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Song Suggestion: Footsteps In The Dust by Midnight Syndicate
They heard the cursing as they turned back into a cluster of proper houses. Even above the wind, they could hear the shouts and laughter of the Enforcers. They could see the flashes of flame lighting up one alley. Even as they turned down it, Gray got that sickening twist in his stomach again. It wasn’t just any alley. It was the alley. His palm tingled along the old scar. He could remember the way the glass bit into his flesh and the gruesome line it had drawn across his sister’s pale throat.
Gray could see Jezzie so clear that, at first glance, he thought it was her he saw pressed up against the the North wall of the city, creating a dead end. Then he blinked and the girl he saw was a child only, perhaps half the age Jezzie had been. Her thick, crimson curls were a wild frame for her cherubic face and, yes, she did look like his sister, enough to give him chills up his spine. The boy in front of her was no more than twelve. He faced the three Enforcers with their heavy axes, his breath streaming in white plums on the frozen air. Leo’s hands were wreathed in flames that looked strange. They were pale, icy blue against his skin and tinted orange around the edges and something about that seemed wrong to Gray. The smell of burning filled the narrow space.
“If you still have that knife, we need it,” Gray said to Ty. Leo threw fistfuls of flame at the Enforcers. It rippled around them and died, seeming to peel off their skin like butter off a hot knife. One of the Enforcers laughed. Gray felt a chill. The man was much older now; there was gray in the dark cap of his close grown hair, but his face was all too familiar; Gray saw it every time he had the nightmare. Keder, they called him. And he had been following Jezzie for nearly a month before the night the Enforcers tried to take her, making lewd offers and telling her all the horrible things he’d planned for her. He tried his best to catch her alone, but Gray had been very careful not to let that happen.
It had been in this alley where, rather than give them what they wanted, Jezzie had asked him to help her escape and given him the long shard of glass she’d begun to carry in her apron pocket. Gray saw the knife in Ty’s hand, pulled from one of his many hidden pockets. Rage was unspooling inside him. He’d held it for so long, always thinking about this day, always looking for vengeance. He had nearly given up on finding a way to kill Keder. Revenge was the only reason he’d remained in Iviradelle. And, in less than a few minutes, Ty had given him both the answer and the method.
Gray lunged forward, his years as a thief wrapping around him, guiding him. One foot drove down on the icy cobbles and one hand made a snakelike grab at the knife, which his fingers curled around and steadied, the blade pressing against his forearm. His other foot planted itself on the wooden wall shielding the alley from the dark spaces beneath the surrounding houses. He landed with one arm curling around Keder’s thick neck and his knee was planted solidly in the big man’s back. He flipped the knife and did not take a even a moment to enjoy the sound of surprise the man made. Gray plunged the blade into Keder’s throat, all the way to the hilt, and it slid in easily. All this took an instant. No-one, not even Ty, had done more than blink.
“That’s for Jezzie,” he hissed in Keder’s ear. The knife moved easily through muscle and tendon, slicing the juglar vein so that bright blood jetted sprayed into the wind as Gray jerked the blade free. “And this is for my mother.” He drove the knife down again. The snow beneath them was a deepening red. Gray leapt away from Keder, carrying the knife with him, and the man dropped, clawing at his throat, and hit the ground heavily. Gray turned his attention to the other two Enforcers. They eyed his knife as if it might jump out of his hand and slash their throats on its own. Dwarvish runes cut along the center of the blade flared to life, burning red gold, as though the blade had just been thrust into a forge.
“Dwarf iron,” one of the men snarled. He began to back away. “Someone’s given him a dwarf fang to bite with. This is a weaver’s doing. They’ve broken the contract.” He spat to one side. “Filthy little moles have found us.” He glared at Gray. “Get the others. It’s time to be done with the casters, once and for all. Starting with this lot.” The Enforcer shoved his companion out of the alley, then turned and fled. Gray let them go. With Keder dead, all the rage ran out of him and he remembered why he was there. Not for revenge, but to collect the boy. He turned toward the children.
Leo was sitting on his knees, head bowed, as if exhausted, and his sister sobbed behind him. The smell of roasted flesh was thick. Gray was unnerved to see that the girl actually did resemble Jezzie, that it had not been a trick of memory and sorrow. Only her wide, shining eyes were different, not blue-gray, but paler, almost silver. Gray stepped forward and touched the boy, then drew his hand back with a hiss. Leo was boiling hot. The snow around him was melting swiftly and running in small rivers along the edges of the cobbles. Ty had another dagger in his hand, just an ordinary blade. He used it to tip Leo’s head up so they could see his face. He quickly let it drop again and he looked at Gray solemnly.
“He wasn’t skilled enough,” Gray said, when he could speak again. “He let it get ahold of him.”
“What will you tell the weavers?” Ty asked.
“That their impatience killed him,” Gray said. “If they hadn’t tried to freeze their way in, he’d never have exposed himself. Why the bloody hell they went through all the trouble of catching me so they could hire me, then pulled this idiocy, I cannot say. They sabotaged any chance they had of getting him.” He turned to look at the girl again. She’d stopped crying and was watching them with her uncanny, pale eyes. He held out his hand to her. “What’s you name, girl?” he asked. At least Ty could take her back to Angelica. She would not turn away the girl, no matter what her brother had been. The child shrank from him.
“I told you, she doesn’t speak,” Ty said. “Least not that I’ve ever heard. Leo called her Sophia.” He moved past Gray and knelt down, holding out a small, dried apple that he’d produced from his pockets. “Do you remember seeing me before?” Ty asked. “Sometimes I help the orphans.”
The girl didn’t move for a long time. Her eyes flicked between them to her brother and back again. At last, she crept forward. She ignored Ty’s apple and went to her brother. Ty began to reach for her, but Gray stopped him. “She needs to know,” he whispered.
Gray nodded, his mouth a grim line. “But if she does not see him now, she’ll always wonder.”
“She’ll have nightmares,” Ty protested.
“Don’t we all?” Gray asked. “She needs to know; we cannot leave her here and we don’t have time to fight her.” They watched as the girl bent, peering at her brother’s face for a long time. There was none of the disgust or pain Gray was expecting, but he realized, when she sat back, that it was not because she did not feel anything. Rather, the emotion assailing her was simply too big and she was, after all, only a little thing.
There was a drop in the wind and they heard many booted feet moving toward them. “We have to go,” Ty said.
The girl looked up at his words and stood. She stepped to her brother and bent to give him a soft kiss on his sandy blond hair. Then she walked to Gray and held up her arms to him as though they knew each other very well. He hesitated a moment, then picked her up. He could feel her bones through her dress and she was almost as light as a bird.
Gray looked back, just once, at the boy. He vowed to himself that this would be the last time he left a body in this alley, lest it be those of more Enforcers. For a moment, he thought he saw a girl standing over the burnt corpse, slim and fair, with crimson curls dancing around her like flames. Then she was gone and Gray told himself it was just a trick of the snow and wind. He did not look back again.