Author's Notes: Warnings here. Very dark, so proceed at your own risk.
The title is taken from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies." Very fitting, I thought.
The air was thick with dust, tinting the afternoon sunlight a peculiar shade that seemed a tawny crimson as it shone on the crowded marketplace. The clothes of the figures bustling about filled the place with every color, though each hue was now dimmed by the dust in the air and the wear of time. A thousand shouted calls mingled, making conversation nearly impossible; only vague, garbled bits of words forced their way through the cacophony. Everything in the marketplace moved; it was an endless sea of people that writhed and twisted as they walked, filling the wide, cobblestone streets to overflowing.
One bench marked the exception; its smooth grey stone, marked by time and worn along the ornate top that it had once possessed, did not suffer the cramped nature of the rest of its surroundings. The young man that sat atop it, draped in black, gazed indifferently as the crowds rushed past, seeming to radiate a sort of darkness that made people shudder as they neared him, and push to pass him quickly. His clothing, shades of grey, seemed as untouched by the dusty air as he was by the throng of people, long black coat retaining its full color despite the earthy clouds. He seemed a painting, devoid of color, cut from his surroundings and inserted instead into a place where life bubbled up on all sides, but failed to touch him.
"Sir?" The word reached him above the roar of the market, though it was spoken with no unusual force. He turned, regarding the speaker from behind dark glasses: A young girl, no more than twelve, hair mussed and dirty, face a little too thin. He waited, and she spoke again. "Sir? Can I sit here?"
He stared at her for a long moment, silent and unmoving, merely watching as she paused expectantly for an answer. The girl was just opening her mouth to ask again, thinking that perhaps he hadn't heard, when he nodded once, slowly. She sat a little nervously beside him on the stone bench, though the uncertainty had no palpable reason, and he'd yet to so much as speak to her. Something about him felt dark, seemed shrouded in blackness. And though unnamable, it was nonetheless real.
Silent seconds ticked by, unbearable without a reason for being so, until at last she ventured, "You're not from here, are you?"
He returned his hidden gaze to her young face once more, expression carefully neutral. "Does it matter?"
She thought for a moment, pondering his question; then she shrugged. "Not really. You're here now, after all."
A smile tugged at his pale lips, making the young man seem a little less cold, a little less darkened by the invisible aura surrounding him. "After all," he agreed.
The girl stared at him with curious brown eyes, head cocked to one side. "Then what are you doing here?"
He turned to regard her, expressionless once more now that the smile had fled. "Waiting."
"Waiting?" She searched his face, looking for any clue that was not provided by his simple answers, struggling to fuel her suppositions. "For what?"
"I'll know, when I find it," he told her, and she sensed it was the truth.
"What's your name?" the girl hazarded- and then suddenly another query rushed out, unbidden and unexpected even to her. "Or have you forgotten it by now?"
She had the brief privilege of witnessing surprise spring across his features... and then his smile returned as the young man's gaze fell to her again, sensing that she meant no harm. "Ambrin," he replied, shifting to lean against the bench's backing comfortably. "You can call me Ambrin."
She stared for a long moment, somehow made both uncertain and intrigued by his brief response. He was strange, certainly; she'd never seen anyone like this young man-not in dress, or manner, or speech. He was cloaked in blackness, but only because he lacked a light to guide him: cold, but only for want of something to thaw the ice. And hurt. Bleeding inside, dying, from a wound given long ago. She knew this, as she always knew, and asked the next thing that came to mind. It was voiced more as a statement. "You know magic."
He regarded her, careful in his evaluation before responding. "And you want to."
This time it was the girl who was taken aback by the others' astuteness in observation, his accuracy in assessment. She watched Ambrin carefully for a long while, brown eyes sharp and mindful. "Yes."
"I can show you." It was a statement, a promise-to the girl, a hope, a dream come true. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, reacting accordingly as she realized what he'd offered.
"W..." she stuttered, and then shook her head to clear it. Her question came more firmly the next time, though it still wavered slightly. "Will you?"
He nodded once, as he had when she asked a seat, though this time the action sent a dizzying wave of excitement through her.
And then the young man stood, brushing from his coat the dust that had not touched it, and motioning for her to follow. "Come."
He turned from her, stepping into the crowd, making his way through the hordes of people without so much as the lightest brush of contact with any of them. They parted before him, a small miracle in the busy streets, and closed behind him, none daring to enter the shadow he cast on all sides. None save the girl, who trailed behind him closely enough to avoid being lost in the endless bodies filling the marketplace.
They arrived in an alleyway shortly, freeing themselves from the bustling streets and the closeness of the crowd; even the shouts of the market-goers seemed muffled in the narrow backstreet, lessened by the sturdy walls rising up on either side. They both stood silent for a long moment-- an eternity to the girl, agonizing in its endlessness. And then Ambrin spoke, voice commanding, captivating. "Watch."
She riveted her eyes to him, stared intently and was rewarded as a small, white light- a shimmering flame-- appeared above his outstretched hand and began to spin slowly with the movements of his arm. It was beautiful, the girl decided, then and there. It was beautiful, and perfect, and for a moment the darkness that surrounded him fell away, leaving only that little spot of light.
"Give me your hand." She hesitated only a moment before offering her arm, palm forward, uncertain and more than a little awed. He mimicked the action gently, pressing his palm to hers... and the bright spot moved slowly to rest above her fingertips, floating delicately. Eyes wide, she moved her pale hand toward herself, gazing with wonder at the little flicker of magic, the tiny manifestation of hope that was now hers.
The girl never felt the blow that killed her. So enraptured was she by the tiny white flame that the blade had sliced cleanly through her neck without her ever seeing it, leaving the head to topple to the cobblestone of the alley, body following shortly after.
Ambrin stood silently for a long time staring down at the dead girl, the sword in his hand slicked crimson from her blood as the thick fluid pooled slowly around her body. Carefully then, he kneeled beside her lifeless form, lifting the corpse's head to set it lightly near the body. Two pale fingers passed her eyelids, hiding the listless brown gaze forever from the world.
A sad smile touched him, filled with regret. "You'll be alright now," he told the dead girl. With a weary sigh, he rose once more and turned to leave, the sword he grasped in one hand disappearing as quickly as it had answered to his summons.
Just before he stepped out of the alley and into the discord of the marketplace, he paused, lingering a moment longer. Ambrin didn't turn again to regard the dead girl, couldn't. Instead, he spoke to her gently, words no more than a whisper. "There was nothing here for you, anyway."
Had she still lived, she'd have recognized the truth in his words.