The long night

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It had not gone the way Fenris Silt had expected. After being seized and manacled by the Bruckin city guard he had been bundled into a waiting cable car and whisked away, not across town to the prison but up high, away from the streets towards the upper levels of the city.

Two of the guards had accompanied him, blank-faced and silent. There was no sign of Seldon and the guards refused to answer his questions. The city's towers whipped past in the gloom, slivers of their bronze casing glinting in what little moonlight they were afforded. It seemed likely that Seldon would have broken his neck in the fall from the roof, or at least his legs - but, then, the man had survived greater heights and demonstrated an uncanny ability to stay alive.

Fenris had been deposited into a basic but unexpectedly comfortable room with a single door, through which he heard at least two locks being dropped into place. There was no bed, only a chair and a desk, upon which was a glass of water and a plate of bread, cheese and pickled vegetables. It was most decidedly not the welcome he had anticipated. The room boasted a single, thin window, beyond which he could see the city honeycombing out, the telltale sourcelit glow illuminating streets and dwellings and walkways. Bruckin was a layered city and his confinement gave him a remarkable perspective. He had cautiously picked at the food for a while, before settling cross-legged on the floor, back against a wall while he allowed his eyes to close and mind to wander.

His dreams were fitful and disturbed, each tainted with the certainty of disaster. He had always prided himself on being able to sleep effortlessly in any given situation but now found himself distracted away from deep slumber, his every thought instead occupied with fear and worry and doubt. Faces of all those he had failed reared up before him: Kirya, Tarn, Tranton, Guijus, Stryke, even Pienya. His parents. Aera. The valley. He tried to imagine reaching the city to the north but could not see it; the way was gone and the destination shrouded in fog. Screams and the growls of unseen creatures echoed in his thoughts; the impacts of hurried footsteps through a forest; the echoes of a conflagration in the sky - and all the while, the knowledge that he had mis-stepped at every opportunity.

As his eyes lifted at the break of dawn, sun streaming in through the window in a narrow, orange-soaked beam, Fenris found himself a hollow man. The night had robbed him of all resolve. His allies had been scattered by the harsh northern winds: Seldon was likely dead in an alley; Kirya and Tarn were captured, either by the city guard or retrieved by agents from Treydolain, or even local criminals. There was nowhere to turn for aid.

And yet, he sat in a clean, warm room, unmolested. He had been fed and allowed to sleep.

The first lock clicked, then the second. The door swung out, revealing a guard and another man, finely attired, both standing in a dim corridor. They made no move to enter the room.

"We know who you are, Fenris Silt," said the well-dressed man. "What brings the royal protector on a visit to Bruckin, when the hour is so close to war?"

"Lord Halderman," Fenris said, recognising the voice even while the main remained out of the day's new sunlight. Hope was renewed. "I am grateful to see you and request the opportunity to explain the situation."

"Shut your mouth," Halderman snapped. "Do you have any idea of the chaos you've unleashed on all of us?" He paused, composed himself. "Regardless, you'll have your opportunity, though not with me. Come with us."

Fenris left the small, bare room and followed them down the corridor, then out into a courtyard of sorts, around the edge of which pointed five towers, stretching another five storeys into the sky. The centre of the courtyard was entirely missing, being a gaping hole which revealed the city streets far below. Fenris recognised the place: it was the Lief fortress at the centre of Bruckin: the tallest collection of towers the city had to offer. He had been here on two occasions when accompanying the king, though had never been allowed this far into the structure.

He was led around the hall, which was separated from the walkway only by a waist-high rail, and into the base of a broad, rectangular tower. The guard gestured at a compartment in the wall and they all stepped in. Operating a console, the guard raised the elevator, the entire compartment lifted on a chain which accelerated them past each floor until their reached the very top. The elevator was noticeably faster than anything Fenris had experienced in Treydolain. The stonebreakers were masters of the vertical: they built towers as high as they could go, then they had mastered the craft of airships to go further.

The guard knocked on then opened a set of panelled and engraved double-doors and Fenris was escorted into the heart of Bruckin. Viscount Garrus Lief sat upon an imposing item of furniture - not quite a throne, but certainly not merely a chair - and turned towards the arrivals.

"Ah, Fenris, good," he said, gesturing at Lord Halderman and the guard. "You can both go now, thank you." He waited for them to depart, then got to his feet. "Did you mean to start a war?"

The room was large, though lacked the ostentatious furnishings of Treydolain's court. A huge, thick, oval window looked out from one side, not to the valley but to the mountains, looming close and mocking any human attempt to gain dominance over the air.

Fenris considered his words carefully. He did not yet understand the situation, though Lief did not seem to be a threat. Garrus had always been the more reasonable of the Lief brothers. "A war, sir?"

"First you arrange for the Outsider, Tranton Seldon, to depart the capital. Then you follow shortly thereafter, kidnapping the princess in the process. These are not actions I would normally associate with you, Fenris. You always struck me as a very reasonable man, unlike your master."

"Thank you," Fenris said, not rising to the bait. Even now, he rankled at others criticising King Guijus.

"So, what is it, then? I'm waiting for you to correct my interpretation of events."

"I do have some corrections," Fenris said, "in the interests of accuracy. Before I say anything further, though, I must ask of my companions."

"Yes," Lief said, crossing, "I suppose you must. They are safe, for now. Kirya Tellador we found roaming the streets with some vagrant; it's a wonder your King's Eyes didn't pick them up first. Tranton Seldon lives, thanks to our intervention. They are all in our custody, and have been treated fairly. I have always been rather fond of the princess, and I have sought an audience with Mr Seldon from the moment we learned of his existence. The boy has me a little mystified, I admit."

"What do you intend to do with us?"

When Garrus Lief smiled he looked very much like his brother: it was a wolfish, hungry grin that demonstrated its wearer understood who was predator and who was prey. "Why, Fenris, that depends entirely on what you choose to say next."

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