Carac waited until he was absolutely certain the entire household slept, save the guardie, who'd reduced their patrol to one while the rest of them played cards. If his father found out, he'd have them all whipped and thrown out. Carac certainly wasn't going to be the one to tattle.
Soon, he'd never have to see this horrid place ever again. Soon, he'd be far, far away, on a boat with Arata off to see the world. No more feuding, no more blood, no more of this rotten city he never wanted to see again.
When he was certain it was safe, and the guardia on patrol was on the far side of the house grounds, he threw his pack out the window, swung out to the rough, ivy-strewn walls, and carefully made his way to the ground. Stifling an excited cheer as he made it, he scooped up his pack, slung it over his shoulders, and darted off through the garden. Ignoring the creaky gate, he squirmed under the stone wall by way of a tunnel he'd been carefully digging for the past few weeks. Like the guardie, the gardeners only did the work they couldn't avoid and neglected everything else.
He couldn't help a giggle as he climbed to his feet and brushed dirt from his clothes. Giving the house a final look, he turned away and ran off through the dark, quiet streets.
On the corner, a short figure bounced in place to stay warm against the cold, holding the reins of two horses, their breaths coming out in clouds of mist. Reaching them, Carac greeted quietly but breathlessly, "Brom! You made it."
"'Course I made it," Brom said. "Said I would. Here's your horses too."
Carac hugged him tightly. "I don't know what I would have done without you. I'll write you all the time." He shoved a small purse of coins into Brom's hands. "Here's to cover the cost of them. I hope you don't get into too much trouble."
Brom rolled his eyes, but took the money. "Papa won't mind I sold these old nags. You ready?"
"Yes! Let's go."
Smiling, Brom handed off the reins of one of the horses, and they walked together through the quiet streets until they reached the tavern where Carac and Arata had met up a few times a month. When they were unable to go anywhere else, they could always count on this place to have a table where they could drink saké and eat dumplings and simply be.
No family. No fighting. No worrying or secrecy.
His heart pounding so loud it drowned out the rest of the world, Carac looked anxiously around the yard in front of the tavern—and there, still wearing his jinbei and raised sandals, his long, night-dark hair pulled loosely back and held in place with sticks, was Arata. He also had a fresh bandage around one forearm, making Carac frown. Had his family bled him again? Why couldn't they just let his magia come when it would? But he didn't seem too pale, so Carac shoved that worry aside for later. It didn't matter anymore, anyway. They were going away, to be together, to be free.
Letting go of the reins of his horse, Carac rushed across the yard and swept him up, laughing in delight. "We're finally going to be free!" He kissed Arata soundly, smothering his answering laugh, then drew back. "I was worried you wouldn't be able to get away."
Arata shrugged. "Me too, but then an emergency commission came in, and Mother had to pull the rest of the family to blood thirty amulets to be ready by morning. Nobody missed me, except that I'm still useless when it comes to blooding." He grimaced. "Not that they don't try."
Carac frowned at how tired he looked—and up close, he was also paler than he'd seemed before. "Are you all right?" He reached up to cup Arata's cheek. "How badly did they bleed you?"
Turning his head, Arata softly kissed the palm of Carac's hand. "I'm fine. We'll get to the coast tonight, and then I can rest all I like. You can spoil me rotten until my blood is restored, and then we can go anywhere we want."
"Anywhere we want," Carac echoed softly, scarcely daring to really believe this was happening. He kissed Arata again, enjoying the flavor of plum wine that lingered in