Julan waited a few minutes after his most recent client left the room. It had been a busy night, but the hour was late. He was certain that was the last one so he took his time washing in the small basin between his and the other male’s room. He couldn’t hear any noise coming from the other room, and assumed Theryn had finished with his clients as well.
He finished washing and tossed on his clothing. It didn’t cover much, but the nights were warm. It was much more difficult to deal with in the colder months, especially when there wasn’t any heat in the house. He tied back his long, curly, blond hair, and he walked out into the common area.
As he suspected, there were no clients left. All of them had been satisfied, or were in the process of being satisfied. The smell of incense hung in the air, though none was burning at the present. One of the old madame’s sat on the sofa, raising a brow as he passed.
“You should be sleeping, my dear.”
“I was thirsty, Madame Mithca. I wanted a glass of water. I’ll only be a minute.”
Julan walked to the small kitchen on the other side of the room. Madame Sarai usually worked there, making meals for the women and the two men. Madame Sarai, Madame Mithca and Madame Kanatri were the founders of the house. They used to work themselves, but as they grew older, they hired others, and even built on a couple of rooms. It wasn’t the first of its kind in Eowyr, an elven city located on the edge of the forested land in south-eastern Naren that many elves called their home. Julan thought this house was the best of its kind. He had tried working at a few other places in Eowyr, with varying degrees of bad results. He’d worked on his own as well, but he preferred the protection that the houses offered. They were more secure, and this one was the only one he had found that respected him.
Julan filled a glass and went to sit with Madame Mithca on the sofa.
“You’ll need your rest for tomorrow.”
She was right. It was summer solstice tomorrow and that meant another Name Day celebration. It was a silly human holiday that the elves had picked up on, or so he thought he remembered being told so in school. There was something about the old religions being lost to time and the world had come into believing one prophet. That’s why Thril Gandir and Rathel were established to control the mages, and a system to test everyone for magical ability was put into place. The Name Days were part of this system. No child could be named outside of the four days of each year. When they were brought for naming, they were also tested. Although Julan was considered nameless, he was free of magical ability, as far as he knew. Many prostitutes in Eowyr were also rogue mages. Unable to prove who they were, they were unable to work normal jobs. Theryn was one. A couple of the girls here were also. The madames and the others took care to protect them.
“As good as it is for business, there are times I’d rather we didn’t have Name Days.” Julan said before sipping his water. It was warm and stale tasting– typical of summer water in Eowyr.
Madame Mithca smiled, “You and I both, dear. If those fanatics in Elenduil have their way, maybe there will come a time when we turn back to the old religions.”
“But no one remembers them. It’s been thousands of years. I think the people in Elenduil are making things up.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”
“Do you believe them?” Julan asked, momentarily forgetting his water.
“I don’t know. On one hand, I can’t believe our sole purpose in life is to control the mages to prevent the destruction of the world. On the other, they do have that power, don’t they? It’s possible the old ways were right, but who wants to be the one to make the decision to test that theory? I don’t see change happening very fast nor very easily.”
Julan nodded in thought as he sipped his water again. He supposed if they put enough together from translating what was written on old stone tablets, then maybe the old religions could resurface. Maybe.
He opened his mouth to reply to Madame Mithca, when a piercing scream came from outside.
“What was that?” he said, rising to go to the window overlooking the street. Madame Mithca followed behind him.
The first thing he saw was fire in the building across the street. Then he noticed something swooping down from the dark sky. He could have easily missed it if not for the light from the fires. It had large wings, and a tail. It moved before he could identify it. Was it a dragon? If so, what was it doing here? If it wasn’t, then what was it?
Madame Mithca moved away from the window. “We have to warn the—” She was interrupted by a loud crash, and yelling in Theryn’s room. Julan ran to Theryn’s door and threw it open just in time to see Theyrn being lifted out through the roof.
He stood there dazed for a moment before being pulled back to reality by a hand grabbing his wrist and pulling. One of the women had pulled him back from the room only to start crying. The others had woken now, and Madame Sarai and Kanatri had joined them in the common room. They tried to keep everyone calm, but at the same time they needed to figure out what was going on and what to do about it. They were failing at all three . The screams were not only coming from inside, but more joined them in the street. Julan looked around for Madame Mithca. She had just been here.
Another loud crash came and bits of plaster and dust rained down on them. Most of them ran towards the door, though a couple of the women ran back to their rooms. Julan had no time to think about it. He had to find Madame Mithca.
As Madame Sarai and Kanatri tried to calm everyone as they exited, Julan ran to Madame Mithca’s room, and swung open the door. He gasped when he saw a hole in the roof, staring up at it for a moment thinking he was already to late. Then he caught a glimpse of movement on the floor. Below the debris of the roof, a hand reached out.
“Madame Mithca!” Julan rushed to where he could see her hand and started pulling pieces of debris off of her. The more he pulled off, and the more he saw of her, the more he realized how badly she was injured. One of the larger beams had fallen across her and she was pinned in place. He moved behind her to cradle her upper body.
“Madame Mithca. It’s okay. I’m here. I’ll stay with you.” He tried to sound calm, but was fighting back tears as he held her up. He noticed she held something in her other hand, and she was trying to lift her arm.
“Julan, my dear. You can’t stay.”
“I’ll stay with you. I can’t leave you alone.”
“Dear, I won’t be staying either. I’m afraid I’ll be leaving my body behind soon.” With effort she lifted her hand. “Take this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s been in my family for centuries. Please find someone to translate it.” Her breathing was labored, and her words came in intervals. Julan feared she was right. She was leaving her body behind.
He took the object. It was wrapped in a cloth. He unwrapped it enough to see a beautiful old scroll case.
Another crash against the roof reminded him that he was still in great danger.
“Go. Run.” Madame Mithca managed to say before her body went limp.
Julan let her back down gently, pressing his lips to her forehead before obeying her words. He ran out to the common room to find another hole had been made in the ceiling. Everyone had left. He ran out the door and made for the alley, hoping that the large, flying creatures wouldn’t be able to see him in the smaller areas between the buildings.