Dusk had fallen over the city of Greenward; casting shadows over the cobblestones and pulling the brick buildings into darkness. Only a few small, golden pools of light encircled the ground evenly, emitting from the lampposts above. Despite the shadows there was much noise to be heard in the streets: fireworks and gunshots, shouting and laughter. Everywhere people ran to and fro, singing and jumping as they munched on caramelized apples or waved sparklers. Musicians played blithe tunes before a crowd of dancers who threw rolls of ribbons into the air as they twirled and jumped, laughing as the cascade of colors fell back upon them. A podium had been set in the city's square and a large man with a cheerful smile was preaching to the people of the good year that had passed before them and welcoming the new one to come. Children cheered as magicians performed various tricks and women gasped as a fire-eater impressed them with his skills. No one could take three paces without laughing aloud from the pure joy of the evening.
All but one.
High above the celebrations, in the top room in the largest house, a spyglass peeked out through closed curtains, its bronze body sparkling in the starlight. It was directed to the city square, watching a group of girls as they admired a juggler. It quivered as the minutes passed and finally was drawn in, away from the joyous night and into the secluded room of dark fabrics, with the only light coming from a single candle on the mantle piece. The room looked very much lived in, with blankets and clothes strewn about the floor in a disorderly manner and a tray of half-eaten dinner on the writing desk. A fourposter bed with its sheets in a crumpled heap sat in one corner, a nightstand with an oil lamp by its side. A dusty bookshelf lined the south wall, stopping at the doorway and then continuing on after it. A hunched figure could be seen at the window seat, their hands clenched around the spyglass's middle so tightly their knuckles had begun to turn white. A hesitant knocking came from the door and, without waiting for an answer, it swung open.
A frail man in a white nightshirt stood in the doorway holding a small bottle and a spoon in his hand. His beard reached his shirt collar and was as white as snow, scraggly and in bad need of being trimmed. His dark eyes were narrowed behind square spectacles and he took them off to squint at the window.
"Honestly, boy, don't you ever turn any lights on in here?" he muttered, setting the bottle down as he lit the oil lamp.
The figure in the corner did not answer. His gaze was still on the spyglass in his hands and he had not moved from his hunched position. The old man adjusted his spectacles, casting a withering eye at the plate of unfinished food.
"See you're still not finishing your meals," he said gruffly. "We take the time to cook for you and you don't even eat it. Sorry sign of thanks, in my opinion."
The young man in the corner shifted slightly. "No one asked your opinion," he said quietly. He sat up gingerly, leaning his back against the wide window frame and turning to stare at the old man. He was clothed plainly: a front button shirt and simple breeches, his boots sat unattended by the door. The right half of his face was covered with a thin mask of silver that ran from his forehead to his chin. His pale hands had let the spyglass fall to the floor and now were folded together, impatiently fanning together and apart. He blinked at the old man, the uncovered part of his face unmoving.
"I have you tonic, Master Edric," the man said as he uncorked the small bottle and poured its contents onto the spoon. He held it out to Edric, but the young man only stared at its swirling contents impassively.
"Why do we bother, Darren?" he questioned. The old man shook his head.
"Its orders," he said simply. Edric sighed but took the spoon, swallowing the thick liquid with a grimace.
Darren lifted the spyglass from the floor, holding up its crystal eyepiece curiously. "Who were you spying on tonight?"
Edric pulled back the curtains slightly, staring down at the street's merriment. Darren crept up behind him, following Edric's eyes to a red-haired girl who danced in the square, swinging her skirts and laughing as the music got faster and faster.
"Ah," he said with a smile. "Elizabeth. Aren't you tired of her yet?"
Edric pulled the spyglass from the old man's grasp, adjusting it so he could see each freckle on Elizabeth's pale face. "I don't always watch her," he said. Darren laughed, clapping Edric good naturally on the back.
"Take no offense, Sir, but it's all you do."
Edric smiled slightly as he pulled himself away from the spyglass. He turned to his companion, his fingers absently toying with a loose string from the window seat's cushion. "Do you suppose…" He paused, biting his lip. "Do you think she knows I'm here?"
Darren's smile turned sympathetic as he closed the curtains carefully. "I doubt it, Sir. No one even looks up here."
Edric turned to the closed curtains, listening to the laughter and music far below. His hand reached up and gently caressed the cold metal of the mask, feeling the small engraved designs that ran along its frame. Sighing, he fell back against the window frame. "I've seen people staring," he whispered.
Darren sat down opposite of him, his old bones grinding with the effort. "Probably just looking into the sky, Sir. The stars are very clear this time of year."
Edric turned to him, his gaze seeming to stare right through the old man's false smile.
"They stare straight at my window. You are not telling me the truth, Darren."
Darren shook his head, running a hand through his grizzled hair. He stood carefully and closed the room's small door securely, locking it with a small bronze key. Without turning, he spoke.
"People have grown suspicious, Edric," he began in a raspy whisper. His hand clenched into a fist against the solid oak of the door, letting it fall slowly back to his side. "Sometimes they see the light in your window or just hear your violin, and they have always assumed no one plays in this house." He turned to the puzzled face of his young master and knelt before him, placing a gnarled hand on each of his shoulders. "You can't stay here forever, Edric. Remember that."
He stood, adjusting his shirt collar and taking up the tonic bottle and spoon. "It's time I was off to bed. Have a pleasant night." With that he stepped through the door, closing it firmly behind him.
The moon's soft rays seemed to melt into the shadows that surrounded the courtyard, its crescent face not even offering enough to see a hands width in front of your eyes. Instead torches lined the brick walls, casting a warming glow across the cobblestone floor and reflecting off the water that poured from a fountain in the corner. Servants rushed back and forth, busily preparing for the nightly fencing practice. Darren sat on a stone bench in the corner, his frail hands cupped around a pipe as he blew smoke rings into the air. He could remember the days when he had been young enough to teach the young master but after years of bone wear he could hardly lift his weapon. Edric's father had reluctantly taken Darren's place and now the boy lay panting on the ground, his hand caressing a slash on his arm, looking up at his father's broad figure.
"Keep your blade up," Sir Royce breathed from the opposite end of the court, his gaze on his saber as he cleaned its blade with a rag. Edric said nothing as he picked himself up, raising his blade and adjusting his feet into an en garde position. Sir Royce copied his movements and the two began again.
Edric jumped back as his fathers blade lunged toward him, knocking it aside with the tip of his saber. He riposted as quick as his arm would allow toward Sir Royce's flank, but his attack was easily knocked aside. Sir Royce kept his son's blade locked on his bell guard.
"Do not become reckless," his warned. Edric glared and pushed off, unlocking their blades and continuing the bought.
Darren's eyes wrinkled with a smile as he watched the young master's ferocious attacks. Everyone knew it; he had nearly out mastered his father.
Edric lunged dangerously far, catching the end of his father's tunic on his saber point. Sir Royce's eyes narrowed as he returned the attack, swinging his blade under Edric's parry and nearly catching him on the shoulder but Edric leaped away from the deathly tip and lunged again, his blade an inch away from his father's chest.
Sir Royce stood in a stunned silence, his blade still raised and his chest heaving. Edric couldn't help but grin as he recovered his position, nodding respectably to his opponent. His father returned the nod stiffly and turned on his heel, passing his weapon to nearby servant and walking back inside, slamming the door behind him.
Edric stood panting in the courtyard's center, still watching the door where his father had vanished behind. Without a word he threw his saber to the ground, spun around quickly and stormed away in the opposite direction. With a sigh Darren stood and followed Sir Royce, putting out his pipe as he stepped onto the carpeted floors. He was in the man's private study, eyeing the long bookshelf that lined the walls and the mysterious instruments that seemed to have no purpose at all. Sir Royce stood facing the large, marble fireplace that stood at the end of the hall, his scarred hand grasping the mantle. Darren approached him carefully, keeping a respectful distance.
"I believe you owe him congratulation, Sire," he said quietly.
"Do not tell me what I should do," Sir Royce spat, his broad figure quivering. "He is a reckless boy with no respect to authority. I owe him nothing." He turned swiftly, his eyes ablaze with anger. He had a ruthful face, with a short, bristly beard that ran along his face to connect with his sideburns. His eyes looked to be squinting by the firelight and his lips where pursed in a frustrated manner. A selection of gold chains hung around his neck, trailing to the top button of his emerald tunic with a collar that completely encircled his neck. His black woolen pants where tucked neatly into his thick leather boots and on his hands a collection of rings weighed his fingers.
"He is your son," Darren tried, his wizened old eyes pleading.
Sir Royce lifted a wine bottle from his desk, pouring its scarlet contents into a sparkling flute. He kept his gaze on the wall as he answered.
"No boy with a face like his could ever be my son," he said quietly.
Darren closed his eyes tightly, clenching his teeth with frustration. "Your wife—"
"Do not mention that witch to me!" Sir Royce screamed, crashing his flute against the wall. "She promised me a son! Not a mutant beast!"
Darren stood impassive as a flurry of books, glasses and other devices where thrown at his feet. He waited until his master had settled into his desk chair, panting with a mixture of exhaustion and anger, until he spoke again.
"He is your son and your heir. Whether you accept that or not is your choice entirely."
He turned then but as his hand grasped the doorknob Sir Royce called after him.
"And what if I do not?"
Darren looked over his shoulder. "Then it is your burden to bear," he said as he stepped out of the room.
Edric lazily scratched as his parchment with a dull quill. The gap of silence between him and Darren had become unbearable to the old man and he set down his philosophy book with a defiant thud.
"You did very well tonight," he said. Edric hardly acknowledged his comment, only shrugging slightly. Darren bit his lip consciously, removing his spectacles carefully. "Your father—"
"Did he say something?" Edric asked, his eyes suddenly alert, shining with hopefulness.
Darren frowned and shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid he didn't." Edric turned back to his parchment and continued to scratch at the thick paper dully. Darren sighed hopelessly. "He's your father, Edric," he said.
"That makes no difference to him," Edric answered without looking up.
Darren had no reply. He went back to his book, flipping through the pages absently. After a few moments Edric looked up slowly, his mask reflecting the candle's flickering light.
"Did…did my mother ever say anything about me?" he asked a bit sheepishly. Darren smiled as he looked to him.
"She was very proud of you," he said. "Always she would tell me how amazed she was at your abilities. You learned to speak and walk very early you know."
Edric nodded. "What was her name?" he said.
"Daphne of Wintwood," Darren said. "My own home, actually. We came here together many years ago. She was of a very rich family, but they weren't of much importance. The people of Wintwood eventually grew tired of their attempt to control them, for your grandfather was a tyrant of a man, and they ran them out of the city. I helped her here and she met your father by chance in the garden of one of my old friends, we were staying with him, and they fell in love. It wasn't long before they were married."
Edric had heard his mother's story many times from Darren, but it never ceased to capture his attention. "Was she happy with him?"
"With your father? Oh yes, for the first couple of years. They were very happy together. She could make your father laugh, a feat very few had conquered, and he loved to just look into her eyes. They were very strange; violet in color with a ring of white around the edge. Things were wonderful between them until…" he stopped silencing himself immediately.
"Until I was born," Edric finished for him, his hand clenching into a fist under the table. Darren shook his head and came to kneel by Edric's side, taking him by the shoulders roughly. He looked straight into his eyes, his gaze a meaningful glare that even had Edric captured.
"You listen to me," he hissed. "Your birth had nothing to do with their unhappiness. They simply fell apart, stopped loving each other. You did nothing."
Edric shook his old friend's hands off, turning back to his meaningless scratching. "It doesn't matter," he whispered. "She's dead."
Darren could not reply to that. He stood slowly and took back his seat across from his young master, absorbing himself once again in his book.
Edric couldn't help but notice the glint of Elizabeth's hair in the afternoon sun. Its beautiful fiery red reflection sparkled in the spyglass's lens and had Edric smiling as she skipped down the street, a basket under one arm and the other entwined with a friend's. He could see that his eyes weren't the only ones following her steps for everyone on the street turned to watch her go, women with jealousy flashing in their eyes and men with a longing.
Edric watched as she entered the dressmakers shop, seeing her through the large glass window as she chattered aimlessly with the store owner. He only wished he could hear what she was saying, listen to the voice that belonged with her perfect oval face and delicate red lips. Her dress was of yellow silk and printed with flowers of many colors and sizes. Her sleeves were ruffled with lace and shoes hidden beneath the dress's long skirt and petticoat.
Edric chanced to pull the curtain aside and took the spyglass away from his eye, watching her as just a small speck in the window. She had stepped out of his line of vision, hidden in the back of the shop with the owner, leaving her companion to hold the basket. Edric sighed and leaned back against the wall, his eyes watching the cloudless sky from the crack between the curtains. A flash caught his eye and he sat up, looking down upon the street again and the raising the spyglass.
Two men, one holding aloft a pocket watch that had caught the sunlight, stood right under Edric's window, their faces furrowed with confusion. One whispered something to the other and pointed at the mansion before them. The other nodded and they approached the door, vanishing from Edric's sight.
He jumped from his seat and opened his door, stepping onto the long balcony that ran along the mansion's top floor. It looked down upon the open hall and Edric could clearly see the two visitors being welcomed by an old butler with a hunch in his back. They hung up their coats and removed their top hats, allowing themselves to be led across the hall and into the courtyard. Edric raced around the balcony to a window that overlooked the courtyard and was just in time to see them vanishing inside Sir Royce's study.
"Edric?" a soft voice called and Edric turned to see Darren climbing the stairs, a tray prepared for lunch in his hands. "What are you doing out of your room?"
Edric approached his friend hurriedly, and excited gleam in his eye. "Two men just entered my father's study," he said. "We haven't had guests in years!"
Darren shook his head and led his excited master back to his room, closing the door securely behind them. "They're probably just here on business," he assured him with a smile. "Maria made your favorite," he added, passing Edric a bowl of creamy soup and a thick slice of rye bread. Edric ate the meal without tasting it, his mind afloat with possibilities for the men's visits.
"What business would my father have with them?" he questioned. "He's never had dealings before."
Darren shook his head hopelessly. "Your father's actions are no concern of mine and they should not be of yours," he said firmly, his tone closing the subject. "Now eat, we have a long day ahead of us."
Glumly Edric picked up his spoon, swirling the contents of his soup absently as Darren pulled a book from the shelf and read aloud about the history of Greenward.
Edric had the spyglass pressed to his eye through the remainder of the evening, watching for the two stranger's leave, but they never left the study. Edric slumped against the wall, frustration spilt across his features. Darren had tried to assure him the men must be some friends from his father's past, but Edric's suspicions still lingered and he waited patiently, prepared to watch their every movement.
Edric watched the moon fall across the sky, feeling his eyelids grow heavier with every hour. He pushed himself up firmly, adjusting himself into a position that kept him alert, but as the minutes passed he slumped back to his former stance, his eyes closing completely and his breathing slowly into the steady rhythm of slumber.
It passed unnoticed to Edric when the two men stepped carefully out of his home and crept carefully along the street. They stopped for a moment before a large house of whitewashed brick, a house decorated with window boxes filled with colorful flowers and a brightly painted door. One of the men pulled a paper from his shirt pocket and scribbled down the address of Elizabeth's home, stuffed it back into his pocket, and vanished with his companion into the shadows of the street.
The paint's colors swirled together in one elaborate pattern, floating across the thick canvas like a cloud floats across the sky. Edric raised his uncovered eyebrow expertly, watching his work come to life. Carefully he dipped his brush again and painted the canvas with quick strokes of red and gold, making the feathers of the flaming bird before him dance with the sunlight coming through the curtains. Below him he could hear the bustling beginnings of market day and gritted his teeth as he attempted to drown out the sound, but despite his efforts he caught the soft whisper of a young women's laughter. His back went rigid as recognition hit his ears. Jumping from his seat he grabbed the spyglass from its place on the writing desk and carefully edged it through the gap in the curtains, swinging its end about the square until he caught the familiar flash of red hair. He adjusted the lens and peered at Elizabeth's smiling features, his own lips lifting as she laughed again. His eyes narrowed as she disappeared from his view and as he turned the lens slightly he froze and lowered the spyglass. She had her perfect arms wrapped around the neck of a smartly dressed man with a monocle in one eye and a cane in his hand. Edric's brow furrowed as she put her lips to his ear, whispering words that made the man's stiff lip lift into a small grin.
He backed away from the window, his hands unconsciously clutching the spyglass to his chest. He closed his eyes tightly, biting his lower lip and breathing harshly. The spyglass seemed to fall to the floor with no noise at all, and the soft tapping at the door was deaf to his isolate ears. Even as he opened his eyes all he could see were Elizabeth's lips whispering into the man's ear and the light that lit up her eyes. He fell against the bookshelf, knocking some of the printed pages to the floor with a crash. The knocking at the door became urgent but still Edric did not answer, his gaze locked straight in front for him.
Darren's voice woke Edric from his trance and he turned to the door, mumbling approval for his friend to enter. The old man flung the door open, kneeling beside the young man with concern in his eyes.
"Are you alright, Sir?" he asked, grabbing hold of Edric's wrist. The boy turned to the old man blankly, nodding to the window.
"Elizabeth," he muttered, pulling his hand away. Darren frowned and walked to the window, pulling the curtains aside slightly. His features softened as he saw the young girl in the man's arms. He turned back to Edric, bending before him and holding his gaze to the boy's.
"She's a fool, Edric. You know she's only there for his money. Why would you even want such a selfish girl? She doesn't even deserve you."
Edric's glare was ice as he looked back at Darren, all emotion gone from his voice. "No girl deserves this, Darren," he hissed, pointing a shaking hand to the mask on his face. He rose to his feet quickly and took back his place behind the paint canvas, raising his brush in an angry grip.
Darren sighed deeply, shaking his head sadly. "Be as you may, young master," the old man whispered as he rose shakily to his feet. "But she'll recognize her faults."
Edric didn't turn away from his canvas as he spoke, trying to hold back the biting anger in his tone. "Leave me be, Darren," he said.
Darren did not move. He stood by the bed quietly, watching Edric's movements.
Edric didn't stop painting, but his strokes became rushed and blotches of paint landed on the canvas as he angrily threw his brush into the paints, splashing the colors out of their bottles. Soon the picture had vanished altogether in a ludicrous collage of colors. Edric stepped back from the canvas, throwing the brush to the floor and allowing the paint still attached to its bristles to splatter across the floor. He turned about the room, grabbing a leftover plate from breakfast off the nightstand and throwing it at the oak door, hearing the satisfying crash at the porcelain split into pieces. He reached for another, but Darren's hand shot out and grabbed his hand in a strong grasp that did not belong to someone so old. Edric fought him at first but the old man turned the boy to face him, seizing him by the shoulders and forcing him to look into his wizened eyes.
"You do not want to destroy your mother's favorite china, do you?" he demanded, shaking Edric harshly. "You do not want to lose your head over something as trifle as this! Control yourself, Edric!" He released him and Edric sat back, running a shaken hand through his hair. He looked to his friend's old eyes, seeing the many wrinkles that encased them. He retreated to his desk chair, sinking into it and allowing his head to fall into his hands.
"I'm sorry," he breathed. "I lost myself."
Darren's comforting hand wrapped around Edric's shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.
"We all do, Sir," he said. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, though I'm going to have to explain that plate."
Edric allowed himself a small smile. He reached up and grasped Darren's hand in his, nodding gratefully. "Thank you," he whispered.
Darren nodded. "You'll be fine, Sir. Give it a few days. Do you have any requests? Tea? Or maybe some of Maria's bread pudding? She made a fresh batch this morning."
Edric shook his head. "I'd prefer just to be alone for a few moments, if you don't mind." The old man nodded.
"As you wish," he said as he opened the door, closing it with a quiet snap.
Edric leaned back in his chair, staring at the still figures that were painted on the ceiling. They were hard to distinguish, hidden inside swirling patterns but he could make out an angel's wing and the scaly tip of a serpent's tail. Edric had never understood these figures and their place on the ceiling, but their distinct lines and faded coloring had always caught his imagination, even when he was small child. He could still see the angel and the serpent's story, one of adventure and conquest that could capture the mind of even the primmest of beings. He sat back again, searching for more characters. He could see the smiling face of a woman, her hair cascading down her shoulders in a rainbow of colors and the hooves of an angry horse, the dust they raised churning around them in a speckled pattern. Peering out from a sharp swirl of dark paints were two yellow orbs that seemed to flash in the light and right beside them the hilt of sword swung across the scene. Edric closed his eyes, pretending to grasp his own saber in a tight grip that made his knuckles whiten. He could almost see its shining blade reflecting the sunlight and hear the clash of steel on steel as he imagined himself parrying a blow. With a satisfied sigh he sat back, falling into a dream where his fencing opponent was the man Elizabeth had fallen for.
It was as dark as the swirling ocean in the dead of night, but tall torches lit up the sky in a terrifying cascade of bright orange, their carriers throwing them through broken windows to set the small shops ablaze. People screamed as they rushed back and forth, their eyes wide with fright and their faces pale under the shriveled moon. The ones with the torches walked confidently; laughing mercilessly, their faces hidden beneath the folds of cloaks.
Child screamed with tears dripping down their cheeks, searching for the familiar faces of their parents in the chaos, but only finding the strong grip of the frightening strangers as they grabbed them and threw them about; laughing at the children's terrified shrieks. Women held tightly to their husband's hands, only to be ripped apart and separated in the screaming crowd. Men fought with pans and pitchforks, some even wielding guns and swords, others using the force of their fists to protect their families.
Edric watched silently through his spyglass. His mask reflected the dancing flames and the bright stars alike, combining in a strange combination of peace and chaos. He searched the crowd for familiar faces, spotting the companions of his childhood in the crowd: a tall butler wielding a candleholder who had read to him as a boy; a kind old cook who had snuck treats to him, now battering a hooded stranger with a broken chair. Edric closed his eyes tightly, resisting the urge to again kick at his locked door, wishing desperately to join the fight.
Darren had woken him in the dead of night, just when the shouts had begun. He had pulled the young man's covers back forcefully and lit the oil lamp on his bedside, his wrinkled face pale and frightened in the flickering light.
"What has happened?" Edric asked instantly. Darren sat down on his bedside, grasping Edric's hand in his own.
"Invaders," he breathed quickly. "From another city, maybe another country. They are who your father met with last night: their leaders. He gave them information, I don't know what about, but they came here looking for something. Do not ask me what." He said as Edric opened his mouth. "I came to warn you. We have barricaded the doors and a few of our own have gone to defend the city. I ask you to stay here. Please do not argue! You will be safe here, no one knows of your existence. I must assist them in holding the doors." He stood quickly, Edric leaping from his bed to follow
"How many are there?" Edric asked as the old man pulled the door open. Darren shook his head.
"It is impossible to say." He stepped out of the room, closing the door to but a crack.
"Stay here, Master Edric," he whispered harshly, and closed the door completely. Edric heard the lock click a moment later and the patter of his friend's frantic footsteps.
Their whispered conversation had left him with more questions than answers. Now he sat quiet and impassive, watching the gruesome scene with no emotion. He could hear the shouts below, the banging at the front door as the hooded strangers tried to enter his home. He grasped the spyglass tightly and raised it to his eye again, seeing every gasp, every stricken feature on the terrified faces of the citizens of Greenward. He watched as the flames licked the dark sky, saw the strangers break down the doors of homes, dragging out the owners and throwing them into the street. His gaze wavered on a flash of red, one that resembled so much like the fire's flames. He adjusted the lens and the image grew sharper, displaying the tearstained face of Elizabeth, her arms held by the strong grip of one of the stranger's as he dragged her away toward the city's entrance. Edric went rigid, his teeth clenched in anger as the man waved to his comrades and they quickly began to exit the square, throw the remainder of their torches in their last attempt of damage, while down below the crash of splintering wood echoed up the empty stairs and the shouts of the strangers accompanied the screams of Sir Royce's staff.
Edric threw himself at his door, desperately shouting and kicking at the hard oaken frame, wishing it to fall open. The shouts grew louder as some ran up the stairs and Edric called to them, but no one seemed to hear. He could hear the frantic screams of the maids as they were slain by the laughing hooded men and the shouts of the brave cooks and butlers as they fought off the invaders valiantly, only to be thrown off the balcony or killed viciously. Edric heard the shout of Darren right outside his door, his old, frail voice shouting insults at the man he was fighting, demanding he come at him with a straight attack. The man screamed in rage just as Edric shouted with despair. He could hear Darren fall to the carpeted floor and the man retreat down the stairs, following after his companions.
Frantically he beat at the door, screaming and shouting while tears dripped slid down his cheeks. Darren wasn't dead. He had no proof. The old man had fallen, simply fallen, and the stranger had left him as gone. Desperately Edric wrung the doorknob, calling for help. No one answered. The hall outside his door was silent.
He fell against its frame helplessly, sliding to the floor with his hands catching the tears that fell from his eyes. He sat in his crumpled heap until the first rays of morning reflected off the blood that sat in pools in the street, making the tears of the survivors sparkle as they trudged amongst the dead, searching for familiar faces. They clutched each other desperately when mothers recognized the mangled faces of children or husbands found the still bodies of wives. Many sat, still and silent in the square, praying for the lost souls.
Edric had lost the last of his tears and he sat calmly in his room, hearing the loud thud of boots as they trudged up the stairs. He stood up gingerly as the door's lock shook as the key was turned and turned to face the doorway when it swung open.
Sir Royce stood amongst the slain corpses of his staff. He held a glass of wine in one hand, the other settling comfortably on his hip. He looked at the tearstained face of his son and raised an eyebrow.
"I won't lie," he said easily, taking a sip of his wine. "I was hoping they'd let you out to help."
Edric said nothing, his gaze on the still figure of Darren, who lay in a pool of his own blood right outside the door. Sir Royce frowned, kicking the carcass leisurely.
"A shame," he said. "He was a good man."
Edric clenched his teeth tightly, his hands balling into fists. "Why?" he whispered.
Sir Royce shrugged. "They were a torturous lot," he said, nodding to Edric's window. "Didn't know how to obey me. So I punished them."
Edric blinked a stray tear away. "And Darren? Your servants?"
"They simply got caught in the trouble. Their fault really," he said with another sip of his wine. "I told them not to fight."
Edric kept his gaze on the floor, and his father stepped forward, tapping his mask with a knuckle. "I'm curious…does that ever get hot?"
Edric threw himself at his father, knocking the glass from his hand and sending the substance spilling to the floor to join the blood. He forced him to the ground, locking his wrists over his head and leaning over him, fuming.
"Murderer," he hissed between clenched teeth.
Sir Royce was red with fury and he fought against his son, but Edric's grasp with strong with anger.
"Bastard!" Sir Royce gasped, kicking with his feet like a child in a tantrum. "Release your father!"
Edric raised one his hands and hit his father with a force that made the man's jaw crunch and his head swerve. He spat a few teeth onto the carpet and turned back to his son, his lips dripping blood and his eyes cold with fury.
"I am no son of yours," Edric hissed, rising to his feet. He turned to step back into his room, leaving Sir Royce holding his broken jaw. As he approached the doorway a gasp caught his attention. He turned to still figure of Darren on the floor and saw his old chest rise slightly as he took a shallow breath.
Edric ran to his side, kneeling beside him and cradling the old man's head with one hand, grasping his frail one with the other. Darren coughed dryly, his eyelids fluttering open almost reluctantly. He looked at Edric's solemn face and his cracked lips lifted into a small smile.
"They didn't get you," he wheezed, coughing again.
Edric smiled with him, grasping his hand tightly. "And you're alive," he whispered.
Darren shook his head slowly, his eyes closing again momentarily. "These are my last moments on this earth," he breathed shakily. He raised a hand to Edric's face, caressing his uncovered skin with a weak hand. "I'm glad to spend it with you."
Edric shook his head again. "I- I don't know what to do," he whispered miserably, allowing the tears he had held back to finally run down his cheeks. "I can't stay here."
Darren nodded. "Of course not." His voice was growing quieter, and his grasp on Edric was failing. "It's finally time you left this place."
Edric shook his head hopelessly. "I have no where to go," he whispered.
Darren smiled, holding the young man's eyes to his. "You'll fine somewhere," he promised. His hand fell from Edric's side, sliding back to his side. With one last shuddering breath he closed his eyes and lay still.
Edric grasped the old man's hand, bowing his head respectably. "They took Elizabeth, Darren," he breathed. "I'll find her and bring her home." He took Darren's hands and crossed them over his chest, bending down and kissing his forehead. "And I'll avenge you."
He stood and turned away, stepping into his room and grabbing a burlap sack from its place on a dusty shelf, setting a hair pin that had once belonged to his mother inside. He buckled his saber's belt onto his waist, sliding his weapon into its place beside him and walked out of the room, closing the oak door one final time.
Sir Royce watched his son lock the door, shaking his head and smirking with his broken face.
"You'll never find them," he muttered, his words muffled slightly. "They're long gone by now."
Edric walked past without looking at him, bounding down the stairs effortlessly. "We'll see," he said calmly as he stepped into the hall below. Quickly he crossed to the kitchens, filling the sack with three days worth of provisions and a small knife that he stuck into his boot. As he crossed the hall again he saw a broken ink well glinting in the sunlight. Beside it a black raven's feather lay in the puddle of ink. It was Darren's favorite quill, sharpened expertly to a fine point. Edric lifted it carefully, wiping off the ink as best he could. He pierced the bag's tough burlap strap with its sharp point, allowing it to hang proudly at his side. His hand grasped the silver door handle and he breathed a shuddering breath before pulling it open and walking out for the first time into the sunlight.
Heads turned as the masked figure stepped outside, his silver covering glinting in the late morning's light. Edric did not look at the people as he walked, his head downcast to the street and the whispers. He was fascinated being with the people had watched for so long, to see their face up close instead of through his spyglass.
The spyglass! He had forgotten it!
Edric was prepared to turn and retrieve it but he stopped himself, reluctantly continuing his proud stride towards the city's edge.
He didn't need it anymore.