AS THE DRAXN FLIES
Night had descended long ago, but Kerrin had only just finished packing up his wares from a good day's business. Closing his small shop, he left the grand market at the centre of Irrakell and ambled away towards his home, whistling a merry tune, his jingling pack providing musical accompaniment. The streets were empty and the city was quiet, but he was not perturbed. Fleeing disgruntled customers was a hazard of the mercantile trade, and being a particularly skilled merchant, Kerrin by now knew every backalley and hiding place in Irrakell.
Above him soared the tall white towers the city was famed for, imitations, his cousin had told him once, of those that had stood in the time of the Elbari. Kerrin smirked at the memory. He didn't like his cousin and was glad that he had not stayed long. The man had been a pest since he arrived in Irrakell and had a withdrawn air that Kerrin took for arrogance – probably something to do with those dratted monks who had raised him at Chelm.
A sudden gust of cold air whipped at his cloak and sent a shiver up his spine. He stopped whistling and stood still for a moment. He could have sworn that he had heard something behind the wailing of the wind.
There was silence. Absolute silence.
His confidence shaken, Kerrin began to move again, his quickened pace betraying his sudden fear. Where on earth was everybody? There was another blast of cold wind. This time he most definitely heard a noise – a noise like an enormous set of bellows, exhaling and inhaling at a regular pace, just like the beating of... Wings!
He rushed to the edge of the street, taking shelter beneath the overhanging roof of the nearest building. Looking up, he scanned the sky for any sign of movement. The stars watched him back in their typical fashion: impassive, uncaring. Gradually, the thumping of Kerrin's heart returned to normal.
Reassuring himself that there was no beast with wings great enough to produce such a noise (in this part of the world at least), he cautiously stepped out of the shadows. The sound had passed by, if it had been there at all. Feeling somewhat better, Kerrin shifted his pack and continued on his way through the dark streets. He did not whistle, but it was a mark of his renewed confidence that he opted to take a shortcut between the orderly ranks of houses instead of the safer main roads. It did not strike him as odd that the temperature had dropped so low and it was merely a subconscious reflex that he drew his cloak tight about him against the unnaturally cold night air.
The alley he chose was long and narrow, but very direct. There was still a lingering sense of foreboding in Kerrin's breast, but he quashed it. He kept his pace forcibly slow, with every sense at peak alertness and his gaze flicking from side to side. As they always did when he was nervous, his hands sought his wrist for the copper bracelet his father had left him. It was several seconds before he remembered that he had traded it some weeks ago, during a lean spell.