Ten - in which Noman is expectedMature

(I think I'll tentatively call this chapter three)

It was strange to be out on the streets of Marsten again. He rarely been outside of Esme's estate since he'd woken up, and stalking through the night brought back unpleasant memories. He told himself he wasn't out to kill anyone this time, that things were different, but the shadow demons dogging his steps only made it harder to believe.

Oddly enough that wasn't what bothered him the most as he wound his way through less traveled side streets, full moon glaring down at him from on high like an unblinking eye of the Gods. No, he'd killed enough that he was comfortable with doing it even if he didn't like it. What bothered him was the destination. He hadn't been back to The Barrel since he surrendered himself to the Watch, hadn't seen Celia since leaving Redhurst.

Celia. He'd done his best to convince her he was a monster back at Redhurst. Tried to get her to judge him as harshly as he judged himself. She hadn't, of course, and that had only frustrated him more. She'd been a serving girl at The Barrel when he'd first come to the city. Would she still work there? If he went in looking for Mayrin and found Celia instead, he wasn't sure how he'd react.

He was still wrestling with the question when he turned a corner and found himself standing across the street from his destination. It was late enough that the lights had been turned out and the patrons sent home. He watched it for a time, looking for signs of movement within. It looked like he didn't have to worry about running into Celia after all. Not this night. The front door was unlocked, a courtesy for those patrons who rented rooms on the second floor. Everything worth stealing was locked away in a separate storeroom. Noman ignored it, and headed up the stairs to the rented rooms.

He stepped softly, his boots making muted thumps that would wake only the lightest sleepers. He paused at the second floor landing, right hand clenching and relaxing in a slow rhythm. It hovered near where the pocket of his old longcoat would have been. Like the rest of the clothing he'd worn atop the Ivory Tower it was now long gone, and he had yet to replace it. That pocket was where he'd kept Airea's stone, and not for the first time he wished he could hold it again. 

Instead, his hand went to rest on the grip of the sword he wore on his left hip. It was black iron, deadly against demons and just as likely to gut a human as any steel weapon. One of Volker's new mages had made sure of that by placing an enchantment on the blade. It would stay near to razor sharp and corrosion free for as long as the spell lasted. 

The sword was a far cry from Airea's stone, but it helped. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, reminding himself that he hadn't come here for violence. "Go," he whispered. "Find her." The shadows swarmed down the hall and disappeared under each closed door. One by one they returned to pool around his legs, hisses and snarls relaying the same message. The rooms were empty. All of them.

He went to see for himself, pushing open doors and stepping inside to look around. It wasn't just that they were empty. There was no sign that any of them had been rented at all. No personal effects lay out where he could see them, no rumpled sheets lay on the beds. The last room he entered had been his during his brief stay at the Barrel. When he crossed the threshold the hair on the back of his neck rose.

He was no mage - he'd never possessed the sixth sense they spoke of having. Yet he knew immediately what the sensation meant. Magic. A spell had just activated nearby. He found it around the door frame, a series of small intricate runes carved into the old wood. He had no idea what they were supposed to do. Were they a trap of some sort? They hadn't exploded, or tried to harm him in any way he could sense, but perhaps it hadn't worked properly. 

He drew his sword and stepped cautiously into the hall. If Mayrin had indeed set a trap for him she may not have come alone. Whether that meant demons or other mages... "Stay close," he ordered the shadows. Tempting though it was to send them ahead as scouts he knew it would be better to have them all close if it came to a fight.

Nothing stood in his way as he made his way back down the stairs. The common room was as deserted as when he entered. The shadows spread out, stalking across the walls and under tables as Noman approached the front door. It was still slightly ajar, just as he'd left it when he entered. He slid the tip of his sword into the gap and gently pushed. The street outside looked clear, and the night was quiet. As he stepped out into the cold night air he found that it wasn't so deserted as it looked.

Three buildings to the right, a figure stood in the street. Pale moonlight illuminated her dark skin and grey cloak. The breeze tugged at the scarves tied around her elbows. She held his level gaze for a moment before her eyes slid down to the sword he held. She looked back up at him and blinked once, her face impassive. Then she turned and slowly started walking away. 

By the time she'd taken her second step Noman was already following, iron sword whispering softly as it slid back into its scabbard. "Come," he ordered the shadows, and the night swam after him.

The End

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