I watched the imposing shadows grow longer and darker from the towers of Ebonhedge. Built in a place where the moors and hills meet, the city was built so tall and dense that from a distance we had thought we saw a settlement carved into a mountain. Though this area had changed since I last saw it, there was no magic that could make a mountain grow in such a short time. And yet humans still managed to raise a gargantuan web of structures that completely transformed the view. It was difficult to contain my excitement.
I made my way down the inn’s tower, eager to tour the city with my companions. A sweet smoke filled the dining hall, dulling my senses. Nevertheless, the crowd was not thick, so it was with no problem that I spotted the right table. It was impossible to miss. A tall, burly young man with thick auburn hair and beard, a comely face and electric blue eyes turned around and smiled at me. Cillian’s smile was honest to a fault. One glance was enough to see what he was – innocent, kind, happy to finally rest from all the heavy lifting he had to do for us. Opposite him sat my sister, Isolde, seemingly no older than five with thick blonde curls framing her round, bored face cradled in her hands. There was one missing from the table however. I glanced up and there he was, perched on a beam under the ceiling sat a large raven, his sable eyes turned to me just as I glanced at him.
“Come, Nevermore,” I said as I extended my arm. And down he came in a silent swoop so gentle none of the other guests even noticed him. As he landed on my shoulder, I gave him a single pat on the head and beckoned the others. I had promised myself I would keep them close. The manticore incident was something the likes of which I needed to avoid. Cillian and Isolde had asked me about it on occasion, but I could not tell them anymore than the fact that we had been betrayed by the knights of Haegyn and needed to simply move on with our journey. And so we pressed on down Pilgrim’s Road in silence until we finally reached Ebonhedge.
The sun had almost set, dying the sky and the landscape below amber. We followed the narrow alleys down to the market square nestled in what looked like a pit within the city. The dark towers surrounding it ma arket quite so busy. Out of the hustle and bustle there were a few sounds that stood out – the shouts de me feel as if I was surrounded by a dense forest. It had been a long time since I’d visited a m of children playing games, the barking of dogs, the peddling of the peddlers.
“We’d best get some food now,” I said. “We’re leaving come dawn. We must be prepared.”
“What’s with the bloody rush, eh?” Isolde said with her tiny arms on her hips. “The Hierophant can wait. We’re going fast as it is now. And poor little Gillian here is exhausted from carrying all out inventory.”
“N-nay, it’s fine,” Cillian said as he frantically shook his head. “If it’s me that be the cause of concern, worry not, Lady Isolde. I can go on for as long as Matoya wishes.”
I turned and looked him in the face. I could have sworn I saw him blush. I knew he couldn’t keep that word and that he would push himself, but I’d rather see him drop from exhaustion than drop dead from my mistake. “See, Isolde? Ye should have more faith in yer own power. Who was it that made this man into a shapeshifter?”
Isolde let out a heavy sigh. Just after that, I heard her shout out an offended “Oy!” I turned to face her – shy lay on the ground, seemingly knocked back with extreme force. As Cillian was helping her up, she clutched at the string on her neck. She glanced up at me with wide eyes. “It’s gone,” she whispered. “The eye is gone.”
“Ye be forgetting,” I said as I pointed my finger to my chest, where the real eye still hung safely. Still, I leaned forward to her to check if she had been unharmed. “Who in the hells hit you?”
“I saw no one,” Cillian said as he rubbed his forehead, squinting. “Can’t have been too tall, then.”
“I’ll give ye that,” Isolde said. Already up on both her legs, she was clearing her skirt of dust.
“Although I doubt he was a midget. He was about two heads taller than me and-“
“Thief!” a voice came from behind. I turned around and saw a large, round man garbed in sparkling, elegant robes, gasping for breath, heading in my direction. He stopped in his tracks right by my side, clutching at his knees with one hand, pointing ahead with the other. The rings on his hand glimmered in the setting sun. “Thief! He st- he stole my...” he heaved.
I noticed Isolde’s eyes widen with delight. Before she could say anything, however, I spoke to the merchant: “Steady yer breath and tell us what happened.” The words came out the way they did before I even managed to think them. Why was I offering my help to this man knowing well that it might as well be another trap?
“My prized item,” he heaved in an unpleasant-sounding, high-pitched voice. “My ebony sword. Please, help me retrieve it. It was ordered by an outstandingly important buyer. If I lose it, I lose my life with it.”
“Then ye’re already dead, aren’t ye,” Isolde snickered. Cillian gave me a helpless glance and Nevermore cawed on my shoulder, startling the merchant.
“Not if we do something about it. We’ll find yer thief. Some compensation is in order, I expect.”
“Most certainly, madam. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.” The man bowed and slowly went back to his stand.
“Ye’ve caught us up in another bloody mess, Matoya,” Isolde scoffed.
“I must agree,” Cillian said with a frown. “How do we even find the thief?”
“If me assumption is correct, and they usually are, we are searching for the same thief who took our eye copy.”
“Oh, I see,” Isolde nodded.
“I don’t understand, though,” Cillian gave me a perplexed look.
“The crystal eye is connected to the copies. That means we may be able to find the exact location of the ebony blade. Pretty soon, at that.”