Grêve absentmindedly patted the boy's head, wondering if the girl might aid him. "Find Death's Daughter," she had said "and you shall find her." He recalled a curling of white smoke, ancient stony eyes. "A warning, knock twice on his doorstep, and there's no escape." A set, wrinkled mouth, which issued prophecy.
His Lord, his fellows, called her crazy, the crazy swamp witch; was he crazy for listening? He moved to exit the clothier, but felt a light tug at the hem of his tunic; Grêve twisted around, a question on his lips, yet he didn't get a chance to speak.
A small boy, one he'd not seen before in the village, pressed something into Grêve's hand as he said, "Don't forget to pay your dues." Something akin to amusement flashed in the child's eerily somber eyes, and before Grêve could inquire what he meant, the boy faded back into the milling group of shoppers.
"Boy!" Several women turned toward him, but no youth appeared, and the shoppers continued about their business. Grêve opened his fist, and bit back an oath. "Black petals?" he whispered quizzically. No matter how they made him think of her…how could they help him find her?
Cina paused by a doorway darkened and shadowed, and cocked her head, listening intently. She twined her fingers in the air, as if tugging gently on some delicate web. No, she shook her head, no.
An old woman peered at her from behind a window dusty with age and neglect, peered with wondering eyes and a curious brow. She wondered at the odd manner in which the afternoon light slanted across the lissome girl. But Cina ignored the elder, and passed along. A hint of a whisper there, and the slightest tingling from there, Cina followed the prickling of her spine. Maybe there was a sign in the alley to the left, maybe a flash of movement or sound. Maybe. But Cina moved with newfound surety, and strode to a smaller, green and worn door, and entered. And found death.
Clutter swallowed the townhouse. Piles and piles of wooden instruments, charts and maps and scrolls, books and moth-eaten jackets, and stones. Pebbles. Hundreds and hundreds of rocks—brown, white, gray, even red cliff rocks. Stacked in the dish cupboard among cracked and dusty china, in the pockets of every coat in the hall closet. Rocks.
There was something wrong. Nothing visible. Cina restlessly checked every room, every nook and cranny, and found nothing. She had found death, and not. It was there, and not.
"It's peculiar," she muttered to a miniature frog figurine. "Very." Usually, a body existed. Spirits sang to carry the soul away. "A flame, a raindrop, a breeze; move on, move on with ease; a key, a key twice turned, passage, passage earned," she sang quietly once, yet no ethereal voices joined hers. "Peculiar." The surrounding silence was now eerie; a wrongness hung about the house. It was slight, creeping—but it was there.
Silent were the footfalls of death.
The shrine remained clothed in silence. None moved about and stillness pervaded its area. The night was uncommonly clear for summer; stars shone brightly through the misty clouds eternally in the atmosphere, and no breeze blew.
It was lucky. The lone oncoming figure strode into the stone courtyard, glancing neither right nor left. It pulled open the door, allowing a pale washing of moonlight to bathe the inner floor. There, it found its prey.
Master Tines woke in a cold sweat—a dark aura approached. He felt his heartbeat sped, to thump wildly in his chest as a war drum, a chaotic march. And then, it almost stopped.
From the shelter of the dark, two eyes, eyes that burned with an inferno to match the depths of hell, gleamed. "W-who goes?" he croaked, his voice sticking in his throat, thick with fear, painfully no more than a whisper.
The glint of steel in the moon's rays.
A voice like silk began to speak in a lulling cadence, spinning out poison like the entangling threads of the spider's web. Master Tines could not move, sickeningly fixated and drawn into the narcotic words.
"I am the flame in the darkness." Footsteps grew nearer. "I am the dealer in souls."
Master Tines's breath caught; he began to shake. "I am the killer, catharsis for men." The steel was cold against the monk's neck. "I am the flame in the darkness. Fire burns away sin." Those eyes burnt into his own soul. "The last light thou shalt know."
There remained no movement in the shrine, for its loss would not be discovered until morning. And on the gates of the shrine, only a single sign remained of its visitor- a smoldering ember, drizzled in fresh blood.