They went to the old city every morning to steal bread, running over cobbled streets and past the tilting, ancient buildings.
They were about the same height, and looked like they might have been siblings—but for the way the boy looked at the girl. He was obviously in love with her. She was 18 months older than he, and her brown hair was long, kinked and matted. They wore rags, and his feet and legs were covered in sores from the vermin that infested the low-lying city.
"Hey!" she said, reaching for Flynn as he turned abruptly away from her and headed down a side alley. "Where are you going?"
But Flynn ignored her and kept pattering toward the door.
"Flynn!" she hissed. "C'mon! We've got to go!"
But in a moment, Flynn was standing before the door. Again. The alley sloped down here and the stones were thick with moss and algae from the water—and other, less pleasant things—that seeped from the old buildings.
He stood before the door, staring at it hard. He was poised on the balls of his feet.
Sophie came up behind him, tugging on his arm to pull him away. "C'mon! Let's go."
He glanced at her, and his eyes were shining. "I'm gonna open it."
"No!" she said, her brows creased. "What is your deal with this stupid door? Can't you just let it go?"
"There's something there. I can feel it. Maybe we'll find something for Kyle. Maybe it's a ... you know."
"So what if it is?" she said. "Who cares?! Just leave it alone!"
"What? You scared?" Flynn said, teasing lightly.
She was holding his arm now, protectively, pulling him back and closer to her. "C'mon, Flynn, can't you smell it? Please, let's just go."
Flynn flared his nostrils and tasted the air pouring from a hole in the old door. It smelled sulfurous and richly organic, like a just-popped match and swamp mud. "Yeah," he said. "I smell it."
"So what else do you need to know? Isn't that enough?"
"You know, I don't get you," Flynn said, turning on her again. "You'll steal anything that's not nailed down, but you're too scared to open a stupid door? What's the big deal?"
"Because I don't believe in getting killed ... or worse ... over nothing. If there was food behind the door, I'd think about it. But there isn't. And—"
But Flynn had shaken her off and was nearing the door. He reached out slowly and put his hand on the old latch. It was cold, and the smell here was stronger. He figured the door opened into a tunnel, or maybe stairs leading down, under the city. It was an old city, built two thousand years ago over a series of natural catacombs in the rock below. But no one went into the catacombs. Even the street kids, who weren't afraid of anything, shied away from the various doors and holes and sluice gates leading down. The city was full of stories.
Behind him, Sophie was watching with terror on her face. "Flynn," she tried again, "please. I've seen what they can do."
He turned around sharply. "So have I."
Sophie bit off her next words and hunched inward under his withering gaze. A dragon had taken his father—how could she have forgotten that?
"I'm sorry. You know I—"
"Are you gonna leave me?" Flynn said. "If I go in, will you go with me?"
Sophie nodded through the tears that sprang into her eyes. "You know I would never leave you," she said. "You know I wouldn't. But—"
The alley echoed with a sharp crack as Flynn suddenly wrenched the clasp open and pushed against the thick, spongy wood. At first, the door wouldn't budge, but then it gave way and fell inward with a crash. A rush of air came at him from the blackness, and as he recoiled from the stink he saw that he had been right: there were slick stairs leading down into blackness.
He turned around, his eyes shining. "C'mon," he said. "I'm not afraid."
Sophie came forward slowly to stand next to him. "Why do you have to do this?" She was barely whispering.
Flynn didn't answer because the answer would have been too hard for him to put into words. He needed to see one again, yes, but mostly he wanted to test himself against his fear. And he wanted to see if what they were saying about him was true, that he had a rare gift.
The last thing he did before stepping into the darkness of the first step was reach out and take her hand.