Snow flittered down from the silver clouds and dusted the cobblestone streets. Smoke plumed out of factory chimneys and immense cogs as tall as twenty men cranked in tandem; powering machines the size of titans. No workers manned them though. The factories were empty, yet their machines still spit fire and ash into the sky.
Clack, clack, clack. A sound echoed through the hauntingly empty streets. Clack, clack, clack. The sound came again, but this time closer. A figure rounded a corner into the open square. It was a man clad in a raven black, three piece suite. He had a cane that was clearly used for decoration than assistance, but it did prove to be the source of the noise. He came close enough for his narrow jaw to be seen and it was seen that white feathers fanned out around his feet. He knelt down and his top hat shrouded from his eyes to the bridge of his nose. All that could be seen was his burning, fire colored eyes that had pupils resembling starbursts. A golden chain hung around the man’s neck and a jewel dangled at its end. Upon closer inspection the jewel was a glistening red diamond; its shape was carved into a royal lion grasping a human heart in one paw and a key in the other. His lips parted and he spoke with eccentricity,
”These streets are filled to the brim with scrapped projects as is. You’re going to be the one that can be salvaged and made into something even greater than these machines.” He said with a gesture of his hand. “Now, wake up!”
Ryder bolted upright in her cot. A shiver ran through her as snowflakes stung at her exposed neck. She wiped away the moisture and hand took its place. Ryder jumped out of her cot and drew her makeshift dagger. A familiar lighthearted chuckle made her muscles relax and caused her to throw her head back with a sigh of relief and slight anger.
”Well good morning siren sleeper. You’re lucky it was me that woke you and not one of the guards with all the noise you were making.” Dulicus said playfully. Ryder sheathed her dagger back in her cord belt and tossed her ragged nightshirt off. She heard a giggle escape Dolicus’s mouth and she turned sharply toward him.
”And just what is so funny?” Ryder snapped. The skinny boy smiled wickedly and poked at Ryder’s developing chest. “Looks like you itched your mosquito bites too much Ryder deary.” Ryder’s mouth dropped open as he curled over into laughter. Enraged she kicked him off the edge of their shabby hut into a heap of snow. She shrugged on her thicker wool shirt as Dulicus tumbled out of the snow.
”Done making snow angels already funny boy?”
”Shut it, Ryder. That wasn’t funny or nice of you to do. You know my clothes don’t handle snow well like yours.”
”Well maybe if someone had made their clothes out of wool..” He cut her off,
”Oh, you mean the last scrap of wool I gave up for you?” She stayed silent as he scowled at her. Ryder turned her gaze towards her feet to hide her shame. It was true. Dulicus managed to steal high priced wool from one of the higher end boutiques so they could make winter clothes, but he had only managed to get enough to make two pairs of pants and one shirt. They had argued about it for hours but Ryder finally gave in and took the last scrap. What he didn’t know is that she had made it a size that they could both fit, or at least till she fully developed. The two were close in that sense. Even though they were not blood they found comfort and family in one another.
They were both at least 12; orphaned and left to the streets. They had met on a calm summer’s day three years back. Ryder had been escaping the guards after stealing a cooked turkey leg from a local meat cart, and just as she veered into an alleyway she plowed right into Dulicus. They toppled over into pile of wilted flowers and that’s when Ryder had stumbled upon Dulicus’s little shack.
He had built it by himself out of driftwood that washed up at the small beach by the docks and fastened it together with scrapped ropes and nails that crewmen tossed overboard. For such a young boy he was smart enough to nestle the makeshift home in between two connected townhouses whose ends perturded out so far as to almost touch the stone wall, which mainly kept the drunken homeless from falling into the bay, and as they righted themselves Ryder saw that she hadn’t run into just any normal boy. The boy that stood before her had skin that glistened like the gold coins that they used as currency, his eyes were resembled yellow opal and his hair was silvery white.
”Now look what you did, you ninny!” He shrieked. “That was six gold that I earned fair and square, and now it’s lost in these blasted flowers!” Ryder remember how they knelt and dug in those flowers for almost two hours. She felt like a normal kid for once. A normal child that had a simple life and she wasn’t some poor girl who had no parents and didn’t have horns sprouting from the top of her head, or perform acts, only to be labeled as tricks, with a wave of her hand.
A hand tilted her chin back up and she met the softened eyes of Dulicus. He smiled warmly and pulled her into his arms. He whispered an I’m sorry and squeezed her tight against him.
”Hey,” she said with as he wrung out his shirt, “how ’bout I snag us some breakfast? You could make Mrs. Wendelton’s chickens get loose again, and I could sneak in and snag one of her apple pies.” He grinned and grabbed his boots and started to walk off, but Ryder grabbed hold of his shoulder before he could leave.
”Hey, before we go I want you to take my shirt. I can’t risk you catching sick.”
”Ryder no, I won’t do that. You’ll freeze.”
”I’ll be fine. You know I always run warm anyhow.” Before Dulicus could argue any further she slipped out of the warm wool and tossed it to him; taking it reluctantly. Tugging on her boots and tucking her cloth shirt into her pants Ryder joined Dulicus at the opening of their alley.
”You know you don’t have to risk this just to make it up to me, right?” He said as they walked through into the snow dusted town square. Ryder nudged him with her shoulder with a quick smile. He understood their bond, but he still had yet to see how dedicated Ryder was, whether he liked it or not, to keeping him safe and happy. It was a promise she intended to keep till the day they died.
As they rounded the corner to the street to Mrs. Wendelton’s the two stopped a block ahead of the house. They had done this several times before; it was a fun ritual of theirs. Dulicus said he’d get to the coop in five minutes, which was exactly when the clock in the square would ring, and that’s when Ryder was to rush on to the scene and run in through the front door.
”Now no messing about, you hear? I know Wendelton has lots of stuff that you want to snag, but food is more important and remember that.”
”Yea, yea. I know what I’m doin’. I’ll be in and out before Wendelton is even wary.” Ryder said cockily. Dulicus rolled his eyes and disappeared between two houses. Ryder went instantly into action mode; from a small girl to a master thief. She crept along the shadows until she reached the corner of her stoop. Looking back over her shoulder she had a clear view of the clock tower; only two minutes to spare. Ryder heard a cawing sound and knew instantly that Dulicus had reached the chicken coop. Checking back over her shoulder once more Ryder saw the clock was in its final moments before going off. The giant iron work hand ticked closer to the golden twelve mark; seconds were left before she had to spring into action. Four, three, two…and the clock bonged. Ryder heard the chickens begin to squak and flap their wings and sure enough Mrs. Wendelton herself came racing out of her home. Ryder made a mad dash to the door as it tried to slide close behind its owner and made it through the closing gap just before it clicked shut.
”Well, looks like I’m not getting out that way.” Ryder said to herself. Not paying much mind to the minor setback she padded over to the window to see how much time she had before Wendelton restored order to her coop. Peering out she found Mrs. Wendelton in a fluster as she raced around in circles to gather up her chickens. Ryder could see almost half of them had already made it down the street; time was clearly not an issue at this point, so why not explore?
Leaving the window Ryder casually took in all of Mrs. Wendelton’s parlor room. It was illuminated by a brass, candlelit chandoler. A small, fine oak table and high backed chairs to match. A cupboard rested against the far wall that held an assortment of tea cups, serving trays, and other items for servicing guests, though Ryder doubted the old widow had many guests anymore. All the decor was nestled around a stone fireplace. Above it rested a wooden mantle that was brimming with bobbles and trinkets of the widow’s past. A doorway opened up next to the cupboard and Ryder drank in the scent of cooked meat and fresh apple pie. Ryder quickened her pace towards the kitchen when a glint from an empty shelf of the cupboard caught her eye. She shook her head as her feet tried to take her to the glint, but in her mind she knew better. Dulicus would be infuriated if she got distracted over something that may just turn out to be meaningless jewelry. It wasn’t worth it, she decided, food and a happy Dulicus was more important.
Ryder entered the kitchen and was enveloped by the intoxicating scent of fresh cooked food. On the windowsill sat an assortment of freshly baked pies, and all looked big enough to feed five people. Resting on top of the iron woodstove was two trays of boar meat. Ryder knew she came in for just pie, but the boar was far too tempting to turn away from. Fishing into her pocket Ryder pulled out a handkerchief she used to carry trinkets and procured goods in. This’ll do nicely to carry at least one tray of meat, but I better find something else to carry the rest. She thought to herself. After carefully slipping the meat off its tray into her handkerchief Ryder began poking around to find a way to get the rest out of the house. Remembering the cupboard in the parlor room Ryder scrambled out of the kitchen remembering she was still strapped for time.
”Ah, here we go. This’ll do jolly good!” Ryder exclaimed to herself. A wicker basket sat on the empty shelf at the bottom of the cupboard, but then something clicked in her mind and she remembered what else was on that shelf; the mystery jewel. Not being able to restrain herself Ryder reached over to where she had seen the glint and picked up the jewel. She slowly turned over her hand and, one by one, moved her fingers. She jumped and clasped back down on the jewel as the sound of stomping came from outside. Mrs. Wendelton was back, and the stomping was her knocking the snow off her boots. Hooking the basket on her arm Ryder dashed back to the kitchen and started hurriedly stuffing things in it. First the meat, then the pie, forks, knives, and to top it off she snatched up a bottle of wine. Alright, now I’ll just climb out the window and…The door creaked open. Just as Ryder had walked into the parlor room so had Mrs. Wendelton, and there she stood. Her jaw was agape and her nightgown was soaked at its hem from snow. Ryder’s eyes went wide. Realizing she still clasped the jewel she saw no other option than to quickly jam it into the pie.
”You, I should’ve known! It was you and that blonde headed rat! I’ll have you arrested this time for sure! Guards!” She screeched. Ryder gasped and panicked as the widow picked up random belongings and flung them at Ryder. There was only one way she could get out of this. As Mrs. Wendelton turned and opened her door Ryder threw her hand up and it slammed shut.
”That’ll be enough out of you Widow Wendelton.” Ryder said shakily as Mrs. Wendelton spun around.
”What did you do? You didn’t even touch the door. Witch! You’re a witch! I knew there was something strange about you!”
”I said that’s enough!” Ryder screamed. Ryder was beyond infuriated now. Witch? How dare she.
”Now I’ll have you see here Widow Wendelton, I am no witch! I am something beyond a witch. Something greater, and born to make the world better. I’d tell you that you’ll see someday, but I’m afraid you’ll never even remember this moment.” And with a flick of her wrist Mrs. Wendelton’s terrified expression smoothed out into a blank stare. She then turned and walked upstairs. Now free to go, Ryder sighed heavily and walked out the door. Ryder was no witch. Witches were withered, old hags that had been twisted and rotted by doing the Devil’s work. She may be a devilish type, but she has never conspired with Lucifer. No one understood her; except Dulicus. They both knew what it was like to be different, and it wasn’t easy in the slightest.
Ryder shuffled along the streets in silence. She didn’t like using her abilities. They caused trouble, and just like Mrs. Wendelton had mistaken them for witchcraft Ryder knew others would too. Using her abilities made her depressed, but she managed to get over it quickly as it was replaced with shock and terror. As she was making her way out of Mrs. Wendelton’s street into the town square a familiar figure came stepped out of the inn. The man in black from her dreams stood right before her.
Ryder’s feet were frozen where she stood.
”This can’t be possible. You’re a bloody dream aren’t…” A booming voice cut her off.
”Excuse me young miss, but may I ask you where you got that basket?” Ryder whipped around and found a tall, broad shouldered man in a guard’s uniform. He bent forward slightly to see her over his brooding chest and raised an eyebrow. Quickly she stuttered out:
”W-Widow Wendelton, sir.”
”Oh, is that so? I never took the widow for a giving type. Not since her husband died, but even then I don’t think she’d give anything to a troublemaking type like yourself.”
”Troublemaking type, sir? I haven’t raised any kain.”
”No, no you haven’t. Not yet at least. I’m having a hard time believing that Widow Wendelton gave that to you. You know what I think?”
”That I’m her poor granddaughter who feeds off scraps?”
He snorted and grinned. Reaching to his side the guard pulled out a small club and loomed over Ryder. With a gasp Ryder spun around and scrambled away from the guard. Ryder heard him call out, “Stop, theif!” as she ran, but there wasn’t a chance of her stopping any time soon. A whistle rang out behind her and she heard numerous boots thud out from alleyways and hidden posts; the chase was on.
Hundreds of guards must be on her tail Ryder thought. She wasn’t going to bother turning around to actually count; that was too risky. Ryder could estimate that she had been running a long time though. Her lungs burned from exhaustion and the stinging cold air, and the guards didn’t seem to be letting up. Ryder had led them through every alleyway that she knew trying to shake them, but there were too many that could keep up. Finally Ryder decided to take a chance and began a course for the square; maybe then she could lose them in the crowd. Making a sharp right Ryder heard one of the guards skid into the wall and fall to the ground; bringing down three others with him. Taking a quick look over her should Ryder counted six left. She got out to the main street and ducked quickly as a construction worker swung around with a large sack of bricks, and all but one guard managed to get around him. Five left.
Rushing out into the square Ryder felt a wave of relief. Monday Market was brimming with people, and brimming with opportunities to escape. A leather skinned, worn looking man pulled his jewel cart out in front of Ryder and her pursuers and with lightning fast reaction Ryder tossed her basket high into the air and tumbled under the cart; two more of the guards weren’t so lucky. Ryder stopped briefly as she caught her basket and saw the three remaining guards trying to weave their way through people. Seeing that she had time Ryder bent over and caught her breath. Dulicus is probably worried sick. I have to lose them.
Ryder’s head shot up as one of the guards broke through the crowed and snickered menacingly at her. Without thought Ryder held her basket tight to her and took off once more. She ducked and twisted through the throng of bodies but to no avail; the guards were still right behind her. The inn, she thought. She could cut through the inn and out the back. With a fake turn to the right Ryder jerked left and bound straight for the inn. The crowed dangerously thinned out as she got closer to the inn, but she had to keep going. No sooner did she break free of the crowed did she look back over her shoulder with a smile and not see the oncoming leg that she ran right into. Knocked flat on her back Ryder gasped for breath and clenched her eyes shut. The wind, what little was left of it, was knocked out of her.
”Oh heavens! I’m terribly sorry my dear. I didn’t see you there.” Said an eerily familiar voice. No, it can’t be. Her eyes flew open, and there he was. Kneeling over her. The man in black.