Author: Vincent L.A. Dennis PM
In the country of Tervina, strong power-granting stones are being stolen from the population. The eldest princess discovers the thief and the purpose for the barachs' collection, reasons that would become a threat to the neighboring country of Halia if left unchecked. Now it's down to her and her companions to stop the newly discovered plot.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Chapters: 2 - Words: 8,968 - Reviews: 2 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 06-24-12 - Published: 05-28-12 - id: 3026727
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
He crouched on the edge of the rooftop, completely stationary, just as he had been for the past three hours. His legs had long since fallen asleep and his cheeks were numb from the cold breeze. The only movement came from his cloak, which flapped slowly around his legs. Even his eyes remained fixated on one spot, though he kept tabs on whatever happened in his peripheral vision as well. The subject of his tireless stare was the building directly across the street from his perch. It was a large house, with brightly lit windows where nicely dressed men and women could be seen crowded into a single room. Laughter, conversation, and music drifted up to the man despite the closed door and windows. A pair of children, neither older than twelve, sat outside in nice jackets, mock fighting with two large sticks. They were the only children that the man had noticed all night.
The door opened, the noise increasing drastically, and the children immediately stopped what they were doing. The man gave the door his full attention, only to be disappointed as a couple exited. The man had his jacket slung over one arm, the woman on his other. She stumbled in her high heels and extravagantly embroidered dress, giggling loudly. The man below said something to the children, offering one a copper piece. The child smiled, nodded, and ran off around the other side of the building. When he returned, he had a horse's reins in hand, which he offered to the man. The woman was given a leg up and the couple disappeared down the street, conversing quietly, as the children continued their fight.
The man atop the building let out a harsh breath, telling himself that he would have to wait it out even longer. He was capable of staying where he was all night if he needed to, but he would have preferred for the job to have been completed two hours ago. When he'd opted to stake out the party, he hadn't expected his target to remain for very long. From what he'd gathered, she wasn't a very influential member of the nobility and she had few close friends to speak of, most of whom weren't in attendance. But the time had continued to stretch long after he had assumed she would leave, much to his annoyance. Unless she had snuck out through a window, then she was still inside, and taking forever to show herself.
It was another hour before anything happened. He was tempted to risk his cover, in order to stand up and finally get the blood flowing in his legs, when the door opened again. A single woman exited, looking nervously down the street. One of the children approached her and asked her something, to which she shook her head. With another wary glance back and forth, she headed quickly down the street, the heels of her shoes striking the cobblestones loudly. The man's eyes followed her and he slowly rose, not wanting to attract the children's attention. His legs almost collapsed underneath him, as he couldn't tell anymore where his feet were in relation to his body, but he quickly recovered and made his way across the rooftop.
He trailed the woman from the roofs for as long as possible. It wasn't very far, as a street quickly separated him from the next building, but it was far enough away that he was sure the two children wouldn't notice him and alert someone. He paused at the drop, allowing her to walk some distance ahead, before dropping and landing in the street in a crouch. Pins and needles shot up his legs, creating a brief moment of discomfort. The woman paused and looked over his shoulder, and the man remained still. He had intentionally fallen between two of the torches that illuminated the street and was crouched in an area with uncertain lighting. After a moment, she determined herself safe and kept walking, albeit at a quicker pace. The man waited a minute before getting up and following after her.
As he walked, he kept his footfalls as silent as possible, which wasn't too hard to do considering he'd worn a pair of soft-soled boots. He also stayed to the shadows when he could, ducking into doorways and the mouths of alleys and sliding around the main circles of light provided by the torches. Twice more, the woman looked warily over her shoulder. Once, he was almost seen and had to quickly duck into the closest alley. She spent longer looking around that time, and even ventured a few steps closer to the man's hiding spot, before moving off again.
Eventually, she ended up having to leave the main, brightly lit road, just as he knew she would. She paused at the entrance of the side street and looked around one last time. The man watched from behind an oversized shop sign that declared extremely fresh fruit, imported from the close town of Warshon, only for eight copper a piece. When she finally turned off the road, he followed close behind, not trying as hard to hide his presence.
The side street stretched for only a short distance before it met up with another major road. The man took large steps, catching up to the woman a little past halfway down the street. As he got close, the toe of his boot collided with a small stone, sending it skittering into the darkness. The woman spun around, just in time for him to grab her by the throat. She let out a choked, barely audible shout of surprise and fear before he slammed her against the nearby wall. Her head smacked into the unforgiving stone, and she looked at him in dazed confusion for a moment, a moment that he took advantage of. Brows furrowed in concentration, he called his will together and directed it to a stone sitting on the back of his right hand.
The stone was small, about an inch in diameter and a quarter of an inch tall. It was black, with white and yellow speckles like stars. As the man pushed his will into the small trinket, it glowed with a strange black light that seemed to take away whatever illumination was nearby. The woman's eyelids started to flutter and her desperate gasps calmed. Only a few seconds passed before her eyes closed and her head lolled forward. The man loosened his grip on her throat and gently lowered her to the ground, the strange lack of light disappearing from around the stone. The woman lay motionless, her chest rising and falling in the gentle rhythm of sleep. He reached out and gently ran his fingers over her frame, pausing at large wrinkles in her clothing.
It only took a moment for him to find what he was looking for. Halfway up her right arm, his fingers touched something hard and unyielding. He quickly pulled up her sleeve, revealing a stone just slightly smaller around than his own. It was orange with yellow streaks radiating from the center, and it appeared to have an inner glow of its own that made it resemble the sun. The man slipped his fingers beneath the stone and pulled sharply, removing it from where it sat on her flesh and leaving a red mark the size and shape of the stone. His new prize disappeared into a pocket and he rose, turning and disappearing into the main road once more. Once he got far enough away, the woman would awaken again and move to the safety of her house. By then, he would be gone.
The man strolled down the street at a sedate pace, hands in his pockets. He continually felt the newly stolen stone, as if he needed the assurance that it was still where he'd left it. A few times, he passed pairs of patrolling guards, and nodded silent greetings. The guards paid him no extra attention and he passed them without issue. As he approached the edge of town, the patrols thinned and then disappeared entirely. The outer ring of the town was home to the rogues and ruffians that frequented any town, and most of the places they frequented had struck up deals with the local guards and soldiers that kept the area under minimal military control.
As soon as he left the more respectable area of town, the conditions of the streets worsened, the stones loose and uneven. The torchlight became more sporadic, offering only enough illumination to see by. Buildings were visible in greater states of disrepair the further he went, and most of them were dark. Somewhere, a dog barked loudly, and a few people in threadbare clothing lounged about the streets or skulked in dark corners. All of them had eyes for the man, but he paid them no mind. He was sure of his ability to ward off thieves or bandits should the need present itself.
The tavern he was headed to made itself known. It was only well-lit building in the area, with light spilling from the grimy windows and a single dim, flickering lantern hung over the door. A sign swung gently, the image and name mostly worn away. General noise made its way outside through the thin glass, and a couple of rather loud men sat just outside, smoking. They were arguing over something, but it appeared to be in jest, as both of them were grinning and laughing as they presented new arguments. Listening, the man doubted that they even knew what they were saying; their words made absolutely no sense. There was a good possibility that they had drunk a few glasses too many that night.
The man moved past the two bickering smokers without even attracting their eyes, slipping into the tavern. At this time of night, the tables were packed with all sorts of nocturnal rogues. Large muscled men bet loudly at tables and their hands moved to nearby weapons whenever someone did something unexpected. Smaller, squirrelly men gathered and talked amongst themselves, occasionally snitching something from a nearby pocket. Other men relaxed in their chairs, playing cards or talking to their companions. A few women were scattered throughout the tavern's patrons, most with some kind of weapon in evidence. Smoke covered the ceiling, its acrid smell mixing with the scent of roasted meat and the ever-present alcohol. Serving girls moved throughout the room, balancing trays as they navigated the maze of tables. A fire burned in a large stone fireplace and provided the room with light.
Ignoring most of the other patrons, the man moved to one of the darker corners of the tavern, where a booth sat mostly unoccupied. A single man, a large hood casting his features in darkness, sat in one of the benches, and the man could feel eyes on him even though he couldn't see them. The hooded man was twirling a small, ornate dagger between his fingers, and the other hand was tucked away elsewhere. The tavern's newcomer slid into the opposite bench.
"You're late," the hooded man accused, the dagger disappearing into the large sleeves of his hooded robe. Dagger gone, he clasped his hands together, smooth and unmarked fingers interlacing delicately. He leaned forward slightly, his mouth the only visible part of his face. "I thought we agreed to meet yesterday. What kept you?"
The thief frowned, leaning back in his seat and waving a serving girl over. She hurried past a man who was playing a lute rather badly and ducked under the exaggerated gestures of a mercenary, stopping next to the table with a surprising amount of grace. "One glass of ale, please, and a plate of whatever I smell cooking," he asked. The girl smiled and nodded, looking expectantly at the other man, but he just waved her away. Once she left, silence stretched between the two men for a lengthy amount of time, and the thief was content to let it keep going, but his companion was not.
"Well?" the hooded man demanded after impatiently waiting for about five minutes.
"Let me get some food and drink in me, and then we'll talk. I've been sitting in one spot for four hours; I need sustenance," the thief said. His companion growled something insulting under his breath but didn't push the issue. The silence between the two continued, even though the rest of the tavern continued to be loud and boisterous. It didn't take too much longer for the serving girl to reappear, holding a frothy mug and a plate of steaming, perfectly cooked meat. The thief thanked her, starting to work on his meal while the hooded man watched in silence.
As the thief ate, the other man started to fidget with his hands, an action that either came from impatience or nervousness. He waited until the thief had polished off about half of the meal before speaking up again, his tone demanding. He was not going to be ignored any longer. "So, why didn't you come last night, as we'd agreed?" he asked.
Wiping his mouth on a sleeve of his jacket, the thief leaned back once more and answered, "Because I wasn't ready yet. My job takes a little bit more effort than you seem to think. I can't just go up to someone and say, 'hey, may I please have your barach?' No one would listen. I have to figure out how to get it, learn about them. It just so happened that my best chance was tonight, something I hadn't known when we'd set up the rendezvous a week ago. Besides, a little wait doesn't hurt anybody. You could learn a bit more patience."
The hooded man grit his teeth, one hand clenching into a fist, but he offered no comeback. "Well, my being here is riskier than you seem to think. If someone sees me here, so far from home, questions will be raised and they will not be good ones. Your own involvement would become known and that would bring up a new round of inquiries, something neither of us want. Your absence last night only increased the risk of my being spotted. I would like to avoid that outcome if at all possible, but to do so, I have to know if you're planning to abandon a planned rendezvous."
"I don't see what the big deal is. Yeah, you ran a little risk. So what? Everyone around here does; it's nothing special. Besides, I finished the job just like you asked. Here." The thief fished the light, slightly glowing stone from his pocket and offered it to his companion, making sure to keep the back of his hand facing the tavern so no prying eyes could identify the object. The hooded man snatched it away, turning it over in his hands. He looked it over slowly before pocketing it, apparently satisfied.
"Nice job, despite the extended schedule," the hooded man said. His head turned to the side, most likely so he could survey the tavern, before he dug out a small stack of silver coins. Still keeping an eye out over the tavern, he slid them to his companion. The thief snatched them up, flipping them through his fingers in a quick count. He came up with five and frowned, recounting with the same result.
"We agreed on six." The hooded man pulled his attention back to the table, crossing his arms over his chest.
"And I knocked it down to five because of the wait." The thief growled, eyes flashing. The hooded man smirked, which only served to irritate his companion further. "If you'd come yesterday, you would have gotten your full six. Besides, it's a single silver. The next job that I have in mind will more than cover your loss."
Scoffing, the thief sprawled back in his seat and grabbed his mug, taking a large gulp. "And what makes you think I want to continue working for you?" There was no answer for a moment, and he assumed his mysterious companion was simply considering. Finally, the hooded man reached into his pocket, and the thief caught the glint of gold. Two gold pieces materialized from the robe for a second before disappearing again. The thief stared at the pocket for a long few seconds before leaning forward attentively. "I'm listening."
The smirk turned into a full-blown smile and the hooded man sat back in his seat. "Good. It's going to be much like this last job, only with more travel and a larger list. Now pay attention, since I don't want to say this again." The thief listened with interest. This latest job sounded even more fun than what he'd just finished.