24.1.13

Cordula, part two

The ground was steep past the bridge, steeper than either of them had expected, and wet from the dewfall. Dag slipped a few times, trying to forge ahead, trying to lead, his pistol drawn early, while Cordula planted her feet carefully, doubting, now, the shadows that entranced her, subjecting them to every inquiry her eyes and ears could make.

It was a narrow path for a thoroughfare, this one, with the rising cliffs on one side and the falling cliffs on the other. There wasn’t much space for anything to hide, unless it sprang down from the rocks – and her head turned up at that thought, and she eyed the jagged ridge, jet black with the moon behind it. Nothing.

Still nothing as the slope began to level out and the gatehouse into Gilneas loomed, with its lamps left unbroken and its walls good and strong. The other patrol didn’t head into the city, she knew that much, and there was only one other way to go: along the path as it doubled back on itself, following the very base of the cliffs around toward Duskhaven. Alongside the bog, as it happened, and well into the thick of the mist.

‘It’s an advantage,’ he told her. ‘We’ll be hidden good and proper.’

‘Oh aye? Next to no sight, that’s useful for us, is it, when we’s doing the searching?’

‘You yellowing out, Ula?’

‘I’s setting you straight, Dag. Now you stay bloody close and all.’

She set her shield to her arm and loosened her sword in its sheath, and they pressed on into the murk. It settled a silence right over them, the mist: all sound faded but the padding of their feet and the jingle of their armour, and the occasional splash from the swamp, closer than it was.

The light of a surviving lamp formed a ruddy miasma in the fog up ahead, turning to silhouette something heaped there at the roadside. It gained limbs, armour and a Gilnean tabard as they drew closer, until Dag’s foot rolled the body over, and they saw the face of half the missing pair.

He stooped low, hand outstretched. ‘Still breathing.’

‘Stay with him.’

‘While you bugger off where?’

She couldn’t explain. It was all instinct, the certainty of someone past the light, someone out in the mud. She skirted Dag and jumped the fence. Right away there was a snap and a splash, the sound of cloth whirling, a sound she knew right well as being the start of a fierce retreat.

‘Oi! You hold it right there!’

The mist swallowed her voice like the sound of them footsteps, but she raced on anyway, water splashing up her thighs, everything fading to white all around her, until she was running in a little purse of reality, just herself and the mud beneath her boots, and the copper’s sense of a crook not far escaped, but escaped nonetheless.

‘What’ve you done with the other copper?’ Her voice rebounded off the mists, unheard. ‘What’ve you done?’

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