I felt like finding the drunks and saying sorry but was already running late. I needed to meet Warren at his home and help out with the first lot of baking. He would have woken up before the sun had even hinted at rising and he definitely wouldn’t like me being late.
The streets were already bustling, guards went past making me flinch back thinking they were coming to question me about my unexpected guest. Eyes were looking everywhere but it felt like they were all on me. Did people know? Could they sense it? Knowing my luck he would be a member of that damned terrorist group and people would start claiming I was a supporter.
His house loomed in front of me, it looked in better condition than mine but not by much. The roof was recently repaired so there wasn’t much chance of it leaking. I knocked on the solid wood and heard some grumbling from the other side, not actual words though. Warren didn’t speak unless he needed to. The door swung open and his eyes followed me as I stepped into his home. The smell of bread was in the air and I took a deep breath as I ignored his long glare. I was tempted to tell him what’d happened but we weren’t exactly friends. We worked together and he could just as easily turn me into the guards as help me turf out the unwanted guest.
“Sorry I’m late. Bad night,” was all I said.
He nodded towards his kitchen where the ingredients we laid out and a pile freshly burnt bread was thrown to one side; no one would buy it. When we had the store we had a proper kitchen and the stoves could bake in bulk, but now we had to make do with just the one even if it meant Warren had to bake all day. I couldn’t really blame him for being grumpy but he always refused to look after the stall.
Throwing myself into the mixing and kneading I forgot about the Heben and used took all my frustration out on the dough. When we had enough I loaded up a crate with the bread and put some coins on the table.
“That’s yours,” I nodded towards it. “See you tomorrow?”
He shrugged in a way that questioned why I even asked. He was always here, baking bread. I think even if he didn’t do it for a living he’d spend his time doing it; mixing, kneading, baking. He liked and easy life and there was nothing easier than a repetitive task.
The door swung shut behind me, not even a whisper of a goodbye. To be honest it’d be strange if he actually said something. I stumbled away, the crate far too big for my size but years of experience kept me going. No one was allowed into the hearthsquare until the sun was fully risen except for special occasions, like the Hearthfire Festival. Guards were often posted at the entrances and if they dared to step into the square, even to stop a trespasser, they were stripped of their position and chucked into a pit with sheer walls while everyone threw whatever they had at hand at them. It was, however, perfectly acceptable for them to shoot the lawbreaker with their arrows. Standing orders were always shoot to kill.
By the time I got to the entrance the sun was fully risen for a couple of minutes. The early morning business on the streets had yet to make it onto the square so I had an easy enough time of navigating to my stall. One of the guards nodded my way, his was a familiar face. He was always on duty whenever I arrived for work. After passing him I stopped at the posters, still struggling with the crate, then finally found my way to the stall. It took a couple of hours for business to really pick up and when it was at its full flow chaos decided to arrive.
A loud noise sounded somewhere in the second quadrant, which stretched above us on the twisting hill. No one really paid any attention to it, I wouldn’t have noticed if someone hadn’t commented about the wealthy and their ‘eccentricities’, I remember because I kept repeating the word in my head and trying to figure out how she said it. You didn’t often hear a word like that in the fourth quadrant.
My mind was still exploring the depths of the word when the first people started trickling in. The thing about tragedy is that people always seek out somewhere sacred to go and there was only ever one place to go in Greystone, one place to go in all the settlements in Solo in fact. The hearthfire. A symbol of light and life, it was the perfect thing to ward off the dark and death.
The people were soaked with blood, maybe it was their own or maybe it was from someone else. Either way there was a lot of it. Some came stumbling through by themselves, others were carried in by friends. All were stained by smoke. A woman was crying hysterically as she was guided to an empty spot and forced to sit down.
I looked up towards the second quadrant and saw smoke billowing up, something flickered and I knew there was a fire. A selfish thought ran through my head; that’s our water rationed for months. It grew louder as more people filed in. A father yelling for his daughter, an elderly man with blood pouring out his ears and not able to hear a thing, a little girl collapsed on the floor with her leg twisted at a strange angle. Their clothes were torn or singed; the nicest rags I ever saw.
When the first group of people arrived the guards rushed into the square, most likely thinking they were there to cause trouble, but when they saw the state of them they soon began to help. More came along from the second quadrant, accompanying the injured, and started spreading the story. An attack. It was Them, trying to kill people and hurt the city.
Popping my takings into a pouch and making sure it was stowed away in my pocket, I rushed out from behind my stall and offered any help I could. I only knew the basics of first aid so couldn’t help much. Most of them just wanted comfort and a friendly ear. I wiped the blood from those who let me until the healers eventually arrived. By the time this happened there were hundreds of people and barely one story put together from the shreds each person brought with them.
“An explosion,” someone moaned.
“It blew up,” another agreed without hearing.
“I was just going to deposit my money,” a young woman, about my age, “and then there was a bang, stone and rock went everywhere. A fire started. Then screaming.” Her eyes had a faraway look to them.
“S’alright,” I tried to comfort her, “you know, you’re ok here.”
“So many people went flying, were knocked down,” this was from a man who didn’t look all that shocked, he actually seemed to be enjoying the attention. “So much blood.”
“Why the bank?”
“What d’you mean?” One of the other stall masters asked.
“That’s where it was. The bank. It’s gone now.”
While the events were being pieced together there was a young girl who wouldn’t stop crying. Too young to understand what was going on and there was no one with her. Blood matted her hair. When I knelt down beside her she flinched away.
“Where am I?”
“At the ‘earthsquare,” I replied, aware that she was more than ten years younger than me but much better spoken. I added, in my best voice, “You’re safe here.”
For someone so young she had a surprisingly good knowledge of what happened. She and her dad were walking down the street, not even heading to the bank. They were looking at something outside a shop a few metres away. That’s when the explosion happened. She felt a sharp blow to her head and the next thing she knew her father was gone and she was covered in blood.
“It was Them. Those Hebens and the people they’ve convinced to follow them.”
She was very bitter.