Marisol didn’t know how long she waited before boredom rumbled up in her bones. Diego had gone into the inn and not been immediately thrown back out, which Marisol supposed was a good sign. It was dark and quiet in the alley, with no sounds but the distant murmur and shuffle of people in more populated corners of the city.
Marisol leaned against the wall and tipped back her hat. She looked up at the glittering stars high above the roofs of Toledo, calmly indifferent to the struggles down on earth below. Unperturbed by sin or cruelty, they shone on good and bad alike.
Something moved among the stars, and drew Marisol to her feet. It was a long, dark shape that glided silently above the city, eclipsing the night sky with its dark bulk as it passed. It approached the Alcázar in the center of town, and as it did, sickly silver witchlights sprang to life along its length.
A Prussian airship. The same ship, Marisol was sure of it. She set to her heels and ran sword clutched tightly to her side. Diego and his adventures were forgotten, the princess and her guard as well. She knew that ship, and now it was all that mattered.
The streets, already subdued, were now as silent as a grave. Shutters were closed and doors barred. Candles were extinguished. The only light drifted down from the starry sky, and from the sickly shimmering lights of the airship that crawled across house and shop and street alike, casting no shadow as it went.
Marisol attained the plaza of the Alcázar just as the ship was being winched down to the ground by its burly Prussian crew. The plaza was ringed with Castillian soldiers, nervously tapping their swords and pistols, but not daring to approach the ship. The Prussians anchored it to the ground and more men poured forth from its recesses, vomited up by its black mechanical maw. In the middle of that crowd she saw him, his face as familiar to her now as her mother’s, his dreaming eyes and pale skin.
The man with the red right hand.
Marisol drifted towards the anchored ship, until a man grabbed her by the arm. He was Castillian, a guardsman in a yellow tabard and a polished steel helm. He wore a carefully-tended beard and a sword at his side, clutched a long pike with his free hand.
“What are you doing, girl? Stay back.” He snapped.
The man was slightly shorter than she, and Marisol immediately thought on how to fight him. If she punched his nose, he might fall back, and she’d have time to draw her sword and run him through. If she grabbed his wrist she could pull him off balance and trip him. If she seized his coat and pulled him close, she could draw his sword and kill him with it.
Marisol looked back at the Prussians, who were filing into the Alcázar, the man with the red right hand looked out at the surrounding Castillians. His eyes passed over her. Did he see her? Did he recognize her?
She shrugged off the guardsman’s hand and bolted, but the guard had dropped his pike and seized both her arms, holding her back.
“Girl! Get away! You can’t go in there!” The man shouted.
She could kill him, she thought, she could kill the guardsman and then fight her way through the Prussians, the man with the red right hand was here, she could see him, see the cruel smile quirked on his lip, she could kill them all…
Other men Castillians crowded around her, seized hold of her. She struggled towards the Alcázar and nearly heaved two of them from their feet.
“Mother of God, girl, stop!” Another man hissed in her face. He slapped her across the cheek, and Marisol turned eyes on him so ferocious they made him retreat a step. But he leaned in and took her by the jaw while his fellows held her back. “Stay away from them,” he said, very softly. “They’re dangerous. Do you hear me?” He leaned in even closer and whispered in her ear. “You aren’t the only one who hates them. But now is not the time.”
Marisol looked at the guardsman in confusion. He nodded to her, and then to his fellows, who all let her go at once. Marisol straightened her jacket and picked up her hat from where it had fallen.
The guardsman was right. Now was not the time. There were too many Prussians. They had surrounded the city, infested the palace. They would make an impenetrable barrier between Marisol and the object of her revenge.
Her eyes went to the Alcázar again, but the Prussians were all inside, the heavy doors closed.
“Go home,” the guardsman said, and, for a moment, fire welled up behind Marisol’s eyes.
“My home is gone,” she snapped as she left the guards and the great fortress of Toledo behind.
“All our homes are gone,” the man called out to her. “Castille is gone. For now!”
It was as she retreated from the hill where perched the Alcázar that she was reminded of Diego; she took the hill in long strides that grew longer as shame for her dereliction grew as well. A moment of panic as she ran – had she, in her haste, forgotten the way back to the inn? The streets all looked the same, the crooked buildings all ugly twins. But no…there glimmered a shard of shadowless witchlight between a break in the crooked gables.
Marisol practically tumbled into the alley to find nothing had changed. The windows still glowed with candlelight, the single glowing wichlight on the third storey the only exception. She’d made it back in time; left her post and returned without missing anything.
“Marisol.” Rachel whispered, as she appeared around the corner of the inn. “Marisol.”
“What?” Marisol replied as she joined her friend. “What, what is it?”
“You were supposed to call—“
“I didn’t see anyone—“
“He’s inside! He’s inside right now!”
“Oh,” said Marisol. “Oh, no.”