Gilded Silver

Prologue

The fire filled the night sky with light, illuminating it as if it were daytime. It roared and crackled, sending sparks flying high into the sky with every square inch of the manor it consumed. A pillar made of stone continued to stand erected within the flames, but beyond that, the door was splintered and crumbling to the ground.

Flames licked the walls inside, the shattered windows releasing tongues of orange and red that fanned out, desperate to surround the premises. Smoke rose steadily, a clogging, heavy black that was darker than the night sky.

The screams had died down awhile ago, evidence of any sort of life left inside, now erased. The doors had all been locked, the windows meticulously sealed shut, offering no way for the inhabitants of the manor to escape. The fire had been started carefully, the sleeping residents taken completely by surprise. It had been too late when they realized that their home was engulfed in flames. Most had barely left their bed by the time they felt the heat of danger just outside their bedroom door.

No one had survived.

At least, that was what the story would be as it spread across the towns and cities. A manor destroyed, a family dying, all servants and workers also perishing in the flame. It was a story that would be remembered for a while.

The Sterling family had been a stronghold of a name, with a politically important man running the family, partnered with his philanthropist of a wife. Together, they had two children that people in high circles were convinced would build brilliant futures. A popular family; a large target. The deaths would be grieved, but the attack was not surprising.

Off in the distance, on the edge of the stretch of woods that lined the massive backyard were a set of eyes. They watched the fire eat away at its home, destroying any proof left that it had once lived there. The eyes belonged to the young Sterling boy, roughly no older than six or seven of age, clutching a heavy bundle to his chest. His matted blond hair stuck to his face with sweat, hiding a cut on his forehead from when a shard of window pane had cut into as he crawled out.

He stared at the fire with tears on his face, streaking paths down his cheeks. He sniffed once, wincing when a particularly loud snap of a rafter collapsed, and a soft whimper left his mouth when he watched part of the roof sink in. Something towards the back where the kitchens were let out a muffled boom.

The bundle held to his chest stirred and the boy immediately withdrew from the forest's edge, pushing his back up against a tree. Though his view of his home was obscured, he could still hear the crackling flames.

Adjusting his package, he pulled back the blanket obscuring its face to reveal his baby sibling. They, too, had hair of light yellow and features much like his own. The promises of a curved nose like his mother's. Cheekbones like his fathers. Eyes like his. The baby was still fast asleep; a lucky streak that the transport and sounds of the flame did nothing more than make it stir. The boy felt a brief pang of jealousy towards his younger sibling, how easy it must have felt to be able to sleep through it all.

From far away, he was still able to hear when the horses arrived, probably other townspeople coming to find out what was going on. He heard shouts of fear and desperation. It was no use. There was no one left inside to save.

Debating whether it was worth running to them and asking for help, he stopped himself when he remembered what his father would say. Through the haze of shock still plaguing his mind, he figured it would be something along the lines of 'you can trust people. But also learn to know when it is right to do something on your own.'

Perhaps those people would help him, but there was no guarantee of what would happen afterwards. The fire was deliberate, even he as a child could see that, could obviously pick up the trail of oil leading throughout the house as he ran. Which meant that if he stepped foot back into the public, someone would learn that their plan didn't fall all the way through. Then where would help be?

It was decided. He couldn't seek out the other people that had now dismounted, their voices calling for survivors faint but audible. His body sang of exhaustion, but his mind was alert.

Breathing now steady, he adjusted the blanket until he could sling it over his shoulder, the baby still tucked safely into his chest.

With one last, long look at the manor disintegrating before his eyes, he turned away and began to trudge deeper into the forest.