The gold was exactly where she had been told it would be – buried in the muck and slime of Tyrun’s southern sewer. Darkness covered the city and Giselle lay flat on the floor, her arm buried in the slowly flowing river of filth.
She grimaced as the dark brown liquid lapped up past her elbow while occasional, unmentionable solids brushed her skin. Clutched between her fingers was a soaked canvas bag that had been tucked into a hollow in the sewer wall. She wondered what the King would think, that his father’s precious sewer built to free the city of disease was now used by smugglers. The weight of the bag told her she had located what she had been searching for. It had taken a good half hour of burying her arm in this disgusting sludge, hunting out every nook and cranny in the walls. By now she was immune to the stench.
She jumped to her feet, trying not to splash herself in the process. Her face screwed up in distaste as she used her clean hand to try to wipe the bag clean – or at least cleaner – and sneaked a peek inside. The lump of precious metal stared back, dulled as all the others had been to avoid notice but still so enticing. For a brief second, and not for the first time, she considered taking it and running off. She’d be dead before she made it to the city gates.
/One day, Giselle…/
Giselle smiled to hear the strength of the creature within her.
“Yes, one day.”
She tucked the bag in her dress pocket and attempted to rid herself of the worst of the slime. Whenever she went on these delivery journeys he seemed stronger. His presence gained more substance and the voice in her head was louder.
/It is the gold,/ Voice reminded her.
His voice was gravelly, like a thousand stones shaken against each other. The sound brought her comfort – despite the strength she could feel in him now, between these missions he had been near silent of late. Every so often guilt rose and ran through them both that he could not explain. It was a mystery he did not want solved.
“Voice?” she asked, feeling his attention drift. It snapped back to her when she spoke. “What do you keep thinking about?”
Her arm was as clean as she could make it, so she turned to scramble up the ladder that led to the main city. Her hand slipped on the rusty metal and she vaulted over onto the pavement. The client she went to now was new, so she had never been to this inn before. She knew the city so well that it wasn’t an issue. She slid in and out of tiny alleys as she listened to her Voice, grateful that clouds shrouded the moon tonight to hide her passage.
/I’ve been having dreams – it must be of the war. Fire, blood./
Giselle responded with a wave of sympathy that she pushed towards him. He embraced it and replied with his own version of a wavering smile.
“We’ll find out, one day. We’ll go to the mountains.”
She felt his acquiescence to her words, but also his sigh of disbelief. She wished she could reassure him, but with how long they had been stuck in this city she didn’t even believe it herself. It was a dream – the only dream they had. For a few moments they shared a vision of mountains, fed by Voice’s faltering memories. Giselle wished she had memories of her own, but she had been a baby when she left there.
Loud footsteps approached and she pressed up against the wall, making herself as small as possible. A priest hurried past towards the lights of a nearby temple. She remained hidden until he was out of sight, then continued through the city. There were few people in these narrow alleyways at this time of night; a few prostitutes, and the occasional potential mugger. They left her alone – a homeless girl, especially one who stank as much as she did at that moment, could offer them nothing. The only people who posed any threat were guards and the men who liked to lurk in shadows and grab for any girl who looked weak enough. With Voice’s help, she had slipped out of their grasp every time they had shown an interest.
/If only they knew what treasure you hold./
“Not talking about yourself again, are you?” she teased back. A woman to the left snapped her head around to stare at her, but Giselle ignored it as Voice chuckled in her head. By now she was well used to the stares and she had long ago given up trying not to speak to him in front of people. None of them cared enough to help, so why should she worry what they thought?
The inn loomed in front of her and as instructed she ignored the front door. Instead she looped around to the back. It looked more like the area of Tyrun she lived on that side – the fence had rotted and rubbish piled up a few yards from the door. She placed one foot and hiked herself up. The crumbling stone proved easy to climb, but every so often a brick would shift under her fingers. Ginger hair fell in front of her eyes and she pressed her head against her elbow, hanging for a second against the sagging wall to brush it away. Darkness covered her enough that she didn’t have to fear being caught. She reached the correct window and lifted a hand to rap twice at the shutters.
The moment they opened she swung herself across, slid in through the narrow gap then bounced up so she stood before the client. It was a woman, middle–aged with lank brown hair and light wrinkles stretching across a tired face. Her eyebrows rose at Giselle’s entrance, but she regained her composure with ease.
“You have it?” she asked, a northern twang clear in her voice.
Giselle reached into her pocket and drew out the bag still covered in stinking grime. The woman grimaced as she held it out to her, but pinched the edge of the canvas and set it down on a table. She tugged the strings free so she could look inside and withdrew the lump of gold. Scales were already set up and she placed it on them to examine the measurement.
“More to come next week. Same again,” Giselle informed the woman, leaning against the wall. It was nice to be inside for once. She no longer shivered at night with the recent turn in the weather, but even so she appreciated the extra warmth of this room. She watched as the woman retrieved the gold from the scales and continued to examine it. She had been ordered to remain for as long as it took for the woman to be satisfied the gold was real. An unhappy customer might later call the guards on the operation, according to Jox. Eventually the woman nodded and Giselle hopped up on the window sill.
She stopped herself from nodding in agreement.
She turned her head and lifted an eyebrow as she stared at the woman.
“Can’t it be sooner than next week? In a few days, maybe?”
Giselle shrugged. “I’m just the deliverer, I do what I’m told. They won’t tell me where it is till next week. Talk to Jox if you want the date changed.”
The woman nodded, frowning, and Giselle turned to slide out of the window. The woman’s voice halted her once more.
“That’s an interesting burn you have…”
She tried to keep the incredulity off her face – she really did try, but it was impossible to hide it all. She lifted her arm to fully expose the circular burn there. Anything to please Jox and make sure she got paid.
“Had it since I was a baby. Think it was the Dragon War. I have places to be,” she added.
“It’s unusual, for a burn to still be so prominent after so many years.” The woman spoke more to herself than to Giselle.
“It’s just a scar. Doesn’t hurt.”
/Giselle… I think we should go./
The woman seemed to be trying to think of some way to delay her and Giselle took the opportunity to swing her legs around the other side of the window.
“Back next week.”
She slipped over the edge and slithered down the inn wall and into the night.
/That woman… I did not like her,/ Voice rumbled.
“We’ve had weirder customers. Except for asking about the scar – what was that about?”
/She felt… different. There was something about her – she seemed familiar./
Giselle paused, thinking back. She hadn’t noticed anything different about the woman, but sometimes Voice could sense more than her.
“Do you think you remember her from before?”
She slipped under a barrier and climbed another wall, grabbing onto vines to assist her ascent. They did not speak of ‘before’ often – she could not remember anything before he had been in her life, although she knew that he had not always been there. For him, it was all a muddle. Whatever he had been through to get his soul inside her body had scorched his memories clean out of him. Before, he had been a dragon. He remembered fighting in the war that had destroyed the last of the dragons and he had entered her body near the end of that. Most of the time he did not want to think of it, but sometimes he would get preoccupied by thoughts of where he had come from.
/I don’t think I want us to meet her again./
Tonight was obviously not one of those nights, despite his murmurings about it earlier.
“We’ve got to, though,” she argued, sliding between two walls so close they pressed in on her like the handles of a bellows. “Jox won’t let us skip out now. Not in the middle of a mission.” The smuggler did not like unexpected changes.
She came out in a tiny clearing boxed in on all sides by buildings. She slumped into a corner and pulled the ragged piece of cloth there around her as a blanket. She heard Voice sigh, but then he shook himself out and sent out a ray of warmth that settled through her whole body. She embraced it, seeking out more. Her eyes slipped shut and she let the summoned heat warm her and overtake the feelings of cold, hard stone. It was the only way she could survive winters sleeping outside. Even now spring had arrived it provided a welcome comfort no one else could offer. The fires she built were feeble at best.
Voice looked after her and she did her best to at least provide him with pleasant conversation. There was little else she could offer in return for his help.
/You do much more than that, Giselle,/ he murmured. /Sleep./
She wrapped thin arms around herself and forced her eyes closed. Tomorrow she would get her payment from Jox and start the weekly struggle of making it last until the next delivery. She surrendered herself to drifting dreams of gold and fire and that woman, asking again and again about her scar…
Find the second free chapter from Corran Dunslade’s point of view here.