The streets of Nightfall were unnaturally quiet, even the foxes and the alley cats that stalked the streets during the late hours looking for scraps had abandoned them, the unusual silence that encompassed the empty roads unsettling the few citizens unfortunate enough to be travelling down them. Laughing and the occasional breaking of glass echoed from the taverns, shadows flickering in the windows as the occupants within wandered past the candles, and from a library, an old mage stepped out into the cold, open air, clutching an oversized tome in his wrinkled hands. He looked around at the emptiness and dashed towards his modest home on top of the hill, hoping to avoid the thieves and drunkards prowling the notorious city.
A hooded figure stalked the eerily quiet streets of the capital, the light cast by the streetlamps shrinking in her presence and allowing her shadow to grow, but she paid no heed to them. She rather liked being feared, especially by the light.
A tavern door swung open abruptly, creaking on its hinges and impacting on the wall with a low thud. A broad man stumbled backwards into the middle of the street and lost his balance, cursing loudly and filling the quiet area with his booming voice as he hit the ground. “You’re only annoyed because you lost, Trun,” he yelled, pointing accusingly back into the tavern where the man in question stood, his scowl illuminated by the candles and gas lamps. “You always were a sore loser!”
Profanities shot through the door and seconds later it was slammed shut, the drunk in the street grumbling under his breath and getting to his feet. He swayed as he staggered, placing one foot down in front of the other carefully in an attempt to stay upright, but his caution didn’t get him far, and upon reaching the pavement he missed the step and stumbled over himself. He would have hit the floor if it weren’t for the strong hands that reached out to grab him, preventing him from toppling over again.
“Thank you, sir,” he slurred, still remembering his manners in spite of his intoxicated state and trying to find a face beneath the dark hood that seemed to be looking directly at him.
“You are welcome,” the cloaked woman said, her voice as soft as silk. “But I am no sir.” She smiled sweetly from beneath the darkness of her hood and steadied the man before she continued on her way, the cloak around her swirling in the light breeze and the hem lifting to avoid the brunt of the dirt and grime lining the cobbles.
Overhead, a raven squawked and took flight, flying low over the city’s buildings and following the woman as she travelled, landing and taking to the air again until she had reached her journeys end.
Once the woman had descended the steps down to the canal and hidden herself amongst the shadows, he landed on the railing with a quick flap of his large wings and shook his head, screeching at the top of his lungs and letting his shrill voice echo around the tunnel before he did it again.
“Corvus,” the woman hissed, stepping out from the gloom and approaching the midnight black bird. “Will you be quiet?”
The raven titled his head and cawed again, earning himself an unimpressed glare as he began to skitter across the metal bars that separated the treacherous waters and the walkway beneath the bridge. With a tilt of his head he considered the woman, watching her lower her hood, his beady eyes falling across her dark hair that was draped over one shoulder, and her tanned skin that caught the reflection of the artificial light skimming over the surface of the canal water.
The woman let out a short breath and stuck her hand into the drawstring pouch on her belt, retrieving a red berry from within. “Fine,” she sighed, throwing it to the bird and watching as he caught it in his beak, gulping it down and cawing in his excitement. “Now shut up.”
The raven swallowed the last morsel of the sweet fruit and skittered across the railing, coming to a halt once he’d reached the bars limit and peering out into the never-ending night. There wasn’t much to see; a drunken straggler muttering to himself as he attempted to catch up with his friends, the odd disturbance of water as a fish got too close to the surface, and then, from around the corner of the dimly lit street, a man dressed in light blue finery, heading straight for the canal bridge.
Corvus cawed and scampered back across the railing, squawking at his mistress again until she waved her hand for him to be quiet.
“All right, Corvus,” she said sternly. “I know. I can sense him.” The woman loosened the daggers she’d concealed on her belt and watched the opening at the other end of the short tunnel with unblinking eyes.
A man appeared, his blue silk cloak catching the light reflecting off the water momentarily before the darkness consumed the colour. “I didn’t know whether you were going to turn up, Lynetta,” he said, an air of authority about him as he confidently strode towards the woman and halted just a few paces from her. He eyed the raven cautiously, but once it remained still he paid it no further heed. “I’m glad to see that I was wrong.”
“I’m here to collect my payment, Adran,” Lynetta replied, raising an eyebrow. “Why would I not turn up?”
“Because you assassins are tricky,” Adran told her, riffling through the inside pocket of his cape and producing eight silver coins. “I take it Lord Harold didn’t cause too much of a fuss.”
“He didn’t even know I was there, at least not until I wanted him too and by that time it was too late.” Lynetta took the proffered coins and placed them safely in the purse hanging from her belt. “I was also able to get you this.” The assassin retrieved a piece of parchment from her cape, rolled and secured with the seal of the Astronomers, a notorious bunch of sky watchers who liked to peddle nonsense about other worlds and celestial lights. “But it will cost you extra,” she said, pulling the parchment away when Adran tried to reach for it, his eyes aglow with fascination and desire.
The man grumbled under his breath and handed over a further two silver coins, all but snatching the document from her the moment she moved to give it to him.
“I don’t know why you want such nonsense,” Lynetta laughed, shaking her head in amusement and pocketing the coins. “Lord Harold was a fool to believe in it, and so are you. There’s no such thing as space, or planets, or celestial beings that glow in the sky.”
“There is so much out there,” Adran insisted, his eyes lighting up and a blissful smile appearing on his lips, “more than we know, more than we could ever dream of.”
“Yes, lots and lots of darkness,” Lynetta said sternly, growing tired of hearing of strange things that didn’t exist. People would believe all sorts of foolish things if the right person said it, and unfortunately these Astronomers were quite influential, their network spreading across the realm and growing by the day. “There is nothing you can say to convince me otherwise, and if you had an ounce of intelligence about you, you’d close your ears to such talk. You dreamers are only wasting your time in thinking that there’s anything out there.”
Adran heaved a sigh; he heard it every day in the streets, the citizens of the realm disputing what the Astronomers said, deeming them trouble rousers and foolish men, but he believed in them, heart and soul. He believed in stars, and planets, and moons, he believed in them with every inch of his being. The only problem was they couldn’t see them, and so it was easy to dismiss their existence. But he was determined to support the Astronomers as much as he could, and see that the truth was known all over the land, from Nightfall all the way to Terith. “There is more to our world than meets the eye,” he said, “and I will find a way to prove it.”