flower peeled back the blankets a little more, and removed a slim, empty glass bottle with two fingers. She sniffed it and recoiled. “Damn you, Nikifor!” She didn’t often give in to displays of temper, but some things just called for it. She flung the bottle at the wall, and felt good about the resulting smash of glass.
He didn’t stir.
Flower replaced the blankets around his shoulders and glanced nervously at the deepening shadows. “At least you’re alive,” she whispered, and as the anger drained away, a deep-seated horror replaced it, for his presence just made the disappearances all the more real. “I have to go send a message to the king,” she told the sleeping man. “Before dark. Then I’ll come back for you, you can’t sleep here.”