Somewhere well far and absolutely beyond dog-ass-tired, as well as mud-covered, bruised, and bleeding, Joel leans back against the alley wall and looks up at the sky. It’s not quite gone ‘that color’, the one that means it’s nearly morning, and so it’s impossibly dark all over the city, with darker shadows cast by the occasional glow of the streetlamps. He can just see his breath in this faint light, in the sharp chill of the winter’s smallest hours, and he wonders if he can make it to the Sisters before he drops. He knows if he hits the snow, it’s all over; he’ll be too cold, and no one will find him until it’s far too late.
Days of searching, nights of interrogation, threats and only a little violence got him to one last man — someone Kyle had contacted only the once. He made one solitary plan of revenge, and the man he’d used was the sort that liked the idea too much to work with any one else. Living alone, breeding his own hatred, pleased for the money, plotting to harm Justina no matter what — whether Kyle managed to overcome her sensibilities and fury or not, the man was a monster of a singular breed.
It was hard to find him — Kyle made it difficult, purposefully, so that no one searching without use of magic or prayer would get very far. He counted on Justina’s fear and shame to keep her from enlisting all the help she could get, and so it would leave his plans unseen, and therefore still ultimately dangerous.
Dead now, his blood was on Joel’s hands — and face, and clothes, and more than a little of Joel’s blood was on him. The young thief, a shy and socially awkward fellow, felt a sickness welling within him the moment he met the man, and it was almost too difficult to convince him that Kyle had suggested they work together, to get ahold of the girl. Reluctant to share his coveted ‘play time’ with poor Justina, the man hadn’t wanted to talk about it in the slightest, but through slow coaxing, and Joel’s eventual promise that he had already been paid and would give the lion’s share of the ‘fun’, the man went over, in graphic detail, what it was Kyle had asked.
Over a bottle of whisky, the two men talked, and the man took Joel back to his home, little more than a well-locked hovel in the slums of the city, where they continued to drink, and to plot ever more sickening situations in which Justina would find herself. Before Joel could lose his senses to drink–and his dinner, to the floor–he finally moved to overtake the man. Positive that this one disgusting creature was the only thing in which Kyle had invested his schemes, he moved to subdue and kill him, but the other man, though older, and drunk, was rather strong, and for several minutes, the only sound was their heavy breathing, and the thunks, thuds and crashes of fist against body, body against table and floor and wall, and then the soft and sinuous ripping and slicing of knives finding their way into the play.
The man gave nearly as well as he got, and Joel isn’t certain if Ely smiled on him when a strong thrust of the other’s knife merely got the blade stuck in the floor, allowing Joel to bring his own knife down and into the man’s throat.
It was over, then, as the man pissed himself, and his last exhale gurgled a fountain of blood over them both. Joel awoke a few moments later, hurting, dizzy, and more than a little deliriously victorious, and he got up and started to walk out of the house, to go to Eric, to confess, to explain, to show that he’d done it, that he helped, and to beg for mercy, for not having done enough before.
It was then that he saw the small case of portraits, each of them a beautiful, stunning young woman, set in carved wooden frames, a small curl or braid of hair pinned up beneath each of them. He stopped, and with a bloodied hand, opened the case to pull out one of the pictures. He recognized the girl, the daughter of a once rather prominent merchanting family. They’d fallen on hard times when their beloved daughter disappeared, and used every last cent to try and find her. The father eventually hung himself; the mother is in with the Sisters, in a white room without anything sharp or able to be made into a rope, and the son joined the guild and was killed about six months ago, falling from a rooftop and breaking his neck in the midst of a petty heist.
He recognizes another, then, a butcher’s daughter, a young maid with enough of a dowry to land herself a kind and wealthy husband. It was assumed she’d gotten herself ‘in trouble’ and ran off before the wedding date could be set.
And then another — the granddaughter of an herbalist on Silver Street. She was missing since last month, without a trace. That one’s missing the lock of hair.
And the last portrait — Justina’s. No lock of hair with that one, either.
Dinner hasn’t got a hope, and Joel manages not to get it on his own shoes, but after that… he simply has to get out.
And so then… there he is, struggling to get to the Sisters — he’ll be detained by a guard if a guard sees him, or perhaps killed outright if one of the Guildless finds him.
“Just got to make sure I don’t sit do–” he begins to say, but his legs are freezing, and heavy, and his feet feel shod in six inches of iron. Frustrated and somewhat confused, he looks up and wonders how the buildings have gotten taller… and then he realizes it’s only because he’s slumped down. He’s sitting, and the snow is falling, and it’s supposed to be morning, but it seems the night is getting darker, instead.
“Oh,” he says, closing his eyes. “Oh, well then. I’ll just rest here. Somebody… somebody tell her… tell her it’s okay now. Tell her she can… she can come home. Tell her… tell her m’sorry. Tell her I–“