The young prince of Evenheim liked the dark hour the best.
As the black disk rolled across the sun, the peach sky deepened into a murky red--dark, like his eyes. The world fell into simple silhouettes, chimneys and rooftops outlining the sky. The air cooled, and the sounds of city life quieted.
Human sound faded, leaving only the whisper of daemons.
Felix leaned back against the chimney. His father hated him being out here on the roof of the manor, and that was half of why Felix sought to be out here as much as possible. He was the prince, after all; didn’t that mean he could do what he wanted? Someday he would rule this city alone, and then no one could tell him what to do.
No one but the city daemon, he supposed.
Its small voice crept into his heart as he relaxed on the roof. When the city was bustling, the daemon’s voice blended in with the human and animal cries and shouts, but Felix had long ago learned to differentiate between the voices of the city’s living inhabitants and the voices of the city’s ancestors. The city daemon was the ghost of footsteps and touches and words that never left the walkways and walls. It was a million tiny voices whispering—at once a lost child, a merchant, a priest, a mother. His ancestors left their hearts in the city, and their royal sons and daughters listened.
Someday he would be king and he would marry this city, taking its name and truly opening his heart to it—when his father passed and left to Felix the mantle of the king. In his youthful pride he looked forward to it, to being able to set his own rules and have no one to answer to, but he felt a small twinge of fear at the thought of being so exposed to the city daemon. As king, he would have a greater capacity to hear its voice and thoughts and monitions, but so too would the daemon see into his own heart and soul.
His empty heart.
That’s what the household Magicians said about him. They thought he didn’t hear the whispers—likely because he didn’t command the whisperers to cease. He didn’t care what they said. They were just Magicians. It wasn’t like their talk could lead to anything; they couldn’t rebel against the Renauds. And their gossip only made him more menacing or impressive, he figured. At times he even commanded a Magician to spread gossip of his own devising. “The young prince has no heartbeat” or “the prince has a secret affair with the Cymarian queen.” The king really hated that.
He took a deep breath and rested his head against the brick.
His life felt as empty as those rumors, at times.
He was born to be the king. But it was sort of like an Obligation, wasn’t it. What if he didn’t want to be king? His father would never name anyone else, and the city daemon needed its voice to be heard. He could run. How long would it be before the Court Magicians, inevitably commanded to find their prince, found him? His father might even send normal people to find him, to counter the prince’s ability to command pursuing Magicians. Felix had been down this train of thought before.
The prince’s dark eyes opened. In the silence of the dark hour, he heard crying.
That wasn’t possible. He was on the roof above his manor bedroom, far off the ground and from the streets. He was far out of earshot of anyone—he made certain of that when he chose this place as his hiding spot.
He settled back down, a frown on his face, and focused.
It must be some part of the city daemon, he reasoned. It wasn’t possible for a human voice to reach him here. He covered his ears. If it was the city daemon, he would still “hear” the sound as it bypassed his ears and registered directly in his mind.
Felix heard only the whistle of his own breath above the muffled daemon chatter. Covering his ears muted the cries. It wasn’t the city.
He uncovered his ears again. “Hello?” he asked. “I can hear you.”
The crying stopped.
The wind stilled for the briefest moment.
Felix shuddered as the returning wind played with his hair.
Something was...different. The air felt warmer for a moment, the ever-present breeze gentler. Some fragrance tricked his senses, and then it was gone.
The horses in the stable below whinnied, breaking Felix out of his daze. The dark hour was ending soon. Already the city noises were returning to drown out the daemon whispers.
Were those cries also a daemon?
Felix raised a hand to his cheek and stared in confusion at the moisture caught on his fingers. Was he the one crying? Had he tricked himself into thinking it was someone else?
The wind dried the tears from his hands.
Silently and with practiced ease, Felix Renaud climbed back into his room and returned to his life as a prince.