Cold Moonlight Fire
"You're sure you can't stay any longer, Bryn?" Cole Draycott asked as he helped her into her heavy cloak.
"I do need to be going. There's another adventure out there, and I don't want it to pass me by."
The handsome merchant smiled back at her.
"I think I understand. Thank you for staying for the funeral, though."
"Don't blame Hawthorne too much for leaving. Strength and independence are the things he prides himself on, what all his professional skill depends on. It shook him deeply that the spector was able to shove him into a corner of his own mind so easily."
"It did the same to me," he pointed out, "and what's more, it used me to cut my brother-in-law's throat."
"Yes, but you're more resilient than he is. Not knowing was worse for you than knowing. Besides, now you know why Wyreth said you were innocent. He felt the remnants of the spector's presence during the trance."
He frowned thoughtfully, then shrugged.
"You're probably right. I've never measured myself by physical courage or combat skill because I'm not a soldier. Besides which, losing Duncan was too much for Laura as it is; she didn't need to lose me, too."
Bryn stepped into her outer boots and laced them up.
"One thing I did wonder about," the merchant continued, "is how I knew where Duncan hid the journal."
"The spector probably overheard him talking to himself. Or, maybe Rostoke wrote the clue down as a mnemonic hint so he'd remember where he put the notes, and the spector saw it. It was certainly thorough in checking those things out, just like when it forged the letters it sent to Wyreth, Hawthorne, and myself, so it's not too surprising that it knew more than Rostoke expected it to."
She adjusted the bow gun in its sling, making it ready for easy drawing and firing.
"I wonder what would have happened if it succeeded in taking over Rostoke's body," Bryn mused. "Wealth, influence, personal skill, and an excuse to travel freely—all it could have wanted from a new life. It probably never would have invited us at all."
"I suspect, had he been given the choice, Duncan would have preferred it this way."
Bryn sighed heavily.
"I can't disagree with that. To be used as a tool for evil, trapped in my own mind without knowing it...yes, I think a clean death would be better than that."
She reached out and squeezed the merchant's shoulder.
"Take care of yourself, Cole."
They looked at each other for a long moment, as if each was waiting for something to happen, but nothing more did. Whatever lay between them was only embers, and neither, it seemed, was going to fan the flames.
Politely, Cole opened the door for the adventuress, and Bryn walked out into the crisp Dezolian air. The sun was bright in the azure sky, reflecting off the snowy landscape.
"Hey," Draycott called.
Bryn half-turned back towards the house.
"If you ever come this way again, stop by and see us."
She smiled at him.
"I'll do that."
The adventuress turned back down the track to Tyler, the snow and ice crystals gritting under her boots. She didn't look back; Bryn never did, preferring to make new memories rather than dwell on old ones.
If she had, she might have noticed two narrow slices of the cloudless sky that were somehow bluer than the rest glaring balefully at her for a long time.
Then, they melted away, leaving nothing but the gabled roof of the manor silhouetted against the cerulean background.