At first I didn’t fully comprehend what they were. In the distance it could’ve been debris from a fallen building or tree, or perhaps something dragged from the wreckage of a building by wild dogs and left on the street. But, as I rubbed my tires eyes and focused, I knew there was more to it than that. The way the shapes lay, it was too human to be anything else, but too far away to be sure.
I sat back in the corner by the heavy wooden gate and took a breath. The steady beat of my heart began to increase as I realized what I had to do. I would have to send out my “seeing”.
I settled into my training with a series of slow steady breaths. I first cleared my mind, seeing only darkness in the eye of my mind. The darkness became thicker and thicker until it almost drowned out the memory of sight. It threatened to waiver, becoming shaky and unstable. Light and memory tried to creep back and reclaim my mind. I tensed instinctively to fight it, but forced calm, calling instead on the slow chant I had memorized months ago. It was a rythmic melody of Latin words I didn’t understand, but the effect was soothing. I sank deeper into the darkness. Then, at that moment, relaxed and embraced by the void, I sent out my sight.
With both eyes still closed tight, I pushed out my seeing. At first it was still dark, but the further I pushed the thinner the darkness became. I released my sight and with an almost palpable pop, I could now see, outside of myself. I can barely describe it to one who has never “seen” but I would describe it as a memory that is happening right now. You see it with your mind and have to focus to hold on. As my sight drifted out, it past beyond the gate, squeezing through the cracks of solid oak. It passed into the courtyard, and felt its way toward the statue. I had never asked the others if their sight moved as mine, but it felt as if it staggered like an old man, feeling it’s way through the air. I could sense the textures somehow, the rough pitted stone and the soft patches of deep green moss. I could sense something else as well, beneath the stone, lurking, waiting patiently as if holding in a breath.
I had sent my sight out before, to study the unnamed hero, but still had no evidence to confirm my suspicions. Until today. I pushed ahead, feeling the resistance of the air thicken the further away it moved. My sight wound around the statue, crawling over its shoulder to perch and survey the courtyard beyond.
I glanced around the courtyard. Although no one could see my “sight”, as far as I knew, my prey instinct was to check surroundings for danger. On the North side the square was open to the river. The remnant of a once great bridge peeked out from beneath the steady flow. Across the river our enemy would be waiting, growing their number and hunting down any of our kind they came across. In time they would cross the river in force, and end this months long war.
To the East the old parliament building, its once grand columns a crumbling heap, the building so unstable now that no one dared enter. To the South stood the old courthouse, less elaborate but no less grand. It stood looming over the square with its leaning clock tower like a single eye watching in judgment. Although who it might be judging I had no clue, as most of us are lost now, and our enemy across the river seemingly beyond judgement or law. To the west, our home of late. Our prison that was once a bank. The treasury, long since looted by friend and foe alike. Now locked and boarded up, holding the last of us and our dwindling supply of food. The building stood tall, though the top few floors had collapsed. The heavy gate barred and all windows covered, it had room enough for many times our number and vaults hidden throughout. It had been our savior on several occasions, when the enemy swept through, seeking to scour us from the face of the earth. We survived, for now.
I saw nothing suspicious but the two heaps on the ground below. From up here they seemed so harmless. I swept down with my sight, ready to study and see my enemy helpless before me. The clothes were foreign, made of whatever metal or stone they had mastered. We had no such skill. They molded it to their bodies so seemlessly we could find no weakness. That was one of the reasons they won. Their faces were covered too, helmets and face plates so smooth there were no joints. I could see no damage to the armor, nothing from bullets or blades. But, the way they lay was awkward, angled and contorted beyond the normal range of a man. Whatever broke them had been strong. I glanced up at the statue. He continued to mock me by not looking back. I needed more proof.
I wished I could look closer, remove their face mask and see what looked back at me. We had never seen their faces. If I could bring one into our compound and show how he or it had been killed, it might help my theory. But the only way to do that would be to actually go out there.
But how? The building was locked down. No one went out during the day. Few went out at night any more, and only then with approval from the Hearthmaster.
I pulled back my seeing with a snap. It jolted me like a shock of cold water, and took several seconds to reorient myself. As I waited for my vision to clear I leant back against the stone and ran through my options. There were gaps, here and there on the second floor. Not much but enough that I might slip through, small as I was. But the Daywatchers would see me and if I was spotted, they may be forced to take me down to preserve the secrecy of our compound. The enemy had done sweeps before, but we always managed to hide in the heavy steel bunkers deep within the building. We hadn’t lost a soul in the last three weeks, and I didn’t think anyone would hesitate to sacrifice me for the common good. I could perhaps make a gap beneath the gate, in the corner where it was more mud than stone. But if I was caught, or worse yet, if the gap was found by wild dogs or by the enemy, I could put everyone at risk.
The question then became, why would I risk my life and the thirty lives of those here, the last ragged troupe of survivors from Le Orleon? Was there a reason, beyond stubborn curiosity? Was there a purpose beyond my own?
As my thoughts wandered, my hands seemed to decide all by themselves. I began to pull absently at the dirt under the gate. My nails dug into the mud, soft from the days of rain. Perhaps, I thought, I could push back the mud to cover my tracks and find another way to return. Or perhaps, I was tired of life inside this prison, and I should take my chances out there.
The whisper travelled through the air with alarming volume, carrying my name like an accusation. I hunched up and pressed back into the shadows, turning away to hide my hands and arms caked in mud.
“I know you are there. I can hear you.” Another whisper found me. I looked around and saw a subtle twitch in the air as the sound waves shivered. I tried to identify the voice but a whisper seems to carry no accent somehow, unless you are attuned to hear it.
All I knew for certain was, someone knew where I was, and that meant whoever sent out the whisper may know what I was about to do. If I wanted to leave unobstructed, they would be no better time than now.