‘In the deathly silence that follows his garnet eyes regard me in the way an owl regards a field rat.’
— Korik, “Rat” They Come at Night
It’s gone. I’ve riffled through everything I possess—twice! But it’s simply vanished in the night without a trace.
I’m just considering violating Halden’s domain when Mother Dagrún pokes her head into the bedroom.
“Kori, could I have your help…?”
Mother’s teal-eyed gaze scans over the disaster I’ve made of my side of the bedroom.
“Oh. Are you…busy?”
I cast a glance at the disaster. “No…not particularly.”
“Good, because I need you to go to Master Gísluson the Illuminist and place an order for a new book for the Hall,” Mother requests cheerfully.
I just stare at her in slight horror.
Leave the Fledgling Hall. To the Wurm Wood side of the village. Without my kunai.
I suddenly can’t breathe again.
“Why me?” I demand too harshly. “Why not Ilsa or…or Halden?”
I feel chilled to the bone and shaky and like I might lose hold on the contents of my stomach.
Mother looks taken aback by my outburst. “Kori, you know Ilsa cannot possibly go—she’s still abed with a twisted ankle. And Halden cannot read Grand Dragotic half as well as you.”
I try to swallow down the panic swirling about inside me like a swarm of bees without a hive to return to.
Her kind face clouds over with concern. “Kori, is there some reason you don’t want to—“
“No! I—I’ll go,” I interject.
I think I might be sick.
* * *
I let the door of the shop slam closed as I throw myself to the floor. My heart beating so frantically hard against my skin it feels like I’ve got that swarm of bees trapped beneath it.
They were waiting for me when I set foot outside of the Fledgling Hall—Gunther and his little horde. He said I’d regret it, but I never— I never thought he would chase me through half the village. Right to the edge of the Wurm Wood and now—
“What are you doing here, boy?” an older man demands, and my heart squeezes in panic as I turn.
His eyes are a blood-red garnet and his mane… He’s so old it’s gone white.
“I’ve no time for your games of Foxes and Hare. Now get out of my shop!”
The elder one reaches a long-nailed hand for me and I fall back on my palms.
«Please don’t toss me out! I beg you, please! He’ll end me for sure if you do!»
Master Gísluson stops dead in his tracks. In the deathly silence that follows his garnet eyes regard me in the way an owl regards a field rat. And it takes me a moment longer than it should to realize I’ve just pleaded in Grand Dragotic.
I swallow hard.
«Who taught you to speak so well? Are you a Grand Nimbus’ fledgling prowling about in a ditch rat’s pelt? Because you sure as hells don’t look like a monk.»
I push myself up into a sitting position. «My mama taught me.»
«And where is she then, hmm?»
My hand creeps up to clutch my pendant tightly as I meet his garnet-eye’d gaze. «Dead.»
Master Gísluson stares at me for an infinitely long time before departing, leaving me to rise to my feet.
I flip through the beautifully illuminated pages, drinking in every detail until the master illuminist returns from wherever it was that he went.
«And what business of you here, pale little rat?» he questions.
«Mother Dagrún sent me about the book order.»
I absently turn the page. I could recite this story in my sleep.
My head snaps up at the angry tone in his voice.
«Brood Mother Dagrún wouldn’t send anyone. She’s the only one in this wretched village that can actually re—»
Our eyes meet and a beat later his drop to the illuminated tome before me.
«Don’t touch that! Your grubby little fingers will ruin it!»
Master Gísluson slams the book shut, nearly closing my fingers in it.
I should be frightened. Probably. But I’ve escaped worse things than him. I suppress a shudder just thinking about it.
«Do you think it’s true?» I ask, my eyes still on the closed book.
«Do I think what’s true?» he snaps.
«Will the hatchling of two stars really end this curse upon our realm?»
«How should I know? I don’t create the stories. I just transcribe and illuminate these tomes,» he replies snarkily.
But then. «Wait, did you just…?»
Master Gísluson yanks the weighty tome open again and flips back to the page I had been reading.
«You read this.»
Technically I skimmed it.
«You can read Grand Dragotic?!» Gísluson questions with an intensity that makes me more than a little uneasy.
«Yes…» I answer, my heartbeat starting to quicken.
I fight the urge to reach for my pendant. Or a blade I now realize isn’t even there.
«That’s why Mother sent me. Because I can read Grand Dragotic…better than Common Dragotic.»
It’s something the other fledglings teased me for. Still tease me for. But is it also…dangerous?
The master illuminist gives me an appraising look. «Not a little rat after all.»
Note: dialogue in Guillemets— sideways double chevrons « and » —are in a language other than Dragotic the common Dragokin tongue.
Uh-oh, Korik’s down his only weapon and being pursued by Gunther and his horde. But what's this about a prophecy?
Find out in the next episode of They Come at Night!