Winter had spread across Albion, covering the lush green of their serene forests with a cold and blank white. It was colder than previous winters. That in itself was an omen to many of the country's more superstitious folk. Whether it was caused by an ice demon, as a drunkard had once suggested, or merely by natural means was trivial. The only thing that mattered was survival. Within the last five hundred years, Bowerstone had grown from an unremarkable hamlet into a city. So many houses had stood surrounding the castle; a flying sparrow might have forgotten what the ground looked like, especially now that every inch of the city was covered in ghostly white snow.
Even with the bone-throbbing freeze, Bowerstone still thrived with life. There were sounds of laughing, wordless chatter, lutes, drunken singing and even the sounds of a whore selling her 'wares' in the back streets. The sounds of their faux passionate love-making added into chorus of noises in the city.
It was approaching late afternoon and soon the sun would set. Families enjoying their day in the marketplace would finish up errands and scurry home to avoid the night's chill. Inside, the families go about their regular routine; the fathers would gather the children around the fire and tell them fables of old heroes while the mothers made supper in their kitchens. That was the quirk of people living in Bowerstone, everyday they'd do the same thing, shop at the same places, talk to the same people and start all over again the next morning. No one ever grew tired of it; in fact, they were more likely to be fearful of new events or ideas. They just enjoyed their lives, living in their warm houses just like all the other Bowerstone residents.
Well, almost all.
In the back alley of the old quarter stood a rickety old shanty built from the remains of molded wood by a cheery young girl no older than fourteen. Rose and her sister, Sparrow, would huddle up close to one another during the frigid nights and in the morning they would scrounge up any pieces of gold that might've fallen out of someone's purse. It was either mousing around for gold or doing chores for someone that would give them enough money to eat. Once in a while, a short dirty man by the name of Arfur would approach the older sister and offer her gold in return for something. She never said what it was he was asking for, but she said she always told him 'no'.
The two sisters stood together by their fire overlooking the vista of central Bowerstone and its castle. They had taken a brazier from Fairfax gardens. "They're rich," the older sister used to say, "They don't need it." It was true, there was another replacing it within the hour. Lighting it, however, proved to be a more difficult task as they lacked material to set on fire. On a cold night in the early fall, Rose gathered wood from broken barrels and piled it into the brazier before she cut her own hair, lit it on a street lamp and tossed it into the pit. The girl shivered from her lack of hair for those many weeks, losing more each night. Eventually they befriended a guardsman named Derek. He would fire his pistol into the ground and use the gun barrel's heat to light the fire. That cold wintery night was no different.
"'Mother,' came the frail whine of the prince, 'please don't do this.'
'I love you dear,' the queen said, holding the dark sword's tip to her own stomach. The queen then tightened her hand around the hilt and pulled the sword into herself. Horrified and in agony, her son cried and threw himself to the ground by his mother.'"
The air grew silent and with a satisfied smile, Rose closed the book. She turned to her sister who had been listening to her writings. "What do you think?" she asked. Her sister lazily smiled in response. "You falling asleep over there, little Sparrow?"
"I'm tired," she peeped, shivering and scooting closer to the fire. Rose couldn't blame her; Bowerstone's frost became more frigid and unbearable each day and hell if she didn't feel herself growing more and more fatigued. Rose stepped beside Sparrow and wrapped her arm around her sister. What would she do? Winter had just begun and the shelter she spent all of the summer working on was already beginning to desiccate. No family wanted to take them in, no salesman wanted give them free food or clothes. The cold, hard truth was that no one would mourn the death of two beggar children. The thought was painful and nauseating to young Rose and it made her heart beat angrily to see the apathy of the common folk who could have easily been in their position. No matter how frustrating it became for her, she would never let Sparrow see it. Even then, in the beginning of winter with little less than scraps of food to live off of, Rose still kept her composure and in doing such, she hoped her little sister would never learn how dangerously close to death they were getting.
"Look, little Sparrow!" Rose said. She pointed to the monumental castle that stood high above the mountains of houses and streets. The castle was wide, taking up most of Bowerstone central and leaving each side of the city wondering what the other looked like. On the side stood a lone tower that overlooked the ocean and stretched into the cloudy heavens- far higher than its pointed siblings that stood above the castle's stone walls in the center. It also served as a lighthouse. A stone archway connected the observatory tower to the keep; the castle's regality, marvelous stone structure masked by falling snow made a fantastic view from where Sparrow and Rose were standing. "Castle Fairfax looks so nice in the snow," she said with a smile, her hand unconsciously tightening its grip on her sister's arm. "Imagine the grand dining hall. I bet Lord Lucien's having roast duck this time of year. But he must be really lonely since his wife and his little girl died. In that big castle, all by himself..." she trailed off, "If only we could live there." Rose's hand dropped from her sister's arm. Sparrow looked up at her and grabbed hold of her hand. When Rose returned her gaze she smiled, rocking their arms back and forth.
They both jumped as the sound of yelling and cheering broke through the cold winter's silence. Rose turned, the light in her eyes rekindled with curiosity, "What is going on over there?" she asked, not expecting a reply from whatever produced that noise or her near-silent sister. She gently pulled on Sparrow's hand, "Come with me, sis." She led them away from their shanty, past the barren and frozen willow tree and through an alleyway. They were almost past the Felling Residence when a familiar man approached the girls with a smile of rotted and missing teeth. The man stood a head lower than Rose though it may have been because of his hunched neck. He was dressed in a torn-and-sewn bloodstained vest with an equally decimated pair of trousers decorating his lower half. His eyes were sunken in with dark blotches surrounding them. His skin was dirtied and stained from weeks without bathing and the smell of piss clung to him just as stubbornly as the snow stuck to the ground. "Hello there, young Rose. You look hungry. 'ave you reconsidered my offer?" he asked with a wink.
Rose's face twisted in disgust, "We'll never be that hungry. The answer is 'no'!" she said, tightening her grip on Sparrow's hand and pulling her away down the alley.
"You'll be back," Sparrow heard Arfur call, "and I'll be waiting for ya."
"That filthy creep... I hate him."
At the end of the alley was a horde of adults all standing around an open caravan with multi-coloured smoke flowing out the top of the many queerly shaped funnels protruding from the roof; 'Mystical Murgo', the sign read at the entrance. Inside stood an assortment of normal and unique goods ranging from what seemed to be a regular mirror to more abnormal curiosities like a stone statue of a queen of sorts, clad in pointed armor. Her crown was thorn-like and her face was featureless- just smooth stone. Aged wines to perfume and to books apparently written by the Archons of old to male enhancement potions were all stacked tightly onto the shelves in the back.
"Oh," Rose hummed, noticeably disappointed, "It's just a trader." Despite the nonevent and the inability to buy anything, she pushed forward into the crowd. Rose stopped when she was able to see the merchandise. Beside them stood a woman clad in a red and white cloak that reached down to her feet. She wore a hood over her head. Rose didn't seem to notice the strange lady like Sparrow had, but instead found herself staring wishfully at the collection. The younger sister couldn't help but to stare up at the woman, she was so different from the rest of the crowd but not a person noticed. The woman looked down at the girl. The first thing Sparrow noticed was her eyes; they glowed a blank white. She seemed to be blind but there was no mistaking that the woman was staring into Sparrow's eyes. The next thing she noticed was a collection of runes formed into a necklace on her breasts. Each stone had a strange, archaic symbol on it. The woman's lips were pulled tightly into a mischievous grin. Sparrow shivered and shrunk back toward the comfort of her sister.
The seller stepped forward from the corner of his caravan. "A-ladies and a-gentlemen!" he cried, "I have traveled the land, accumulating wonderful and mysterious objects- which I now offer you for the modest price of five gold." As the trader spoke, Sparrow watched from the corner of her eye as the cloaked woman slowly turned back to the caravan. "Consider this," he said motioning a little bit too dramatically at the mirror beside him. "This is truly a magical mirror. For as long as you look into it, it will make you beautiful!"
A bald, slender man in the crowd raised his hand. "I'll take it!"
"Very wise!" he purred, "Now just remember: the magic only works if you look at it in complete darkness." The trader collected the five gold pieces from the man and helped him lift the long slab of glass before returning to his crowd. "Ah," he said, once again motioning dramatically towards the object of interest, "now this is truly a marvel." He lifted up an octangular box made from old, cracking stone. The seller ran his fingers over the intricate patterns carved into its sides. "This small, unassuming music box is actually a device created by the ancients. As used by the Old Kingdom rulers themselves. Turn the handle three times and you shall be granted a single wish!"
"There's no such thing as magic!" said Rose with a scoff.
A voice, calm and collected, came from beside them, "We live in grim times indeed, if the young are too world-weary to believe in magic," said the cloaked woman, grin still present on her face, "Most children your age believe eagerly."
Rose turned to the woman, eyes widening when they caught a glimpse of the gypsy's. "Look, I can see your eyes are bad," she said, hoping to not sound too rude, "but I'm telling you, that music box is rubbish."
"That's what the seller thinks. He has no idea what he's stumbled upon. But you have an inkling, don't you?" she asked with a cock of the head. "Some part of you wants to believe it's magic." The woman then, with a nod, turned and walked past the sisters, heading down the alley they had come from.
"What? You... You really think it could be?"
The woman stopped and turned her head toward them. The two girls could see just her pointed nose from behind the woman's hood. "For five gold coins, you could have your answer," she whispered.
"For five gold coins," Rose said, "we could eat for a week."
"Listen to me, Rose: at the end of that week, you and your little Sparrow would be no closer to your dream- no closer to living inside that beautiful castle." And with that, the woman left.
They watched as she left. Rose shivered, holding tightly to her sister, "How'd she know my name?" she questioned. She turned to Sparrow and knelt down so their eyes were on the same level. "What if it is real?" she asked, "I bet we could get five gold pieces... and maybe this could be a way out of here, after all. What is there to lose, little Sparrow?"
Her sister shrugged.
"Come on, there must be someone around here who'll pay us gold to... Do something."
The crowd had dispersed, the men and women all hurried back into their warm houses; leaving the frozen streets barren for two girls to walk alone. Rose, with Sparrow in tow, walked across the almost empty thoroughfare. A tall, muscular man walked towards them from a small outpost hut in the corner of the street. "Oi, kids!" he called, "C'm'ere a minute!"
"Hello Derek," Rose waved with a smile, "Lose something?"
"My arrest warrants. Blew right out of my hands," he said, "They could be in all corners of Bowerstone by now- and I can't leave my post."
"That sucks!" Sparrow giggled. Rose smacked her sister's hand but giggled too; Derek, however, was not so pleased.
He crossed his wide, muscular arms and shook his head. "Would you be willing to get them back for me?" he asked, "You could be like... little constables! Sounds fun, right?"
"Oh definitely!" Rose said with a troublesome look on her face. "But how much do 'little constables' get paid?"
"So now we're conta-constipated?" Sparrow asked.
"Constables, little Sparrow."
Derek had bitterly agreed to give the girls one gold piece for finding his warrants. When they asked for more than one, he stubbornly told them that justice was its own reward and that he didn't have more pieces on hand. The two girls passed by Murgo's Caravan, farther down the Market walk. At the end where the path broke off into Sandgoose road, a group of people stood around a wooden stage. Most of them were laughing. Rose and Sparrow pushed through the crowd to see a nervous and twitchy little man eyeing his audience behind tinted goggles. The man wore bizarre, baggy clothing that hung loosely around his skinny body. He looked to be in his fifties but it was hard to tell. His face portrayed a look of embarrassment and frustration. "I tell you; this is the most amazing device ever conceived!" he cried over the jeer of the audience. Beside him was what seemed to be a long wooden box with a small hole in the front standing atop a tripod.
"What is it?" Rose asked. The crowd grew silent and all the people looked at her. The man in front gave her an especially queer look.
"Well!" the man said, tapping the box, "This is what I call a picture box! It grabs your very likeness and transfiddles it onto a magic piece of paper. It's going to make me very rich!"
"You're a nutter, Barnum!" A man from the crowd said. Sparrow recognized him as the man who bought the mirror from Murgo.
"Oh! I'd prove it to you, sir! I'd prove it to you all!" He said angrily. Most of the crowd began to leave; their object of fun was starting to become
nothing more than a nuisance.
"What's keeping you?" Sparrow asked from behind Rose.
The man cocked his head at the young girl. He seemed to think about the question before shrugging his shoulders. "I just need someone to modelify for it, but no one here wants help me. They think I'm a loon."
"I don't think you're a loon, sir," young Rose said, "We'll do it... for a gold piece."
"Hmmm... I only have one gold left. But you're right: I should investalise in my new venture. Deal."
Rose smiled and led Sparrow up onto the stage as the man brought his box down and pointed it towards them. There was a warm painting of old Bowerstone complete with hay roofs and twisty, uneven buildings behind them. "Now all you have to do is strike a pose for my little device. You'll be positively betwazzled by the results!" the man giggled.
"Ah yes. I've been improving my vocabularium with a wonderful book, bought from Murgo the trader: a thesaurus."
Rose leaned down to Sparrow's ear and whispered: "He's a bit silly, isn't he? But this could be fun."
"Strike a pose!" He said with excitement.
The two girls looked at each other and briefly debated what to do. Eventually a small smile grew across Rose's face and she knelt down to her sister's level, wrapped her arms around her sister, pressed her cheek into Sparrow's and smiled. Sparrow hugged her back and smiled too. A blinding light enveloped them for a split second. The man stepped back from the picture box."Wondrous!" he cried, "This thing's gonna be more popular than the pox!" He shook the girls' hands eagerly when they stepped down from the stage. "Now I just have to wait three months for the picture to develify and I can start showing it around. Oh, I can almost smell the gold!"
Beside him, the man who bought the mirror laughed. "Three months he says! Told you it was a swindle!"
"Easy money for us. He's a bit scatty- I hope he's all right." Rose tugged on Sparrow's shoulder and led them down the alley towards Sandgoose road. The inventor went back to work on his box, furiously tweaking the gadgets and screws around. He half-consciously said goodbye to the girls to which Rose replied with just as much awareness. The alley was short but there were always boxes and barrels left by some lazy worker they would have to climb over. Just before they reached the end of the alley, a sudden cascade of a putrid-smelling substance landed next to Rose. She screamed in horror as some of the shit sprayed up and onto her clothing. An adenoidal cackle came from above them. They looked up to see a fat woman above them emptying her wooden jerry into the streets. She was hideous; her eyes were unevenly spaced, her straw-like hair stuck to her head in weeks-worth of grease. Her face was covered in enlarged moles and when she smiled, she showed broken and blackened teeth which saliva would slip through without her notice. It was Gertrude La Fance, a previous noblewoman who was kicked out of her home by her father when she got caught copulating with the horses. The family left her in Bowerstone where she seduced a blacksmith. They eventually wed and when her husband died, she inherited his store and every weapon he made. She sold it all and kept the money to live what she thought to be a good life: letting her body go to waste while her daughter ran around Old Town bossing other kids around and telling them that her boyfriend, Rex, was going to beat them up. "Sorry, luv," she laughed, shooting spit in between her teeth, "thought you'd appreciate the smell. 's like perfume for you, yeah?"
"Go away Gertrude!" Sparrow yelled.
"Oh! 'ello there li'le Sparrah!" the crone said, wiggling her twisted little fingers in her direction. "'ave you seen my precious Berfa? She's not 'ere right now."
Rose scoffed, scratching her skirt against the house to get the shit off, "Why the hell would we try to find your kid?" She looked up and saw the woman shrug.
"I'll give you a gold piece fer it."
Rose looked at Sparrow and reluctantly nodded. "Fine," she said, "where was the last-"
"Mummy," came a small, annoying voice from the window. "Mummy make me a pie!" the little girl screamed. Gertrude pulled a poorly-acted look of surprise. She turned around and picked up her fidgety daughter and brought her to the window to look at the girls. "Ew."
"I found 'er!" Gertrude said with a laugh, "Yay! But I suppose I should give ya a gold piece anyway. 's not fair-like, yeah?" The old woman set her daughter down and reached into her pocket and pulled from it a chunk of gold. "Right. Make sure ya catch it alright?" The woman bent over the sill and dropped the gold. It landed in the pile of feces she had just poured. "Oh shit." The woman's eyes jammed wide open and she laughed so hard she turned beet red. "Get it?!"
Rose bellowed and stomped out of the alleyway. The two turned the corner but the crone's cackle seemed to follow them. On Sandgoose road was a crowd of children surrounding a taller kid who could have been in his early teens. He was dressed in tight, outgrown clothing and he wore a torn top hat on his bald head. His face was covered in rusty piercings. "Ha! You like that, ya stupid mutt?" Rex stood above the dog, a sword-shaped piece of wood in hand. He brought down the toy sword and clubbed the Mutt in the face. The dog screeched and doubled back to the ground, blood trickling down its jaw.
"Hey! What the hell are you doing?" Rose yelled, shoving the children out of the way.
The boy turned and smiled. "Just having a bit of fun, what's it to you?" Rex poked the girl hard in the belly. Rose was going to say something but was cut off when the teen crashed his forehead into her, sending her wheeling to the ground with a blackening spot growing above her eyes.
"He hit a girl!" a boy cried.
"Yeah- and now I'm gonna hit another one!" Rex charged through the crowd of small children, arm raised and ready to beat the fleeing Sparrow. "C'mon! I won't hit that hard! You can lose a couple teeth!" Sparrow ran down an alley and found herself cornered at its dead end. Rex stood at the far end of the alley, blocking the little girl from running away. He slowly walked towards with his arm raised. Sparrow looked around and tried to find something to defend herself with. She searched through the barrels and found a toy gun. It must have been Bertha's. She used to shoot marbles at little kids when she was younger. No one was sad when she lost it. Sparrow popped a marble into the tiny gun and shot. Rex yelped and covered his eye. "Stop it!" he cried. "Lemme alone, you nutter!" The boy turned and ran, trying not to see the laughing children. He ran into his house and slammed his door. Sparrow walked back to Rose and the dog.
"Did you see that? That lunatic socked me right in the head!" Behind Rose, the dog whined. The mutt looked at the girls as if they were going to strike him. Instead, they got on their knees and spoke softly to him. "Oh, poor thing. You've had a horrible time. Don't be scared. I won't hurt you." The dog cocked his head and whined, sizing up the two differently-sized humans. It seemed like he understood what Rose was saying. "What you need is someone nice to look after you." The dog barked and wagged his tail excitedly. He jumped and knocked over the smaller girl, licking ruthlessly as the girl laughed. Rose bent down and pried the mutt off of Sparrow. "We can't keep you- we don't have enough food for ourselves." The dog huffed and whined. "Well, I'm sorry, but we can't. Now you just rest."
Rose frowned and grabbed her little sister's hand. "Come on."
Sparrow looked over her shoulder and waved the dog a goodbye.
The two girls scavenged downtown for the arrest warrants. On the way back with all five in hand and three new pieces of gold from helping an alcoholic find his misplaced beer, killing beetles for a storage owner and delivering a love letter, the girls walked with a bounce in their step. Today was their lucky day. They walked through Gertrude's, small, clustered alleyway and back to Derek.
A familiar man entered the alleyway. "Stop right there, ya little brats!"
"Listen, creep, I told you 'no' earlier."
"Shut it, girl, this isn't about that. Those warrants you're collecting- I want them," Arfur spat.
"So does our friend the guard."
"Yeah, but you're gonna give 'em to me, see? Otherwise there'll be trouble."
The man snatched the papers from Rose's hand. When she tried to resist, Arfur smacked her. Without thinking, Sparrow shot the man with the toy gun. The marble struck the man in the bollocks. Rose grabbed the warrants and her sister and ran past the writhing man.
"You twat! You and your sister are going to pay for that!
The two girls ran past where Barnum was, "I didn't know you were good at shooting. You're good with toy swords and you're good with toy guns. What's next? Toy magic?" Rose laughed as they came to a stop at Derek's outpost. "Really though, how're you so good?" Sparrow gave a non-committal shrug.
Derek came out of the hut and approached the girls. "Have you found them?"
Rose smiled and handed the papers to the man. She giggled and folded her arms. Sparrow looked at her weirdly. She always seemed to act different around the man. Derek smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. "Now normally, justice is its own reward- but as these aren't normal circumstances, there's your gold piece."
"Thank you, Derek," Rose said happily. She smiled at him for a few more seconds before skipping off to Murgo's with her sister in tow. The caravan was now empty. The crowd was gone and the salesman was packing things up. A lot of items were gone. The mirror, the statue, half of his library, all gone. Rose felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She tapped the merchant on the back. The man quickly turned around with a bright smile on his face.
"Hello," she whimpered, "Do you still have the music box?" The man reached into his pocket and pulled out the jet antique. The feeling in her stomach quickly turned into glee. She reached into her pocket and grabbed the gold. "I'd like to buy it please."
"Very wise, little ones." Murgo took the gold and gently set the box into her hand. "Go ahead and turn the handle- but mind you go somewhere quiet, like." He turned away and started packing again.
"Let's go make our wish, little Sparrow!" Rose grabbed her sister and nearly dragged the girl down the alley, towards their shanty. Sparrow remembered that the scary red woman passed this way after she talked to them. She was afraid they'd run into her again. They stopped at the vista overlooking Bowerstone Central and Fairfax castle. There was a crate with a red, silk cloths wrapped over it. It wasn't there before. Rose set the music box onto the crate. She looked at the castle and smiled. She turned the handle once, then twice and on the third time, she let go. Flaps on the top opened and a light shined from it. A melancholic tune started playing. The box began to spin by itself, like it was dancing to the song.
"I wish... I wish... To live in that castle..."
The song became louder and the box spun faster. The light turned blood red and soon it enveloped the entire box. The music stopped, the light disappeared and the box was gone. There was a moment of silence between the girls. "But... where'd it go? Why are we still here?" Rose looked at the spot the box was a second ago and then to the sides of the crate. She hoped it fell off, not just... Disappeared. Eventually her face fell into a frown. "Five gold pieces... Oh, I was so sure this was it. I had a feeling like... like we weren't going to be stuck in Old Town anymore. Why didn't the box take us with it?"
A loud voice boomed behind them. They turned back and saw Arfur with some of his thug friends.
"Oi, you little bitch."
"Go to the shelter, little Sparrow."
Sparrow ran. When she arrived at the shanty, something pounced on her. She opened her eyes and saw the dog above panting happily. He licked her face and got off of her. He must've been waiting for them to get there. How did he find it?
Sparrow sat in her blanket huddled up next to the dog. She was scared. She didn't know when her sister was going to get home. It was night now and she still hadn't shown up. There was a silhouette that entered their house. It was Rose. She was covered in blood and other stains. Her eyes were watering but she looked angry. She walked past Sparrow and the mutt without as much as a sideways glance. She laid down on her bed, facing away from them.
"Go to bed."
A bark woke Sparrow up from her dream. She opened her eyes but she still felt as if the Red woman was watching like she was in her dreams. She blinked her bleary eyes and saw a man bent over Rose.
"Oi, Rose. Wake up."
The girl sat up tiredly and glared. "What do you want, Derek?"
"I've been sent by Lord Lucien to collect you. He would very much like to see you in his castle."
Rose looked at Sparrow, a disbelieving smile grew on her face. Derek stood up and walked out of the shanty where he waited for them. The mutt was growling but Rose hushed him. "It did work! Our wish came true!" She stood Sparrow up and brushed the dirt and lint off of her. She fixed both of their hairs and marched out of the shanty. The dog barked at her. "I'll come back for you, I promise."
Derek waved at her to follow. Rose turned and held out her hand to Sparrow.
"Come on, little Sparrow, we're going to Lord Lucien's castle!"
Derek and the girls had passed Central and were now in Fairfax castle. Rose was breathless. It was so beautiful on the inside. It was grand and spacious. It made her head spin. Derek led them up a large spiral staircase. Paintings covered the walls. They reached the top and were met by a scrawny butler who held his head high.
"Evening, Jeeves," Derek said, "Here are the children Lord Lucien asked for."
"Excellent! Hello, young ladies." Jeeves didn't even look at them.
"Hello, sir," Rose said with a sloppy curtsy.
"If you'd follow me please."
Sparrow followed closely to her sister. She gave a look back at Derek who smiled at her. The hallway was long and warm. It must've been the stone archway that led to the tower. She always wondered what it'd be like to walk through here. She always imagined the bridge would break under her, but it gave no sign of doing so. She was so distracted; she couldn't even hear the butler and her sister talking.
"We look up at this castle every day and think about how nice it is; we both do."
"But inside, it's even more beautiful than I imagined."
"It is quite wonderful, isn't it?"
Something caught Sparrow's eye. It was a man with black skin. He was covered head to toe with blue, glowing lines. He was dressed in a weird blue and grey garb with books hanging from his waist. He had a goggle covering his right eye. It was completely white.
"Ah, hello, Master Garth."
The man passed by without acknowledging any of them. Sparrow could feel a strange heat from him when he walked by her.
"Huh. Man of few words."
"Where is the grand dining hall?"
"Oh, in the north wing. Lord Lucien hasn't been in there since... Since the tragic deaths of Lady Fairfax and little Amelia."
"Oh, I heard. That was so awful."
"Yes. He misses them terribly."
"So... where does he eat?"
"Actually, he takes most of his meals in his study."
"He's in there working all hours, doing research."
"What does he research?"
"History, mostly. Lord Lucien is quite keen on antiquities of all sorts, but he is chiefly interested in things relating to the Old Kingdom."
"There was a trader in Old Town who said his stuff was from the Old Kingdom."
"Yes... yes, I believe Lord Lucien... heard about that."
"We bought a piece of it and we made a wish and now we're here!"
The group had finally made it to the door. Jeeves turned around and looked at the girls for the first time. "That's wonderful!" he said with feigned interest. "Now, when you meet Lord Lucien, you must show respect at all times."
"Address him as 'my lord.' Speak only when spoken to."
"And do not mention Lady Fairfax or Amelia."
The butler opened the doors. "Here we are. Lord Lucien? The children are here."
The study was grand. The walls were covered with bookshelves. At the far end of the room was a colourfully painted, glass window. It overlooked Fairfax Gardens, Bowerstone Central and the ocean. Sparrow could see large snowflakes dancing around outside. There was a man flipping through a large book near the window. He was standing on a strange carving on the floor. He turned around. He looked to be in his late thirties. He was tall and handsome. He wore a noble outfit coloured with golds and blacks. He dismissed Jeeves who shut the doors behind him. He approached the girls with a smile on his face.
"Children. It's come to my attention that you have some sort of magic box. May I see it?"
"It vanished, m'lord. We were winding it up, and we made a wish, and it started to glow and it disappeared."
"After you used it."
The smile was gone.
"Yes, m'lord. The man that sold it to us said it was magic."
"The box is of no concern to me; what's remarkable is that you were able to use it."
"What was your wish?"
Rose looked bashfully away.
"Well, speak up- what did you wish for?"
"To live in a castle... like this one"
Lucien's smile returned. "Perhaps that could be arranged," he said with a light laugh. "I'm working to rebuild- well; I'm working on something wonderful, for which I need individuals with particular talents." He set his book down on a desk and turned to them once more. "Let us find out if you possess them. Would you kindly stand in the circle, please?" Rose looked nervously at the carving in front if the window. She could hear a low whine coming from it. "I promise, it won't hurt you."
Rose nodded and walked over to the carving. Sparrow followed her. A light similar to the one in the box glowed around them. Sparrow could feel it vibrate through her. "What's that?" Rose asked.
"Nothing to worry about."
Lucien walked forward and stared curiously at the light. The light was formed in a circle around them. He went and grabbed his book. He shuffled through a few pages. "It's true," he said "Your blood- you are Heroes."
Rose looked at Sparrow and then back at the Lord. "Heroes? You mean like the ones in the old stories?"
Sparrow inched closer to Rose. She felt unsettled by the vibrations. She wanted to get out. Lucien extended a hand out and touched the light. His hand looked like it had been caught between two rocks. The Lord screamed and pulled it back. It was bloody. The light around them turned a deep red. "What are you?" he hissed. Lucien flipped through the book furiously.
"M'lord! What happened? What's that light?"
"Quiet!" Lucien dropped his book and stared at the girls. "You're heroes-but you're none of the five. One of you is the sixth." Lucien's hand drifted to his belt where a black and gold pistol was attached. He grabbed it. "This isn't what I wanted- but nothing must stand in my way."
Lucien aimed the gun at Rose.
"No, wait! Don't!" Rose screamed and cowered.
The gun cocked.
The gun fired.
Rose coughed and fell to the ground, blood gushing from her stomach. The light around them disappeared and Lucien dropped the gun. He came directly at the screaming sister. She tried to run but he grabbed her by her collar and shoved her against the window. He bent down to her level, eyes directly across from Sparrow's. "I can't allow you to live either. It will take longer without the Sixth... But I can't risk you becoming a liability." He pressed her harder against the glass. Sparrow could feel it start to crack.
The glass gave way and she felt herself falling. Everything was a blur. She saw the castle growing smaller and Central growing larger. The spinning made her want to vomit. The fall felt like an eternity. For a second, Sparrow wondered if she was going to keep spinning and falling forever. She felt herself hit the ground. She wanted to cry but she had nothing. She couldn't. Her eyes were blurring and darkening. She saw the tower. It looked like it was as far away as the moon. Her sight drifted in and out. She felt the hot panting of a dog and a warm tongue lick at her hand.
A familiar and chilling voice spoke above her.
"Heroes can survive falls that would shatter the bones of most people."
She cracked open her eyes and saw a woman dressed in a red and white cloak next to the mutt from earlier. The woman knelt down and picked her up.
"Death is not your destiny today, little Sparrow."