Gillette turned east at the intersection instead, pushing down a long, straight street that passed between lines of shops. With butchers, bakers, and tanners, that street was more commercial than any row Faradorn had been shown. It stopped abruptly by a wall and a small archway with two parapets above, not unlike several they had seen throughout their journey.
Once they had passed beneath that archway, they could see eastern Versali-Virai was much humbler. Smaller houses lined the road that seemed to fade into disrepair before becoming naught but a dirt path. Still, even in that meek area, Faradorn took solace that the way was still lighted.
“Can I ask you a question?” Gillette wondered. “You seem to be awfully predisposed with the lights around here. Anxious almost.”
“What is your question?”
“It just seems odd you would come here in the middle of the night if you’re so worried about the darkness.”
For the first time since his arrival, Faradorn allowed a grin to cross his face. “The night doesn’t frighten me, nor does the darkness. It’s a shroud—a shield—and the light is a weapon. There’s a balance to it I find comforting, which is why Versali-Virai sounded so appealing to me.”
“The City of Lights,” Gillette said. “So that’s why you came so late.”
“I had heard you could see this place illuminated from the sea, but I must admit I’m almost happier to see it’s speckled, not awash with it. I’ve seen brightness like that before, and it is overwhelming.”
The tour guide nodded and hummed to himself. “Well, there’s one spot toward the end of the tour you might enjoy. We’ll be passing by closer to Wolden’s Lighthouse on our way back on the north road.”
“I should like very much to see it.”
Gillette drew to that unexpected warmth, and his smile returned, stretched broad across his face. His pace hastened, and he continued through the poorer section of the city, the visitor behind him every step of the way.
The way before them fell further into disrepair, with houses crumbling away in their weaker corners and lanterns being traded for more primitive torches. The smell of fecal waste hung heavy in the air, and Gillette waved it away as if it had substance to it. Faradorn seemed not to mind, his sight set on the next gate that led past.
The guide was not so quick to leave the area, even if it did smell particularly offensive. Just beside the archway, illuminated in the warm orange glow of the braziers there, a poor unclean child rested his back against the flaking wall. His clothes were no better off, with holes torn into his shirt and his slacks much too short to cover his legs. If Versali-Virai had been a colder city, the boy would have most likely succumbed to the elements.
“Ravi,” Gillette called out. The boy stirred, blinking weary eyes that struggled to see the world. “A job for me is a coin for you,” the guide said. That generous offer had the pauper on his feet in an instant. Gillette fished in his pockets and pulled out a handful of gold and silver—money he had received from Faradorn earlier in the week by courier. With a little trepidation, the guide plucked a golden doubloon from his palm and flicked it to the lad. “Get yourself something to eat, boy.”
Offering only a smile in return, Ravi skittered backward through the gate. He turned about in the darkness, but both of the men could hear his sandaled feet slapping against the stone road on the other side.
Faradorn cast a discerning glance toward Gillette. The glare was not lost on the guide, who shrugged away that judgment. “I remember a time when I was where that boy was: living in the gutters. Besides, a little generosity shared never hurt anyone. After all, it was you that gave me the hefty purse just to perform a job I always do.”
“He would have been just as happy with silver.”
“And I would have been none the wiser if you had decided to pay me my usual rate. Sometimes we decide to give a little extra, it would seem.”
“Let’s continue along. We’re in no rush, but if we catch Bernard before he closes up the bar, maybe he could get you that deal we talked about.”
They pushed past the archway, arriving on the other side of the wall, where the houses regained their stability and, farther on, even their luster.
“This part of the city, the farthest east, is well maintained,” Gillette said. “They want to make sure any visitors who come from the road there see a healthy, thriving city, not a shantytown falling into disrepair. Truth be told, most of these houses close to the poor district are all owned by one man, and they’re left vacant. Nobody wants to live there except for those who can’t afford it, and he’s not exactly known for his generosity.”
“Sounds like a scourge on this town. He must have plenty of money, if he’s leaving homes empty here.”
Gillette swallowed away the tension in his throat. “Well, it’s not my place to say where someone’s money should go. If Plesson Howell wants to hoard his coin, I say let him.”
“’Tis a shame for all the people in the poor district though. People like Ravi, that is.”
“I suppose you’re right. But don’t tell anybody I said that. Howell’s got ears in every shadow. Suppose that’s like the shroud you talked about.”
“You seem intimidated by this man.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to,” Faradorn pressed. “I should hope I never have the misfortune of meeting this Howell.”
Gillette squared his jaw and kept walking, averse to continue down the path of that topic. Instead, the guide stepped off the road and waved his client over. “If we keep walking that way, we’ll venture too far off course. This shortcut will speed up your return to the King’s Charter, and you won’t have to worry too much about the boring parts of the city. How many houses can you see before they all start to look the same?”
Faradorn didn’t say anything, choosing instead to observe the glances down every alleyway his guide seemed preoccupied by. That far from the main road, the street lamps were at their backs, but Faradorn could see other sconces affixed to the backs of houses. He reached toward them, as if he could feel their warmth even from afar.
“You really shouldn’t be here this late at night,” both of them heard. Gillette gasped and hopped back, for another fellow emerged from the darkness between two houses. His windswept hair and thick mustache were dark enough to shield his face where the shadows couldn’t. “Dishonorable folk prowl around here. We wouldn’t want to see you hurt.”
“I have money,” Gillette announced. “I’ll give you everything in my pockets. Just let my friend go.”
“Now why would we do that?”
The emphasis on that word again—we—was not lost to Faradorn, who looked to his sides. Two more men sidled from the alleyways on either end of the smaller street, and they weren’t shy about brandishing weapons.
“This isn’t going to end well,” the visitor to the city said. “For any of you.”
Gillette spun on his heel and looked at his client with concern. “Just give them whatever money you have on you, and they’ll leave us alone.” The guide took his own coin purse and threw it to the ground in front of the mustached thug before him.
“I’d sooner take theirs,” Faradorn said.
Incited by those brave, foolish words, the men on his side inched closer, even as he raised his hand. Somewhere behind them, the sound of glass shattering reported into the darkness. Everyone turned to look except Faradorn, who kept his eyes trained on the nearest robber. Another glass shattered, and another, closer and closer. They realized the lanterns and sconces that hung behind the houses dimmed, not as if their flames were being extinguished, but as if the fire was pulled through the air into something insubstantial.
Faradorn’s raised hand made up for that encroaching darkness. His digits shined with a new light, illuminating his eager, vengeful eyes. As more lanterns broke around them and more flickering flames pulled toward him, even his lowered hand was aglow with magic.
“Don’t just stand there, you idiots,” their leader cried out, pushing past Gillette. “Take him down!”
With a jerk of his wrist, Faradorn’s hand shot forward to the nearest thug. A blast of energy accompanied that movement, landing upon the man’s chest. That weaponized light threw the thief backward with intense force. He slammed against the wall of a nearby house and slumped to the ground before the light ever faded.
His companion across the way lunged forward, brandishing a knife that glimmered in the light of the visitor’s hand. Faradorn spun about in the blink of an eye, ducking beneath that attack. Before the thug could turn his head, an elbow struck against the back of it. He was unconscious before he even hit the ground.
The mustached man wasn’t fazed in the least by the quick, sour treatment to his henchmen. He rushed forward, a rod drawn back in his hand. Faradorn sank to one knee and let the light out one more time. Like quarrels fired from a crossbow, those energy projectiles met their mark. The leader of the bandits couldn’t halt his momentum, and those shots of light thrust him airborne. Faradorn alternated his hands, firing one missile after another, the groans and gasps from the robber shrinking with each blast. His body flung to the roof of the nearest house, collapsing through the roof.
None of the bandits budged, and Faradorn breathed easy.
Gillette stood with his mouth ajar, ready to bolt at any moment. But in the sight of that surprising attack, he was fixed in his spot.
“Howell has a habit of making things look different than they are, doesn’t he?” Faradorn asked. His eyes still drew to the damaged house the leader of the bandits had crashed through. As he turned on his heel, he kicked the rod the mustached man had dropped and scooped it up, holding it in his hand, which still pulsed with light. “After all, I saw through his designs with you.”
Stammering and holding up his hands, Gillette couldn’t begin to protest or plead his case.
“I saw you slip something to Garvey when we arrived near the King’s Charter. That was his instructions to have Ravi meet you by the arch back a ways, was it not? But even then, I saw you hesitated to lead me here.”
“My problem, not yours,” Faradorn said. “But I do need you for one more thing, Gillette. I need you to carry my message to your employer. Tell him this city is going to change. Tell him people no longer need to fear what lurks behind the shadows. Tell him…” he went on, sweeping back his long hair to reveal the pointed ears of an elven people, “the last son of the Kolari is here, and Versali-Virai no longer belongs to him.”
Gripped between his fingers, the rod he had acquired from Howell’s henchman glowed, until it was brighter than the light on his hands. Gillette saw then the light was being transferred, leaving Faradorn’s skin and entering the weapon itself. It grew so bright that if those houses were occupied, their inhabitants would have confused night for morning. The guide lifted his hand to block that intense light.
Then, all at once, it was gone—the light, the rod, even Faradorn. Gillette was left in darkness, left to swallow away the tension of the promise the stranger had made.
Somehow, standing in those shadows, Gillette didn’t feel quite as afraid.
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