They put her on the night shift as a punishment, and after the second week Cordula was in love. It was the dark that did it. Only the shadows moved on the daytime beat, but when shadow had full reign it made the whole world shift along with it.
She strolled through the centre of Stormglen at just after suppertime with the air balmy and the light dying slow. The lamplighter walked right alongside, chatty-like, her long pole with the wick on the end lifting up to the lamps until the streets were awash with flickering orange and the blackness danced between the cobblestones.
Daytime was near-dead by the time she left the lamplighter at the outskirts. The sun hit the sea as she headed west: the water bronzed to precious metal, the path underfoot baked red, and one last gout of light lent flame to the trees. For a half-minute the Blackwald seemed to burn, before the stars opened up overhead, and the darkness set in.
There were villains down there, she knew for a fact, where the trees twisted and roiled by the leave of the shadow. Human, mind, which made them that bit more worrying, because who was strong enough, mad enough, to brave the woods intentionally?
It made her glad for the sword and shield at her back, the gun at her hip, and her beat partner up ahead, leaning against one of the dead lampposts as he lit a cig between cupped palms. The nip of flame cast Dag’s young, broad face a more sinister bent, though his blue eyes were lamb-docile when he looked at her, and his big mouth made a full smile.
He wasn’t one for chatter, which bothered Cordie not a jot. Together they trudged up the slope, with the cliffs rising flat and unfamiliar ahead and the forest sinking lower to the side.
Past more broken lamps they went, past the bog lying still and glassy, and up the slope toward the bridge, where their own construction had gone rogue in the moonlight, as gothic as a print in a storybook, the gables stretched long like knives sheathed in slate.
They sat there for a while on the bridge, out at the middle, legs dangling and cig ends glowing. Gilneas wore her moonbeam silver only in patches tonight, as wraiths of cloud blew by at top lick, casting their likeness in ink on the rooftops for what little time they lingered.
And after those hours when the other guards didn’t show, and Cordie grew wary, the mists began to lift from the bog, and soon all beneath them was hidden and pale.
‘Well,’ said Dag. ‘Seems obvious they’re not coming. Should head back, most likely.’
‘Or on.’ Cordie looked ahead to the beat that wasn’t theirs. ‘Though it’s not a trail I ever got to learning.’
He stubbed out his cig underfoot. ‘Hell with it. We’ve not yet learned? Then let’s get started.’