The heavy door was off its hinges, shoved to the side with the top pin still in place and part of the wall hanging off it like a flag.
“That,” Darryn decided, his stomach twisting, “doesn’t look like an accident.”
“No,” William agreed.
“And—and it’s been pushed—from the outside. They weren’t—” He looked back at his friends for confirmation, for comfort. “They weren’t trying to escape.”
“Could have been a rescue,” William reasoned, but he sounded far from optimistic.
“Wh-what happened?” Darryn stammered, looking around at the charred earth, the twisted claws of trees, and letting his eyes settle again on the mangled entrance.
“Something bad,” William grumbled. “We should go.”
“What—what if someone—”
“It’s— It was him, wasn’t it?” Aidan whispered.
“We don’t know that.”
“But it was,” Aidan insisted. “That’s—that’s just how—”
“Oh,” Darryn breathed. He hadn’t realized before, but the torn door did recall the destruction that remained of Aidan’s childhood home. Darryn had seen it once, had been taken there by Aidan. When they’d gone to the home, they’d been chasing after evidence that Aidan’s parents had somehow survived that attack. Now they knew that they had. They’d survived long enough to be imprisoned and then tormented, and now they were both dead.
“Why?” Aidan demanded. “Who were these people? Why would he need—”
“We don’t know that it was him,” William insisted. “We don’t know that they were,” William stumbled over the word, “taken.”
“I’m going in,” Darryn decided.
“I’ve got to know,” he insisted. “If it was him, if—if they’re dead.”
“He won’t leave you a bloody note,” William snarled.
“No?” Darryn challenged.
“Tvorec!” William lunged forward, yanking the rein of Darryn’s horse so that the mare jerked to a standstill, braying. Darryn twisted to face the stable master reproach in his eyes. “This isn’t your fault,” William growled.
Darryn flinched but hissed, “Do you think these people, the people who lived here would agree?”
William reasoned, “This was a Tirin settlement. They’ll never have heard of you.”
“That makes it better? Just ‘cause they’re Tirins— You sound like him,” Darryn accused, looking away from the stable master.
“Don’t you dare—” William snarled.
“Then let me go,” Darryn demanded. “Let me make sure there’s no one who needs our help. It won’t take more than a minute.”
“It could be a trap,” William said.
Darryn started and looked back to Aidan who had kept his horse rooted, hadn’t ridden forward when the others had.
“Don’t go. It’s—it’s not worth it.”
“I know,” Aidan groaned. “I know you want to help. But maybe just this once, you can’t, you shouldn’t.”
“I—I can’t risk— If it’s a trap. Don’t go,” Aidan said again.
I am a thief! This excellent line came from my friend Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master, where you can read “Grave Robbers,” the story that this first line originally inspired. It allowed me to play with an answer to one of the questions that I’ve been puzzling over with regards to my WIP series, so thank you, Gwen!