Gray – Eight

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Feed The Beasties

Song Suggestion: Ceremonial Spell by Adrian Von Ziegler

XXX

Eight

There was a blizzard over Blossom Town. Thick, black clouds, lit from beneath by the light of the barrier. Around the outside of the soft, filmy shell, which glimmered and swirled like a lady’s skirts, the air was soft, warm, and fragrant. It was a few degrees cooler than the air in the forest, but not cold. Beyond the barrier, thick curtains of white billowed down and Gray could hear the wind howling. The wall of the town was barely visible through the falling snow and beyond that, all was lost.

Some of the snow drifted through, but, as it blew past the translucent barrier, it turned to rain and the howling gale became a soft breeze. Gray pulled his heavy cloak around him, glad he hadn’t left it behind at the camp; he’d been unwilling to chance parting with the contract he’d gotten from the fire weaver. “They’re idiots,” he whispered. “I never much doubted that, but now they’re flaunting it. They’ll freeze the kid to death if he’s an orphan.”

“They probably think he’ll be using his magic to keep himself warm. Or that it will use him. It’s like that, sometimes.” Ty shook his head and pulled his hood up. “I’d not be a weaver for all the silver in Iviradelle. It seems too much like they don’t have the power as much as it has them. Like it’s some sort of parasite.” He spat sideways.

“Using it would be suicide,” Gray said. “The Enforcers will murder him.”

“Weavers won’t consider that. You know what they’re like,” Ty said. “They don’t think, for all that they are meant to be educated.”

Gray nodded, grim. “About as subtle as a mad bull, they are. And not near as smart. Let’s go. I want to be done with this.” They moved forward swiftly. Gray hesitated at the barrier, but Ty slid through easily, so he followed. There was a tingling sensation, then the cold air hit him with a vicious slap that stole his breath and the wind began to tear at his cloak.

The closer they got to the city, the heavier the snowfall got, stinging Gray’s cheeks and forcing him to drop his eyes and run his shoulder against the wall to keep from wandering off in the wrong direction. “At least the storm makes an excellent cover,” Ty said. His voice was nearly lost in the wind. He turned and walked along the northwest wall. Like the roadways, it was made of wood which had been painted with a black substance, what the carpenters called vitarel, to keep it from burning. Stone walls were apt to sink and that made them crumble. Wood walls – and their protection from flaming arrows and lightning strikes alike – were necessary.

Ty stopped, suddenly, though Gray could see no reason for it, and turned. He touched the wall carefully, then pressed a board. A small section of the wall swung inward. “You’d think everyone would have fled through this by now,” Gray said.

Ty shook his head. “It only opens from the outside.And only we know where it is. The Enforcers have their spies. Some of them are the ones that have strange appetites, like the men that like children in all the wrong ways. Others are just doing it because it keeps them off the streets and makes them more important than they would be otherwise. And some are just too afraid to be called traitors, should an attempt to escape be discovered. There may not be any weavers left in the city, but there is still plenty of terror. Anyway, it’s harder to get a man to walk away from all he knows, even if none of it is good, than you’d think.” Ty looked back at Gray. “If the Enforcers found out about our little hole, we’d all be done for. That’s why Grandpa let them catch him. He died so they wouldn’t find our way in and out. It’s my duty to keep it secret and now it’s yours too. Not even mother knows how we pass into the city.”

“I won’t let anyone find it,” Gray said.

Ty nodded and stepped through. He followed and they were instantly out of the wind and snow, though they were no warmer. The space was small and smelled musty. Ty lit a candle and Gray found himself in what looked like a small shed. “Belongs to a friend,” Ty hissed. He bent and pulled a thin rope through the space between the wood floor and the door out.

“Leo and his sister usually stay closer to shanty town, over by the Rotten Blossom.” They moved to the door and peeked out. “It really is excellent cover, this snow,” Ty said again. “We could walk right down the middle of the street without being seen.”

“I’d feel better in the alleys anyway,” Gray said and stepped outside. “I’ve never heard of shanty town or the Rotten Blossom. Where is it?”

“Northeast side of the city,” Ty said. “The Enforcers burned down so many houses over there that it was just a pile of old ash and wood. The Blossom is about the only place where normal folk gather. It isn’t a brothel or a tavern Enforcers gather in. Mostly it caters to drunkards. But they sometimes let the orphans sleep in the attic when nobody’s looking. Beyond it is a sign for Ashland. I guess that’s what it was back when there were houses there. Anyway, it’s all shanties now. Anyone that can’t find a better place calls it home.” Gray closed his eyes; this trip down memory lane was determined to take him all the way back, to the places he’d vowed he would never visit again. “Hopefully they’ve got enough blankets to survive this without Leo using his magic. Or maybe they took refuge in the Blossom. The master might have opened his door to the homeless; even the Enforcers couldn’t protest such pity in this weather.”

Gray snorted. “I know too much of their kind to think that. If this cold hasn’t driven them inside, they are probably out watching orphans freeze to death and taking bets on which ones will live longest.” Ty didn’t answer, but there was a tightness to his mouth that said he knew just how possible that was.

They moved quickly. The world was so empty, no sound but that of the howling wind, all things turned to shadow in the drifting curtains of white, that Gray found himself imagining that they’d somehow crossed into the land of the dead. Even the river was silent, frozen and covered with a blanket of snow, visible only where the bridge cut the wind and snow, the terror of it’s deadly currents caught in thick, choppy ice.

They stepped up on the bridge and the wind tore at them again, stronger now, as though angry they’d escaped it for even a few moments. The snow grew heavier still, until they were no longer able to see much more than blurred shadows of each other. Once, the wind went still and Gray heard a succession of distant, thunderous booms coming from the direction of the forest. They both paused, expectant faces turned, waiting for some attack or rain of fire, but none came. Whatever the weavers were up to, it had nothing to do with Blossom Town.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Ty said.

“It’s got nothing to do with us,” Gray replied.

“It sounded as though it was in the forest. What if they found the camp? Mother….”

Gray caught Ty’s arm. “The camp is well hidden and has been for far longer than you’ve been alive. They have looked before and never found it.” Gray smiled. “And your mother is dead clever. I ought to know. I taught her.”

Ty paused a moment longer, then, with a nod, he smiled back. “You’re right. I’m sure she’s fine.” He relaxed and turned back into the wind. Gray followed him, his own smile fading fast. He glanced over his shoulder, in the direction of the booming, and there was an expression of dread and worry on his face.

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