She'd dreamed about it every night since the ball-- three nights, now. The first time when she'd fallen asleep, exhausted and still shaking, curled around her bag as the captain heaved the boat out of the capital's harbor. And the then the second night, when she'd had a day to stop shaking and to plan but not nearly enough time to forget the details of the last night. And tonight it started again, the pace of her dream-feet running down the castle's hill in time to the rocking of the boat up and down the Mitrove's waves.
Her feet splashed into a puddle of blood and her first thought was a senseless wave of panic wrapped up into his name. The second thought was find him.
There was no room for rational thinking. There was so much blood, and already she knew the chances of him being alright weren't good.
The blood had spread, been dragged. Thick and labored. She didn't have to know much about bloodstains to know that this track was made by something heavy dragged over the uneven ground. She wanted to find him a few feet away, dazed and wounded but struggling to his feet-- alive, that's all she was hoping for.
But he wasn't a few feet away, so she followed the blood into the darkness-- slick and shining in the moonlight, or at least that's how it seemed in the dream.
Blood had never bothered her before, but this made her sick.
It led her on, stumbling, towards the forest, where the trees loomed and curved upwards like hungry mouths. No more blood, but no body either. There were wagon ruts cut into the soft dirt, disappearing into the ominously rustling leaves. The only questions left were who took him, and if they took him alive. No one could lose that much blood and live for long.
And that's when she realized she'd gone too far. The killer-- or killers-- had had time to get him away on their cart, too long of a head start for her to catch up. She alone couldn't help Jaden now.
So she ran. Gasping for breath, throwing herself against the wind, it felt like the ground was contorting beneath her feet. Her chest hurt-- if any air was reaching her lungs, she couldn't tell. She stumbled over the rocky ground and stepped in the blood and kept going. It happened several times until it reached her adrenaline-glared mind that she was running in his blood. She doubled over and threw up and kept running.
Up the hill, where the flickering light of the ball spilled out over the grass through the wide-open double-doors. The marble floor was colder than the wind and smooth enough to make her slither to a stop.
The dancers stumbled to a halt. Groups of nobles drew back with gasps.
She'd emerged from the blackness outside like a phantom, and it looked as though she'd waded through blood.
Her breath hitched. Somewhere in this room there was someone who would know what to do, how to find him-- someone must have horses and guards at their disposal to unleash on whoever had taken him. She should have been screaming for that person but she couldn't speak. At far end of the room, very near the dais of the thrones, Iso was staring at her through the shifting crowd. Their eyes locked. In his right hand was balanced a delicate glass goblet filled with wine as red as the blood outside.
The Sage stood closer to the door, the gold embroidery of his robes catching the light and swinging from his skeletal frame. His eyes were flat and cold as ever but he didn't seem surprised to see her there, framed in darkness. He looked terrified, and Joshua was nowhere to be seen.
And though the throngs of the hall were drawing into stillness, there was movement at the door from the other end of the hall. Luca entering, though she didn't know she had ever left, and a girl in a black cloak exiting, the hood pulled back just enough to betray strands of scarlet hair.
The rebels, Tobias and Joshua, Luca and Englescroft-- so many times she had wondered why everyone seemed to hate Jaden. Perhaps she should have been asking how far they were willing to go.
She didn't call for help. She ran, straight down the center of the hall, the crowd parting before her, leaving the path scattered with crimson foot prints.
No one, she promised herself, would ever call her the Royal Thief again.
All in all, this customer wasn't that different from the hundreds the boat's captain had ferried from the capital to Maenar in his lifetime. Broad shoulders, muscled arms, knives carried in her belt and boots and even hair. Her satchel bulged, the telltale mark of having no time to plan the packing. And she paid just like all the others did-- enough to keep his mouth shut and the journey quick. Enough, in her case, to buy a private passage. She couldn't wait longer for him to pick up more passengers, she'd said the night she'd found him in the dockside tavern. She'd pay the fare of the amount of costumers he would pick up on a good day-- six times what hers would have been. Neither of them mentioned the extra coin she tilted into his palm with the others-- she'd already known the price of his silence.
Though she wasn't entirely regular, he thought. Not entirely the worn-out criminal escaping the provost's men he was used to. She didn't look really like she was running from someone-- she didn't have the wariness, the constant suspicion of someone following her. If she was running from anyone, it must have been herself.
Morane ignored the captain, for the most part. Her thoughts were focused on a completely different captain, or on Tobias, or on Iso or Luca or the rebels. And if they weren't on that, then they were fixed on the waves slicing open before the ship's bow. Braced against the railing, she delved into remembering, or strained to forget. Often, the captain would see her reading the scrap of paper she kept in her pocket. In two day's time it had gone wrinkled and grubby but she reread it still, eyes skimming it without seeming register a word.
The dream always ended by diverging from her viewpoint, almost floating away so she could watch herself run down the hall, the bloody footprints she left, before she woke to the boat's rocking. But there was more to it. There were the guards who ran after her, Vain's shouts echoing loudest but unintelligibly, and the stares of servants who were carrying trays of food to the ball, and the pounding her feet down the halls and up stairs until the pursuit faded away. There was the breathless scramble through her things, packing away her bag of coins and handfuls of jewelry from the box to use when that ran out, ripping off the dress for the dark tunic and leggings she wore in the city, grabbing knives and daggers and her knife-clips and her lock-picks-- that's where she found the note.
I know I said it could wait but I worry I may not be able to meet you tomorrow. I feel I am being watched, maybe followed. I won't say the worst of my fears-- in all likelihood it is probably nothing-- but it seems prudent to leave this note. Do you remember the "friend" of ours that Gordon mentioned a while ago-- "famous in seven countries for killing without mercy"? He is less of a friend than he is an opponent, but should something happen between now and the ball, I want you to find him. He is in Maenar. I can't say much more in case someone else should find this note, but remember this-- like you, he is a law unto himself, and for his trade the darkness has laid claim to him as well. Good luck-- you'll need it when you find him.
There was no clue who he had suspected, who had done it, and before finding that out, before punishing them as she swore she was going to, Jaden's request had to be first. This friend, this opponent, could be the key. Why else tell her to find him?
There had to be an answer, somewhere, as to who was responsible, if Jaden was alive or dead. There had to be, because someone had hell to pay, and she intended to make it painful.
So here's the first chapter, obviously, and as you can tell the perspective has changed. I'm not sold on it, but it is kind of necessary for what I have in mind for this book. Please please please let me know what you think, I don't know how I could work out the plot in Morane's point of view, but if everyone hates 3rd person I'll find a way to do it.
And I will be doing the theory contest again so feel free to comment if you think Jaden was killed or kidnapped or something else, and who did it! (But more importantly let me know about the point of view thing)
YOU ARE READING
The Rogue GuardianFantasy
SEQUEL TO THE ROYAL THIEF cover by @Iukeh3mmings Jaden has disappeared, leaving only an enigmatic note to guide Morane. The instructions: Go to Port Maenar, the birthplace of the revolution, to find his "friend"-- a man famous in seven countries for...