The thick fog wrapped itself tightly around her as she waited on the dock; the wind tugged a few wisps of hair free from her braid and the ponderous mist dampened her clothing. People milled around behind her and the otherworldly silhouettes of the ships before her were just visible through the fog. She caught snippets of conversations as she waited without moving. She had a knack for letting people forget she was there.
“Tis bad luck, a fog this thick on a new moon.” A gravelly voice mumbled somewhere to the left of her.
“Not bad luck, just bad planning. I hear Capt. Murray’s crew is anxious to leave port; the pubs have started collecting their tabs.” Another equally rough voice chuckled.
“This is nothing to joke about.” The first voice fiercely replied. “Tis bad enough they’ve let a woman buy passage without this preternatural fog seeing us off as well. We’ll run aground by sunrise, you’ll see.”
“Ah well a single woman is not enough to run a ship aground, even if she is accompanied by a mist as opaque as this one.” At this an unexpected gust of wind pushed away some of the thicker fog and revealed the young woman to the old men. She let out a sigh of exasperation as they exclaimed in fright and shuffled away with grumbles of disapproval. A man cried in the distance for people to line up with their tickets and IDs ready to board the quickly departing ship to Tommeneck City.
Despite the woman’s stoic demeanor a fight was raging in her head between her sense of duty and the ever present voice telling her to jump on a ship and get out of here while she still had the chance. She had enough identities memorized, she mused to herself. So many even her team didn’t know them all; she could leave and never be found. Adventure and the truest form of freedoms awaited her aboard the ship, but instead she stayed. Not a thing about her moved except for the hairs framing her face that swayed in the slight breeze.
She did her best to focus on the night’s plan instead of the tearful goodbyes taking place around her. She had always preferred goodbyes that weren’t goodbyes at all, but instead a question left unanswered by her cold bed and empty drawers. Goodbyes that were one sided; where she said her piece, but the other person wasn’t there to respond.
The sun had set hours ago and the last vestiges of light had disappeared; the fog suffocated the street lamps leaving the dock awash with a hazy glow that concealed faces, but heightened the recognition of voices and gaits. A figure in the distance was at first just a dark smudge on the edge of her vision. He walked purposefully, head bent, parallel to the water. As he got closer she could see that his collar was flipped up against the cold. He didn’t look up until he was right before her. He nodded to her in acknowledgement and they silently continued on, walking the length of the dock until they were both two black smudges that were eventually swallowed up by this unexpected densest of fogs.
“How was the trip?” The woman asked keeping her voice low.
“Mostly uneventful.” The man replied. “My ship was able to make it through a rather brutal storm that came up out of nowhere despite our main sail being slashed quite extensively. The crew was baffled and the Captain was still unable to explain our survival when we docked just moments ago.”
“Do you still have the charm I gave you?”
“Then that explains it.” They turned abruptly down an unlit side street just wide enough for them to walk shoulder to shoulder, their fingertips grazing the brick walls on either side of them.
“Has there been news, developments since your last letter?” The man inquired quietly.
“Yes, but mostly what you would expect. Nothing so dire it can’t wait until we’re indoors.”
“Kanelle, our definitions of ‘dire’ are very different.” The man teased.
“That’s because your definition more closely resembles something that is only slightly problematic, Doone.” Her tone was harsh, but the smile that tugged at her lips betrayed her true feelings.
"Where are we going?" He asked after a moment of silence.
"It's Wednesday." She stated in way of a reply.
"You live your life in too predictable a routine."
"My routine depends on the information and information is kept on a very tight schedule."
The man grunted as they simultaneously jumped over a puddle, both landing deftly on the other side in front of an unmarked purple door in the middle of a brick wall beneath a single flickering lamp. Kanelle knocked once, twice, and then a third time; they hadn't been waiting long when the thick metal door was opened from the inside and a cacophony of noises briefly entered the street before being sufficiently cut off as the door suctioned closed behind them.
The room was crowded; people of most sorts bumping up against one another trying to create private conversations while being a part of something bigger. Kanelle knew the place well and precisely navigated through the sea of people while her companion followed closely behind her. She leaned up against the chest high slab of wood rubbed smooth by years of use and put two fingers up for the barkeep. She slid a few coins from the pouch at her waist.
"Any guests expected tonight, Earnest?" The many voices around her covered her own from traveling too far, but the bartender heard her clearly; he looked pointedly down the opposite end of the bar at two men very clearly out of place. Kanelle nodded and slid through the currents of the crowd with a mug in each hand. The men had slicked back hair and full graying bristle mustaches. While Kanelle and Doone dressed in layers of black that allowed them to blend out of memories these men wore black to be noticed. The fabric spoke of money and moved with them so effortlessly it was clear they had been personally tailored. The men sat and observed, there was a small bubble of space around them that the other patrons seemed reluctant to enter. On the edge of this bubble was where Kanelle turned and handed a mug to Doone.
"This is hot." He exclaimed after he sipped the frothy drink.
"It’s cold outside." She countered.
"In here it's warm." He slipped his black wool coat off his shoulders revealing more expertly layered black clothing.
"Do you want something else?" Kanelle asked as she scanned the room. Instead of answering he took another sip and threw his jacket over an empty stool.
"I don’t remember it being this crowded in here." He absentmindedly rubbed his unshaven chin as he looked around.
"A few meeting places were closed last week." Kanelle answered darkly. "People don’t have anywhere to go. They can't stay home, the streets aren't safe, and the regulated bars and clubs are always being monitored. Give it a few weeks and the crowd will thin out once The Harpist and Archer's opens up again."
"Will they be able to open again?"
"We've been quiet lately; Knox was getting bored so he sent out his people to shut down a few undergrounds. He'll be busy again soon enough and his attention will turn."
"What do you have planned?" He leaned in and whispered; excitement blazed across his eyes.
"This is not the place Doone." Kanelle punctuated each word with a slight pause and leaned in to meet Doone's face over the table between them.
"Ok, ok. I just haven't heard anything in so long. Your letters were anything but informative." He leaned back and sipped from his mug again.
"My letters were as informative as they could be since you're unable to write in code beyond a simple single displacement reconfiguration." Kanelle scoffed as she assumed a fake posture of relaxation.
"Not all of us practice coding messages in our free time for fun." Doone goaded.
"It's not for fun!" She replied defensively. "We know our mail is being read we just can't prove by who. Someone has been a step ahead of us for some months now, it nearly got us pinched a week ago." Doone's eyes widened. "What happened?" He asked fervently.
"You're such a gossip." Kanelle said through a smile. "I'll tell you later. It's not that exciting." She added when he looked disappointed. "Tell me about your trip. How was the weather?" Kanelle changed the subject barely suppressing another grin.
"You know how the weather was. You sent me North for the rainier season."
"The rainier season?" Kanelle laughed.
"Yes. It always rains up there; the last few months were just rainier than usual."
"I'm terribly sorry your stay was so wet. Did you learn anything?" She faced Doone as she prodded him for information, but her eyes attempted to look behind her to the expensively clad men. Doone's eyes flashed mischievously.
"You know I did." He said quietly. Her eyes flitted to him momentarily, assessing how serious he was.
"Good. Tell me about the people you spoke with?"
"What! All of them?" Doone asked incredulously.
"Were you very friendly this trip?" Her eyebrows raised dangerously.
"You know I wasn't." He reassured her. "How is she by the way?" He asked awkwardly.
"She misses you, but she is strong. She'll be happy to see you." Kanelle replied devoid of much emotion.
"She didn't meet anyone new?" He asked feigning a lightness he didn't mean.
"She met quite a few new people over the two months you were away, but she didn't take a fancy to them no matter how much romantic music I played or poetry books I left lying around." Doone bristled angrily before he quickly realized Kanelle had been joking. "Her heart is yours Doone and if you break it I'll rip yours clean from your chest and throw the ashes in the river." She stated calmly.
"I know. You've said." He muttered warily. "How are you going to get any information with all this talking?" He pointed out, eager to switch her focus.
"I can listen to more than one conversation at a time." She answered matter-of-factly.
"Yes, but what if the conversation you want to hear is happening on the other side of the room?"
"It isn't." Kanelle stated. Doone opened his mouth to continue questioning her when three men crashed in through the purple door drawing everyone's attention. The two men in suits at the bar seemed to be expecting this; their imperturbable demeanors didn't change.
"They've got'em!" One of the men shouted to the room.
"Who has got who, son?" One of the older men in the bar called out?"
"The commissioner; he raided Riverton and took eight citizens. Claimed they had undisclosed relations to known rebels. He's to make a public announcement at the court house tomorrow morning." The room erupted in indignant roars and murmurs of disapproval. Doone jumped from his seat.
"Sit down." Kanelle hissed. He glared at her; seething.
"Kanelle!" Doone protested.
"Sit." she demanded harshly. She pointed to the two men behind her and Doone quickly understood. They had notepads out and were taking notes. "Names. Of those reacting unfavorably to the news." Kanelle leaned towards Doone and whispered.
"What do we do?" Doone mouthed.
"Blend in and listen." And so they did. Slowly they stopped moving, turned all attention away from themselves and listened intently.
"Who did they take?" Someone shouted.
"It's hard to tell." One of the young men replied. "Most of the houses on Juliet Street were burned, but only eight people were taken."
This wasn't a random raid. Kanelle personally knew a few families who lived on that street, Meryn Stannon being the most prominent one. These same thoughts went through Doone's head.
"Where's Robin?" He breathed to her.
"He's out scouting tonight in the Western Quarter. He shouldn't hear about this until he returns to Runako House." She assured him.
"Why are they making the announcement at the courthouse?" A woman close to them asked the men.
"They're to be executed." One of the men stated sadly.
"Let's go." Kanelle said to Doone and they slipped out unnoticed as the club erupted into chaos once more.
"What do we do?" Doone breathed heavily to keep up with Kanelle's hurried pace.
"We need to get to Runako House. We need to keep this from Robin until we find out who was taken, and we need to send messages to the other rebels; but Riverton is in East City; this is our call."
A large network of rebels worked in the city. Their presence used to be tolerated by the city officials until a bridge was blown up during the Black Riots; the city was shut down and put under exclusive control of the police commissioner. Travel in, out and around the city was largely restricted. Any form of resistance was completely outlawed and the rebels were forced underground in some cases literally. Despite the harsh laws and new regulations those oppressed by the crown and ready to fight were growing steadily. Even those who were not supporters of the Black Riots the year before had joined forces to help subvert the state. The people were starving and the rest of the Kingdom had forgotten them. There were many different branches of the resistance; the web of rebels was intricate and wide.
Kanelle and Doone wound their way along the pot hole ridden city streets. They took side alleys where they could and Kanelle dimmed the street lamps when they were forced onto the main streets. The fog wasn't as thick as it had been on the docks earlier that night, but the wisps that had ventured this far inland disturbed the shadows and made the empty streets disconcerting. Runako House was fairly close to Diane's Hunt, the underground they had just left, but because of the extensive checkpoints the Police Commissioner had enacted within the city the distance they had to travel was twice as long. At the checkpoints police in bulky riot gear shut down streets and scanned everyone's fingerprint. If your name was blacklisted, had a warrant out for your arrest, were wanted for questioning, had an outstanding fine, anything that would put your name on a government list it would show up when your thumb was scanned and you would be detained and if you weren't detained your travel was logged.
The city was split into quadrants; East City, the Western Quadrant, and South End were separated by permanent check points and thick unforgiving forests. All three were cut off from the Northside by the largest of the city’s three rivers; Fore River. There was no practical way to travel between the quadrants besides police monitored transportation but within the quadrants the security around the checkpoints was a little easier tocircumvent if you had the time to change your route and the skill to outwit the officers on duty. Doone had never had trouble getting through the checkpoints; his rebel activities were suspected but he had never done anything to get himself on any official lists. Kanelle however was wanted on many counts so their walk home included a lot of doubling back, going through the Park so she could jump from tree to tree above the officer's heads as Doone distracted them by going through the checkpoints, and for the last ten minutes they walked down a damp pitch black tunnel that ran beneath the city and let out one street over from Runako House at the corner of Ares and Noir. They spent most of the journey in quiet contemplation; Doone planning an elaborate rescue with a dramatic speech about justice and Kanelle planning a quiet solitary mission. They turned on to Runako Street and saw the lights were still on at the two story house that doubled as the East City rebel headquarters despite the late hour.
"They must know." Doone swallowed hard.
"About the hostages?" He clarified.
"No. They are waiting up for you." Kanelle shook her head. She took a step back to allow Doone up the steps first and gave him a little push to the door. He took barely a single step across the threshold before he was slammed into by a woman with a shock of green hair and was pushed up against Kanelle who stood behind him.
"Doone! You're home!" Branwen, Bran for short, hung on to Doone as he scooped her up in his arms and carried her back inside. Almost everyone had waited up in the living room. It was strange to see them all together and looking so light hearted. Kanelle hated being the one to bring such bad news. Her expression was hard and betrayed her intentions for all the smiles dropped from their faces when she entered the room behind Doone. Only Bran was still laughing as Kanelle asked if Robin had returned yet.
"He has." Kanelle turned to meet Robin's eyes as he walked in to the living room from the kitchen. "What is it?" He demanded when he saw the anger in her eyes.
"Maybe you should sit down." She requested as she locked the door behind her.
"Tell me what's happened!" Robin challenged her. Kanelle looked at him briefly then turned her eyes to Dyan. She hadn’t wanted Robin to know about the hostages until she had more information and preferably a plan, but she couldn't get around it now.
"There has been a raid in Riverton." She relayed evenly. "Most of the houses on Juliet Street were burned and eight citizens were taken." Kanelle's tone was all business, but her eyes burned with rage. The tension in the room rose exponentially.
"Who was taken?" Robin's voice was laced tightly with fear. Kanelle directed her answer to Dyan who had yet to say anything.
"I don't have any names. Some men came in and announced it at Diane's Hunt earlier tonight. That's all we know." Kanelle's eyes flicked to Doone who held his tongue about the possible execution. Everyone held their breath and waited for Dyan to speak except for Robin.
"How do you not know who was taken?" Robin shouted. "Your job is to gather information! This is nothing! Absolutely nothing! How can we get anything done with this pitiful account of information? A man announced this in a bar? Did you even confirm this with anyone? Is it even real? Kanelle, Meryn lives on Juliet Street TELL ME IF THIS IS REAL!" Kanelle didn’t take her eyes off of Dyan during Robin's outburst. She knew Meryn lived on Juliet Street; she knew more than most the dire situation the entire resistance would be in if Meryn was executed tomorrow morning.
"So this is why you didn't want to tell Robin." Doone muttered acrimoniously as he came to stand next to Kanelle leaving Bran sitting on the floor.
"What?" Robin seethed.
"Kanelle." Dyan cut him off. "I presume you already have a plan?"
"I'd like to send a scout to the courthouse; try to get eyes on the hostages. We should send a team to Juliet Street and see what information we can gather from there. At the very least they'll need to do some clean up, people will need to be sheltered." Suddenly a piercing warning tone emitted from their state mandated projector. Everyone's attention shifted to the screen that lit up automatically. Green text against a black background appeared on the screen and was read by an automated voice.
"People of Tommen City a mandatory assembly at the Court of Common Pleas is scheduled tomorrow morning at 8a.m. Those beyond zone 2 will be required to view the assembly by satellite viewing." The screen went white with a click.
"Well I guess that confirms the raid." Bran said drily.
"Yes it does." Dyan agreed as she stood and brushed crumbs from her lap. She turned to the woman seated beside her. "Zulema you and Branwen take some scouts from the 5th and go to Juliet. Clean up can begin tomorrow after the assembly, but we need to learn what we can while we can. Robin and I will find places for those citizens not taken to stay the night."
"No I want to go to the courthouse." Robin said fiercely. "I need to see if Meryn is one of the hostages.
"Absolutely not." Dyan's eyes shot daggers at Robin. "You'll not leave the house tonight and if you have half a mind to attend the assembly tomorrow you'll calm yourself and prove you can keep a cool head about you." Robin sat abruptly in the chair by the stairs. He chewed his lip furiously and wrung his hands; his left leg shook erratically. "Kanelle, and Doone if you're up for it, will go. I want names of all eight citizens; their conditions, how they're being held, and the commissioner's plans for the morning. Am I understood?"
"Clearly." Kanelle and Doone instinctively replied.
"I feel like we'll be doing some climbing tonight." Kanelle said as she turned to face Doone. "We should change." He nodded in agreement and turned to bid farewell to Bran as Kanelle headed to the stairs. Robin quickly reached her and grabbed her arm. He held her tightly, but she didn't protest.
"Kanelle." Emotion restricted his voice, straining it. She slightly raised her eyebrows allowing him to continue. "Please don't leave her there. This is all my fault if I had... just don't leave her. She isn't strong like you." Tears threatened to fall from his eyes.
"I'll bring her home, Robin. I swear it." With her promise she wrenched her arm from his grip and took the stairs two at a time to her attic bedroom. She didn't see Robin's shoulders release some of the terror he kept there. Besides himself, Kanelle was the only person he would entrust Meryn's life to.
Moments later Kanelle and Doone were back on the streets with Zulema and Bran. Zulema was tall with a wide frame and Bran was slight and waiflike. Their eyes were stony and mouths grim. They didn't speak, but moved swiftly and silently down the dark streets. The moon was missing. They broke from each other without a word. The two women diving underground to travel by tunnel while the other two continued down the straight path to the courthouse.
East City, Western Quadrant, and South End all converged to a point with Northside across the river. This point was where the courthouse was located. Government buildings and other old boarded up businesses housed in cement boxes made up the small cramped City Center. A large prison, Litchfield Towers, stood minutes away from the Court of Common Pleas and held the more permanent prisoners. The courthouse wasn't really a courthouse anymore. It stood with its back to the Fore River, surrounded by towering stone walls covered in green crawling ivy so thick you could only imagine the stone beneath it. A small black wrought iron gate was the only official way in or out and a small plaque that read "City of Tommen Court of Common Pleas" was affixed next to it. Once inside the gate a circular tower blocked the way forward and a cobblestoned path wound around the tower funneling people to the courtyard. Three guard towers were built into the outer wall and at noon the sun sat directly above baking anyone foolish enough to stand there during the summer months. The main tower was circular and made of stone, it changed color along its length as the builders had switched materials. On the first couple floors there were actual courtrooms where some criminals were tried, the other floors were converted into apartments for the city's main officials. Their houses had been the first places the rebels attacked after the city was shut down and their solution was to foolishly house them all together. An armory and a stockroom took up most of the 4th floor holding enough provisions to feed the top officials for many months if their other means were cut off. Under the courthouse a make shift dungeon was made of what used to be a basement meant to store files and old desks. At the very top was the bell tower. The bell had remained silent for at least a year and thick shutters blocked the view of the bell on all sides. This was where Kanelle and Doone were headed.
"What are you expecting to find?" Doone inquired, all business.
"Secrecy." Kanelle answered. "They want the announcement tomorrow to be a surprise, I'm sure of it. If we move quietly we shouldn't meet too much resistance. You go to the dungeons first and locate the prisoners and I'll try to find out their plans for the morning." Doone nodded. He didn't like splitting up. Entering the courthouse was dangerous enough and the guards would be expecting rebels trying to break the hostages out tonight. Kanelle had found an old air vent into the dungeons months before that had yet to be reinforced by the city. Doone planned on entering through there, but he was lost as to how Kanelle planned on getting in, out, and around the tower. The job was a tricky one, but it was meant for her. Not many rebels knew the courtyard, tower, and surrounding guard towers as well as she did. She had spent many nights there nicking weapons, food, and other provisions when she was the only one who worked in the food procurement and smuggling branch brave enough to enter the courthouse on a regular basis. Dyan used to say that this was because thieves, as a general rule, weren't very brave, but that Kanelle wasn't a thief at heart. Kanelle however saw the trade differently. She constantly told Doone that anything could be stolen if you had enough nerve and thieves were all nerves. Doone had his own theories explaining the reckless abandon with which Kanelle carried out her tasks. She had risen quickly in the ranks because of the cool and calculated way in which she took outrageous risks.
"How will you get in?" He asked as lightly as he could muster. She shot him a quick look then shrugged.
"Won't be sure 'til we get there." She said, the glint of adventure a light in her eye.
"You don't have plan?" He spluttered.
"I have a lot of plans." She said sharply. "I just don’t know which one I'll use yet." She explained. "There's no moon tonight which either means the courtyard will be exceptionally dark or there will be an exceptional amount of torches lit so I'll have to work around the shadows. Usually there wouldn't be more than a handful of guards, but tonight might be different. I won't know until I take a look around." The closer they got to the courthouse the emptier the streets became. No one really lived in the City Center; it wasn't practical. There were a few luxury high rises, but they stood empty as rising rent drove everyone to the neighborhoods. Every once in a while the high rises would be cleared of any squatters and the small good they did provide was taken away; for what is the point of a house if anyone who needs one can't afford it?
They crossed over into the Tor a ghost of a neighborhood just outside of the City Centre, a shell of its former self. Over the last decade the community once rich in culture and familial ties had been whittled down to a few streets with even fewer livable homes. A sports arena and expensive restaurants owned by rich old men who had never even been to the Tor were opened before the city was shut down. To make room for the new businesses homes were torn down and people had to crowd into houses with their cousins until those homes were torn down or became too expensive for them to afford and then who knew where they went? The Tor was hit the worst during the Black Riots since the overwhelming majority of the residents were black. In the first months after the bridge was blown the black neighborhoods had the earliest curfews and the Tor the earliest of them all. The neighborhood had been teeming with officers in riot gear enforcing the unforgiving 5p.m. curfew. This had struck Kanelle as particularly unjust since the bridge had not even been blown by anyone living in the Tor. Branwen often questioned her on the certainty with which she knew this, but Kanelle never gave in to Bran’s prodding.
As Kanelle and Doone traveled unseen past the skinny houses with peeling paint and precariously hanging shingles without an inch to spare from one house to the next Kanelle tossed the idea of a raid in Riverton around in her head. It was unprecedented and highly suspect. If the city officials had any allies in Tommen it were the white affluent residents of Riverton. They would be the only ones who could be negatively affected by a more equal distribution of wealth among the citizens. This was a calculated raid designed to instill fear in all citizens. Past relationships with current rebels were not illegal so long as you had disclosed them to the city willingly. Current ties were of course widely discouraged with inexplicable jail times and exorbitant fines for seemingly unrelated charges. Kanelle only knew of a few rebel sympathizers in Riverton and only one on Juliet Street, Meryn. You could hardly call her a sympathizer either she more accurately tolerated Robin's work. They had been together before the Riots and Kanelle expected them to be together after all this was finished; if she could get Meryn out of this alive that is. If she was even in there to begin with, but Kanelle had a sinking feeling that this raid had been designed to acquire Meryn all along. The Police Commissioner was always trying to find ways into the web of rebels, a chink in the armor, but it was hard. Only a handful worked openly with their real names showing their faces. Those who did, worked hard to keep the few close to them invisible and off the Commissioner's radar. Robin was becoming more well-known outside of the rebel underground. He gave rousing speeches and was a great leader. He came from a city north Tommen less divided by racial lines so despite being black his family had been able to overcome the white supremacy of the Kingdom and create a modest fortune. Robin was well funded and even better educated. He was key to the success of the movement. If Meryn didn't make it out of this alive it would break him and without him the movement would falter where it couldn't afford to. Kanelle knew her worth and where she was on the hierarchy of success. She was helpful because she wasn't afraid to take risks and she was expendable so Dyan wasn't afraid to let her take them. Merely a tool in the greater scheme of things Kanelle was prepared to risk much to get these hostages out. She had been quiet for most of the journey. They stood in a shadowed corner of an overpass watching the gate of the courthouse.
"What are you thinking?" Doone asked, successfully keeping the nervousness from his voice.
"That this feels like a trap." She answered simply.
"Do we still go in?"
"Yes. We still go in." She sighed and looked at Doone sadly. "Promise me you'll do exactly what I tell you in there."
"What are you planning?" He said accusatorily, quickly becoming distrustful.
"Nothing. Just promise me?" She asked again. He waited for the span of three breaths then agreed and they quieted across the street and discreetly slid through the bars farthest to the left for they were set the widest apart. The courtyard was dark, the only light coming from some windows in the tower. Neither Kanelle nor Doone sensed any more guards then the usual ones in the three guard towers along the wall. While this helped to soothe Doone's nerves it heightened Kanelle's anxiety. The longer she thought about it the more it felt like they were unabashedly walking into a trap.
"Ok." Kanelle whispered as she leaned her head toward Doone's. "Go through the air vent and get a head count and as many names as you can. Remember the layout of how they're being held and try to talk to them to find out-"
"Kanelle." Doone laid a reassuring hand on her arm. "This isn't my first rescue mission. I know what to do." He chuckled lightly.
"This isn't a rescue mission. Only bring back information." She reminded him sharply.
"Race you to the overhang." He said habitually.
"You're on." The ghost of a smile flitted across her lips. "Hey Doone?"
"Watch for my sign." She said diffidently, the first sign of worry present in her eyes.
"You won't need it." He replied strongly. She nodded once and sprinted around to the other side of the tower while Doone dropped to his knees and searched for the air vent. There was a thin section of the tower that all the guard towers were blind to. This was where Kanelle scaled the first three floors using the foot holds she had painstakingly gouged out over the past year. Clothed in black she looked like little more than a shadow, slowly ascending the stark tower.
"A little girl of eight years looks down at the broken toy at her feet." Kanelle breathed through the difficulty of climbing a wall not meant to be climbed. "Saddened by another rejection and again alone little Kali ran to the meadow by her home." Kanelle had a habit of telling herself stories to help her through difficult times. When she was lonely, scared, or scaling a wall she would let her imagination run far from her body and weave wonderful tales to more quickly pass the time. Kanelle gasped as one of her hand holds gave way under her weight. The broken rock stabbed her hand and the side of her face slammed into the rough wall. Biting back a curse she scrambled for a more secure grasp on the wall and on the little girl in her story. "Kali ran until the tears in her eyes blurred the beautiful colors of the meadow and she fell softly among the flowers that towered over her when she sat on the hard ground." Kanelle saw so intensely the little girl and all the flowers swaying around her and had such an intricate history of her in her mind that Kanelle didn't have to think hard to further the story, it had started to take on a life of its own. "Why doesn't anyone want to be friend, little Kali wondered." Kanelle grunted as she pulled herself across a thin window that looked in on the empty courtroom. She had reached the second floor. Not high enough, she needed to make it to the third at least. Her hand was bleeding, her cheek throbbed, and there was a new tear on the upper thigh of her favorite pair of climbing pants. "There's a friend out there for you somewhere don't you worry. A chirpy sing song voice said above Kali's head." Kanelle paused and listened; she held desperately to the stone and breathed heavier than she would have liked. The silence of the courtyard and the tower further unsettled her. She wondered what Doone was finding below her and if Dyan had been able to keep Robin at Runako House; but she was always thinking about Robin. That was one compartment of her mind she had never been able to turn off. She heaved herself up again. "Kali looked up surprised to no longer be alone, but all she saw were the flowers all around her until she realized one was smiling at her. Did you-" Kanelle grasped a particularly narrow hand hold and dug her nails into it. "-just speak-" Kanelle thrusted her foot into a hold almost too high to reach and pushed "to me?" She grunted vaulting herself through a window on the third floor, the first floor of apartments. The one she wanted was on the top and she could get there faster from the inside. "Yes. Didn't you know you could speak to flowers?" Kanelle finished her story as she brushed the stone dust from her dark pants and inspected the torn flesh on her right palm. Unbeknownst to her Kanelle's stories had a bad habit of coming true; as such there was now a lonely little girl in a blue dress with the ability to converse with wild flowers.
The commissioner didn't notice anything amiss in his apartment when he entered except a dull register of how dark it was. 'Probably just the new moon' his mind instantly soothed. He didn't notice that one of his chairs had been moved to the dark corner next to an open window he had left closed. He definitely didn't notice that a stack of confiscated letters between a rebel by the name of Robin and a citizen named Meryn were no longer tucked safely in the secret drawer of his desk. The door clicked behind him as he triumphantly replayed the night’s events over in his head. ‘Eight rebel sympathizers’ he thought! What a bounty!
"Eight citizens including Robin Lann's long time suspected lover the exquisite Lady Meryn!" He whispered positively beside himself. With the letters as proof he could easily have her executed if Robin did not try to save her. His plan was fool proof; he'd found a fissure in the rebel's seemingly impenetrable armor. He would either get rid of Robin when he tried to save Meryn tomorrow morning or he would torture him with her death.
"Knox." The single word was enough for the commissioner to instantly identify the speaker. Light, clear of any Tommen accent, the way the voice made his name sound dangerous and alluring flooded him with memories. This voice still haunted him day and night making him continually relive his single mistake; for after dealing Kanelle Vadoma he had become ruthless, never giving anyone the chance to make the better of him.
"Kanelle." He replied, locating her in the shadows. "So nice of you to pay me a visit. Did you come in through the window?"
"No I used the door." Knox turned to hide his frustration. He forcefully struck a match, but no matter which candle he brought it to the wick wouldn't light.
"Are you doing this?" He spit, throwing the candle at the corner he suspected she was in. He heard it hit the wall and roll back towards him.
"Yes, now stop stalling and talk. Why a raid in Riverton?" Her hard voice bounced off the walls.
"No!" He slammed his hand onto a table, cracking the thin wooden sheets. "You will not order me around in my own home!" He bellowed. When it came to Kanelle his normally detached demeanor quickly slipped away.
"Why did you take them?" He voice remained cold and unyielding.
"Don't you mean why did I take her?" He snarled. Kanelle's mind froze, fear flooding her system.
"I don't know who specifically was taken, just that they are innocent citizens." She measured each word, careful not to let him notice how tightly strung she was.
"Don't play with me Kanelle." He let the 'L' linger on his tongue and she had to resist the urge to shift backwards in her chair to get as far from him as she could. Every instinct in her body was telling her to run. She had been here too long her half-baked plan was falling apart the more she thought about it. She hadn't remained one step ahead of Commissioner Knox for almost two years only to be cornered trying to save a handful of rich yuppies and Meryn who barely condoned the struggle. She took a silent breath and quieted the war in her head and thought quickly. "I know who Meryn Stannon is and all about her connection to Robin Lann." He continued unaware that he was no longer the subject of Kanelle's undivided attention. "Why else would you be here tonight? I thought the rebels didn't negotiate with the City even if eight innocent people were to be killed."
"I'm here in a personal capacity." She answered tentatively. She still wasn't sure her plan was going to work.
"Well then Miss. Kanelle, what can I do for you?" His Tommen accent stressed the vowels.
"A trade." She whispered, the words pulled from her mouth by desperation. He held his breath. After all this time was she really going to walk right into a trap he had laid for another?
"What are your terms?" He feigned nonchalance. He could only make out her outline as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
"I think you know what I'm proposing. Tomorrow morning during the assembly let the citizens go as a show of mercy." Her voice had hardened again. She summoned her bravery in order to bully him into this deal.
"And who do I get in exchange for eight rebel sympathizers?" He prompted desire not far from his voice.
"Me." She said into the silence.
"You?" Knox laughed. "I need information and leverage my dear. What can you get me? You're nothing but a thief, no one will lift a finger to get you back. No no no. Give me a rebel who matters." He struggled to seem uninterested.
"I know who blew the bridge." She said flatly. Knox's eyes widened and he shot to his feet.
"Don't you lie to me girl." He growled. "You'll never see the light of day again if you think to pass me fake information. I don't need your pitiful excuse of a trade." He was before her in three strides his hands around her neck in as many seconds. Kanelle had been prepared for his temper. A small crossbow about as thick as her forearm was propped in her lap, the wide deadly arrow jabbed ominously into Knox's gut and pierced his clothing.
"I know who did it because I was there." She hissed viciously into his face. And then afterwards.... do you remember what happened after the bridge blew Commissioner?" Kanelle was angry, but not nearly as angry as Knox. That fateful night's events flashed before his eyes and his fingers tightened around Kanelle's delicate throat.
"Ok." Knox's voice was hoarse. "Let’s go." He attempted to drag her up by her neck, but she dug her bow into his abdomen."
"No. Tomorrow. We make the trade tomorrow." She croaked.
"How do I know you'll show?"
"I'll show, and if I don't you'll still have your eight hostages to comfort you." Knox threw her down, disgusted with his weakness.
"Be in the courtroom at 6am or the deal is off." Knox turned away and leaned against the wall. He didn't watch, but he listened to Kanelle slip out the window. He stood in darkness until suddenly every candle he had tried to light burst into flames simultaneously and he knew she was no longer in the courtyard. He swore and missed her darkness.
Doone's hair was on end when Kanelle finally met up with him under the overhang. He grabbed her shoulders and dragged her in to a quick rough hug then pushed her back to examine her.
"What happened to your neck?" He asked her shrewdly.
"I fell." She panned shrugging of his hands and dragging him back to Runako House.
"Into someone's hands?" Doone fell into step beside her.
"Did you see her?"
"She's hard to miss." He looked at Kanelle sideways with concern. "What did you learn?"
"It's a trap for Robin." Kanelle picked up the pace. She had mere hours to get back to the courthouse if she was going to keep her promise.
"How do you know?"
"Knox had letters between Robin and Meryn." She tossed the bundle of letters to Doone. "And he told me."
"You spoke to Knox!" Doone cried bursting with indignation. "Is he who gave you those marks?" His fingers reached for her neck, but she brushed them away. "Kanelle you have to be careful. If he got a hold of you do you know what would happen? Kanelle, he'd kill you! I can't believe you're still alive, you're so careless!" He grabbed her arm and held her still. "Kanelle what are you going to do?" Doone knew her to well for her to try and lie to him. "Kanelle, look at me." She met his eyes and he knew. "No! You can't just offer yourself up to him. We'll get them out another way." He pleaded.
"Doone I need you to stop them from coming after me when they realize what I have done." She said with an eerie calm.
"What?" he questioned in an aporetic whisper.
"No rescue missions. This ends with me. Promise me." This was for Doone more than anyone else. When she extracted his reluctant avowal they continued home in silence; a charged, emotional, and loaded silence.
The lights were still on when they arrived at Runako House.
"What a first night back huh?" Kanelle tossed.
"Please don't do this?"
"It's the only way to gain the most and lose the least, Doone."
"You're more important to this movement than you seem to realize."
"I'm useful because I'm willing to take risks. If I can't do that I might as well not be here at all."
"Are you talking about the movement or life in general?" He spat. "Don't throw your life away because you're in love with Robin and he barely notices you." Kanelle felt like she had been slapped. Heat blazed across her face and she swallowed her fear.
"Doone Ichiro don't you dare think for one moment that any of my decisions are made based on any man." She hissed forcefully. She turned on her heal and stalked through the front door that was perpetually unlocked despite her constant objections.
Zulema and Bran stood in the kitchen covered in soot. Robin paced uncontrollably and Dyan was perched on the counter next to the stove stirring a pot. They all looked up expectantly as Kanelle and Doone entered the room.
"Eight hostages in the dungeon. Each in separate chains; dirty, but healthy. Meryn was among them including the Harkness widow, Juliette St. Claire, the young Gwyn couple, and Conor Perseph." Doone reported in lieu of a greeting.
"That still leaves two more hostages." Dyan pointed out.
"It was dark. I couldn't see their faces and there was a guard in there so I couldn't ask them." Doone answered shifting beneath Dyan's strong gaze.
"And you?" She turned to Kanelle.
"They're planning on releasing them tomorrow as a show of mercy." Kanelle fabricated.
"Are you sure?" Hope bled into Robin's distraught voice.
"Heard the words from Knox's mouth myself." Zulema and Dyan shared a look and Bran raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"Is that it?" Dyan hopped down from the counter. Kanelle hesitated then said.
"I don't think Robin should go tomorrow."
"What?" He surged forward but was blocked by Doone's bracing hand.
"Why?" Zulema asked. Her voice was like leaning up against a sturdy old tree.
"The Commissioner had letters between Robin and Meryn in his desk. I think it’s a trap." Kanelle looked at Doone and he slipped the letters from his inner jacket pocket into Robin's hands.
"Did you read these?" He asked quietly staring at the bundle.
"Only until I knew what they were." She responded gently.
"What kind of trap?" Dyan gathered bowls and spoons from the cupboards. "Wash your hands." She added to Zulema and Bran.
"I think they intend to dangle Meryn in front of him and hope he does something stupid in order to have an excuse to take him."
"Ok, Robin. Don't do anything stupid. Agreed?" She forcibly pushed a bowl of soup into his hands.
"Agreed." He mumbled and sagged against the counter behind him. "Are you sure about this Kanelle?" He glanced up at her keeping his head down.
"Meryn will be released tomorrow unharmed I swear it." Kanelle assured him. Doone glowered at her.
"Make sure Kanelle bandages her hand before she eats." He mumbled to Bran. "And take a look her neck tonight too." Bran's eyes scanned both injuries and her mouth tightened into a line before she nodded.
"I'm not hungry actually." Kanelle rubbed her neck to conceal the bruises and turned to leave the kitchen.
"Eat." Doone demanded. Everyone was silent as Kanelle and Doone warred with their eyes.
"Fine." Kanelle threw her hands up in concession. "Bran will you help me with this?" Kanelle waved her bloody hand.
"Yup, come with me." She guided Kanelle to the bathroom. "You're quite dusty." She commented.
"I climbed a wall."
"Ahh, is that from a stone then?" She gestured to her hand.
"And the bruises?" She sat Kanelle down on the toilet and rummaged around under the sink.
"Knox didn't hand over the letters willingly."
"Ahh." Bran said again. She could smell even a partial lie a mile away.
"Tell me about your night? How was Juliet Street?" Kanelle winced as Bran poured witch hazel over the gash and picked the larger pieces of stone from it.
"Half the street was burned. We didn't find much and no one wanted anything to do with us. They had been told it was retaliation against colluding with rebels." Kanelle sighed. She was tired and her night was far from over. "Do you really think Knox will just release all the hostages tomorrow morning? Even Meryn?" Bran lowered her voice so they weren't overheard. Her unnaturally green hair, nearly translucent skin, and over large eyes made her look almost fairy like. Doone was a good match for her; all shadows and angles. They looked otherworldly together. Kanelle had contemplated more than once if Bran was a changeling or some other being not quite human with a foot in both realms, but she felt it was too rude to ask her outright.
"Yes I do. I'll need to get there early before they set a guard and the rest of you shouldn't be far behind. The citizens should be brought to a safe house. You'll have to make sure you aren't followed from the courthouse; don't bring them to Runako House if you can help it. And they should lay low until we're sure Knox won't try and retaliate." Bran nodded as she deftly wrapped Kanelle's hand in gauze.
"And you'll be there to suggest all of this." She stated pointedly.
"I'm suggesting it now." Kanelle groaned as she stretched her tired muscles.
"Mmm." Bran stood. "Well let's get some soup in you regardless." She saw too much for Kanelle's liking. Kanelle prided herself on her affinity for telling half-truths, guarding her emotions, and remaining separate; apart from others and yet she had surrounded herself with people who easily saw through the hard unforgiving exterior she had worked so diligently to build.
Doone didn't speak to Kanelle for the rest of the night. He sulked in the corner fiddling with the good luck charm she had given him before his journey; an old gold coin from the Kingdom she had lived in before Tomm. Robin remained on the verge of tears quietly listening to the women plan for the morning. When all was decided Kanelle had just enough time to make it into the courtyard after running a final errand. She stood from her place on the floor and looked around at the small strange assortment of rebels before her. Dyan and Zulema sat close together, Zulema lovingly played with Dyan's fingers. Zulema's skin was dark and rich like coffee, her black hair fell in long thick twists down her back and Dyan's slightly lighter skin seemed almost golden in the right light. Her natural curls bounced with her every movement and added a few inches to her already substantial height. They were beautiful together and reminded Kanelle of the power of true loyalty and fierce lifelong love. Dyan had fallen in love with Zulema when she looked like and identified as a man and had never faltered in her love as Zulema decided to transition into her true self.
Kanelle looked down at her own hands. They weren’t as dark as Zulema's or Robin's or even Dyan's, but they were noticeably darker than Bran's and a different shade than Doone's. The Black Riots weren't about her, but she understood to an extent the black community's struggle. Because of her light brown skin, thick dark hair, and unnervingly bright clear eyes people were unsure where to place her, but that wasn't anything new. Her own people didn't know where to place themselves. They traveled in caravans across Kingdoms singing, dancing, and divining for just enough money to survive. But no one wanted to have their fortune told by someone half their age no matter how accurate the readings were, so three years ago Kanelle had been given the choice between marriage to the son of a powerful member of her clan or to be cast out. She had remained single long enough her family told her. She didn’t earn nearly as much as the other young women who danced and sang for the locals and she wasn't having any children. She either had to contribute or move out. Robin was the one who had brought Kanelle into the rebel circles all those years ago. He'd given her a future she could never have imagined for herself and tonight she was going to repay her debt; she would give him a future with Meryn.
"It’s a good plan Kanelle." Dyan's even tone pulled her from her reverie. "We'll watch for your signal if it needs to change." Kanelle nodded and locked eyes with both her and Zulema before smiling briefly at Bran. She clapped a hand on Robin's shoulder."
"She'll be fine, but you need to be strong. We can't have you falling apart on us Robin." She said fiercely pouring as much strength into him as she could. She glanced at Doone and saw him standing.
"I'll walk you out." He said leaving no room for objection. Kanelle ran her hands over her body checking her various weapons hidden from view and followed Doone out the door. When the door closed behind them he pulled her into a fervent hug.
"I'll be waiting for your signal." He whispered into her hair.
"I won't need it." She replied to his shoulder. He smiled tightly and then pushed her on her way.
"Go before I lose control and tie you to the banister so you don't go through with this."
"That didn't work last time you tried it, I doubt it would work now." She smirked as she tramped down the stairs. Doone shook his head and watched her run into the darkness until her form was shrouded by the last of the night fog's reaching tentacles.
Kanelle had one last stop to make before she met the Commissioner. Around the corner from the courthouse was a two story brick storefront tucked tightly between an out of business cupcake boutique and a very out of business stationary store. The unnamed coffee shop was a hub of activity most hours of the day, but at 15 minutes before 6am it was serene. The shop's façade was not welcoming to those who weren't aware of its existence. A black and white minimalist depiction of a steaming cup of coffee was the only hint as to what lay inside. To reach the coffee customers had to descend a handful of cement stairs below street level concealed from view by plentiful creeping ivy. The long thin windows were old, etched with a green tint that warped the view of what was on the other side. From the inside the windows were only high enough to see the feet of the people passing by, but Kanelle could easily make out the familiar setting of the coffee house as she peered in quietly from the outside.
Calla, the shop owner was behind the bar readying the store for the early regulars who weren't far behind. She would be expecting a rush with the assembly taking place in a couple of hours. Calla was devastatingly well informed from both sides of the resistance. So close to the courthouse and one of the only businesses left running in the City Center Calla's coffee reached a great number of city officials. She had a way of silently pulling information out of people without them even realizing they were divulging secrets they shouldn't be. They spoke to fill the silence and elongate their time at the center of Calla's attention; a highly sought after position. Kanelle kept up her weekly routine of frequenting specific undergrounds, questioning the barkeeps, listening to private conversations, and reporting back to keep her most lucrative informant's identity a secret; even from those on her team. She might trust Dyan and the others with her own life, but never with Calla's. She wanted to go in. Smell the comforting coffee and explain to Calla what she was about to do, but the sun was on the brink of breaking the horizon and if she relaxed for even a moment at the heartening counter she knew her tentative resolve would shatter and she'd never make it to the courthouse, Meryn be damned.
Instead she dropped a small package in the black tube affixed to the door that stood in as a makeshift mailbox. When Doone came looking Calla would pass along her message; for he was the only one she was worried about trying to follow her into the dungeons. Kanelle laid her palm on the coffee shop's door drawing strength from it before sneaking into the courtyard for the second time that night. Her bandaged hand protested when she grabbed onto the first hand hold in the tower’s wall, but she pulled herself up and since she was most likely climbing to her death the time passed quickly. She flung herself into the courtroom with moments to spare before her deadline. She didn't have to wait long before Knox flanked by two large guards elbowed open the heavy oak door. His eyes widened in surprise at the sight of Kanelle leaning against the window still inspecting her bandage now stained with dirt and blood.
"I wasn't sure you'd keep to your end of the deal." He addressed her as he motioned for the guards to approach on either side of her.
"I'm a very trustworthy person." She sighed as she pushed off the wall. The guards jumped and Knox tensed. Clearly he had exaggerated her powers when briefing his guard force, the thought amused Kanelle, as much as anything could amuse her in this current predicament.
"Her hands." Knox commanded without taking his eyes from her throat. The two guards surged forward and grasped each hand. Kanelle instinctively pulled back, but they were too strong. Before she could snap her fingers thick gloves were pulled over her hands, constricting her fingers in a damp, tight cloth. Terrified her eyes flew to Knox's and he laughed. Delighted to see true unbridled fear in her haunting eyes. "Yes Kanelle. I have been doing my research." He'd learned more about how she controlled fire than she had realized. As long as her fingers remained damp and tied together she couldn't rely on the fiery element. She steadied her pounding heart and swallowed the lump of fear in her throat.
"Alright Knox, now what? How will I know you’ve released the citizens?" She spit sparks so frustrated she'd become.
"Oh, you'll be making an appearance at the assembly." Knox assured her. "But first things first." He pulled something from his bag and let it unfurl in front of him.
"I'm not wearing that." Kanelle stated.
"Yes my dear, you will." Knox had won and they both new it.