Chapter 4

 

“Morning, Lanvin. Thanks for the coffee,”

“Monsieur Robin, you don’t look like you slept much?”

     I had not. I’d had strange dreams the past few nights since my visit to the library. Last night, I dreamt I was standing in my kitchen being scolded for leaving the kettle on the stove for too long by my grandfather who was faceless. Suddenly, Romanoff burst into the room sporting an extraordinarily, expanded head followed by my old tutor who was sporting an equally shrunken one. All three burst into an argument about who was to jump off from my gallery to their deaths first. I wasn’t about to tell Lanvin, the office tea boy, all this though.

“Oh, nothing. I guess I am becoming used to not sleeping in anymore,” I smiled weakly at him.

“Monsieur Robin, my mother can make a herb concoction to help you sleep better at night. I will bring it for you tomorrow.”

“Oh, don’t trouble your mother-”

“It’s no trouble. I must go now or Monsieur Marcus will be very angry at me-”

“Again,”

“Yes, but I suppose he has a right to-”

“Lanvin, it is not humanly possible to be present at somebody’s desk every single minute when you also have to serve beverages to the whole office at least twice a day,”

“He hired me when I had no prospects-”

“I know. I’m just saying… I know you feel very intimidated by him, and you shouldn’t be-”

“It’s not fair to expect of people what they cannot be.”

I looked up from the pen I had been staring at, surprised by his mature response.

“What, Lanvin?”

“Pardon, sir?”

“That was a very mature response.”

“I didn’t say anything. I was listening, sir.”

By now, Lanvin’s concern had changed from worry to uneasiness.

“You know what, you’re right. Marcus will be headed back from his meeting any moment now, you should probably go. I think I’ll step out for some fresh air.”

   I wasn’t really allowed to leave the office at my whim any time of the day. The boss, Marcus, liked to have all assignments done when they came in. Marcus was okay. He was of medium built, with grey fading hair, and a perpetual cigar in his mouth. He was also sometimes a bit nasty in his treatment of some of my colleagues, but his comments were always fair and had substance.

     Oh, I just did not feel like working that day! My head was throbbing from the lack of proper sleep. Have you ever had those moments when you don’t want to do something and so you just… don’t, no matter the consequences. Not exactly how the maxim responsible people live by, but then I never cared for maxims.

      I wanted to pay my friend Romanoff a visit at his bookstore, but visiting his bookstore meant passing through the Square. This wasn’t the best idea because I knew Marcus and his associates would be in one of the cafes lining the streets of the Square. I wasn’t in the mood to come under his fiery temper today. I stood at the large window of the Cotidiana overlooking the street, searching for Marcus amongst the groups of people sitting at the cafes. No, he had definitely chosen one of his usual cafes on the Square. It was only eleven AM, and the Square was going to be the least busy at this time. If I went through it, Marcus’s sharp eye – or of any of his associates’- would definitely spot me.

I walked down the dingy stairs of the Cotidiana. The weather was cloudy and a bit dark. There was already a cool breeze blowing. I took my dark cloak- my grandfather left it for me in his will- and stepped outside. Instead of taking a right turn towards the Square, I took a left into Scio alley and started walking straight.

      I hadn’t been wanting to admit to myself that the book, that book, was always on my mind ever since it had landed in my hands. Since discovering it, I spent my evenings reading it. Some of the poems were more difficult to grasp, sometimes taking up an entire evening to get the meaning of a single poem. The book had begun to consume the entirety of my evenings.

      I had been walking for quite a while now, still deep in my thoughts. The path was at a downhill slope and it had gotten progressively darker. On my way, I had passed by back entrances of many businesses and at least a dozen stray cats. Finally, I came upon a fork with signs for alleys named Forintey, and Alsteus. I was certainly lost, I did not know where either led. I needed to go left towards the Square. I turned around looking at the way I had come. I couldn’t remember the last time, or if ever, I had taken a left from the Cotidiana. People were dressed a bit shabbier in this part of town. It was ironic that these alleys were named after kings. I started to walk back uphill.

      Suddenly, many things happened at once. Someone pushed me from behind. I turned around just in time to see a tall boy with jet black hair, and light brown eyes strike my face with his fist. I yelped with pain and he grabbed me and pinned me to the wall. All was black for a few seconds. I opened my eyes to see someone pushing against me, staring at me intently, holding a knife to my neck.

“Look, I was just… passing by… I-I-I mean no harm,” I stuttered. I was panicking. Panicking is not good.

“That’s what they all say. Why do you think that’s so, Julian?” My eyes widened in horror. My attacker was having fun. He turned to the other boy with black hair who simply shrugged, grinning.

I had read that when you are in front of a gun or a knife, the more details you give to the attacker, the more they would identify with you, and their ‘humanity’ was likely to come out.

“I am only twenty-two. I live alone, and I work at the Cotidiana. I just passed by a dozen stray cats and I have never seen so many in Gratia before. Look, I mean no harm. Just let me go-” In an attempt to save my life, I had just mentioned bumping into a dozen cats as my way-out. My attacker looked at his companion.

As my vision cleared slowly, I got a closer look at my attacker. He wore a hooded gown along with his companion, he had dark brown hair which messily covered almost half his face, and striking amber eyes. He also quite feminine features. Without thinking, I blurted, “You’re a girl!”

That was a mistake. I felt the knife press further to my neck. Could I smell blood? She signalled her companion to check my pockets, but herself continued staring at me.

I realised then that I wasn’t being robbed. Julian took out my identification card, examined them, turned to his companion, and said, “It’s not him,”

“Are you sure, Julian?”

“Yes. Raven, He’s not who we are looking for,”

   Suddenly, there were screaming voices. My attackers turned around. Somebody had seen what was happening and raised alarm. There were sounds of footsteps approaching. The knife was pocketed, and my attackers both disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. I dropped to the floor and took my face and neck in my hands, overcome with pain.

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