Serina thought she heard something coming down from the hall, but she wasn’t sure. It was midnight in the above world, and although the midnight hour may have been interpreted by some as Cerberus Black’s most active hour, most of the guild activity occurred at the hand of experienced agents and guildsmen, not newbs or amateurs and, as a result, very little actual activity could be observed by the naked eye.
Therefore, while the opportunity of her hearing someone in that quiet outer hall was great, there was very little chance of it actually occurring without the noise-maker’s express intent. The fact that she had even thought she heard someone was very significant.
She listened more actively. She was certain now that she did hear something.
It was a patting at the stone walls outside and far below. Someone was soon climbing up into the balcony window. Hands reached over the brick window sill, thrusting a body through the hanging curtains and landing it on all fours. A hood was pushed back from the face momentarily-just long enough to see the object of her derision.
That feline style of finesse; those catlike mannerisms of character which depicted themselves thoroughly within even the simplest of gestures; those muscle and eye movements which seemed to take in every miniscule bit of stimuli; the taut navy blue leather wrapped intrinsically around muscly flesh and revealing only the tips of his fingers; the droopy hood, of which she could never discern how it was that he could see anything from behind it; those ugly black tabby which the parishioners of the school of ninjitsu were so apt to don; and a giant satchel upon his back which stood as tall as him and holstered all the mail of Cerberus Black’s inter-guild relations.
This was Henley, without a doubt.
“Are you finished climbing for today?” she said.
“I’m never finished climbing.” Of course not. Henley was a messenger and, always complaining of the “crowded hallways,” made a business of message running, and made it far more efficient by scaling any and all walls of the guild hall at any and all hours of the day, and in any and all weather.
In this way he could deliver a message from the bottom of the guild hall’s main entrance to the top in less than ten minutes. The distance was about forty stories, and she wondered so much at his speed that she began to consider the fact that perhaps, once out of visual range of any potential onlookers, he took to wings and flew the rest of the way, seeing as no regular human could make such a climb up a regular stone wall at such regular speeds as regular humans climbed.
At any rate, he was one of the few who were able to make a living without ever having to leave the guild hall, and for that, at least, she could commend him.
“Package for you.” The words fell softly from his mouth as if he were a specter speaking through the veil of the grave. His voice was like a quiet caress across the cheek from a soft hand; warm like boiled vegetable broth to a body stricken with all the coldness of winter; sweet like winsome wafting scents from a bakery’s fresh-made vanilla cakes, ginger-maple cookies and ricotta pies, and mingled with steaming apple cider, a symphony of enchantment to her nose and to her ears.
She burned with rage at the thought that such beautiful faculties were administered to someone like him.
He pulled from the satchel on his back a small bubble-wrapped envelope which he tossed toward her.
She caught the package, and her heart palpitated a little. She clenched the package tightly, unconcerned with its contents, using them rather as a stress ball for the moment. She had nearly torn it in half before she relented.
He, that miserable man, had touched her package! That awful man had interjected, unknowingly and unwittingly, the full enslavement of her attentions and disgust. She hated him. She wished he would leave Cerberus Black—or better yet, be killed, or somehow otherwise never be seen again.
She bit back the anger and stared solemnly at her package; if she couldn’t find anything nice to say, she wouldn’t say anything at all. Hopefully.
Yet, how could it ever be helped? As stupid and awful as he was, what crime was it that he had committed against her? What thing had he done to merit such a wanton gluttony of enmity from her?
She hated him; she didn’t know why it was like this. She didn’t necessarily want it to be like this. It was against every inclination in her mind. But for some reason, reason didn’t seem to make an appealing appearance to the judgment seat of her soul.
She hated him, and at the same time, hand in hand with that unwavering hatred, there was something intriguing about him, and it had nothing to do with his ability to climb or his position as the personal encrypted message carrier for the guild master, or his significantly-higher-than-hers classified material clearance.
But, perhaps it had everything to do with his magic, which she had never seen him use once. It caused her to hate him, and yet it also caused her not to be able to part with him in her mind.
She could always feel it at his core, that tiny, infinitesimal spark of green light, disappearing before it could ever be touched. She could see it as she could see tiny night lights of the sky in the world above, those tiny flickering stars which hid themselves behind the brighter stars and seemed to poke out their diminutive brilliance only for brief moments amidst the blank slate of sky and the moon’s bath in the sun’s protruding light.
Others had said of him, “we can never see his magic; is he hiding it? Does he even have any magic at all?” So were the rumors going on about him.
It was stupid, stupid, stupid. Henley was always so busy. He worked nonstop, so much so that she wondered if he ever actually slept. She hoped he would die of exhaustion. He couldn’t sleep if he intended to deliver that giant satchel slung over his back before morning, but then again, he couldn’t climb forty stories in ten minutes, either. That was just bullshit.
Yet, why was it that she had to see him every day? Why was it that she missed the days that she couldn’t see him? Why was it that she had to take on a false persona, write encrypted messages to herself from that false persona that allegedly lived several stories below, and then return to her place on the twenty fifth floor to await the arrival of her own message from the hand of this most intriguing person, of all the people of Cerberus Black?
Why had she been writing letters to herself for six months now? “How the hell am I supposed to know?” she replied to herself.
“See you,” he said with a slight smile. No, she thought, he couldn’t possibly see anything through that veiled face.
“Hope not,” she said after he leapt out of the window. She went to the window to poke her head out, to look up and down and in all directions, yet he was nowhere to be found.
“I hate that bastard,” she growled. “I hate him!”
Within five minutes, she was already working on sealing her next bubble-wrapped package for his express delivery on the following day.