Prompt: A famous assassin will be publicly executed, overshadowing the sale of three slaves. A hooded woman buys these slaves and tells them she will let them free if they rescue her brother from his imminent execution.
Nobody could accuse the Royal Regents of not using their space economically. They only held a small section of that country, but nothing in their grip had a chance of slipping out, at least not until that cloudy day when all the knots had been made for the gallows.
Nothing escaped their borders because nothing escaped their castles. Nothing escaped their castles because nothing escaped the eyes of the Regents and their officers. It would take treachery for something like that to happen, and treachery was all Marinis had in her heart that afternoon. She descended below the castle’s upper level, to one of the filthy places where their peasants lived.
Thanks to the economical use of space her cohorts were so famous for, she was able to get a mole’s eye view of the gallows. When the bottom dropped out, minutes from now, she would see her brother’s bare feet through the holes in the metal grate. If he cried any tears they might strike her on the way down. She couldn’t see anything quite yet, just the feet of those that had betrayed her and her brother, so she examined her surroundings instead.
She supposed it was some kind of marketplace, which was unfortunate given the level of filth. If you were to buy a melon there you would have to chisel dirt off it for a few minutes just to get to its shriveled yellow rind. There were fish pulled from the nasty river-moat outside; they looked like they breathed mud instead of water and ate nothing but excrement. The peasants looked a bit like that as well.
They eyed her, but they had to hide their ire. Even surrounded by them she had the authority to order any of their deaths on the slightest whim. She was a Royal Regent, complete with red cloak, hood, and golden sash. They would have to get those away from her, strip her to just her humanity, to have a chance.
Marinis couldn’t help but grimace at them, but that was a good sign. She needed their desperation. She needed them to be filthy nasty things that could sneak about in the shadows. Only something underhanded, that had learned to crawl on its underhands, could free her brother. It was the only thing the other Regents wouldn’t see coming.
“One Copper!” an auctioneer in a tricorne hat shouted. His breath was so foul, his teeth so brown, that those bidding had to cover their noses with their free hands. “One copper! Surely you lot can do better! These are three of the finest slaves what ever did slink! Rug magic they know! They never get in the way! It’s worth at least four copper! Can I hear three? Two? Come on you ingrates! Give me two!”
The one red cloak stepped forward, the other bidders skittering away like cockroaches. She didn’t speak; they didn’t deserve to hear her voice, but she did hold up one silver coin.
“Sold!” the auctioneer blurted, pointing at her aggressively. “Sold! Sold! Sold!” He dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and held out his hands. Marinis flicked the coin his way. He caught it, and spoke without lifting his head. “Thank you your Regency. Fine slaves all three. They’ve been taught the way of the silent servant. They can…”
“Yes, I know,” Marinis scolded. “Be gone.” The auctioneer scurried away, disappearing behind a filthy curtain. He could be heard hooting and hollering, holding up the silver coin like he’d captured the sun. She ignored him, and approached her new property. There was a splinter in her mind all of a sudden, a sharp second thought, but she couldn’t wait. This was the only way. The three slaves were cloaked as well, but theirs were black. Their nails and teeth were painted to match and they had dark tattoos around their eyes. “You belong to me now.”
“Yes your Regency,” the tallest one, a woman, answered. They didn’t bow. That was practically asking for death, but there wasn’t time to correct them. “I am Nit. These are my brothers: Grit and Crit. Where would you like us to go so we can be out of sight? We know how little we matter, just as the silent servant taught. You can sweep us under the rug, stuff us in your bag, or swallow us whole. We are but shadow when we’re not needed.”
“Yes, I’m familiar with the concept of shadow magic,” Marinis informed. “It’s just bad luck I didn’t have a servant who knew it already. Look up there.” She pointed to the metal grate and the gallows above. Their dark eyes followed hers. “My brother Farglow is about to be executed. He’s one of the Regency’s own assassins, and they turned on him because he dared to take a piece of jewelry as payment, off the body of one of his assignments. He’s not a Regent proper, but it personally offends me greatly that they would take him from me.”
“What would you have us do?” Crit grumbled. Marinis looked down and saw the siblings holding hands. Disgusting. Solidarity perhaps? They should’ve avoided each other like the plague. Family only meant something when it couldn’t spread filth between people.
“They expect proper interference,” Marinis guessed. “They want me to bust through the door with a sword and try and steal him back, just so they can kill me too. What they won’t expect is the magic that keeps their servants out of the way.” Her smile grew wicked. She waved her fingers, watching the shadow of her hand move across the ground like an elegant decorative fish. “Use your ability to hide. Hide him from the gallows. Bring us together. If you do this, you shall have your freedom. You can leave this castle. I’ll let you slip between my fingers.” She could barely say it; they’d been taught from birth to never give anything up. She still had all her baby teeth in a lock-box back home. She had a deed to them as well.
“Freedom once you are reunited?” Nit asked.
“Yes! Yes! Now go! I can hear them preparing. Shoo!” She shooed them with her hands like dogs, but they did not appear offended. Still holding each other’s hands, they crouched down. Their black cloaks became inky liquid and then shadow. Their faces were swallowed up as they went flat. It was very useful magic. If you were having guests over and you didn’t want them to see your servants’ hideous faces, you could have the servants sweep themselves under the rug, stuff themselves into vases, or hide behind portraits. They were nothing in that magic, just shadow.
The three slaves crawled up the wall and through the holes in the grate. Marinis held her breath. The executioner stomped across the wooden platform. Tunk! Tunk! Tunk! She heard the lever pull. The floor dropped out. Despite knowing what was to come, Marinis fell into the dirt when she saw the door sway. She put a hand to her chest. No feet! Just a limp rope, a noose with no prey, a starving snake hanging like it had given up on life.
They did it. The slaves could have their freedom. One coin like that was nothing to her. She ignored the panic of the Regents above. They would never look down for the culprit. No peon would dare to even look up, to hope that the Regents cared.
The lump of blackness poured back through the grate. It moved over to a nearby rug: a filthy thing barely visible as separate from the dirt. Marinis followed it, hissing for the slaves to hurry up and spit Farglow back out.
They did rise, but Farglow was not with them. Grit simply lifted the filthy rug and pointed to the shadow under it. Marinis was about to ask what the meaning was, but then Nit grabbed her by her red collar, breaking her golden sash. They said not a word; they simply shoved the woman under the rug. Her body was grabbed by darkness, compressed, and eaten up by a space she’d never known.
She screamed as she fell, but nobody could hear the magic of the silent servant. She landed next to her brother. Farglow was alive, but he looked at her with defeat in his eyes. As a man of the shadows himself, he knew her miscalculation. She had freed them prematurely.
Brother and sister were reunited in that silent black space under the rug. They were as invisible as most of the people they’d met. They wouldn’t be alone for long. There was plenty of room in that black space, and Nit, Grit, and Crit planned to use it economically.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by HypedStream during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!