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There is silence except for the falling rain. A grassy hill slopes steeply downward; falling into stunted bare cliffs far below. A bird bursts out of the tall grass, flying away into the gray sky. A moment later someone races through the tall, wet grass. His breath comes hard, his ribs sticking out at odd angles as he inhales.
There is a low drum of thunder and the boy slips on the wet grass. He does not pause but quickly regains his footing and takes off once more. The grass is taller than his head and he winds closer to the edge of the slope.
He tumbles down, legs flailing. His fingers grab desperately for purchase on the mud streaked hill; but find nothing more than spindly stalks of prairie grass that pull easily from their roots. The boy screams, not in anguish, but in anger. A string of light tears open the darkening sky. A horse and man is silhouetted at the top of the hill, the man’s coat blowing in the wind. When he sees the boy hit the bare rock below he turns away and rides onward, satisfied his job is finished.
“He has not returned, my lord.”
“He is dead then.”
“Death would be the only thing to keep him.”
“Did everything die with him?”
“He would not have betrayed us, if that is your meaning.”
The glow of a pipe lit up the darkened room. The faces of two men were momentarily uncovered, one worried, one self assured.
“The boy was a tool, and tools break. I do not have the faith that you do in our fellow men.”
The other man banged his fist again the wooden table. “If you question him, you question me as well.” His voice was raised and it echoed around the small stone room. “He knew what he had to do, if he was foolish enough to let himself be caught. Every one of them carries an extra knife.”
The other man grunted. “I do not enjoy arguing with you Johon, so I will let the matter rest. But I do not want this sort of thing to happen again—if it does…” He let the sentence go unfinished.
The other man bowed slightly and left the room, letting the door slam behind him.
“The boy is dead.”
“By your hands, or another’s?”
“Neither. He fell to his own death as I pursued him.”
“A disappointment for you, I’m sure.”
“It would have been very satisfying to lay hand on him, but it did make things simpler.
“Quite. And although we did not uncover anything, it will take them time to find and send another messenger—time they cannot afford.”
He stepped carefully down the dark stairs. The light of his torch fell upon a rat scurrying along the moss covered floor. The rat ran over something hard and shiny before disappearing through a crack in the wall. The man bent down and rubbed the round object against his shirt; the light catching its golden glint before he tossed it away. As the man turned back up the steps the coin fell quietly against a pile of identical objects which filled the four adjoining rooms.