After that cliffhanger, or rather rooffaller, in the last instalment, here’s were we land. Probably even more error ridden than usual, but you know, you can fix that. Just tell me. Oh, and instalments 1 and 2, have been revised, so you might want to have a look. It doesn’t change the story, though; no need to reread them if you don’t want to just to understand what’s going on.
Laiva opened her eyes to the dirty grey of a new dawn. She was painfully aware of every patch of her skin and of more bones than she remembered having, but she was alive and that was not a small feat considering. Two storeys were more than enough to fall to to death. Probably; she didn’t exactly have experience with that.
She experimentally wriggled her fingers and toes, and, satisfied with the results, sat up. She instantly regretted it. Everything seemed to revolve around her, her vision blurred and her head felt far too heavy to keep on top of her body; she only managed to keep herself from falling over right away, mostly because she had forgotten how to do that.
Her mind was in no better shape than the rest, with thoughts racing like wild, but without any direction, running and circles and spinning as the rest of the world around her. All she could do was trying to sit still and taking deep, regular breaths, hoping that everything would eventually come to rest again.
And eventually it did. However long she sat like this, finally the dizziness subsided and she gradually became aware of her surroundings. Despite her body trying to tell her otherwise, she had to realise that she had been extremely lucky.
The small courtyard she found herself in offered plenty of opportunity to break your neck. Among the softer things to crash into were a few stacks of wood, at least softer than the paved ground, but there also were plenty of large metal vats and buckets as well as all kinds of tools with far too many sharp edges and points. And instead of landing on any of these, she ended up in the single soft spot this open air workshop had to offer: A lone heap of rags, less than two metres in diameter.
She slid down from the heap and onto her feet. Her legs felt a bit wobbly for a moment, but that passed rather quickly. More importantly, as far as she could tell she had no broken bones, no wounds, not even as much as a sprained ankle; she had been very lucky indeed. Better even, she had even managed to shake off her pursuers.
They had probably been looking for her all over the city, but she doubted the guards even knew this little courtyard existed. The irregular pentagon was as secluded as it could get, completely closed off by windowless walls covered in ancient ivy. Only the last wall sported a couple of narrow windows, almost completely overgrown by ivy as well, and a single door that, she would bet, was only ever used by those who worked here.
Fortunately, those workers didn’t seem to be early risers, but it was high time for her to get out of here nevertheless. Sooner or later they would show up and she’d rather not have to explain what she was doing here. The ivy looked strong enough to bear her weight, but after that night, and in her current state, she’d rather take her chances with the guards than doing any more climbing. She was lucky once more, though: The door wasn’t locked.
It opened into a small room with a staircase to the right and three doors, counting the one to the courtyard she had come in through. The door to the right turned out to lead into a small kitchen; that one was no use to her. The one opposite to the courtyard entrance, however, lead into a small shop cramped from bottom to top with paper.
There were shelves on three walls, shelves under the window on the fourth and even two more standing freely, all of them full of any kind of paper imaginable. It came in white, in yellow, in pink, thin enough to be almost transparent or thick like cardboard, you name it. She had never seen so much paper in one place and then in so many different forms… It was overwhelming.
For a couple of moments she was standing in awe, before she remembered that she should rather get out of here than waiting for anyone to find her. She sneaked to the door, using the shelves in the middle of the shop for cover as well as she could, lest anyone see her through the shop window. There wasn’t anyone out in the street yet, as far as she could tell, but with the sun up it could only be a matter of minutes before it was swarming with people.
The door, however was locked. Not with a bolt either, but with a big mechanical lock attached somewhat below the handle. She didn’t even have to try the door, a simple look was enough to see that it wouldn’t open, but she tried anyway. It didn’t even budge half a finger wide.
That was so stupid. Why would anyone use a mechanical lock anyway? As if such a little latch would stop anything from getting in; a good push and the whole thing would come off the door. Not that you had to worry about that kind of thing with a large shop window, but nevertheless. Those things were weak, expensive and it was damn inconvenient that there was one on this door. If it had a bolt she’d already be outside by now, but as things were she’d either have to break it or wait for someone with a key to show up, both of which were likely to get her in trouble.
Before she could decide on what to do next, however, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Someone was in the street and was coming for the door. She backed away from the door and ducked into the shadow of the shop. A moment later there was a heavy knock on the door.
Laiva held her breath. She had to get out, and she had to get out now, before the whole house woke up. The kitchen was a dead end, and climbing the stairs would get her caught only faster. The only choice left was left was going back into the courtyard, if she liked it or not.
Before she could open the back-door of the shop, however, she heard steps descending the stairs on the other side. She gulped; there was no way to go now. She feverishly tried to think of something before the door came open and she was discovered, but there was no way out of this. All she could do now was trying to hide behind the shelves and hope for the best. She managed get behind the shelves and threw herself to the ground, just before she heard the door opening.
At once her body was aching all over again, the pain that had dulled down flaring up again. She drew a sharp breath, but the shopkeeper or whoever had entered the room didn’t notice, the ongoing knocking drowning every other sound.
She heard a key turning in the lock and then the front door was opened, accompanied by the ringing of a little bell.
‘How may I be of service, Master…’
Laiva instantly pictured an elderly man with a wrinkled face, little piercing eyes and balding hair that hadn’t started to grey yet. Chances weren’t too bad that the real man had at least some likeness to that; back at home she had sometimes tried to imagine stranger’s looks from their voices for fun and usually got it more or less right.
‘I’m irredeemably sorry to have to raise you at such an early hour, but I have found myself in dire need of your products and have been referred to you as the best of your trade in all of this duchy.’
She couldn’t picture anything from that voice. It was male, lower than the other one and with a certain authority to it, but that was just about anything she could tell. But ‘early hour’? And who talked like that anyway?
‘You humble me. Can I interest you in some of our fine white, or did you have something specific on your mind?’
‘Indeed I had. You wouldn’t happen to have something cerulean?’
Cerulean? Was that even a word?
‘An unusual colour, for sure, but I think I can offer you something that should fit the bill. If you will follow me.’
Follow? That could either be good or bad. She pushed herself off the ground, biting back on the pain, that inevitably followed, and peered through the shelves. An older man, who looked remarkably like what she had pictured him, moved to the back of the shop and started rummaging in one of the shelves, a second man following him. He was tall, clad in a black robe and carried himself with an air of regality that left little doubt about his high birth.
Much more important, however, was that he hadn’t closed the door behind it. It stood still wide open, only a metres from her. She moved around the shelves and closer to the door. It was so close, she could touch it with her outstretched arm now.
‘Here we go.’ the elderly main said. Laiva thought he was holding a packet of paper in his hand, though she couldn’t tell for sure with his back turned towards her. The man in black looked down, facing the wall. This was as close as it would get; it was now or never.
She tensed her muscles, the adrenaline coursing through her body making her oblivious to the pain, and made a dash for it. Before anyone had the chance to react she was out of the door. She turned into the street, and for a moment her eyes met with those of the man in black, looking over the shoulder of the shopkeeper, who didn’t seem to have noticed anything. Was he… smiling at her? But then she rounded the corner and the eye contact was lost. A few moments later she had vanished in the labyrinth of the city’s little alleys.