“No sir.” I replied, crossing to the closet and picked up one of the books. I flipped it open, letting the pages fall so he could see many of them. “They’re sketchbooks. I like to draw and sometimes I go around towns and draw people for spare change. It makes enough to keep me breathing and eating, you see?” I showed him a few of the drawings, then gesturing to the walls. “These on the wall are a few of my favorites.” He proceeded to reach in the closet, pulling another book from the stack and flipping it open. I watched him as he skimmed the pages.
“Where did you buy this?” He demanded, holding the book in the air.
“I didn’t, I make them out of stuff from the junk yard. That one—and a few more down there were made from scraps of a nightstand I found in Wormwood a year ago.” I explained, eager for him to drop his interest in the books.
His eyebrows arched. “Wormwood?”
“Yes sir. I lived there since my 16th birthday, but just left two months ago, when there started to become an overcrowding of Ceruleans. I couldn’t risk it any longer.”
He paused, staring at me, for a few seconds, then shrugged. “Alright then.” He dropped the book to the floor and I jumped when it made a loud “thud.” He started to walk towards the door, then turned back to face me once again. “Don’t start getting any ideas about that shop though. Just take out the garbage, get your pay, and go home.” He warned, eyeing me intently.
I nodded in understanding. “Yes sir. It wouldn’t be much use anyway as I can’t read.” I added.
“Well, I’ll be leaving now,” he announced “I’ll be keeping an eye on you, alright? You’re the first Cerulean we’ve had in Welchwood in six months, and those were peaceful times. It’s going to stay that way too, or I’ll be back.” He warned once more, exiting as he did so.
He looked at me one last time before turning and walking into the night, carefully surveying his surroundings. I remember how hard my heart was beating when I finally closed the door behind him, how deep I exhaled. That Sharmal was closer to my truth than he knew, he was holding it in his hands. For those sketchbooks weren’t merely sketchbooks, they were my little safes. Each one had approximately 500 drika sealed in the bindings. I had been saving every penny since I could remember and had recently begun stowing it away in the bindings of the books. I never carried too much drika on me, for that would only be giving my death a reason. I saved up so much because drika spoke louder than hate. For the right amount, you could get nearly anything.
Now, two months after the experience with the Sharmal, I am even more careful when entering and exiting the shop. I am careful to make a quiet, quick exit, and make my way straight to the storage room. There is a light in the storage room, but if it were on it would only announce my presence, therefore I don’t use it. Instead I bring a candle and matches with me each day. When I arrive, I set the candle on a dish on the second to bottom shelf in the corner, lighting it carefully. I see that there is a new book today, and I grab it eagerly. Beginning Trigo. Great, I am horrible with that. I set it down, picking up the book I began reading last time, “The End of the Great Conquest.” It is a history book that specifically details the war between the Royals and Indigos two hundred years ago. I settle into the corner, my usual spot, and flip the last page I read, about The Battle of Kaywood. The Battle of Kaywood was a legendary battle in the war because it is the moment that General Tas Shus, a Royal, advance in on the unsuspecting General Talo Wrig, an Indigo, and his troops during Sariah, which was always known to be a day of peace during war time.
I read about how Shus and his troops snuck up on the indigos before dawn, set fire to their camps, the bloody battle that ensued, and how when Shus defeated Wrig, he took his head as a prize, giving it to his wife later that night as a gift for the holiday. Mir Shus, his wife, hung Wrig’s head from their front porch, as if it were a basket of flowers, for 3 years, until the war had finally ended. General Shus rode back to Kaywood that same night, celebrating with his troops for two days. After that, the troops continued to the remaining villages in Kaywood, raping the women, murdering the young boys, stealing any food and supplies before they headed on to the next village.
There was one village that changed his routine though. A quiet village just on the edge of Kaywood named Trui, where Shus and his troops remained for three weeks. During this time, Shus attempted to court a young maiden in the village, despite her repeated refusals. When he no longer cared to woo her, Shus beat the maiden, raped her, then kidnapped her to travel with him. She remained with his troops for two and a half more years, when she was murdered by one of Shus’s men, who later endured the most brutal penalty for the transgression.
The Indigo maiden, Cotte Dape, gave birth to two of Shus’ children during those years. The eldest, Tas Shus the Second, most likely the product of the initial rape, was only one month younger than Pul Shus, the son birthed by Mir Shus. Cotte’s other child, Lura, was only one week old when her mother was murdered.
After Cotte’s unfortunate death, Tas took his bastard children to his wife, Mir, demanding that she raise them. Ever the dutiful wife, she obliged. Tas and Lura Shus were raised in the Shus household for 17 more years. The book claims that Mir raised them as her own, loving them equally to her own five children, and that they never knew the truth about their real mother until much later in their adult life. It also said that Lura became a school teacher and Tas traveled abroad, making a home in Depsin as a businessman.
I stopped, set the book in my lap, and thought. Remember. Remember. Something wasn’t adding up, something seemed wrong. Remember. I struggled against my memory, knowing the truth was locked in there. It started to come back, slowly at first, then more rapidly, but my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps in the hall, coming towards the stock room door. I paused, listening as they grew closer, then stopping in front of the door. I held my breath, waiting for more movement, but there was none. Whoever it was had stopped in front of this door. Quickly I blew the candle out and shrunk into the corner, hiding behind a stack of boxes.
Slowly the door opened, and I heard someone enter the room, shutting the door behind them.