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Water's Edge (revised) by Rey Allgayer

© Rey Allgayer

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Prologue
Gideon

I’ll never forget the day I realised I was a coward.

It’s not something anyone wants to think of themselves, is it? You want to believe that should the situation arise, you would react bravely and honourably, with strength enough to do what’s needed. And I thought I’d been faced with every situation imaginable that would require bravery.

I’ve killed. Many times, in fact.

I’ve stood my ground to fight when faced with enemies. I’ve watched my friends die for a cause that, even just by knowing about it, puts my life at risk. I’ve struggled against that which I believe to be evil. I thought, even objectively, I would be considered brave.
But I am a coward. How do I know? An eight year old little girl showed me.

We had only been in the downriver town of Delle’s End for a few years but Kaz was young enough that she barely remembered anything before. At first, she would ask about her mother, and I justified my lies by telling myself that secrets were not for toddlers. They could not be expected to understand the meaning of a secret and how to treat it like the fragile thing it was. But as time went on and she grew accustomed to life here, she stopped asking. And I was relieved, because I could stop lying.

Lying to a child was harder than I expected. Those wide blue eyes staring up at me, accepting anything I said as the truth, so eager to trust me. It’s an immense power you hold in your hand when a child gives you their trust. You can rob them of so much with just a few words. They have not been given the information to form their own opinions yet. So anything you say is the truth to them. Lying to a child is easy. And, at the same time, if you’re any kind of decent, the hardest thing to do.

But until she was eight, I didn’t think it was a cowardly thing to do. I lied out of necessity. It was justified and I couldn’t be blamed for it.
But one day she looked up at me and asked, “G, is magic really evil, or did the Savages just use it wrong? Like the other day when Declan put salt on a slug and it went all shrivelled. Salt isn’t evil.” And all I did was smile and say I didn’t know. I didn’t know...

And I realised that, more than anything else, I lied for myself. I even lied to myself, trying to rationalise it. Eight years old is still very young to be expected to understand what is at stake. There would have still been the danger of her running off to school to tell a friend what her uncle had said the night before, and then where would we be? She has to blend in to be safe. All good reasons to lie, reasons I could use to justify my actions to anyone else.

But none of them were mine. I lied because telling the truth would mean I would lose that wide-eyed trust that she had lent me for this exquisite fraction of time. This most precious thing that, if I was honest, was, to me, worth the harrowing cost we had paid for it. Because I’d have to tell her everything. This isn’t something I could have explained halfway.

But now, almost a decade later, I’ve painted myself into a corner. All my excuses were invalid long ago, and should she find out the truth from someone other than me, I would have no defense whatsoever. She’s nearly eighteen now. Can you believe it? That eight year old little girl with so many questions has grown into a beautiful young woman, and my fear of losing her has grown right along with her.
I have become fearful of many other things in the last ten years, too. The Territory’s expansion, its continued hunt for people like me, people they like to call “enemies of the Territory”. Anyone I know in the old circles would wear that epitaph like a badge of honour. And there’s another thing. The old circle is shrinking, picked off one by one, connections lost, the rest of us scattered. My link to the old world is growing dangerously tenuous.

The last time I had any kind of visitor at all was two years ago. He appeared at my house late at night and rapped on the door three times, paused, then a fourth time. I opened the door slowly and saw a man I had never seen before.

“Can I help you?” I asked him.

“Do you know where I can find a good cobbler? It’s hard going these days,” he replied, his voice natural and even, but his expression one of wary intensity.

I heaved out a relieved sigh and answered in the expected way, “Just down the road you’ll find one who will help you on your way, but why don’t you come in first and rest those aching feet?” The stranger nodded and stepped inside as I opened the door further. I led him to the living room and gestured to him to take a seat. We didn’t do introductions. He already knew my name and it was probably better if I never learned his.

“I didn’t know if I’d still find you here,” he said, taking off his hat and traveling coat and draping them over the armrest of the chair I’d offered him. “The information Seb gave me is a good few years old. Not like one of us to stay put so long.”

“If I had left, I would have let someone know. Seb sent you?” I offered him a mug of a sweet, dark honey liqueur I’m quite partial to, which he gratefully accepted and took a large mouthful of before answering me.

“In a way. I have business a few towns upriver and he said if I could make the trip, it might be worthwhile to see what the last few years have done to you.”

“Mostly just made me fat,” I replied, making him chuckle. “Very little has changed, which is both a relief and a nuisance. Delle’s End seems to be stuck in time and forgotten. Nothing changes. But it’s why we came here.”

“Has she showed any signs yet?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“Unusually late.”

“In our case, a good thing.” I take a swig of my own from my mug, letting the liquid calm my nerves.

“Are you hoping that she won’t?” he asked after a moment, raising an eyebrow.

“Can you blame me?” I shrugged. “She would be so much safer.”

“But completely disconnected--”

“No more than she is now.” After a few more moments, he nodded, his expression grave and sad. Drinking my liqueur faster than was good for me, I asked, “What was Seb hoping to hear?”

“I think he was hoping that different rumours trickle down this end of the river, and you might have heard something that could help us.” He set down his mug on the little table between us and leaned forward. “We’ve started hearing whispers about someone stealing Braxas’ prey. His puppets will track a Descendent down but before they can make the grab, someone has slipped in and gotten there first.”

“Who?”

“No idea,” he replied.

“I thought we had everyone accounted for who was left behind?”

“We do. Which means they weren’t left behind. They’ve come back.” He settled back into his armchair, mug in hand.

“Come back from where?”

“Wherever it is they went.” We sat in silence for a while, each lost in thought.

Eventually, I said grimly, “They sure would have been needed here about six months ago.” My visitor raised his eyebrows. I guess news doesn’t travel much upriver either. “Braxas’ men came and took a family away in the middle of the night. I didn’t even know until the next morning when they announced it at a town meeting. It’s a miracle they didn’t find us too, to be honest.”

“Who was it?”

“Salesh and Jochim. And their son, Osca.”

“They had a son?”

I nodded sadly. “He was good friends with Kaz. He started showing signs around the normal time. I guess that’s how they found them. Just bad luck.”

“And they’ve not been back?”

“No.”

“Salesh always was a tough cookie. They’d be hard-pressed to get anything out of her.”

I nodded. “But having a son does offer some incentive.”

“Sleep with one eye open, ey?”

“You think I sleep?” The man raised his mug to that, and we again lapsed into silence. If this news he brought was true, this could mean a glimmer of hope for us. If these mysterious people had come back without being detected, maybe they could bring us all somewhere safe. But first, we’d have to find them. “No one these people find has ever showed up again?”

“No, they vanish without a trace, if the rumours are to be believed. Otherwise we would have tried to track them down ourselves and get some more information. And it’s just bad luck they haven’t contacted someone who could have sent us a message. That would make all our jobs much easier.”

“I suppose we’ve done ours too well,” I muttered. “We’ve spent years trying to hide, and now we can’t be found, even when we want to be.”

“Double-edged knife, or whatever the expression is,” he agreed, nodding.

“So all we can do is wait,” I sighed.

“I’m afraid so. Wait and listen.”

“Well, I’m sorry, I can’t give you any more information. Whispers like that are dead by the time they reach me here.” The price to pay for safety? Ignorance.

“It was a long shot,” he said, shrugging. He finished what was left in his mug and stood to leave, collecting his coat and hat from the chair. “I’d better get going. Can’t leave my horse in your yard too long.”

I also stood to walk him to the door. Before he stepped outside, I stopped him. “What’s the tally?” For a moment, he paused, as though he was deciding whether to tell me.

“We lost Tonya and Sykes.” Then he was gone. Faintly, I heard the sound of hoofbeats on the dirt road, but they soon faded and the night was as it always was. Quiet and empty. The whole meeting took no more than five minutes.

That’s the last time I got any news from one of my own. For the first month afterwards, I was excited, hopeful, and terrified all at the same time. I kept waiting for someone to knock on my door again-- first three times, then a pause, then a fourth time-- and ask me if I knew a cobbler. But nobody came. I settled back into my usual state: always watchful but resigned to small town life. It was dangerous to even entertain the idea that someone else would protect Kaz for me. Especially a group of phantoms no one could pin down.
But two years is a long time to go without information. The picture I can piece together of the state of things in the Territory from the newsletters and snippets of information from travellers passing through the town, is blurry at best. And time is running out. I need help. My letters never receive a reply anymore, so either it’s not safe to correspond with the old circle or my contacts have relocated or died. I need a new plan, and the only tiny speck of hope I have is that these covert strangers might provide a lifeline. Tenuous, but it’s all I have to go on.

So here I am again, faced with a situation where I have already decided what needs to be done, and all I can do is stare at the piece of metal on my workbench-- a beautiful, intricate brooch, commissioned from upriver-- and hold my chisel and hammer over it, ready to carve my mark...but I can’t do it.

I’ve been standing like this for I don’t know how long. Long enough for the blaze in the forge to have died down to shimmering embers, casting an eerie, dim orange glow about the workshop. Fitting, really. It seems my resolve and perhaps whatever courage I thought I still possessed, died with it.

The weight of possible consequences is almost suffocating. What if the wrong person finds it? What if it makes its way into the hands of one of Braxas’ men? What if this gets yet another Guardian killed? What if? What if? What if?

The what ifs are deafening in the surrounding silence. They paralyse me. But then...

What if I don’t do it and they find her and I have no one to turn to?

It’s enough to allow me to bring my hammer down onto the chisel and carve the mark into the back of the brooch. A straight line leading into a spiral underneath it. Our best-kept secret, stamped onto a piece of jewellery and sent upriver into a stranger’s hands. This is a desperate act. But I am a desperate man.

If you do something that needs to be done because of fear, rather than in spite of fear, are you still brave? It doesn’t really matter. To keep her safe is my purpose. That’s why we came here after all. Delle’s End is a small town at the very edge of the Territory, one most people have forgotten about. It’s safe here, and safe is what I was looking for fifteen years ago when I arrived holding the hand of a toddler who had just lost her mother.



Chapter 1
Kaz

I’ve been thinking about dreams a lot lately, in the same way that I sometimes wonder why we are ticklish. It seems almost accidental, like a misfire somewhere in our minds and bodies. I asked my uncle once why we are ticklish and he said that long ago, when we were wilder things, it helped us survive by giving us a heightened sense of awareness of areas that are vulnerable to attack--maybe from crawling things like spiders? Is it the same with dreams? Do they help us survive too? But instead of our bodies, they protect our minds, allowing us to cope with our everyday reality by giving us an escape?

Someone once told me that you can’t dream of someone you’ve never seen. That stranger in your dream is actually what someone would look like if they had the nose of your next-door neighbour, the eyes of the town baker, and the haircut of that man you saw last week in the square. Your mind is making a collage of all the faces it’s ever seen, to fool you into thinking you’re seeing a mysterious stranger. Where does he come from? What does he want from you?

If your dreams are using people of your past to cast the actors, perhaps they are also using your everyday colour palate to bring them to life. So if all you saw was dust--dusty houses, dusty streets, dusty people-- would your dreams be dust-coloured, too? Like the pages in a child’s colouring book that have yet to be filled in, just the outlines of a washed-out reality. And if a dusty world is all you’ve ever known, would you even know there was something missing?

And if that’s true, could I be dreaming better? Is the world that I escape to inside my head actually a pale cousin of some other place where green things grow and simply breathing doesn’t make you thirsty?

If you were a fish, would your dreams be saturated with watery shades of blue and green, rippling in and around each other in golden beams of sunlight? What a wonderful thing it must be to dream as a fish would...

The watery vibrations of a boat signal interrupt my thoughts. My head snaps up and I let go of the brick I was holding on to to keep me on the riverbed and kick upwards. When I break the surface, I hear the signal again, loud and clear and very close.

“Oh, Savage!” I hiss to no one. A boat is coming to dock, even though it isn’t delivery day! If Jacen, the dock manager, finds me now, he’ll never let me back into the water here, so close to an incoming boat without having noticed a thing. I can already hear him above me barking orders at the dockworkers and heavy hurried footfalls. The slightly hysterical pitch of his voice tells me this boat is not on the schedule. I quickly move to the edge of the docks and peer out, careful to stay hidden behind a pillar and not leave the safety of the shadows. It looks like I missed the first couple signals because the boat is much closer than I expected.

The only way I can describe it is pretty. It isn’t a barge like the ones that normally come down here for the weekly deliveries, which are generally long, rectangular, and completely devoid of anything resembling design that isn’t purely practical. But it isn’t a merchant’s vessel either, which are usually well crafted and elegant, but sturdy and durable; made to last a lifetime and carry heavy loads up and down the river between trading posts. Merchant ships are very rare nowadays, most of the merchants having realised that their fortunes do not lie in selling their wares to the tiny downriver towns like Delle’s End, left behind by the northward progress of the Territory. No, this boat that’s approaching now looks more like the ones that carry wealthy travellers, with its long, elegant curved sides dotted with wooden scrolls and embellishments just because it’s aesthetically pleasing.

The passengers on these types of vessels usually come with their heads full of expectations of wilderness and mystery for the last town on the river before the great waterfalls, having heard the nickname “the edge of the world”, and then inevitably leave thoroughly underwhelmed on the next available passage back upriver. Word must have spread quickly, because these days even these visitors are almost non-existent. Still, once in a very long while an eccentric person comes through who is absolutely persuaded that nowhere could be as unexciting as Delle’s End was rumoured to be, and that they surely could discover its small-town charm. I am convinced this concept is a myth. I can find very little charm here and no town could possibly be smaller than this.

As the boat draws nearer, I get a better view of the people on the deck. They are dressed in a fashion I’ve only ever seen on my rare trips to Bob’s Hollow, our closest trading post, about half a day’s barge ride north. Ladies wearing frilly dresses, ranging from white to pale pink, with big white hats or lacey parasols to protect them from the sun, and gentlemen in light linen suits, most likely with canes they don’t need but swing around arrogantly. I always give people like this a wide berth when I see them, worried if I get too close I’ll get dust on their fancy attire. I can’t imagine ever wearing clothes like that. There would be no point here, and anyway the amount of laundry would be unbelievable.

After only a glimpse, I have to duck back into the shadows of the dock and safety of the pillars. That would be all I need, to have one of the passengers ask Jacen about the girl hiding under the docks. That would be even worse than if he found me himself. Only a minute or so later, the sunlight reaching under the piers is blocked out by the bulk of the boat making port. I have to blink several times to get my eyes accustomed to the gloom. The beams above me creak and groan as the ship is tied securely to the dock, fighting the currents. Jacen’s muffled voice and that of another man, presumably the visiting ship’s captain or foreman, drift down to me but I can’t make out what they’re saying. Whatever it is initiates a flurry of activity on the dock. The usual stomping footsteps of the dockworkers now mix with the light clip-clip of ladies’ delicate heeled shoes--the most ridiculous part of their entire outfit, in my opinion-- and the softer steps of gentlemen’s woven leather sandals. There seems to be movement to and from the boat. What could they be unloading? Luggage? Goods? Is it some odd off-schedule delivery after all? All I know is that it doesn’t seem to end.

My uncle will be wondering why I haven’t shown up for afternoon rotation. I snuck in a swim after lunch like I usually do, partly to refresh before heading back into the heat of the forge, and partly because I simply love the river. The dry, arid landscape stretching for miles and miles around Delle’s End means the warm wind carries dust with it on its travels, and covers anyone and anything in a thin coating of grime. Only on the banks of the Delle does the wind cool a little, but not enough to affect the town, even though it only lies a few minutes’ walk from the river. If I don’t go for a swim between morning and afternoon rotation, the sweat from the forge mixes with the encasing of dust to form a crust of filth that I can feel whenever I move.

Without the sunlight under the docks, I can see very little underwater, and the arrival of the boat has stirred up a huge amount of silt, which has yet to settle. I have very little to entertain myself as I wait for either the movement to stop on the piers so I can sneak away, or for the passengers to board their boat again and leave. There still seems to be a constant flow of footsteps across the gangway from the docks to the boat. No delivery, not even the ones right before celebrations like Midsummer’s Day take this long to offload. Jacen’s managerial methods might be a lot of things, but inefficient they most definitely are not. The dockworkers have gotten very good at getting what needs to be offloaded into the sorting shed in short order, or else the upriver boys can’t get back to Bob’s Hollow before nightfall. The one time it happened that the unloading had taken too long for the barge to return upriver, the Open Tab, the only tavern in Delle’s End, had had to house and feed the visiting dockworkers—free of charge of course. We suffered under more-mediocre-than-usual meals until the next delivery day because our stores were completely depleted. Visiting dockworkers can’t be expected to be too altruistic when offered a free meal and, true to form, ate everything and anything they could possibly manage. Since then, the main goal of every delivery day is to get it done as quickly as possible. The dockworkers have experienced the hardship of disgruntled tavern- and shop-keepers’ wives once and are very happy not to have to do it again. So whatever is taking them so long to load or offload, I’m sure it is causing Jacen a great deal of stress. If he had a whip, I have no doubt I would hear him cracking it right now.

I wonder who these surprise passengers are and where they come from. From the quick look I got, their clothes suggest they’ve travelled from quite a ways upstream. Most of the Territory’s towns and villages lack this upper class of resident, having mostly been built near established mines to support the ever-growing demand for metal, and therefore are made up of working families. In Delle’s End, I reckon Rod is probably the wealthiest man in town, being both the baker and the mayor, but even he wears sensible cotton shirts and working trousers, just like the rest of us. None of this white frilly nonsense. And the only woman I’ve ever seen wearing shoes with any kind of a heel is Rod’s wife at the Midsummer’s Day festival a few years ago, but they interfered with her dancing so were discarded in favour of the usual sturdy sandals. Not that we don’t know how to dress for the occasion. I do own a couple dresses that only make an appearance for rare special events, like birthdays or funerals, but nothing could convince me to wear a white piece of clothing with the amount of dust that we experience here. We either wear colours that can swallow dust like it doesn’t exist, or colours that look dusty already.

The wealthier towns, where the passengers’ fashion is more common, are closer to the largest trading posts upriver---maybe Fallonstead or Castor Avon--- which take weeks to reach by boat. Well, they’re called trading posts, but I’ve heard they are the size of cities. Even though the mines near them are the smallest in the Territory, the lands around them are still fertile enough to produce crops and can therefore sustain a permanent population of people who can work in whatever trade they wish. Small towns have sprouted up around them, as far as can be travelled in a day or two, and people flock back to the cities for trade and commerce. This is where the printing houses are based, where all our newsletters are printed and shipped on barges both up- and downstream, for the Territory has long left even these hubs in its wake, searching for new pockets of metal in the earth.

If the visitors don’t leave this evening, maybe I will have a chance to talk to them and ask them what it’s like where they live. We don’t get a lot of news from that far upriver other than the newsletter, but that is designed to keep us up to date with the important events across the Territory, not with fashion and lifestyle. In my head, far upriver trading posts are extravagant and wonderful, but I have no idea what they’re actually like. Sometimes I wish we weren’t so isolated here at the edge of the Territory, stuck here on the outskirts, a half-day’s travel by horse and wagon from the mine the town was built to supply with workers. Delle’s End’s sole purpose. Sometimes I wish--

But I shouldn’t talk like that. Everything we do, we do in service to the Territory and Lord Braxas, our fearless leader. The demand for metal is driving the development of industry and economy, and every mine, and therefore every mining town, does its part. The news pamphlets every week always report on escalating engineering works in the northern towns, where they build everything from the machines that aid the harvest, to the ships that deliver them to the trading posts along the river, from which they will then be distributed to towns that need them. The Territory is thriving. We should be proud to play our part. Sometimes I wish they would allow women to work the mines. It seems like the only profession that really contributes to the greater good. What are bakers, tailors and shopkeepers really doing for the Territory? That’s partly the reason I chose to be a blacksmith, even though I might not have had any other choice anyway, my uncle being the town blacksmith and all. It’s probably the closest I will get to the Territory’s greatest economy. I suppose--

A flash of movement off the end of the boat makes me lose my train of thought completely. I stare at the spot for a good minute. Then two. No, my eyes must have been playing tricks on me. Maybe it was just the light reflecting off the--there! What was that? I swim to the next pillar to get a closer look. Could those have been legs I just saw dangling there? As quickly as they’d appeared, they’d vanished, so I can’t be sure. But there was something.

A splash. Some ripples originating from the other side of the boat come into view. The ripples are quite agitated, as though whatever had splashed is rather large and still moving. Then a hand comes around the corner, trying to find hold in a crevice between the wooden boards of the ship. I can feel my heartbeat start to pound as the rest of a cloaked figure comes round the edge of the boat. I duck hastily behind the pillar as I see the figure’s head turn in my direction. The hand is quite large so I think it’s a man, medium height from what I could tell in those few seconds, but other than that I saw no identifying features. The hood is pulled forward enough to shield any view of his face.

Peeking around the pillar again because I can’t resist another look at the figure, I try to move my arms and legs as little as possible, nearly clinging to the wood with hands and knees, so I don’t make too many ripples and attract attention of my own. Curiosity and apprehension both struggle with each other in my head. I want to see for myself who the stranger is, but I also want to shout out to someone to make them aware of him. I don’t hear the footfalls above me on the docks anymore so if I don’t shout, no one will see him. Someone sneaking off a boat must have a reason for not wanting to be seen, and the only ones I can think of are dishonest. It’s my duty to bring him to someone’s attention!

But my curiosity wins, as it usually does, and I don’t shout. I just continue watching. My teachers always told me my curiosity would get me into trouble, would make me act against my service to Lord Braxas and the good of the Territory. I always thought they were being dramatic, but now...

The figure is still there, hanging onto the boat, head turned toward the walkways, face still completely hidden by the hood. Surely being dressed like that would make it hard to blend in. Maybe in a bigger town, where people dress in all kinds of ways and come from different walks of life, a disguise like this would work, but here? He wouldn’t be able to walk down the road without someone taking notice. Then again, I can’t see his face so it is doing its job, I suppose. I still can’t hear anyone on the docks, so what is he waiting for?
Too late, I realise exactly what he’s waiting for and can’t move to a safer hiding spot before he darts across the open space between the boat and the docks and quickly swims for the shadows. Not seeing another option, I take a lungful of air and duck under the surface, cling to the base of the pillar, and hope that there is still enough silt in the water that he won’t notice me. Even though the sediment stings my eyes, I keep them open wide, hoping to catch a glimpse as the figure swims past me. But I also desperately don’t want to be seen. Apprehension has now fully gained control of my mind and is screaming at me to stay hidden. I can feel the water moving as he draws closer to me, the strength of the movement telling me he is dangerously near. Please don’t look down. Please don’t look down.

He’s right next to me now, his boots kicking up even more silt from the riverbed, and just when I think I might get away unseen, his boots abruptly stop about an arm’s length from my head. If I wanted to, I could reach out and touch him. But I don’t want to. I want him to just keep moving! I stare at the boots, willing them to take another step. Even in the gloom, I can see that they are brown leather boots with three buckles on the sides. The boots turn, the toes pointing directly at me, and my heart starts pounding in my throat. Has he seen me? Is he just waiting for me to have to come up for air? We could be here a while. Should I just make a break for the river without surfacing and hope I can outswim him? That might be my best option, considering... but then the boots move away again. In that slow-motion way that walking through water requires, the boots and the body attached to them retreat from my hiding spot.

As soon as I can’t feel the water movement anymore, I let go of the pillar and swim in the direction of lighter water without coming up for air. I don’t want to risk being seen if the stranger has just moved into the shadows and is sitting in wait. I don’t stop until the wooden hull of the boat comes into view in the brighter part of the water, where sunbeams add an almost laughably cheerful backdrop to my still-pounding heart. Ducking around the edge of the boat so as to be hidden from the docks too, I finally surface. After a few gulps of air, I brace myself for shouts of “Fish! Fish!” from Jacen, who usually prefers my nickname over calling me Kaz when he’s cross. It would be just my luck if he’d seen me flitting from the docks to the boat. But the shouts don’t come. Letting out a shaky breath, I allow myself to relax against the hull slightly, hanging on to its wooden boards so the current doesn’t sweep me away.
Out of immediate danger, curiosity is back in the fight and seems to be winning. Unable to resist, I edge along the boat’s side for one last peek at the docks. But I see nothing. No hooded figure, no sneaking stowaway. The docks look like they always do. Only now, for the first time in my life, I ask myself what they are hiding in their shadows.

I shake my head to clear it, and duck under the water to let myself be carried downstream by the current, only popping up and paddling to the banks when I know that I’ve rounded the bend and am out of sight of the docks and the sorting shed. I sit on the bank for a long while, waiting for my clothes to dry in the gentle late-afternoon breeze and the sun’s waning light. My heart rate slows and I stop shaking after a little while. As the human mind does, I suppose, my imagination starts reworking the last hour’s events into something less frightening and wildly more exciting.

I feel the guilt of this thought almost before I think it, but this might be the most wonderfully exciting thing that has ever happened to me, or that I’ve ever heard happening to anyone else here in Delle’s End. A hooded figure sneaking off a boat that wasn’t even scheduled to be here and disappearing into the shadows. It sounds like one of those stories my uncle told me when I was a child, full of mystery and adventure. Really, I know I should tell someone about the stranger. It is my duty. Anyone in Delle’s End would be confused and disappointed that I am even hesitating. He could be dangerous, and I should think of the safety of Delle’s End before my own childish need for excitement. The good of the many over the needs of the few. That’s what I’ve always been taught.
But in all honesty, I simply don’t want to. I’ve been wishing for adventure my whole life, dreaming of a life outside of this town. Not that I could ever tell anyone that, of course. I would be scolded for having ambitions outside of what the Territory required of me and being ungrateful for what Lord Braxas and his regime have provided. But if I tell someone about the hooded figure and it turns out there is no mystery to him at all, where would I be then? Right back where I was this morning, stuck in the routine of everyday life. My adventure would end before it had even begun.

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