Prologue

“It’s not like that, see. Magic isn’t something ELSE. It’s…it’s the stuff we’re made of. You can’t just go twiddlin’ around with it any more than you can go messin’ about with the beams and nails that make up the inn. You’ll do things to it. Change it, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, rarely for the better.”

“That’s what magic does, boy. Changes people.” The old drunk looked down in to his stein for something that wasn’t there. “And rarely for the better.”


But there was no magic. It was the fish tales of old men and the hushed knowing looks of those who knew very little indeed.

“Oh, there was a time…before you were born, when my grandmother told stories about her grandmother….” They’d start. Always the same speech. Always the same damned nonsense.

She cursed her wandering mind. But then this was the easy part.

The rain patted heavily against her leathers as any sound she could have made was drowned out completely and hid her that much more thoroughly from sight. She could probably whistle without fear of being discovered.

Still, no reason to get careless. She went through the motions of hugging the walls, rounding corners quietly, making her way across the roofs and chimneys in the merchants quarter of the sleepless city. At least she was up from the smell of the docks for a change. Though tonight it wouldn’t have mattered much. She’d be soaked for days.

Counting three doors from the corner she double checked her memory. This is the one. Making her way over the edge of the balcony she kept a fixed gaze on the door. An ear pressed against it confirmed…nothing. The storm had its disadvantages. No one seemed to be home. She’d watched the place for days. No one had come or gone. She should be okay.

A small knife blade was all it took to shim up the latch that held the door closed. She padded in to the room and latched the door behind her, taking a moment to let her senses adjust. At first there was nothing but the musty smell suggesting the room was ill kept and well out of use.

As her eyes adjusted the rest of the room came in to focus. A modest personal chamber; better than the inn. But far from the finery she expected in this area. Servant’s room? Maybe. Seemed unlikely.

She made her way down the hall and replayed Fal’s words “Third floor. Room on the right at the end of the hall towards the docks. Behind the desk.”

Thankfully the door was open a crack when she got there. Giving it a good look she pushed it enough to slip inside then took a good survey. It was about twice the size of the room she came in and the furniture was indeed finer. The wood was finished and there was a rug she was thankful for. The smell was definitely coming from in here.

The tapestry depicting familiar scenes of Bhoar’s Scholars hung on the walls and a richly appointed bed was fixed against the middle of the opposite wall. On the other side she saw something that looked like it could be a small writing desk and a wardrobe.

“Give me a full moon over this damned dark any night.”

“The desk, the desk.” she reminded herself in a whisper. But the desk was a tiny affair, a writing desk; little more than a table against the wall. Reflexively she pulled open the drawer to find some messy parchment and a spilled ink pot, the ink quite wet, soaking into the drawer and the loose pages. Odd. She closed the drawer and reached around behind it and just felt the boards that made up the wall. There wasn’t anything here. Some secret? It was an exterior wall. There wasn’t enough room for that kind of thing. She’d never find it in this dark if it were. And what in blazes was that smell?

As she made her way softly across the room her foot made an audible squishing noise and pulled up stickily. She caught herself taking short fast breaths as her body recognized the smell an instant before she was aware of it.

Blood. Very wet blood…recently spilled. Gods….how recently? Wait…who’s blood?

Eyes darting around the room “behind the desk” didn’t make any damned sense. It wasn’t the bed, where she could now make out the outline of a very recently deceased occupant as her breath quickened.

Footsteps? No. Rain on the roof. Calm down Kly.

Taking a couple deep breaths to steady herself, she looked up at the tapestry. “The Scholars of Bhoar” was a familiar image, depicting the transcription of the scrolls that would carry his laws across the world. One Scholar, she could never remember which one stood dictating to the other one sitting at…DESK!

“HA!” She winced at her exuberance and squinted.

A rumbling downstairs.

She darted on her toes in two quick steps to the tapestry, pulled it aside and padded the wall behind it. After some searching she could feel the outline of a rough seam, a change in texture in the wall. Pulling out a utilitarian blade, she gouged at the plaster for a moment as quietly and quickly as reasonable (given the now unmistakable footsteps on the staircase.) After a moment the outline of a small panel was exposed which pulled away easily, if noisily.

“Someone’s up here!” the voice called out.

She hugged the wall behind the tapestry as she reached in to the alcove and retrieved what had better be the carved wooden box she was after.

The lantern light came down the hall as she tucked the box in to the bag at her side and she took one last deep breath. In a panic moment she paced through her actions and shook her head in disgust. Dripping wet, she’d led a trail right here. Stepped in the blood. With any light her hiding spot wouldn’t fool a child.

The door opened and she caught the gleam of a blade as her pursuer walked in the room.

Not big and overly cautious he walked in to the room, not immediately noticing the bulge behind the tapestry. But the second he saw the bloody footprints.

“What the…” he took a couple steps farther in to the room. But she couldn’t get a good look at him.

She shoved the tapestry forward with both hands, pushing against the wall with one foot as it came loose from the decorative hardware towards the unseen figure, darted out the doorway and down the hall.

A second figure was at the end of the hall, looking down at the floor in front of the doorway she came in through at the puddle she left. Seeing movement he looked up slowly and saw her, groggy, not quite registering what was going on.

She sprinted at the bemused obstruction as her first victim righted himself.

“Hey. Hey there’s a gir…oof” she drove her shoulder into his midsection and over he went as she darted into the room, flipped up the latch, opened the door and vaulted over the balcony railing into the driving rain on to the tile roof.

“Wet!” She yelled to no one as her foot flew from under her. She tried to flatten herself against the tiles. But it was no use in the driving rain.

Pulling a couple tiles along with her she slid down and off the tapered roof, over she went, in to the air and slammed into the muddy street.

Closing her eyes she took a quick survey of herself. Her right side stung badly. But she could get up. She looked up at the balcony but couldn’t tell if there was anyone there.

“This had better be worth it. Oh no.” In a sudden realization she padded the bag where she’d stored her prize. She could feel the box in pieces. Well, hopefully the box wasn’t the important part. But if her prize was particularly fragile she was done for. It was in ruins and something heavy roundish and pointy remained. No time. She could make out some kind of chaos coming from inside the building.

“uhm…alley…right…docks.” she panted, and pushing herself the rest of the way to standing, she disappeared, limping into the night.


“What do you mean ‘Dathios is dead?’ He’s wasn’t even supposed to be in the city. That’s why I sent you two to begin with.”

The brothers looked at each other then at the floor.

“Alright. One more time. You went in the side door…”

“We came through the side door…” the more articulate of the pair began. “and followed your directions up the stairs, to the end of the hall on the right.”

“The dock side.” His brother added, proud to help.

“Yes Feld. The dock side.”

“The dock side.”

“We walked in to the bedroom and startled Dathios in his sleep. He got out of bed and started yelling.”

“He yells loud. Well…yelled.”

“If it weren’t for the storm…”

“Yes, if only.” their bewildered employer shook his head.

“Well, then Feld…”

“I stuck him.”

“…stuck him.”

“And behind the desk?”

“There wasn’t anything behind the desk. Just a blank wall.”

“All for nothing then. Just…get out of my sight.”

“There’s just…the matter of…” The more articulate brother shuffled.

“What. You’re not really asking me to pay you for murdering one of the few good merchants left in the city AND coming back without the box are you? Not really.”

“It’s not our fault the box…”

“DON’T.” He was seething now. What was he thinking, hiring these fools. He’d had so little time to act when he’d heard. In fairness, these two were muscle and had been worth the money on other occasions. This was his fault. It had been a bit subtle of a task.

“Just get out.”

The brothers looked at each other for a moment and started out.

“Do you think it would’ve made a difference if we’d told him about the girl?”

“FELD!”

“Girl? What girl!?!”

“After we’d gotten back downstairs Feld said he heard a noise.”

“I went up to have a look and she got past me, knocked Feld down and jumped out the window.”

“She was mean.”

“What did she look like?”

“Dark clothes. mask over her face.” Geniuses.

“And she jumped out of a third story window?”

“Well. I think she meant to crawl across the roof. But with the rain and how fast she was going…”

“She was fast.”

“She slid off and hit the ground pretty hard. We went out to look for her. But by the time we got down, out the side and around the front, she was gone and there were broken roof tiles in the mud.”

“Just…get out before I…just…get out.”

That was the big problem with buying information. There was nothing stopping the seller from getting paid on the same information several times. Information was a bit too much like a flame, the more it spreads the faster it consumes its utility. Hopefully whomever this was didn’t have any more luck than his two oafs. But the odds were thin.

It was too dangerous now to send someone back in to see what happened. The man’s family and guild would be or have been all over the place.

It was time to pay his source a visit and do something about his newfound competition.

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