They were dead.
Urban crossed the street, learning more about his adopted home in the past hour and a half than he’d learned in the past twenty years. He’d crossed burning barrels, homeless people who looked better than him. He held a blood-soaked cloth up to his broken nose, trying his best to breathe as he forced himself through the back alleys on his slow trek back to Na Creidmhigh.
He heard something strike the pavement. He flattened against the wall, all at once feeling the grime soaking into his jacket. He watched the passage, saw a couple of teenagers walk out from a hidden doorway and casually walk away from him. He knew logically that Carrick had no way of finding him, not with all the twists and turns he’d taken. As he escaped from that labyrinthine set of alleys, he hung along the edge of the causeway, skirting the crowd, trying his best to go unnoticed.
He’d learned something crucial about him, his character, in that hotel room. He was a coward at heart. For all his bluster, his fake warmth, his position as an ear to any and everyone, Urban had found that at the end of the day, he was worthless in a fight. He’d stood there while Raine fought for both of their lives. All Urban had accomplished by visiting Carrick was piss the beast off and now neither of them were supposed to live through the night.
Thanks to Raine, at least Urban would.
A wave of guilt overtook him as he stopped in a niche, tried to steady his breathing. He’d abandoned his best friend, he’d dragged along a bunch of debtors, just to have them executed by Carrick’s men in the middle of the Superior Knights’ courtyard. He didn’t have time to inspect the bodies, but he was sure they were all there.
“You alright there, bud?” a voice came from the street.
His gut twisted but his face stretched into the warmest smile he could manage. “Just great,” he managed. He wiped the tears from his face. He had to get control. He would not continue to be this person, weak, worthless. He had to fight back, to reform himself into someone that wouldn’t just stand there, flaccid and inert as his friend fought for his life. He spat in disgust, though it didn’t have quite the force behind it he’d hoped.
Despite his fear of being caught, Urban had decided on one thing: Na Creidmhigh needed to know what had happened to Raine. What Carrick had done. He had to spread the word.
Maybe that’d be enough to redeem himself.
As he passed from one street to the next, he searched for payphones. It had been years since he’d actually looked for one and it only now struck him how few of them were out there. Finally, as Na Creidmhigh began to loom over the quarter he’d found himself in, he spotted three haloed by a streetlight.
Urban crossed to the payphones and lifted the receiver, dropping in four coins. The handset rang three times.
“Yes?” A young voice crackled through the receiver.
“Gilpin?” Urban’s voice wavered. He caught himself, awash in relief. Gilpin had been spared. He started to speak, cleared his throat, then said, “It’s good to hear your voice.”
“Urban?” His name felt weird being spoken by Gilpin. As if the boy hadn’t expected to talk to him again. Urban shrugged this off as mere paranoia. “Where’ve you been? Things are getting crazy around here. They’re saying Raine’s gone absolutely mental, that there’s seven dead.”
“Eight,” Urban spoke as if correcting one of his gamblers. “Forget it. I need you to set up a meeting. I’ve got some urgent news.” He gathered his nerves, continued, “Find anyone you think will be sympathetic to the current situation. Just stay away from Carrick’s people.”
There was a pause. Gilpin said, “Everyone?”
“I could repeat it again, if you need me to.”
Urban could almost hear the boy flinch on the end of the line, “No sir. I’ll get it set up.”
“I told you to call me Urban.”
“Yes, Urban. When do you want it done?”
“Immediately.” He looked across to Na Creidmhigh’s towers that were draped in water. Gaining some measure of confidence, he said, “I’m just around the corner, I’ll be there soon.” Urban hung up. Gilpin would get it done, he had faith in that.
Raine crashed his elbow through the glass, sending shards to the carpet inside. Nothing stirred inside the pitch black room. He used his bloody sleeve to brush away the remaining fragments connected to the frame, then he climbed through the window.
“Hello, Raine,” a strained voice came from the darkness.
Raine continued until both feet touched the floor, turned and said, “Jaiden.” His voice came out as a rasp, a shade of himself. Light slipped through, but it left most of the oversized room swathed in shadow.
“I knew you’d come.”
“I had to.”
An indistinct shape shifted to his right. Raine focused his gaze. His vision doubled, then merged to a single image.
“I’m not looking for a fight,” Jaiden’s voice cracked.
“You were looking for something on the docks.”
“I’m not the one that killed the girl.”
Raine thrust into the darkness, darted around the outlines of furniture and barreled forward.
Then the light snapped on.
Raine lost his night vision, stumbled and slammed into a wall. His shoulder convulsed and he coughed.
“It wasn’t me.” Jaiden hovered over him, cold gun pressed against Raine’s temple. He shoved the metal harder into his flesh, enough to bruise.
Jaiden eased the trigger.
Raine struck the pistol with his arm, grabbed for the weapon, but fumbled it. Jaiden retreated, fell into a coffee table. His head hit the ground with a hard thwack and Raine clambered atop him.
The door cracked and an Officer stood in the fresh light, weapon drawn. Two bullets escaped in quick succession. Raine shifted to the right. As he rolled, he turned to the Officer who had the gun aimed at his face.
The Officer fired one last time.
The air shifted. A thin needle of sound filled Raine’s ears as the bullet slowed, hung in mid-air. Unable to move, he forced his eyes to Jaiden. Face twisted in shock with his left arm up in defense, Jaiden seemed locked in place. The Officer, steady, poised, confident of his catch, though dark rings were etched under his eyes, evidence of a touch of madness.
Sitting in a chair by the shattered window, an old man sat with a grimace spread across his face. He hadn’t been there before.
And he moved.
He stood. His eyes glinted with power. Dark circles etched under them, lines ran deep down his long face. He clasped a notebook in one hand; the other held a cane. A bottle hung loosely on a twine from his waist, half filled with bourbon.
As the stranger approached, he spoke in voice that reminded Raine of a creaking chair. He stank of liquor, the smell all the more present in the dead air.
Raine couldn’t respond.
“We need to speak. But this isn’t the place.” He nodded toward the Officer. “Things are changing for you. And not for the better.” His hardened face didn’t convey emotion, but his mournful eyes did.
“What are you?” Raine managed to break through the stillness, darkness closing around his vision.
Raine blacked out.