((Author's Note: This is the beginning of what is actually the second novel in the long story of Merrick and his world. The story is begun in the novel- also on this site- called 'Merrick', but it is not a requirement that you read it to understand this story. In fact, being the perfectionist that I am, I'm kind of ashamed of the quality of the earlier piece. So don't worry if you're coming in right here. Everything will make sense eventually.))
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I. The Last Day of Spring
Despite the fury of the night before, the day dawned high and clear. The rain, which had come down in angry, lashing waves in the wee hours of the morning, was gone. It wasn't hot, as the long days of summer would be, but pleasantly warm, and crisp.
Merrick left the shutters open as he went about his morning rituals. The breeze danced around the room like a girl in her first skirt. Merrick took his time trimming his beard, and washing back the nights' tangle of hair. He felt no particular hurry. When trimmed and dressed, he buttoned his shirt, slipped into his vest, and picked up the neatly folded piece of parchment he had left on the table. He held it up to the light.
The messenger boy had come knocking at his door an hour earlier, rousing him out of a dream about dark shores and ancient stars, to bring him this single handwritten sheet.
Meet me at Fountain Square, midday.
This was followed by the official seal of the Manderian City Watch, stamped in red ink over the remaining space.
Merrick mused over the message. Captain Auristen had made a calculated and wickedly sharp move by sending such a brief message. Anything longer would have run the risk of giving the captain's motivations away, causing him to worry about what the recipient had deduced from the letter, and what his plans might be. Now, it was Merrick who was on the defensive, trying to guess what Auristen wanted, and what he intended by calling such a meeting. Manderia was a huge city, and despite his quasi-legal muckings about, Merrick had yet to encounter the Watch Captain in person. Another disadvantage.
That the message- and the meeting- had something to do with the disgrace and severe beating of ex-Lieutenant Ganthor, Merrick had no doubt. Ganthor had left the city under personal threat of death, and the remains of his regiment had either moved along or had been moved along by the unofficial group of watchmen Merrick had put together from the Rogue's Guild.
Now this. Auristen's letter, giving away nothing.
Merrick went to the window and leaned out, letting the sun wash across his face. No matter how long he lived, no matter how old he got, it still felt good. He looked down out of the second-story window at the street which wound its way through the borough of the guild. The chatter of the morning commerce drifted here and there on the air, seeming as casual and unconcerned as the day itself.
He would take his second-in-command, of course. Lunice, too, if she would come. Also Wekli, and Snitch, if he could find the little urchin. A group of five would be good. Enough to know he meant business, not so many as to give the impression that he was expecting a fight.
He turned away from the window, and stuck the parchment into the pocket of his vest. Breakfast first. Then he would decide.
Morning came to the city. The sun, which had risen unhindered from across the Salten Sea, cast its rays west down the river Rune, into the heart of Manderia.
It fell on the spire of the Temple of Light, bastion of the clerics of Gore. It slipped up the wall and across the domed roof of the city library, over to the Guild of Mages, gleaming a dusky-hued gold and red over its many-windowed bulk. It fell alike on the southeastern docks, on the dockworkers and petty labourers, the fishmongers and the builders. Along Hartford Street, two of Lady Magda's artists turned their faces up to it, letting the smoke from their thin, ornamental pipes drift up into the air.
In Market Square, merchants began setting up their carts, some of them angling for the best light, others- whose wares might show false when brightly lit- hiding in the shadows of the overhanging buildings.
The sunlight fell across the ruined half of the Rogue's Guild. No catastrophe, this, but an old defense mechanism from long-gone days when the rogues hid from the world, and their home was made up to look abandoned. The old, rotted boards still lay scattered across the outward facing rooms on the second story. The retaining wall was entirely missing, exposing the set of rooms to the elements, which had warped and decayed it over the long seasons. The guildmaster of the rogues himself stood in those rooms, looking out over the city in much the same way his old and life-long friend Merrick had done from his own- undamaged- room an hour ago. The guildmaster was called Zero. Whether he chose this name for himself, or he had been christened with it, no one could say. An enigmatic one, was Zero.
The worn leather of Zero's clothing, darkened with long, hard years of use, did not creak. The rogue made no noise when he moved, and now, as he stood patiently and watched, he might have been a part of the building itself, but for the smoke curling up from his pipe- a short, straight clay.
Otherwise, Zero did not move. The sunlight did not penetrate far enough into the room of ruin to illuminate his face, and his eyes, hidden in their pools of shadow, may have roamed restlessly over the buildings and the street below. Or they may have stared forward with strange, unnatural intensity. But there is no way of knowing, so we must decide for ourselves.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.