The Émigré Saga Serialisation - Part 3

The Émigré Saga Serialisation - Part 3

The Émigré Saga is a slightly tongue-in-cheek fantasy written by TS Koomar that follows the (mis)adventures of the larger than life pawnbroker Morley as he attempts a daring heist from the Royal Academy Library in order to pay of his fearsome loan sharks.

SFBook is proud to be serialising the novel over the next few months, this time it's Part 3, you can read the previous chapters first if you missed out on Part 1 and Part 2

I: In Which my Timing Proves Inopportune

’Twas a long winter after we liberated the legendary artifact, the Synergist, from its master. Veeda did not come to me once. Most likely, she was locked away for disobeying her parents. Finn, too, came around my shop with less regularity than he had previously. Spiro was my main company, and he stopped in several times a week to see if I had sold the Synergist. I had not.

The stone’s singular nature made it nearly impossible to discuss. More than once, a trusted buyer thought I was playing joke when I mentioned it. The stress and fear of being discovered wore on me. Increasingly, I found stray hairs in my washbasin. Ere long, the toll made itself manifest in a naked patch of scalp on the crown of my head. The long winter wore on to spring; the rains came and went, but the Synergist remained hidden away in my cellar.

Finally, in the early days of summer, a Buyer came calling. His long dark hair fell onto the shoulders of his waistcoat. A pair of clever grey eyes perched about a small upturned nose. I had no dealings with him before, but he knew exactly what he wanted.

“I hear tell you have an alchemical catalyst of vast power,” he said as he sauntered into my lonely shop one humid day.

“Where did you hear this, friend?” My suspicion was immediately aroused.

“Several… mutual acquaintances,” he folded his hands atop the counter.

“I do not believe we know one another,” I forced a smile, “I am Morley. And you are?”

“’Twould be best for us both if I didn’t say,” he smiled like a crocodile, “I believe our mutual friends believed you jested when offering them the artifact in question, but I knew better.”

“How now,” I pretended to laugh, “I am afraid you did not. In truth, ’twas but a joke.”

“You do not have to lie to me,” he tilted his head forward with a simmering intensity.

I looked him up and down, searching my memory. I was certain I had never beheld him before. He might have been with the city guard – or worse, some agent of Terrelum. No doubt the Synergist’s former owner would not hesitate to annihilate me if I stood between him and his prize.

“This business I run, is built on trust,” I asserted, “I cannot trust you if I do not know who you are.”

I am inconsequential,” he assured me, “’Tis who I represent that is important.”

“And who might that be?” I folded my arms.

“Someone willing,” he reached into his pocket, removing a thickly rolled piece of vellum, “To part with 200 acres of arable land and 100 acres of adjacent forest, for the alchemical catalyst in question.”

“Ha!” I laughed, now sure he was not from the guard, for they would be smart enough to offer me money, “What would I do with all that land? I’m a pawnbroker, not a farmer.”

“You could sell it,” he unfolded the vellum, smoothing it upon the counter, “For quite a profit.”

“You may consider your offer considered,” I smiled, “And rejected. You may please leave.”

“Wait now, and look at this,” he pointed to the paper, “This is the deed, which is officially the property of Finch & Sons bank. I also possess all the paperwork to have it signed over to you. This transaction can, in no way, be traced back to my employer. The transfer of a suitable amount of gold to purchase your absolute silence on the issue would attract… unwanted attention.”

“An intriguing ploy,” I admitted, “But I shall not bite.”

In truth, my resolve was eroding. The Synergist was naught but a headache. Being rid of it safely would be worth the hassle of selling the land.

“You have, of course, the option of bringing the deed back to the bank, who would be quite willing to repurchase it,” the Buyer jumped at the slightest hint of my unease, “For a decent fortune, no less.”

I examined the deed. ’Twas stamped with the official seal of the Land Controller, and genuine as a freshly minted coin.

“All you have to do is sign,” the Buyer beamed, “The rest has been arranged.”

“You wish to settle this now?” I had not truly believed him when he said it earlier.

“Indeed.”

I thought for but a moment, pulled out a pen and inkwell from under the counter, and signed.

“And now?” The Buyer requested expectantly.

I hopped off my stool, heart racing. I had done it. The curse was lifted – or so I thought. I ran to lock the door as a precaution, then hurried to the cellar. I retrieved the Synergist (now housed in a humble cedar box), and returned to the Buyer.

“Here ’tis,” I placed the box on the counter.

Opening it slowly, the man’s eyes widened at the sight of what was housed within. Closing it quickly, he nodded politely.

“Take care,” he bowed slightly, unbolting the door and letting himself out as I sat in a daze.

I could not wait to tell Spiro. Thankfully, I did not have to bide my time for long. ’Twas mere minutes, in fact.

He hurried through my door, Veeda in tow. Already excited by my good news, my spirits were further lifted at the sight of my nearly estranged young friend.

“Good gracious, what an auspicious day,” I hopped off my stool, “Have I some balmy news for you all.”

“The Synergist,” Veeda demanded without so much as a hello.

“Where is it?” Spiro finished her thought.

“And a pleasant day to the two of you as well,” I put my hands on my hips, “You had better be nicer to me or I won’t tell you a thing.”

“Where the hell is it!?” Spiro demanded.

“I just sold it!” I beamed, “Though the payment was a touch unconventional.”

Their faces went slack, though I hardly noticed. My heart was still soaring from my triumph.

“How just did you sell it?” Veeda gulped.

“It walked out of here not two minutes ago,” my confusion grew, “I didn’t know you all wanted to be here to witness the occasion.”

“What was he wearing?” Spiro demand, “The buyer, and which way did he go?”

“He was a tall fellow in a red waistcoat. Had long hair and a clean shaven face, he did,” I continued to grasp for some understanding, “He headed east. Now what ever has gotten into the two of you?”

Without a word, Spiro spun on his heel, bolted across the shop, out the door, and down the street. I looked to Veeda with supreme perplexity.

“We need the stone,” she wrung her hands, “Finn has been poisoned! ’Tis but the only way I can produce an antidote ere the toxin takes him.”

“By the Uncreated…” I said in disbelief.

“Go to him,” Veeda took a deep breath and gathered her thoughts, “He lives at 174 Fountainview. I shall meet you there when I have the information I need. Spiro will certainly make his way there after he tails your Buyer.”

“I don’t–” I began to beseech her, but with that, she too spun round and fled my shop.

“What is going on?” I asked myself, “And what have I done?”

***

By this time, Spiro was already several blocks to the east. He kept his head high, searching the street for any sign of his quarry. The road teemed with longshoremen and other common-folk, but he could spy no one as formal as the man I described.

Just then, the rolling clatter of horse hooves barreled down the street from behind him. ’Twas a coach, the two-horse kind which often careen through my home city’s streets with little regard for the pedestrians underfoot. Spiro smiled at the sound, and ceased his running.

The crowd around him parted to form a path for the quickly approaching vehicle. He followed suit, stepping a bit to the right, but when the speeding coach passed by, he jumped after it. Catching hold of a railing on the rear, he placed one foot on the axle to keep himself steady.

“Hey!” The coach driver turned and yelled.

Spiro paid the man no mind, instead using his improved elevation to search for his quarry. Still, the man was nowhere to be found.

“Get off you sodding wanker!” The driver yelled at our burglar whilst he struggled to keep tabs on his galloping steeds.

“Gotta be catching up on him soon,” Spiro hoped against hope.

“I said get off!” The driver turned and readied his whip in Spiro’s direction.

“Wait!” Spiro shouted, catching sight of a red garment in the distance.

“Get the hell off!” The driver provided his final warning.

“Just a tad longer,” Spiro said to himself as they gained on the man he hoped was his target.

The driver was clearly unwilling to grant this request. Taking his eyes off the road, he raised his snake whip and brought it down upon Spiro. Our burglar was prepared. He raised his left forearm (protected by a sturdy metal bracer) to defend against the blow. The whip wrapped around his arm several times, much to his satisfaction.

Releasing his hold on the carriage, Spiro fell to the ground running. The whip, still wrapped around his arm, was ripped from the driver’s hand.

“Dirty lout!” The driver hollered.

“Much obliged,” Spiro laughed back, unwinding the whip from his arm.

The pedestrians regarded him with shocked stares. He did not notice these, as his focus was purely on the man in the red waistcoat (who, I may as well tell you now, was indeed my Buyer). Rolling up the whip, Spiro shoved it in his pocket as he fought to catch up with the Buyer.

They were approaching the walls of the Old Quarter, which straddles the mouth of the Vallis River. There, the wide thoroughfares of the docks and Longshoreman’s quarter fracture off in many directions, narrowing to the point that but two or three men can walk down them abreast. The buildings, many three or four stories tall, shroud these crooked streets in nearly perpetual shadow.

“Shite,” Spiro whispered to himself, “I’ll lose him if I can’t get closer.”

He couldn’t. Just within the walls, The Buyer turned down an alley choked by a throng of commoners on their way to the market. Spying a freshly remodled building, Spiro was struck with inspiration. The building was outfitted with those newfangled gutters and drainpipes. Grabbing hold of a pipe along the building’s corner, he pressed his feet against the wall, and began to climb.

This certainly attracted the attention of those on the street, as well as the watchmen posted at the nearby gate. They yelled at Spiro to desist (an order which he promptly ignored). Hurrying up the side of the building, he found he could climb faster than he expected, but ’twas quite strenuous. Once on the roof, he took a moment to catch his breath.

“Could come in handy,” he panted, “Too bad there’s nothing worth stealing in this dump.”

Hurrying in the direction the Buyer had headed, Spiro soon spotted him down on the street. Keeping a touch away from the edge, Spiro prayed he wouldn’t look up, for there was no way to keep sight of him without being visible himself.

The Buyer turned down an alley away from the building Spiro was on. Spiro girded himself, and lunged across the chasm of the street. ’Twas no great distance, but the roof to which he jumped had a steep pitch. He landed softly enough, but immediately began to slide down. Running forward, he made no progress, as his feet failed to gain traction. Looking back, he beheld the deadly ground looming beneath, and the Buyer escaping.

Finally, he lunged forward, falling on his stomach. Slowly, he slid a touch, ere stopping. Carefully rising to his knees, he searched the street for his mark. The Buyer was already at another intersection, and turning again. Shifting to his feet, Spiro jumped to the next roof. This one had a more reasonable slope, and he landed solidly. Rushing to the peak, he stood tall to keep an eye on the Buyer.

From his bird’s eyes view, Spiro could see that his mark, moving so randomly through the fractured streets, was generally heading south. Undoubtedly, he was bound for the High Quarter, where the Academy and Grand Basilica reside. If Spiro could make it to the Old City’s wall ere The Buyer did, he might yet retrieve the Synergist.

Sliding down the roof, Spiro lunged forward at the last moment, hurling himself to the next rooftop. He hurried like this from one building to the next, making swift progress toward the High Quarter. Ere long, he was there.

“Shite,” he paused at the peak of a roof adjacent to the Old Wall, “How am I gonna get to the sodding ground?”

None of the buildings around had the same sort of drainpipes he had climbed up. There was the wall itself, of course. Even if he made the leap to it, though, ’tis the center of Brimgaet’s city watch. The only way down from its battlement was through a guard tower full of watchmen.

Looking back and down to the street, Spiro beheld his mark pushing against the crowd and toward him. He was running out of time. Straining his eyes, he searched for some method to reach the ground safely. Then, he saw it. Two buildings away was a stout, two-story inn. Most importantly, there were balconies on its second floor. Hurrying across the gaps, he steadied himself for the jump down.

Leaping softly, he tumbled forward as he landed on the lower roof. He tried to stop himself, but continued the roll downward. Leaning back, he tried to grab hold of the shingles, but ’twas no use. He slid off the roof, and toward the ground. Wheeling round, he reached up as his body became weightless. His hand, remarkably, found the railing of the balcony, and stopped his descent.

He looked to the ground as perspiration dripped from his brow and down to the dusty street, “Too bloody close.”

The sweat loosened his grip. He slipped. Tumbling to the ground, he fell flat on his back. The distance was not great enough to break him, but it forced the air from his lungs.

A man rushed to him, offering a hand, “You all right?”

Spiro waved the aid away, shaking his head as his lungs spasmed. Rolling onto his feet, he struggled to keep his eyes focused.

“Best take it easy, friend,” the passerby helped our burglar to his feet.

Still lacking the breath to speak, he replied with a sarcastic nod, and stumbled toward the gate to the High Quarter. He was too late.

The Buyer was through as Spiro neared the portal. His breath slowly returning, he struggled to catch up, but his legs were sore from the jumping and tumbling. He put his head down to avoid notice.

Staying on the man’s tail, Spiro followed him around a corner and down a long street. Finally, the Buyer turned again, and entered a building. With great sandstone columns and a red facade, ’twas an impressive sight. A slow trickle of people moved in and out of the great doors. Squinting into the sunlight, Spiro looked up to a great banner hung between the pillars:

Welcome to Horatio Stronthum’s New and Expanded Cabinet of Curiosity

II: In Which we Visit Finn

’Twas scarcely an hour after Veeda and Spiro ran out of my shop that I was in the Low Quarter, searching out Finn’s residence. I should note here that (despite what its name might suggest) the Low Quarter is the poshest of Brimgaet’s quarters. ’Twas here the city’s cultural elite, aristocrats and bureaucrats rubbed shoulders. That Finn could afford to live in such a place surprised me. Then again, I had no idea what his true occupation was.

I shuddered to imagine the pain he might be experiencing as I searched for his home. He could have been given belladonna, making him thrash and rave as he beheld the faces of the dead and fearsome demons which did not truly exist. Or, perchance ’twas monkshood, causing him to spew forth from all his openings until his heart shriveled from the lack of water.

Then again, these poisons worked rapidly. If there was a chance to save him, it must have been something slower. Mandrake root, perchance. He might be lying in pain, struggling to breathe with swollen legs. I quivered as I pictured his face, gaunt from the inability to eat and yellow from the great buildup of bile in his body. Who would do such a thing to a man, instead of placing a dagger in his back and having it over quick?

After a few dirty looks and curt directions toward Fountainview (for I clearly did not belong in this exclusive part of town), I found the residence. ’Twas one of those narrow three story flats which is part of one long building stretching the length of the entire block. Crossing through a small gate, mounting the stairs and ringing the bell, I was greeted by a handsome woman with salty blonde hair.

“Aye?” She asked with a husky voice and nervous eyes.

“Is your master in?” I inquired, rather unsure of the proper etiquette, for I had never called on such a residence.

Master?” She cocked and eyebrow, “You mean Finn?”

“Certainly. My name is Morley. Some mutual friends told me he isn’t well.”

“Shh!” The woman grabbed my collar and pulled me through the door, “Someone might overhear. He don’t want anyone to know.”

“Apologies,” I grimaced, “They didn’t tell me much. And you are?”

“Mister Finn’s deputy.”

“His ‘deputy’?”

“Well, he calls me his sous chef,”she rolled her rimy blue eyes, “But I don’t mix tongues, and I think deputy fits me better.”

“Indeed,” I was dumbfounded, but began to lose myself in the contours of her face, thus leaving me with little desire to inquire further.

“Well, he’s laid up in the drawing room. I can show you there,” she released my collar and led the way up a set of stairs at the far end of the entryway.

“Thank you, Mrs…?” I asked following.

“It’s Miss, sir. Dowdy’s the name, but I prefer my given one.”

’Twas a rather unfortunate name. I understood her desire to go by something else, but could not understand how such a striking woman should reach what must have been my own age without attracting a husband. Perchance she was widow, which is why she preferred to go by her first name.

“And what would that name be?” I requested.

“Myfanwy,” she said, leading the way down a short hallway, “But ‘friends’ call me Myf.”

’Twas not much better, I thought. It certainly didn’t fit her. She had sharp eyes flanked with regal cheekbones, a strong nose and angled chin. She deserved a more stately, though certainly not ornate, name. I resolved to think of one for her.

She stared at me with increasing skepticism as I considered these things. Finally, she indicated the door though which Finn awaited.

“Oh, sorry!” I returned to the present and hurried through to see my friend, the gonif, reclining on a sofa.

“Thank you Myf,” he said to her, “You may leave us. Be sure to admit Veeda promptly when she returns.”

“Yessir,” Myfanwy nodded in acknowledgment and left us.

“You don’t look too terribly bad,” I studied Finn’s blank face.

His pallor was healthy enough, and he didn’t seem to have any trouble breathing. I walked over to the sofa where he lay with an expression of encouragement.

“Mind if I join you?” I indicated to the seat which his legs occupied.

“I would not, but I cannot move those,” he pointed to his legs, “Did Veeda not tell you?”

I shrugged in embarrassment, “Only that you’d been… poisoned.”

“Then take a seat, and I will tell you what I am able,” he tilted his head in the direction of a nearby armchair, “Though I am quite certain she withheld some information from me. She probably believes the truth will frighten me.”

“What is it then?” I inquired, taking the seat.

“The poison posseses some strange Panian name I could not pronounce, but the effects are easy enough to comprehend. A protracted progression of paralysis. It begins at the legs, before taking the arms. Finally, it works its way up the torso until the lungs seize and I suffocate.”

“By the Uncreated,” I had never heard of such a thing, “But Veeda says there is a cure.”

“Undoubtedly,” he sighed, leaning his head back, “But her demeanor suggests a distinct problem with procuring it.”

“Well,” I crossed my arms, with a sidelong glance, realizing he didn’t know about the loss of the Synergist, “I don’t know a thing about that. They stormed into my shop, told me you were ill, then hurried out without explanation.”

Finn squinted at me. I didn’t wish to worry him, but I knew he would see through my charade. I opted to think of something else, to throw him off course. A smile peaked at the corner of my lips as I thought of the woman I had just met. Stroking my mustache, I tried to look earnest. He said nothing.

“So…” I finally spoke, “If ’tis poison as Veeda said, who would have done such a thing?”

“I have no clue,” Finn sighed with his eyes on the ceiling, “I have a few enemies, but no rivals, per se. No one who would directly benefit from my death.”

“’Twas Terrelum,” Veeda’s voice came unexpectedly from the doorway, making me jump in my seat.

“What?” I asked as she entered the drawing room, “If he knows we were responsible for the theft, we could be next!”

“Nonsense,” Veeda crossed her arms, “If he knew that, I would have been first.”

“Then why would he take this action toward me?” Finn wondered aloud.

“Because you started a duel over his daughter,” she threw her palms toward the ceiling.

“Whom he loves above all else,” he nodded.

“So he viewed it as an insult?” I surmised.

“More like an attack,” Veeda replied, “I would not be surprised to learn that the man you challenged was afflicted similarly. Terrelum would do anything to protect what he views as his.

Especially now that he has lost the Synergist.”

“An obsessed man will cling desperately to what he has left when his obsession is taken away,” I observed, “Even if it destroys everything he loves.”

“He be blinded,” Finn agreed, “If he poisoned us both, it would clearly point to him.”

“Indeed,” Veeda took a seat in an armchair, “But he is untouchable. Remember, everyone believes he still has the Synergist, which makes him too powerful to challenge.”

“We blackmail him, then,” I posited, “We could demand a cure or we will reveal his loss of the Synergist.”

Finn raised his brows in contemplation, “What think you, Veeda? Would he be persuaded, or be he too desperate?”

“Most likely, he is too unstable. He would pursue us even at ruinous risk to himself,” Veeda shook her head, “We must begin working on the cure immediately.”

“Will it be completed…” Finn trailed off, his eyes fixed upon his unfeeling feet, “Before I expire?”

“Of course!” Veeda jumped up, before realizing she had betrayed some of the truth, “But the ingredients are rather exotic. It will take time to procure them.”

“With Morley’s help, I’m sure it’ll take no time at all,” Spiro said, silently arriving in the doorway.

“By the Uncreated!” I jumped at the sudden sound of his voice, “Why do you people keep doing that? How long have you been there?”

“Just,” he began to enter the room.

“No!” Finn held up a hand, though his back was toward the door where Spiro had entered.

Spiro stopped dead in his tracks.

“Away,” Finn commanded, the muscles in his cheeks tensing.

“I–“ Spiro barely had time to speak.

“Leave!” Finn shouted, turning just enough to see Spiro from the corner of his eye, “You are the reason I am like this. We did not steal that stone to save someone’s life. We did it for your vapid, selfish, stupid pride. Your hubris will be my death!”

Spiro opened his mouth to speak, but he could not find the words. With downcast eyes he shook his head and swallowed painfully hard. Walking backward, he exited the room.

“The rest of you should leave as well,” he said through pursed lips, “I have no hope, and you know it.”

I stood, and headed for the door. Veeda stayed in her place, staring at Finn. I turned back to her with an expectant look, but she didn’t follow. Stepping toward Finn, her brows sternly furrowed.

“You have hope,” she said with equal tones of frustration and compassion, “You have us.”

A quick exhalation through his nose was his only reply. I motioned for Veeda to follow. She complied, and the two of us journeyed downstairs. In the entryway at the base of the steps, Myfanwy was waiting.

“Well, your friend beat it out of here quite quick, didn’t he?” She said, tilting her bonny head in the direction of the door.

“He’s upset,” I replied.

“Well, we all are – but I’m not about to cry, am I?” She put her hands on her hips.

“No,” I paused on the bottom step, turning to her, “And if you did, I think I should teach the one responsible quite the lesson.”

She smiled back quizzically, ere Veeda gave me a push on the shoulder.

“We must away, Morley,” she reminded me.

“How now? I know that,” I left the stairs and made for the door.

Outside, and back on the street, we found Spiro leaning against the wrought iron fence which separated the row of flats from the street. His head tilted toward the sun, his breath was rough and uneven. His arms were crossed, fingers digging into the dark cloth of his shirt.

“We can’t let this happen,” he said as I opened the little gate in the fence, “I can’t be responsible for this.”

“Listen!” Veeda grabbed him by the collar, “Terrelum is culpable, not you. The responsibility lay on him. You must quit this talk, or we shall get nowhere.”

Spiro nodded quickly, his face struggling to put on a resolute facade.

“Were you able to retrieve it?” I inquired, looking about the street to assess how we might be overheard.

Spiro shook his head, “But I know where ’tis.”

“Where?” Veeda noticed my behavior and likewise looked about suspiciously.

“The ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’, in the High Quarter,” he replied, “I saw the buyer enter an office with the parcel, but…”

“But what?” Veeda hissed.

“I spied him place it in a lockbox – with one of those newfangled ‘Smithward Radial’ locks on it…” Spiro trailed off on a note of despair.

“And?” I asked.

“They don’t use keys!” He said with exasperation, “You can’t pick ‘em.”

“There has to be a way,” Veeda insisted, “And I know where you can find it.”

“What?” Spiro tilted his head to the side.

“The Smithward workshop,” Veeda lowered her voice, “’Tis on the west edge of the Old Quarter. Get in there and secure a partially constructed one – or even better – the plans to assemble one.”

“Break into a locksmith’s workshop?” I had to catch myself to keep from shouting incredulously.

“I’ll do it,” Spiro’s voice hardened, “’Tis but the only way, right?”

“We cannot prepare an antidote in time without it,” Veeda assured him.

“Then I’m off,” Spiro pushed between us and moved away, “We’ll meet back at your shop?”

“Indeed,” I replied.

“And for you,” Veeda reached into her robes, procuring a scrap of parchment, “I require these ingredients. Some are rather exotic, but I am sure you can acquire them.”

“With my contacts,” I placed the note in my pocket without reading it, “It shouldn’t be a problem. There are a few things I am unclear on, though.”

“Let us move,” Veeda peered about the street again, “I must get back home.”

The two of us set off down the streets of the Low Quarter, speaking as quietly as we could.

“Why precisely need we the stone in order to produce the cure?” I asked.

“‘Twould take months to distill an adequate amount without its aid,” Veeda replied, “And we have but days until he is dead. It likely took Terrelum all these months to prepare the poison without it.”

“And how did he get to Finn?” I asked.

“I know not,” Veeda replied, “It must be ingested, but the particulars are not of immediate importance.”

“And how did you discover all this?”

“Spiro found my house, though I know not how, and snuck me out. The doctor Finn hired could not diagnose it, but I recognized the symptoms after examining his shakras,” she shrugged, “The poison operates by strangest mechanism. It actually draws on magical energies, using the body to focus them – even if the afflicted has no knowledge of the arcane.”

“Wait,” I pondered, “Spiro snuck you out? Of your own home?”

“My parents – my father in particular – forbade me to leave after I disobeyed and went to the ball,” she sighed, “I hope you did not think my absence was due to some displeasure with you.”

“Of course not,” I shook my head, “But, couldn’t you have explained to them you had to leave because a friend was ill? They would have denied you that?”

“They know nothing of any of you,” she admitted, “If they discovered I had acquaintances, let alone friends, which I hid from them… ‘twould be unpleasant.”

“Awful,” I cast my eyes to the sidewalk.

“What?”

“They chose to instruct you in the ways of magic, and now, because of their choice, they’re keeping you a prisoner for your own protection.”

“’Tis how my mother has lived for decades,” Veeda nodded, “But it is unfair. To speak the truth, though, I would have studied the arcane on my own had they chosen otherwise.”

“You mother is a…?” I looked to her with surprise.

“Of course,” Veeda chuckled a bit, “Was that not clear? In her homeland, magic is not solely the purview of men.”

“Fascinating,” I pondered, “I believe I know very little of that far eastern land.”

“Neither do I,” Veeda frowned, “Speaking of her homeland always makes Mother so… desolate.”

“I can imagine so,” I breathed deep, “I believe I should die rather than abandon this country.”

“You might feel different if you were forced to actually make that choice,” she said, not understanding the prophetic irony of the words.

“How now,” I realized we had been walking some time, and I was quite disoriented, “Where are we going?”

“Here,” Veeda stopped.

We were before the gate of a three story house with dormers and a tiled roof (as was the style in the Low Quarter). A few ancient oaks stood in the rather small front lawn.

“That is how Spiro ‘sprung me loose’, as he put it,” Veeda pointed to where the great branches of one of the oaks neared a dormer window, “How he knew my quarters are up there, I cannot say.”

“I shall see you at my shop, then?” I asked.

“Aye… Morley?” Veeda frowned, tilting her head forward and looking at me from beneath her lashes

“What is it?” I was taken aback by her suddenly shy demeanor.

“I fear a confrontation with my parents is currently inevitable.”

“I understand.”

“I may… I may have to leave, if I am to help you save Finn.”

“You must do what you think is best,” a touch of fear crept into my belly.

“If it comes to pass, I will need somewhere to stay,” she looked to the side, avoiding me.

“I suppose you shall,” I pitied the poor lass.

“Morley…?” She leaned a tad toward me.

“Aye?” I was perplexed by both her attitude and what she was saying.

“May I stay with you?” She finally requested, having given me plenty of chances to offer.

“Oh!” I shook my head in surprise, “Of course you may! My home is the lair of a bachelor, but the cellar can be rearranged to provide plenty of space. Would that suit you?”

“Certainly,” she smiled meekly, “’Twould provide me enough space to set up my alchemical apparatuses?”

“Indeed, and you are welcome to use any I may have in stock.”

Veeda nodded her head gratefully in slow silence.

“Which way is the river?” I asked, trying to orient myself.

“That way,” a smile broke through her sullenness as she pointed over my shoulder.

“Oh, yes. Of course. I knew…” I trailed off as a disturbing realization struck me.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, no,” I said, for I was not sure if there was or not, “I shall see you anon.”

I turned toward the river and pondered. I had dealt with Horatio Stronthum (the Cabinet of Curiosity’s owner) before. Indeed, he solicited specific items from me more than once. Why he sent a middleman to acquire the Synergist was clear enough, but why did he want the stone at all? ’Twas so famous, he could not risk exhibiting it. This conundrum occupied my mind as I headed toward the market to begin collecting the reagents necessary for the cure.

III: In Which Plans are Made

Midnight found Spiro outside the Smithward workshop. The building was quite secure, with but two entrances. Both were bolted from the inside, a workman staying within to keep watch. Smithward needed the security, for he had defied the locksmith’s guild by selling his new inventions without sharing the plans with other members. Now, he was a marked man, but a very rich one. His “uncrackable” radial locks commanded an incredibly high price.

Spiro would have to find a way through a second story window, without alerting the watchman on the first floor. In a secluded alley adjoining a nearby building, he was able to secure his grapple hook (the sort oft used by marines to board enemy vessels) to a gutter and scaled the wall.

“I’ve just about had it with running about rooftops,” he mumbled as he pulled himself onto the roof and drew up the rope.

Moving across the roof, he examined the windows of the workshop’s second story. They too appeared bolted from the inside, so breaking a pane seemed the only way. He would have to be quick, as remaining totally undetected was simply not possible.

The moonlight at his back, he peered within the workshop. The windows were part of an office with a few desks and large tables. They appeared strewn with metal bits and tools, but production surely took place down on the floor, not in this office. Then, he saw them. A substantial stack of parchment on the corner of one table. Through the cloudy panes of glass, he could almost make out what was on them.

“Could it be?” He mumbled with a slight gasp.

They appeared to be drawings. Perhaps, the diagrams Veeda needed to work out the secret of the radial lock. He needed into that office, above all else.

Wrapping the rope about his waist, he tied some kind of strange knot into it. ‘Twould allow him to ascend, but keep him from falling. The distance to the workshop was not too great, but the building had no gutters nor anything else to hook onto. He would have to send the hook through the window he was to enter. He needed to be quick. Crouching low, he took aim for a pane adjacent to a bolt securing the window closed. The window was latticed into squares, so the hook would have to catch on the cross bar.

“Can’t feck this up,” he mumbled, as his hands began to quiver.

“Stop it,” he addressed his fingers, clenching them repeatedly, “Maybe ’tis your fault. Maybe you are the cause. Maybe you oughtta be damned for avarice and pride, but that can wait. We gotta save Finn. Then we can pay penance.”

Breathing deep, he steadied himself. Taking aim once more, he began to spin the grapple. It whirled and whirled, as he focused on his target. Finally released, it flew from his hands, breaking through the pane, and hooking onto the lattice. ’Twas not as loud as he expected, but if the guard was awake, he surely heard it. If he was not, it still may have woken him.

Rapidly moving to the edge of the roof, he gently slid off, one hand on the rope, the other on the knot. He arced down through the air, his feet silently resting on the wall. He had but a few feet to climb, and he would reach the window. Gripping the rope tight, he took a step up. The window lattice creaked with strain.

“Feck,” he climbed another step, for there was little time.

The lattice moved this time, dislodging the pane beneath it.

“Sodding feck,” he hissed as he lost balance, his feet sliding out from beneath him.

Just then, a shout issued from the main street, not far from the workshop. Simultaneously, the the lattice broke. Spiro tumbled to the ground. Rolling to the side, he used the momentum to spring to his feet. Pulling at the knot, he struggled to release himself from the rope.

Another shout sounded from around the workshop. This one was a different voice. Finally freeing himself from his own knot, Spiro ducked into the shadow of the building he had just jumped from. Edging toward the street, he leaned out whilst remaining in the shadow. What he beheld filled him with dread.

A crowd of more than a dozen men were standing across the street from the workshop. Some carried torches, but most stood with their hands taught at their sides. The whole group seemed to vibrate with fury.

“What in the name of the Uncreated are you doing here?” Spiro whispered to himself.

Footsteps sounded from behind him, so he ducked back into the relative safety of the alley. ’Twas three more men, headed for the crowd. The others seemed to take stock that their number was growing. Some turned inward to feverously discuss, but Spiro could not discern what.

After another moment, they ceased their discussion, and one man began to slowly chant, “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor.”

Keeping with the rhythm the first laid down, others joined in. ’Twas then Spiro understood. These were fellow locksmiths, or their apprentices. They had come to make their displeasure heard. Why they chose so late at night was not clear, though. Anon, the city watch would surely be around to disperse them. The guards would most likely stay in the area to drive off stragglers as well. This was the last thing Spiro needed.

“What to do?” He leaned against the wall, butting his fists into one another, “What would Finn do?”

Though it risks interrupting this very exciting episode, it should be definitively noted here that Spiro had the highest respect for Finn. Spiro was in constant awe of the former gonif’s abilities, and was certain he could be better if he were only more like him. Finn’s anger did nothing to deter these feelings, but it did cut him deeply.

After a moment of contemplation, Spiro knew exactly what Finn would do. Reaching under his hood, he removed his cowl and stuffed it into a pocket. With a great breath to fortify himself, he stepped into the street. Making a beeline for the crowed, he broke into a jog.

One man near Spiro stood without chanting. Reaching a tentative finger out, he tapped the man on the shoulder, but suddenly realized he could not find his voice. The man turned to him with an inquisitive, if cross, look. Spiro’s entire body tensed as he searched for the words.

“What… what’s going on?” He finally spat out.

“What do you mean? Who are you?” The cantankerous man squinted to get a better look at his face under his hood.

“New apprentice,” Spiro said ere the man had almost finished his question, “I was told to come… but not why.”

“We’re teaching him a lesson!” The man who began the chanting turned to Spiro and shouted over the crowed, “They’d better stay loyal to the guild!”

Gruff ‘huzzahs’ and ‘yeahs’ sounded from the crowed as the chant died. It seemed the rabble were ready to hear a speech.

“Smithward will regret the day he turned his back on his brothers. He will regret the day he took our livelihoods away, stealing the bread from our children’s mouths,” the man who began the chanting pushed to the front and turned to face the crowed, “We will be out here every night, and every day. Making sure all know what a snake he is!”

This was Spiro’s chance, he had to take it.

“That’s it!?” He called to the man making the speech, “We’re just going to stand out here?”

“Aye!” The speaker rejoined with conviction, “Until his business is so bad he can’t help but share his secrets!”

“Or until he hires guards to run us off!” Spiro stalked around the crowd toward the front.

“He can’t do that!” One man shouted back.

“Ya,” another of the crowd added, “This here is a public street.”

“You don’t think he can pay the sodding watch to look the other way?” Spiro tilted his head up, to make sure his voice traveled, “He may just hire them to do it as well!”

The crowed shifted nervously. This outcome had crossed none of their minds. They looked to one another with agitated frowns.

“Then what we do?” The other man standing before the crowd beseeched Spiro.

“We teach him a real lesson!” Our burglar shouted to the crowd.

Heads bobbed in accord.

“We take this night, and make it count!”

The nods grew faster as a few men audibly agreed.

“We teach him a lesson he will never forget!”

“Yeah!” Several men shouted.

“We teach him that his locks may keep out thieves, but they can’t keep out locksmiths!”

“Huzzah!” The crowd shouted in unison.

“The watch will arrive soon, so I say, ‘Stop dallying!’ I say we charge!”

Spiro spun on his heel and pointed to the building. With shouts and jeers, the rabble surged forward and around him. He watched as they fell upon the building, and marveled at just how easily men can be manipulated.

The front door was locked and bolted tight, though it took but a minute of pounding by the three burliest men to rip it from its hinges.

Spiro followed the others in. Men were already smashing windows and overturning cabinets. Some destroyed the partially made locks with the hammers on hand. Others took knives to the bellows at the rear of the workshop. The poor worker standing watch cowered in the corner.

Spiro deftly hurried through the chaos and made his way up to the walkway that surrounded the work floor. The rabble wasn’t here yet, so he made it to the office he had spied from next door, with no obstruction. Its door was locked, though ironically, ’twas the standard tumbler variety.

Lowering to his knees, he opened a tiny latch on the metal bracer of his left arm. Within were nested his set of lock picks. Pulling them out, he began to work on the lock when a brick flew up from below and smashed one of the office’s windows.

“Right,” Spiro rolled his eyes at himself, “Don’t need to be taking this kind of care.”

Standing back up, he clambered through the broken glass. Walking over to the table he had seen from next door, he was relieved to find his suspicion correct. The papers, a dozen or so, were filled with drawings and diagrams of the radial locks. Folding them up, he tucked them under his cloak and left through the splintered front door.

***

Veeda was still working to assemble a workable laboratory in the cellar when Spiro arrived back at my shop. I had pushed all the crates and chests against the walls to grant her as much room as possible. Only a large table, surrounded by two chests which she brought with her, remained in the center of the room.

These chests, both quite large, were filled with all manner of alchemical apparatuses and vials of reagents. I recognized more than a few as having come from my shop. Her parents had evidently allowed her these things when she left, but she was in no mood to discuss particulars when she arrived.

Indeed, she was so sullen that I resolved to leave her to her own devices. Returning to the shop, I locked the door whilst leaving it unbolted (that Spiro might enter when he arrived). With that, I walked up to my apartment, had my nightcap, and went to bed.

Her despondent mood remained for some time, for she was lost in far off thought when Spiro entered the cellar, taking her by surprise.

“What’s all this?” He asked in reference to the alembics, retorts, vials and thermostones on the table.

“Ah!” Veeda jumped about, “Why did you frighten me like that?”

“I figured you heard me come down the stairs,” he replied, walking to the table, “I wan’t trying to be sneaky.”

“Sorry,” she rubbed her tired eyes with her palms, “I appear to be exhausted.”

“You certainly been busy,” he picked up a vial of pale green liquid and shook it, “Last time I saw this place…. well, it looked like a miser’s stockpile.”

“Please don’t mess with my things,” Veeda snatched the vial from his grasp, “This could have turned the building into a conflagration if you dropped it.”

“Conflagrate–what?” Spiro asked.

“A giant inferno,” Veeda repressed the urge to roll her eyes.

“Really?” His eyes widened.

“Well, not this one,” she placed the vial back in its rack, “It only gives off a nauseating stench – but another one of these could, and you don’t know the difference.”

“You’re right,” he admitted, removing the schematics from under his cloak, “You leave the burglarizing to me, so I’ll leave the science to you.”

“Are these…?” She trailed off, unfolding the parchment and drinking in their contents.

“They certainly are,” Spiro smiled.

“But,” Veeda flipped to look at the next piece, and then the next, “These are each a different lock!”

“How now?” Spiro leaned back a touch.

“Look,” Veeda cleared a spot on the table and laid two of the schematics side-by-side, “They’re based on the same fundamental principal, but look at the order in which the gears are assembled.”

“Aye?” Spiro was baffled.

“They go in the opposite order, meaning the lock has to be rotated the opposite direction to unlock.”

“Will that be a problem?” He asked, though from the tone of her voice, he suspected ’twas.

“It means I must learn how all of these locks work,” Veeda dropped her head with a sigh, “And there will be a great measure of trial and error required.”

“Which means more time,” Spiro finally understood, “But mayhaps we can rule some of these out!”

“How?” Veeda asked.

“Well, I didn’t get too good a look – the office was up on this balcony overlooking the main floor – but this lock, for example,” he shuffled though the papers, “This has but six positions on the lock. I’m sure the one there had more.”

“Excellent,” Veeda pushed that paper aside, and sorted through a few more, “What about this one? With all the gears, this would have to be quite large.”

“How large?” Spiro asked.

“I would say… the size of both my fists,” Veeda held her hands next to one another for reference, “At the very least.”

“No, ’twas smaller than that,” Spiro pushed the paper aside as well.

This went on for some time. Eventually, they narrowed down the possibility to four designs.

“I think this is manageable,” Veeda rubbed the back of her neck, ere freezing abruptly, “I almost forgot!”

“What?” Spiro was taken aback.

“In here,” Veeda dug through one of her chests, ere removing a smaller wooden box, “These are for you.”

She set the box on the table. Spiro approached carefully, removing the lid. Within, half a dozen little clay spheres were nestled amongst thick sawdust. Some were smooth, whilst others had dimples all across the surface. Spiro gingerly picked one up and examined it.

“That one is a smoke bomb,” Veeda rubbed her hands together, giddy to show off her creation, “Throw it at the floor, and it erupts in a great plume of grey smoke.”

“Useful if being pursued,” Spiro nodded.

“Or for cover, when shadows are scarce,” Veeda replied, “’Tis nearly noiseless, and the smoke has little smell. I think. I only tested miniature versions, but from a distance, I imagine it looks quite like a bank of fog.”

“You made these?” Spiro was once again impressed with her ability.

“The first few took a long time, but with practice, I could make one in an hour.”

“What about these,” Spiro returned the smoke bomb to the box, and removed one of the smooth spheres, “Are they the same?”

“Not at all,” Veeda grinned, “These are ‘flashers’… or, perhaps, ‘starfires’. I never settled on a name.”

“What do they do?”

“They produce a blindingly bright flash, perfect for a distraction to lure guards away, or stun them if you have to run.”

“Brilliantly done,” Spiro admitted, “But I hope we won’t need them.”

“As do I, but it never hurts to be prepared. Have you decided how we shall enter?”

“The ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ has got only one entrance,” Spiro shook his head, “And ’tis along a main boulevard, just across from a watch post.”

“Windows?” Veeda began folding up the unnecessary schematics.

“None, the whole place is illuminated by these chandeliers filled with glowing stones.”

“Have you a plan, then?”

“You will have to hide inside afore they close,” Spiro took a seat atop one of the crates along the wall.

“Why me?” Veeda was incredulous.

“Because I have to unlock the door to the warehouse,” Spiro replied.

“What warehouse?” Veeda’s brows screwed up in confusion.

“There’s a warehouse attached to the rear of the Cabinet. I assume they keep items not on display in there.”

“I thought you said there was but one entrance!” Veeda rolled her eyes in exasperation.

“Properly speaking, there is,” Spiro shrugged, “Let me explain.”

“I wish you would,” Veeda leaned against the table.

“The doors connecting the Cabinet to the warehouse are bolted from the Cabinet’s side, but the lock on the warehouse’s door is on the exterior.”

Veeda nodded repeatedly, “So I hide within the Cabinet, until all have left. Then, I unbolt the doors to the warehouse – which you have unlocked from the outside, thus providing our escape.”

“Precisely.”

“How did you observe all of these details?” Veeda asked.

“Years of practice and experience, I suppose,” Spiro shrugged again.

“Where exactly shall I hide, so as to remain undetected?”

“In a cabinet,” he said as a matter of fact.

“Certainly, I shall obviously be in the Cabinet,” Veeda said with slight vexation, “But where?”

“No, not in the Cabinet,” Spiro chuckled, “In a cabinet.”

Veeda cocked an eyebrow.

“Some of the glass cases are illuminated from beneath with those glowing stones. They have little cabinets instead of pedestals. They’re locked of course, but I could crack one in my sleep. There’s one with a dragon egg which has particularly favorable sight lines.”

“So, we both purchase admittance shortly ere they close. You crack the lock on a cabinet, without being seen. Then I crawl in, without being seen. I stay in there for several hours, emerging when we hope no one is left. You crack the lock on the door to the warehouse, without being seen. We hope no one walks by the warehouse door, since you cannot lock it from the inside. I unbolt the doors between the Cabinet and the warehouse, and we sneak to the office where you crack the door’s lock,” Veeda paused to catch her breath, “Then, I have to crack the radial lock on the chest with the Synergist. All this, assuming it has not been moved, assuming one of these schematics matches the lock and assuming I have interpreted them correctly.”

“And we sneak back out,” Spiro held his hands out, palms up, “Easy as that.”

Veeda stared at him blankly.

“What?” He asked.

“This ‘plan’ does not strike you as a touch convoluted?”

Spiro stuck out his bottom lip as he contemplated the meaning of the word ‘convoluted’.

“Do you believe there are, perhaps, a few too many moving parts involved? Too many opportunities for it to go awry?”

“’Tis what we have to work with. There isn’t time to look for more options. It’s tomorrow,” Spiro slid off the crate and back to his feet.

“Finn’s poison does not act that fast. We have four or five days ere he is in danger of expiring,” Veeda assured him.

“Perhaps, but you’re right about the Synergist leaving. It may be moved already. Every hour increases that chance,” Spiro walked over to the table, “I’ll return tomorrow with sneakier attire for you, as well as some more… traditional clothes.”

“My robes are too distinctive?” Veeda inquired.

“They’re too beautiful to not attract attention,” an honest smile peaked at the corner of Spiro’s mouth.

“Then I shall see you tomorrow,” she turned to look down at the parchment in an attempt to hide sudden flood of blood to her cheeks.

After waiting a moment for further response, Spiro inhaled deep, and headed for the stairs. As he was about to mount the first one, he paused, turning back.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Veeda neither turned around, nor looked up.

“You’ve set up shop here,” Spiro gestured to the table, though she could not see him, “So things didn’t go well with your parents.”

Veeda did not reply.

“They gave you some sort of… ultimedium, I suppose,” Spiro searched for the right words.

“‘Ultimatum’,” Veeda looked up, but stayed facing away from him, “And I was the one who offered it.”

Spiro bit his upper lip.

“‘Least they know why you left. I never said a thing to mine. Just took off in the night.”

“Why?” Veeda’s eyes looked to the side, but she was reluctant to turn around, that he might see the frightened expression of her eyes.

“They didn’t approve of my trade. Said I’d suffer for eternity in the void. But I found people who understood. They accepted me. They taught me ’twas no crime to use the talents the Uncreated gave me. To not use them would be the greater sin.”

“Perhaps I shall find such a refuge someday…” Veeda’s voice choked.

“You already have,” Spiro replied, turning up the stairs.

IV: In Which I Embarrass Myself

I awoke the following day to find Veeda asleep in the cellar. Perched precariously on a stool, her head rested on top of the schematics she had engaged with until well after dawn. I woke her gently as I could.

“Hmmm?” She asked with bleary eyes, lifting her head.

“Let’s get you upstairs to a somewhat proper bed,” I said, peeling off the parchment which was stuck to her cheek, and helping her to her feet.

“Mmmmkay,” She blinked slowly as I led her up the stairs.

After depositing her on the sofa in my apartment, I headed out for the day. I had a few choice ingredients left to purchase for the cure which were not available in the great market. It took me most of the day to track them down. Fortunately, they proved not quite as dear as I imagined, so my pocket jingled with a little free coin as I headed home with the late-afternoon sun in my eyes.

I reached the edge of the Old Quarter ere I was assaulted. It crawled up from the back of my mind, somewhere in the recesses of my skull. As I thumbed the free coins in my pocket, it reared its cankerous head. I stopped cold before the gates to the Longshoreman’s Quarter. The tempter whispered in my ear as cool perspiration formed upon my forehead. Though ’twas out of sight, I knew that just behind me stood The Lovely Bear – a rowdy tavern where cheap beer flowed and the dice were always hot.

’Twas nearly a year since I gambled. Not since my life was nearly forfeit, only to be saved by the three who had since given me naught but angst. In that moment, though, the part of my soul which craved for the rush of easy money (though the promise was always empty) was strong. It had gorged itself on the stress of the previous months’ anxiety.

The only cure was to think of something far away. I filled my mind with serene images of comfort, to distract myself from the tempter’s wiles. ’Twas but a moment, and my mind settled on a singular image: Myfanwy. I turned on my heel, and hurried toward the Low Quarter.

The sun was large and orange by the time I reached Finn’s residence. With a nervous hand, I knocked on the door. There was no reply. ’Twas then I realized that Myf might not be there. My feet itched to flee, but I had squandered all the extra silver I had on a basket of food and a lovely vintage of port.

I knocked once more. To my equal relief and dread, the door opened. The dread failed to pass though, even when ’twas Myfanwy who answered.

“Mr. Morley, I’m afraid Finn isn’t feeling up to receiving anyone right now,” her fetching frosty eyes flashed apologetically.

“A shame,” I lied, “Could I at least come in for a spell?”

“I suppose,” she shrugged, moving aside to allow my entrance, “But he shan’t change his mind any time soon. He’s been a right git since you all left yesterday.”

“’Tis understandable,” I sized up the entryway, “But he need not worry so. I have purchased the last of the ingredients we need for a cure.”

“So, that’s what’s in the basket,” she indicated the parcel under my arm.

“Ah, yes. But I also thought to bring some food…”

“I’m afraid he hasn’t been in the mood to eat. I can still deliver it to him, though,” she smiled, setting my heart abuzz.

“Perchance…” I pretended to happen upon what had been my plan the entire time, “You would care to share it with me?”

“Me?” She was taken somewhat aback.

“You’ve been working rather hard to care for him,” I shifted the weight of the basket, “Couldn’t you use a touch of indulgence?”

“Well…” she scratched the back of her head in genuine astonishment, “I don’t see why not. Would you mind supping in the kitchen?”

“Excellent! And I wouldn’t mind in the least.”

“Well then, this way,” she turned and led me through a dining room, “You didn’t strike me as the type who needed to eat in a place as fancy as this.”

“Oh no,” I happily admitted, “With what I brought, we’ll hardly need cutlery.”

We entered a kitchen adjacent to the dining room. ’Twas a rather small affair with a tiny oven, a few cabinets, and shelves. In the center stood a square table, where I placed my basket.

Myf fetched a pair of stools as I unpacked the food. The fare was simple, but the best I could find: a loaf of bread, some aged cheese, a nice sausage and the bottle of port. She sat across from me, a shaft of orange light spilling through a window and falling onto her fetching face.

“I know it sounds odd, but this really is a treat,” she picked up and tentatively smelled the cheese to assess its flavor, “Even without this unfortunate business with Finn being poisoned – poisoned! Figure that! But even without it, I never seem to sit still.”

I began slicing the sausage with a nearby knife, “The activity must be what keeps you looking so young.”

Her brows furrowed as she spoke with a mouthful of bread, “Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. I get so tired sometimes. Tired of dealing with the people.”

“What exactly is it you do for Finn?” I asked, taking a bite of cheese, “You said you were his ‘deputy’.”

“Did I?” She reached over to grab a slice of sausage, “Perhaps second-in-command would be more accurate. I handle matters on a day in and out basis.”

“Quite a lot of responsibility then,” I nodded, “Some men might find that sort of wherewithal threatening.”

Again, she gave me the perplexed look.

“But I think it’s brilliant!” I jumped to ensure my compliment was taken the right way (though none seemed to be), “The world needs more women who can hold their own. What is it that Finn does, though? For a living, I mean.”

“Oh, I’ve been babbling too much,” she scoffed, “I understand you’re a pawnbroker.”

“Indeed,” I accepted that my curiosity would not be sated, “Though I admit ‘tisn’t a particularly exciting life.”

“Lots of dealing with the riffraff,” she nodded, tearing off another piece of bread.

“An unfortunate part of the occupation, so I try to keep it to a minimum.”

“Like that Spiro fellow in here the other day,” she took a bite of cheese, “Don’t know what ’tis about him, but he don’t look like he can be trusted. Like he might walk off with everything but the fireplace.”

“You are so perceptive,” I couldn’t help but stare, “It must be those bonny eyes. They do more than just look pretty.”

“I… suppose,” she looked about in confusion, “Shall I fetch some glasses?”

“That would be excellent,” I peered down at the table.

I needed a drink. My flattery seemed only to perplex her, much to my chagrin. I worried ’twas my own fault (for I was rather out of practice). It had been years since I chased barmaids and wooed merchants’ daughters (with little success, I must admit).

She fetched a pair of pewter cups whilst I opened the bottle. Pouring the glasses, I struggled for some other topic of conversation. I passed her a cup and raised mine to my lips. I started a hefty swig of the fortified wine when my stomach lurched.

The libation (which should have been sweet and thick) was acrid, consisting of naught but red vinegar. I could not contain my repugnance, and involuntarily ejected it from my mouth with great force. To my horror, this took the form of a fine spray which flew across the table, covering Myfanwy’s face. The shock sent her eyes wide and her mouth taught.

“I’m afraid the wine… has gone bad,” I gulped, awaiting some reaction.

She remained motionless.

My heart hammered hardened steel as I prayed she’d say something. Anything would have been preferable to her silence. Finally, her head tilted back, and she laughed. She laughed as though she had heard the funniest joke of her life.

I jumped off my stool, grabbed a towel, and began to help her clean off. I fell over myself beseeching her forgiveness, ere apologizing for apologizing so profusely.

“It’s okay,” she assured me, still struggling to contain her amusement. “I’ll survive.”

I was not sure I would, though. My face felt as though it were made of molten rock. I was too abashed to stay. I begged her leave, and wished her to enjoy the remaining food. I did not wait for her reply and quickly showed myself out. If I had stayed – or, rather, if I could have beheld her after I hurried off – I would have seen her handsome face’s disappointment.

V: In Which Much of our Heroine's Work Proves Unnecessary

Spiro and Veeda arrived at the Cabinet of Curiosity late in the day. Veeda had donned a ‘disguise’ consisting of a rather plain skirt and blouse. Beneath it, of course, she concealed a dark, tight-fitting garment designed for infiltration. How Spiro acquired these on such short notice was never quite settled.

Veeda was excited to see the Cabinet, and rather disappointed they could not peruse the exhibits. The place is filled with all manner of exotic and rare artifacts which could pique anyone’s intellect. The entrance leads to a high-ceilinged main hall which stretches the length of the building. From its heights, the bones of a great winged dragon are suspended, and a few ancient stone carvings are lined up in the middle. At the far end stand the doors to the warehouse, with a sign warning patrons to keep out.

To the left of the hall are two floors of smaller exhibits, whilst a large room, which houses a variety of larger archeological artifacts and dragon skeletons, can be found to the right. Above this large room is the row of offices where the Synergist was hidden. These rooms are connected by a catwalk which overlook the main hall. A set of stairs flanking the entrance leads to them.

Spiro led the way to the place he chose for Veeda’s hiding spot. ’Twas on the lower floor in a far corner. The cramped aisles between the smaller exhibits meant only someone very near could see around the blind corner where the case housing the great egg stood.

Veeda balked at the sight of the cabinet beneath the display. ’Twas shorter than her waist, and no wider than one of her arms.

“You wish for me to hide in there for hours?” She hissed to Spiro.

“Won’t be too bad,” he covertly removed a set of picks from his pocket, “Just don’t bend your knees up, or no blood will get to your feet.”

“Duly noted,” She turned around to look for other patrons, but the place was nearly empty, “The coast is clear.”

Spiro got to work. In a matter of moments, he had the lock sprung. The two traded places, so Spiro could keep a look out.

“Hold,” he whispered as an elderly couple walked past a nearby aisle, “Okay, go!”

Veeda opened the door and clambered quickly in. Spiro pressed the door closed behind her, and gave it a knock for good luck. Now, ’twas time to wait.

This waiting (Veeda would later claim) was the most difficult part of the night. The slowly passing hours seemed interminable. There was no way for her to track the time precisely, she only knew but to wait until she heard the main entrance closed and locked.

She began occupying herself by repeating the steps she identified to crack the various types of radial locks. This was less than effective in staving off sleep borne of boredom. Eventually, though, a realization that the excitement of the previous days had hidden from her surfaced.

They were retrieving the Synergist for her to use. That meant temptation. She began to sweat, remembering the seductive power of the stone. This craving turned to fear as she remembered the doubt and horror of the last time she held it.

Breathing deep, Veeda tried to center herself. Practicing her mother’s magic, she used her breath to calm her mind. Slowly, her senses melted away and she lost herself in the Mystic Tide from which all magic springs.

Finally, the doors were closed and latched. The sound sent Veeda careening back to the present. She waited several minutes, ear pressed to the door of the cabinet. She heard nothing. Emerging, she scrambled to her feet. Her knees ached from being so long curled up, but she refused to let it slow her. She removed her skirt and blouse, stashing them in the cabinet where she had been hidden.

Hurrying to the doors of the warehouse, Veeda stepped lightly, and paused often to listen for anyone who might still be inside. Unbolting the heavy double door, she pulled it open slowly as she could. Standing on the other side, in his cloak and cowl, was Spiro.

“You got here quick,” she whispered as he walked through the door.

“I hurried around as soon as I saw the front door locked,” he replied, reaching into a pocket, “Wait! I can’t believe I almost forgot.”

“What?” Veeda hissed, worried there was some new complication which awaited them.

“This,” he pulled out a long strip of cloth, the same dark blue as Veeda’s outfit, “To cover your face. Just in case.”

“By the Uncreated,” she sighed, “You frightened me. I thought something was truly wrong.”

“Here. Let me tie it for you,” he began to wrap the cloth around her head.

“Is this really necessary?” She angrily whispered, nonetheless standing still.

“You’ll thank me if this heads south,” he replied, methodically wrapping her face whilst leaving only her nose and eyes exposed, “Speaking of which, this is what the Shinobi of the Southland wear when they have to infiltrate their targets with stealth.”

“Please, do ask me if I care how the Southland’s mercenaries dress,” she huffed as he tied the cloth at the back of her head.

“You could care less, I’m sure,” he stifled a laugh.

“Incorrect. I could not, no matter how I tried, care less.”

“There,” Spiro assessed his handiwork, “Let’s get to that office.”

“That is exactly what I had in mind when I unbolted those doors,” Veeda turned and followed him across the main floor.

“Ever seen one of those afore?” Spiro pointed up, to where the massive dragon’s skeleton was suspended by wires, “In real life, I mean.”

“Not that large,” Veeda took stock of the great crest on the head of the long dead beast, “And none have beheld this species and lived to tell the tale. Note the large claws at the mid section of the wing – they suggest it may have been able to walk using its wings as forelegs.”

Spiro stopped to contemplate, “His front ones would be lots longer than the back ones then.”

“True. ‘Twould certainly move more elegantly in the air than on the ground,” Veeda shook off her intellectual curiosity and gave Spiro a shove on the shoulder, “We are not here to study the exhibits. Stop distracting me.”

“As you wish,” he shook his head and led the way to the stairs near the entrance.

They mounted the steps, and moved along the catwalk. The catwalk housed half a dozen offices, and Spiro stopped before the door to the third one. Lowering to his knees, he removed his lock picks from the bracer on his left forearm.

“It’ll be but a minute,” he began to work the lock on the office door.

“Good,” Veeda looked anxiously about, even though ’twas safe to assume no one else was present, “It could take me hours to get the radial lock open.”

“Let’s… hope… not,” Sprio said with a look of supreme concentration as the lock quietly clicked open, “We’re in.”

He opened the door. The small space was dominated by a cluttered desk. A lamp with a light stone (the same type which lit the rest of the Cabinet) dimly illuminated the place. Veeda took little stock of the other furnishings and moved straight to the lockbox in the corner.

“Brilliant,” Veeda sighed, taking the lock in her hand, “Seems our Buyer spares no expense.”

“Why?” Spiro hurried over.

“Look,” Veeda pointed to the lock, “It has forty positions.”

“How long will it take?” Spiro tensed his hands into worried fists.

“Well, the schematics provided but one model such as this, so I at least know the direction to rotate it. But… with so many numbers,” Veeda looked about the room, “Can you fetch a quill and paper from the desk.”

“If you need it,” Spiro did as requested, picking up the first piece of parchment at hand and opening one of the desk drawers, “How about a piece of charcoal?”

“It matters not,” Veeda shook her head as she spun the lock’s dial, “Pass them here.”

Spiro complied, and Veeda gently pulled the lock’s shackle as far as she could. Slowly, she began to rotate the dial. Every few moments, she paused and scribbled down a number. After watching her scribble down half a dozen, Spiro grew anxious.

“What are you doing?” He tentatively inquired.

“I shall explain it to you later,” she brushed him off.

“Would it help if you explained as you went along?” He ventured, “I always do that, in my mind at least, when I pick a lock. Helps me keep things straight in my head.”

“You might be right,” Veeda smiled without looking up from the lock, “I am testing all of the places where the lock gets temporarily stuck.”

“Which gives you the combination to unlock it?”

“No…” she bit her lip, scribbling down a number, “There are – or should be – a dozen places where it sticks. Some are whole numbers, others are half-way between numbers.”

“How does that help?”

“Once I have all twelve… as I do now,” she pointed to the paper, “I can eliminate all the half numbers.”

“All the whole numbers end with seven,” Spiro noted, looking over her shoulder, “Except that one. Twenty three, is it?”

“And that’s the number we need,” Veeda winked to him, “That is the third number of the combination.”

“What about the first two numbers? Do you have to guess?”

“Aye,” Veeda chuckled sardonically, “But it can be narrowed down. Dividing the third number by four, and using the remainder produces the lowest possible first number. We then add four to it repeatedly until we get as close to forty as possible.”

“Why?”

“To get all the possible first numbers in the combination,” Veeda replied, continuing to scribble a column of numbers, “And the possible second numbers are all those two less than the first number. Except the second number cannot be within two digits of the final one, although the first one can.”

Spiro’s eyes danced about, but he was lost, “And you figured all this out from the drawings I acquired?”

“Once I understood how the gears fit together, deducing this was simple enough,” Veeda finished her second column of numbers, “There are around seventy-five combinations I have to try.”

“You’re incredible,” Spiro shook his head in near disbelief.

“You are not half-bad yourself,” Veeda playfully elbowed him in the ribs, “But I need to test these numbers now, so stop distracting me.”

“Aye,” Spiro replied, lingering over her shoulder ere walking to the desk and absentmindedly shuffling through the papers.

His mind drifted to Finn. He pictured his friend as he had last seen him. Stuck on that sofa, useless, helpless and unable to move. His hands began to quiver as he imagined the horror Finn would suffer if the stone was gone. His arms would grow cold and still. He would lose control of his bowels, and his breathing would grow weak. Fluid would build in the cavities of his abdomen until he drowned in his own bile.

“Are you okay?” Veeda inquired, still spinning the lock.

“What?” Spiro snapped his head up, returning to the present.

“You sound like you can hardly breathe,” she replied.

“Just… need a moment,” he hurried from the room.

Sweat dripping from his brow, he leaned against the wall. He felt as though the ceiling was falling upon his heaving chest. Closing his eyes, he cleared his mind. Slowly, his breath calmed. His arms and legs felt numb. That was when he heard it.

The sliding clink of metal faintly rang from below. ’Twas the lock on the front door.

“Bollocks,” Spiro whimpered to himself.

“What’s that?” Veeda called from inside the office.

“Keep it down,” he hurried back inside, “Someone’s coming in!”

What!?” She released the lock.

“Don’t stop!”

“I am only half-way done!” She hissed.

“I’ll distract them if I have to. Just don’t stop!” He hurried from the office, silently closing the door behind himself.

“Uncreated save me,” Veeda shook her head, hastily taking the lock back up.

Spiro crouched in the shadows near the catwalk’s railing, and peeked down by the door. It opened with a low creak.

“After you,” a voice sounded from outside.

Two men, in the hooded robes of Clerics, entered silently. Behind them followed a brutish looking thug. Finally, the Buyer whom Spiro had tailed the day before entered, pulling the door closed.

“You will be pleased, indeed,” he ingratiatingly addressed the Clerics, “This artifact shall increase the Carmine’s power tenfold.”

“I shall be the judge of that,” one of the Clerics said with unvarnished disdain.

“Wait right here, and I shall fetch it,” the Buyer’s voice maintained its note of sycophancy as he turned toward the steps to the catwalk.

Spiro quickly slunk back into the office, silently closing the door behind him.

“Get over here,” he hissed to Veeda, pointing behind the door.

“Why?” She asked.

“No time,” he grabbed her by the arm, pulling her away from the lockbox.

The two stood flat against the wall, just next to the door’s hinges. Veeda’s eyes were wide as her heart pounded. Spiro’s lungs felt as though they were filled with lightning as the Buyer’s footsteps grew louder. Silently, Spiro reached under his cloak and removed a short, leather-covered club. The footsteps grew louder. Veeda’s teeth creaked as her jaw clenched ever tighter. Finally, the door opened.

“Hmm,” the buyer mumbled to himself, “Thought I locked that.”

The now open door was inches from Veeda’s face. Had the Buyer thrown it open, ‘twould have smashed in her nose. Quietly pushing it closed, Spiro silently stepped forward. The Buyer fumbled with the lock on the lockbox as Spiro inched closer. Raising his club, the burglar bided his time as Veeda tried not to scream. When the lock clicked open, Spiro swung.

Twisting his entire abdomen, he brought the club down against the back of the Buyer’s skull. The leather dampened the impact’s sound to a dull thud. Spiro caught the Buyer’s unconscious body with his free arms ere it plowed into the floor. Lowering it slowly, he tilted his head toward Veeda (who remained perfectly still against the wall) and then to the lockbox.

She took his meaning, and hurried around him. Pulling off the lock, she opened the container. Within, the Synergist faintly shimmered with its pulsing energy. Veeda took it up, and basked in its power.

“There’s only one way down,” Spiro replaced the club on his belt, removing a smoke bomb and flasher from a pouch, “I’ll lure them into the warehouse. You slip out the front door with the stone.”

“Are you certain?” Veeda placed her free hand on his arm.

“Aye,” he grasped her hand in his, ere pushing away, “Don’t wait for me.”

With that, he ducked out the door. Veeda followed close behind him. They crouched near the railing and moved to the top of the stairs. Spiro paused, holding his hand up to tell Veeda to wait. She obliged as he slowly crept down the stairs.

“What is taking so long?” One of the indignant Clerics spat at the thug.

“I don’ know,” he paused from picking his nose long enough to shrug, “You want I oughtta fetch him?”

“We can be patient,” the other Cleric, who possessed a more mature voice, shook his robed head, “His attempt to make us nervous shall not succeed.”

“A ploy?” The younger Cleric asked.

“These… mercenary types have no shame in their pursuit of earthly gain,” the elder Cleric shuffled his feet.

Spiro was now at the bottom of the stairs, just around the corner from the Clerics and the thug. With a silent sigh, he tightened his grip on the flasher and smoke bomb, and jumped around the corner. The Clerics jumped back in fright, whilst the thug only frowned.

Eyes clenched, Spiro threw the flasher. Veeda’s description had not adequately prepared him for the sheer brilliance it produced. Even through his eyelids, it burned his eyes. Opening them, he could see the three other men cowering momentarily. Turning away, he threw the smoke bomb at their feet, and headed toward the warehouse.

“Follow him!” The elder Cleric commanded.

“I canna see!” The thug held his hand before his face.

“Just move,” the younger Cleric coughed on the growing plume of smoke, which (in large quantities) was more irritating than Veeda had suspected ‘twould be.

Spiro paused at the far end of the main hall. His goal was to distract them, not escape, so he had to grant them time to catch up. All three men staggered through the cloud of smoke in his general direction.

“Ha ha!” Spiro called to attract their attention.

The younger Cleric and the thug gave chase, whilst the elder struggled to clear his lungs. Veeda was now at the bottom of the stairs. Slipping into the smoke, she fumbled her way toward the main entrance. Fingers outreached, she found the wall, and moved along it. Finally, she groped the handle, and heaved the great door open. The hinges creaked loudly, sending her heart galloping at an even greater rate than it already was. Without looking back, she sprinted through and down the steps.

The elder Cleric heard the noise, and turned about just in time to see the smoke pulled outside by the breeze. Rushing through, he paused in the doorway and strained his eyes. At the bottom of the stairs, he spied Veeda’s fleeing form in the bright moonlight.

“Stop! Stop him!” The Cleric shouted toward the guard post across the street, unable to discern our heroine’s gender in the dark.

A couple of the night-watch heard the shouting, but could not discern his words. The Cleric did not waste his breath, and gave chase himself. Veeda looked over her shoulder as she sprinted away from the guard post. The Cleric moved quickly, and was gaining on her.

Clutching the synergist in both hands, she had no time to think. Drawing on its power, she jumped. Her body flew through the air, supported by her magic. Sailing into the dark sky, she landed on a roof on the other side of the wall. Pausing to catch her breath, she turned around only to behold the silhouette of the robed Cleric cut across the chalky moon. Her heart sank as she turned round and hurried up the roof. At its apex, she jumped to the next building, the Cleric on her tail.

Meanwhile, Spiro had ducked into the darkness of the warehouse, and moved along one of the walls. He didn’t know if Veeda had escaped yet, and resolved to buy her more time. The younger Cleric and thug rushed through the door and paused. The place was filled with narrow rows of shelves, stuffed with crates and loose artifacts. A wide central aisle led from the exit to the Cabinet.

“Feck,” Spiro said to himself, spying the two men and assuming the third to still be inside the Cabinet.

“Where’s the door?” The Cleric demanded.

“Only one’s at the far side,” the thug replied.

“Then get over there,” the Cleric shoved him, “And do not let him through.

Sneaking close to the shelves, Spiro moved toward the exit.

“You cannot hide!” The Cleric shouted in no particular direction, “Not for long, at any rate.”

Clasping his hands together, a pale green sphere surrounded them. Growing slowly, its brilliance increased as the Cleric lifted it above his head. Quickly, it floated up, coming to a rest just beneath the ceiling. The green light illuminated the entire warehouse, causing the rows of shelves to throw off thick shadows.

Spiro stuck close to the shelves and watched as the Cleric began to pace. He moved down the central aisle, ere turning in the direction Spiro was hidden. He needed a distraction.

On the shelf before him stood a tiny antique vase. Spiro grabbed it around the neck and took careful aim. He lobbed it as hard as he could. It arced though the air, cutting dangerously close to the illuminating sphere. Crashing to the ground on the far side of the warehouse it shattered with an echo.

The Cleric froze, then turned about on his heel. Spiro peered around a crate to watch as he started toward the noise. Pausing again, the Cleric looked over his shoulder, and directly at Spiro.

The world seemed to stop as his heart pounded in his ears. The Cleric squinted into the shadows where sweat formed on Spiro’s face, but he remained perfectly still. After what felt like an eternity, the Cleric turned away and stalked toward the broken vase.

His back turned, Spiro quietly lunged to the protective shadow cast by the next shelf. He looked to the thug, who stood in front of the slightly-ajar exit. Brandishing a short sword, he scanned the room with the exit at his back.

The Cleric was at the far side of the warehouse now, and approaching the broken vase. Spiro hurried to the shadow of the next shelf as he bent to examine the shattered ceramic. There were but four rows of shelves left, and he would be to the aisle leading to the exit.

“Just stop this game and give us what we want!” The Cleric rose and began to move toward the door, “I promise you will be released unharmed.”

Spiro used the cover of this shouting to hurry to the next shelf. The moving shadow must have caught the thug’s eye, for he snapped his head to the side where Spiro hid.

“You see something?” The Cleric asked.

“Naw,” The guard turned to shout back, “Just yer magic light playin’ tricks on my eyes.”

This distraction bought Spiro enough time to cross the shaft of light to the shadow of the next shelf.

“My magic deceives not,” the Cleric mumbled indignantly.

“Well, then ’twas my eyes trickin’ me!” The guard grumbled back.

“Do not raise your voice to me!” The Cleric paused his methodical advance toward the door, “If you were more helpful, you could sooner collect your pay and crawl back into whatever bottle you call home.”

Spiro lunged to the shadow of the next shelf. He had but one more to reach.

The guard stamped his feet, “I don’t know what the boss man told you, but I haven’t touched a drop of anything in a fortnight. My sweetheart Ruby says she won’ marry me if the bottle comes attached.”

The Cleric peered down the aisle where Spiro hid. After a moment of examination, he moved on. With that, Spiro lunged to the shadow of the final shelf.

“Ruby?” The Cleric mused venomously, “That sounds like a harlot’s name.”

The thug swung his sword about in anger, “Now listen here! I won’ have you, even in your mighty holiness saying anything about my Ruby! She may have had troubles in her past, but she swears it’s all behind her. Now, I’m her… her… her only man.”

The guard was struggling to dislodge his blade from the wooden door where it had become stuck during his raving defense of his strumpet. Spiro peeked around to the final aisle as the Cleric rounded the corner. Grabbing his second flasher, he lobbed it over the thug’s head between the two men.

“Blast!” the Cleric shouted, shielding his eyes as the thug hollered incoherently.

Spiro rose to his feet, spun round the corner, and charged toward the guard. Another smoke bomb in his hand, he launched it at the thug’s feet. Pulling out his club as he approached the blinded thug, Spiro could make out a sphere of flame cradled in the Cleric’s hand.

Indiscriminately, the Cleric threw the magic flame in their approximate direction. Spiro fell backward, sliding along the floor as the deadly sphere passed overhead. Reaching one arm out, he hooked the thug’s legs, pulling him to the ground. Jumping back to his feet, he brought his club down on the thug’s skull. As the Cleric readied another attack, Spiro squeezed through the door, and threw it shut. Grabbing the lock he had picked when breaking in, he secured the door’s latch, and ran off into the night.

Veeda, on the other hand, was still in grave danger from her pursuer. His magic was great, and he was not afraid to use lethal force. As the two bounded across the rooftops of the Old Quarter, he conjured a great ball of flame. As Veeda landed atop one roof, he cast it at her. She suddenly beheld her shadow surrounded by orange light as it careened toward her. She scarcely jumped in time, for she could feel the heat of the explosion on the back of her neck as it plowed into the roof.

They were nearing the river, and she was panicked. She had to escape her pursuer, but did not know how. Landing on a roof overlooking the great market, she peered down at the empty stalls. There was nowhere to hide there. Across the river, the spire of an old cathedral sliced into the bright light of the moon. Pulling upon the Synergist’s power, she launched herself toward it.

The Cleric came to rest on the roof from which she had just fled. Instead of pursuing, he brought his hands together and began channeling magical energy. As Veeda soared over the heaving waters of the river, he let it loose in the form of a great bolt of lightening.

It struck Veeda as she neared the spire of the cathedral. Splintering into jagged fingers, it crawled across her skin. Her body went limp, and she tumbled down. She crashed though the great stained glass window above the entrance, and fell toward the stone floor amongst a hail of splintered glass.

Reopening her eyes, she pulled on the Synergist’s power to slow her descent. Her body finally came to rest inches from the shard-covered ground. Moving to her feet, she hurried through the pews and deeper into the cathedral. She was nearly to the altar when the doors crashed open, moonlight spilling in around the robed form of the Cleric.

Spinning round, Veeda noticed the shimmering glass strewn all about the main aisle. Lifting her free hand, she raised the jagged shards into the air. They hovered like a thousand sabers brandished at once. With a wave of her fingers, the keen glass shot toward the Cleric’s motionless form.

Raising his hand with a sweeping arc, he conjured a searing wall of fire. The glass melted as it passed through the flame. The angry shards were rendered into harmless droplets which bounced off his robe before shattering on the stone floor.

“The Synergist grants you great power,” he shouted down the cavernous interior as the fire subsided, “But your soul is wicked. My cause is righteous.”

Veeda knew she could not continue to run. She also knew ’twas a matter of time ere guards – or worse, more Clerics – arrived. A metallic groan sounded from behind her, as the Cleric advanced upon her, hands clenched.

A great metal Star of Uncreated (which, in Vallisia, is an acute septagram, rather than an obtuse one) hung above the cathedral’s altar. The wires supporting it swayed and creaked, moved by the Cleric’s magic. Spinning round, Veeda beheld this, and paused. She knew what she had to do.

Turning back to face the Cleric, she refused to budge. Channeling her breath, she calmed and emptied her mind. Pulling at some strange and ancient magic she learned from her mother, her earthly senses were stripped away. Her mind joined with the Mystic Tide. With her eyes closed, she saw it swirling and moving about her. She could feel its pulse on her skin. She could even hear its ebbs and flows.

In this weird state of consciousness, she could see that the Cleric was channeling the energy for his kinesis through a concentrated point in the center of his chest. Likely, ’twas a sapphire pendant. Without it, he would lack the power to give chase.

The wires holding up the Star of the Uncreated snapped. The great sculpture plummeted toward Veeda. Then, suddenly, it stopped. Frozen in space, it hovered above her head. The Cleric glared, sweat dripping from his hands as he pulled it down. ’Twas no use, as Veeda pushed up with the same force he used to push down.

She stepped forward, slowly emerging from beneath the Star. The Cleric released his hold, most likely hoping Veeda would continue pushing up and throw it backward. She did not. She saw him cease to draw upon the Mystic Tide before his kinesis was released. Compensating, she hurled the Star toward him.

The Cleric jumped as the sculpture plowed into the stone floor with a shower of sizzling sparks. Throwing her hands forward, Veeda catapulted him across the room. His back slammed against the wall near the door. He tumbled to the ground, stunned, but Veeda did not relent. The rows of pews moved away from her as she advanced upon him, as if pushed by an advancing wave.

The Cleric, struggling to catch his breath, scrambled up. As soon as he found his feet, one of the pews charged into him. Slamming him back into the wall, it broke in half. He tried to muster some magic, but Veeda perceived this attempt before he could give it substance. Another pew arced into the air, ere slamming down onto his legs. The sound of their brutal fracture was masked by the crash of the splintering wood, but there was no mistaking its effect on his agonizing screams.

Veeda eased out of her trance as she approached the Cleric’s traumatized form. Reaching under his hood, she removed the pendant from around his neck, just to be safe.

“You… won’t escape…” the Cleric tried to concentrate despite the inferno of pain.

Veeda swiftly brought her knee up, ramming it into the Cleric’s face. The back of his head cracked against the stone wall, and he was unconscious.

Gripping the powerfully enchanted pendant in one hand and the Synergist in the other, she soared through the shattered window and into the night.

***

Spiro and I were waiting in the back room of my shop when Veeda arrived. He explained what transpired at the Cabinet, and had to physically restrain me from running into the streets to search for her.

We waited in silence. I drank straight from the bottle (still trying to forget my embarrassment from earlier that day), and he stood in the corner with shuffling nervous hands. Though he seemed confident in Veeda’s safety, I could tell from his eyes that he was at least as worried for her as I.

She hustled through the front door, letting it slam behind her. She was half way to the counter when she turned back to lock it. Unwrapping her head, she tossed the cloth to Spiro and collapsed into the extra chair across from my desk.

“Were you followed?” He asked, with a grimace at the sweat soaked mask in his hands.

“I am happy to see you as well,” she reached forward and dropped the Synergist onto my desk.

“What is that?” I indicated the pendant in her other hand.

“This?” She held up the large sapphire which was set in silver, “I… I thought my exemplary efforts warranted a reward.”

Spiro shrugged when I looked to him with a baffled expression.

“I removed it from the Cleric who pursued me,” she rolled her eyes, “But worry not. He neither saw my face nor followed me. They will have quite the mess to clean up at the Old Quarter cathedral tomorrow, though.”

“Is everything settled then?” Spiro inquired with sudden impatience.

“Settled?” I asked.

“We’ve all the ingredients for the potion you’re to make, right?” He turned to Veeda.

“I believe so,” she looked to me quizzically.

“I got everything on the list you requested,” I assured her.

“Even the newt tails?” She was incredulous.

“Even the newt tails,” I nodded.

Purple newt tails?” She folded her arms, “I can make do with a very large amount of red ones, but yellow or orange ones simply will not do.”

“I have a friend who trades with the merchants from the swamps,” I smiled, “I got a dozen for the price of six.”

“So everything is settled?” Spiro cut in with a sort of hollow voice.

“I will brew and distill the potion on the morrow, and we should be able to deliver it that night,” Veeda replied.

“Good,” Spiro nodded rapidly, heading for the door “Tell Finn I am sorry.”

“You can tell him yourself,” I chided.

“No,” Spiro paused, without looking back at us, “He’s right. I did this to him. ’Tis my fault. He has no obligation to call me ‘friend’.”

“That is nonsense!” Veeda insisted, “Surely his anger is due to fear. He fears death, but once he recovers, I am sure he will forgive you.”

“Indeed,” I affirmed, “A man who fears for his life hates the whole world, for it’ll go on whilst he won’t.”

“You’re both… mistaken,” he turned about with pained eyes, “I’ve known him far longer than either of you. He values trust more than anything. We betrayed that.”

“He chose to start the duel!” Veeda insisted, “That is what angered Terrelum. ’Twas nothing you, or I, or Morley did.”

“He will not see it that way,” Spiro sighed, “And I’m not sure I do either.”

“We’ll send him your regards, then,” I promised.

“Thanks,” Spiro nodded, “I won’t be back for some time. There is… something I must do. ’Tis Something I should’ve done long ago.”

“What?” Veeda was more confused than curious.

“It’s Finn’s business, and no one else’s,” he replied.

“Finn’s… and yours?” I joked, though that was not how he took it.

“For a long while,” his brows furrowed in thought, “I let that stop me. But I need to do what is right, even if it’s not my place.”

With that, he turned and left. ’Twas the last time I saw him for months.

And that, gentle sirs and madams is how I involuntarily made an enemy who would threaten my very life.

To Be Continued...

You can read Part 4 of the Émigré Saga next month, or follow the author TS Koomar on Facebook.