A day at the Royal Museum turns interesting when Callo Merlose sees an unexpected face.
Callo Merlose, spurred on by her young charge's question, bent down and examined the small card on the glass case before them. Inside the case was a beautiful circlet of burnished bronze, inlaid with lapis lazuli. She squinted a bit, and adjusted her glasses.
"'Crown of an Unknown Kildean Princess, 7th century Orphaean Dynasty'," Callo read off the card.
"It's awfully shiny," the young boy remarked in quiet awe. Callo laughed softly, and hugged the child.
"The ancient Kildeans were very good at making shiny things, Joshua," she said. Joshua looked up at her with big, brown eyes.
"Cally? Can we have something to eat now?"
"Of course," Callo said with a smile as she began to rise. "Fish and
chips, then--" She paused, catching an odd reflection in the case. It was the faded silhouette of a man in a black leather trenchcoat, tendrils of deep auburn-brown hair peeking out from beneath his cowl. No, it couldn't be...but she'd recognize that profile in the dead of night, in a rainstorm, from five miles away.
"Cally?" Joshua frowned. Callo smiled at him again, and patted his small shoulders.
"Nothing, Josh," the inquisitor said smoothly. "Just stay here for a moment. I need to go use the restroom."
Joshua's eyes went large again, and he looked as though he were about to cry.
"I'll only be gone for a moment," Callo tried to reassure him, keeping an eye on the reflection in the glass case. She knew the child hated to be left alone, but decided it would be better if he didn't see. Joshua was still not a terribly talkative child, but that which he didn't know, couldn't be shared.
"Okay," Joshua whined, pouting at her. Callo kissed his brow.
"Be a good boy, alright? I'll be right back."
Joshua obediently sat on a bench next to the Kildean circlet's case. Callo nodded in satisfaction, then turned around and followed the reflection to its source, near a stairwell. She stared incredulously at the mysterious figure, who stood a head or so taller than her.
"What on earth are you doing here, Agent Ri--"
"Try not to announce me to the entire Royal Museum," Ashley Riot
hissed at her, pulling her into a nearby cul-de-sac.
"What possessed you to come back to Valnain?" Callo balked in a hushed tone. "Every inquisitor in Valendia is here for the Parliamentary Assembly!"
"T'would be the last place anyone would look for the most wanted fugitive in the kingdom, then, nay?" Ashley smirked, and Callo let out a weary sigh.
"I think you spent far too much time with the Sayadin. You've developed quite a clever mouth."
Ashley's expression turned serious again, and he pointedly stared at her.
"Never mind me. For an inquisitor, you've gotten sloppy, Merlose," he chided her. "You and the boy come here every Sunday, at precisely nine in the morning. You leave at high noon for lunch--fish and chips at Miranda's Inn 'round the corner--then attend the matinee at the Conservatory at one-thirty."
"How did you--"
"That tattoo on my back isn't there for show," Ashley replied acidly. "That, however, is beside the point. You need to be more circumspect in your movements. Routine gets people killed."
"Says the most wanted fugitive in the kingdom, standing less than a mile away from the seat of power in said kingdom, where hundreds of royal agents are gathered--"
"Callo, if you're simply going to scold me, I will leave."
"I scold you because I'm worried about you," she fumed. "You come and go as you please, without any thought for how others might feel if something were to happen to you!"
Ashley reached out, as if to take her by the hand, but Callo stepped back. She was incensed by his selfishness, by the fact that all she seemed to be to him was a mole, a useful tool, and nothing more. Didn't he realize how much she cared for him?
"I do, Cal," he answered her unspoken thought softly. "I do. And I'm sorry."
"Oh, Ashley..." Callo's lip quivered, and her eyes welled up with tears. It wasn't fair. It simply wasn't fair. First John, and now--
Ashley pulled her close, embracing her tightly, and she lost herself in his warmth, burying her face in his shoulder.
"Nothing is going to happen to me, Callo," he whispered reassuringly to her. "Not so long as I have the Dark to protect me."
"That's what John said!" she cried into his coat.
"Nothing will take me from you."
"And neither did it take John!"
Ashley gently pulled away, taking her tear-stained chin into his calloused hand.
"Callo," he began firmly, "I am not going to die. Even were it not for the fact I survived six years as a Riskbreaker, t'would be rather impossible. I am Master of the Dark, something that seems to have slipped your keen inquisitor's mind of late."
"So was Sydney, and he was taken from you," Callo sobbed. Ashley's eyes grew haunted at the mention of the name they never uttered, so deep ran the pain, fresh still after two years.
"Sydney had a oath to fulfill." Ashley's tone was solemn, even reverent, when he spoke of the man who made him his successor. The man who'd meant more to him than words could ever express.
~He left me because he had to, not because he wanted to.~
The words came unbidden to Callo's mind, buried deep inside the disgraced Riskbreaker's heart. A vision came to her, the same one she'd seen before on that windswept hill outside the Dark City, the day all their lives changed forever. It was Ashley, standing in the rain in the same trenchcoat he wore at the present. Pressed tightly against him was the beautiful blond sorcerer who'd changed all their lives, clad all in white. Sydney whispered something to Ashley, something Callo's vision would not reveal, and then the air around them both shimmered. Then, there were two Ashleys standing in the rain--one walking with grim determination toward the mansion in the distance, the other standing still with tears welled in his eyes.
~It didn't have to end this way. If I truly loved him, I would have saved him.~
Then, just as suddenly as the words came, Callo saw a tall, dark wall erected between them, in her mind, and she saw no more. Ashley softly brushed his lips against her forehead.
"There are some things best left hidden, Callo," he said quietly. He pulled away from her, and began to walk toward the far wall.
"Ashley, wait!" Callo cried as loud as she dared, reaching after him.
"Take care of Joshua," Ashley said, without stopping. "And take care of yourself. I don't trust Heldricht for a second."
"Goodbye, Callo." With that, Ashley Riot, Master of the Dark, walked straight into the wall and vanished.
Callo Merlose closed her eyes and sighed, fighting back tears.
"I love you, Ashley Riot," she whispered to the empty air.