The Émigré Saga Serialisation - Part 4

The Émigré Saga Serialisation - Part 4

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 4, you can read the previous chapters first if you missed out on Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

I: In Which the Gonif is Coerced

Spiro was correct when he supposed Finn would be loath to continue our friendship. Upon delivering the cure for his poison, we received specific instruction to leave him well enough alone. Without his company (and Spiro gone on his mysterious mission), Veeda and I kept one another company over the following months.

This was mostly a happy period, though there were some challenges neither of us anticipated. Veeda did not appreciate my steady diet of boiled meat, but all the food she knew how to prepare was from her mother’s homeland. These dishes were rather too piquant for my tastes, and did not agree with me. This problem was exacerbated by the interminable amount of time she spent in the washroom.

There was also a great apprehension the Synergist caused me. Every time a man walked by the shop in a hooded robe, I fought the urge to duck behind the counter, from fear ’twas a Cleric. Veeda did not share this anxiety, though likely she was too distracted by the Synergist’s power. As the weeks wore on, she spent more and more time experimenting with it. It consumed her thoughts to the point that rest and food were but inconvenient necessities which robbed her of its study. She began to exhibit the personality so ofttimes attributed to its former owner, Thaddeus Terrelum. My fear for my safety and her sanity grew daily as I found even more stray hairs in the washbasin.

Thankfully, ’twas a busy time, for she rarely kept still for long. There was always some new reagent she required for an experiment, and ’twas my task to procure them.

“Here’s what you asked for,” I held out a satchel full of tiny, uncut rubies, “They were the cheapest I could find, as per your request.”

“Good,” she came over to the cellar stairs were I stood, and took them from me.

Turning around, she hurried back to the workbench where she had the Synergist clamped into some sort of metal contraption. Below it was a metal cup, separated from the Synergist by a crystal lens. Untying the satchel, she quickly dumped the stones into a mortar, whist I waited for any sort of thanks.

“You are welcome, you know,” I finally said, folding my arms.

“Welcome where?” She began furiously grinding the precious stones with a marble pestle.

“You’re welcome for the rubies I made a special trip to the Low Quarter market to retrieve,” I was unable to hide my annoyance.

“Ah, good,” she continued to work, clearly hearing that I spoke, but not listening to the words.

After an exasperated sigh, I tromped back up the stairs to prepare dinner. Veeda continued grinding the rubies until they were a coarse powder. She then dumped them into the metal bowl below the Synergist. With twitching fingers, she took hold of the powerful artifact, and began channeling the Mystic Tide.

A beam of virescent light darted down from the Synergist toward the lens. Passing through the lens the beam narrowed, and became searing bright. It struck the cerise powder in the metal bowl, which slowly began to smoke.

She stayed like this for several minutes, as vapors continued to escape from the bowl. The powder was slowly melting into a thick liquid of uniform consistency, as the bowl began to glow orange from the heat. Her eyes tightly closed, she did not notice. Anon, the wood of the table began to smoke as the molten metal cooked it.

Upstairs, I had just lit the fire to begin cooking, when the pungent odor of burning wood overpowered me. I knew ’twas not the measly three logs I had just lit, and I raced down to the cellar. A plume of grey and black smoke erupted when I threw open the door, and I buried my face in the pit of my elbow to stifle my coughing.

I groped my way down the stairs, where it felt like the bowels of a forge. Veeda was in the center of the room, the Synergist still clasped in tightly in her hands. I watched with horror as the flames whipped around her. Her loose hair whirled in the great wind caused by the inferno, and her robe flapped and danced tenaciously.

Her eyes suddenly flew open. They seemed alive with some voracious power which shone brighter than the crimson flames. With no warning, she let out a scream. High and harsh, ’twas like the wail of a banshee. It pierced my ears and knocked me down. I tumbled down the stairs. Quickly scrambling to my feet, I was struck by the sudden darkness around me.

The fire was gone. The only source of light was the faintly glowing Synergist, cradled in Veeda’s hands. It illuminated her face, casting grotesque shadows from below. She gazed my direction with haughty, steely eyes.

Slowly approaching her with outstretched arms, I took hold of the Synergist. Holding my breath (for I knew not how she would react, and had no doubt she could kill me), I gently pulled it from her grasp. She gave no resistance, and when the stone was free, collapsed onto the ash-covered floor.

Once she recovered, we regretfully agreed ’twas clear my shop was no keen place for her to seek refuge. After hours of discussion, she finally conceded the Synergist had to go as well. I sold the deed I received as payment for the Synergist back to the bank. This produced a meager fraction of its advertised value, for the land was eighty leagues from the nearest road. Still, ’twas enough to purchase a small warehouse in a secluded part of the Docks. There, Veeda established her laboratory and made her new abode.

Dispensing with the Synergist proved a much more troublesome prospect. If any word made its way around that I was trying to sell it again, I would have a dozen Clerics invading my shop in search of it. We needed someone who would simply take it, but protect our identities as well. I could think of no one I could trust with this, and Veeda knew but one: her father.

Stubbornly, she refused to speak with him, claiming he would not listen to her. I suspected ’twas on grounds of the manner they parted, although she never told me what transpired (so I couldn’t be certain). I was sure that he wouldn’t listen to a pawnbroker from the Longshoreman’s Quarter, though, no matter how respectable I came off.

In the end, it seemed plain we needed someone to speak on our behalf. Unfortunately, the perfect man for the job still refused to see us, but that all changed once Spiro returned.

The heat of the summer was just passing when he made his way back through my shop door. He dodged every question I levied, but was very curious about how Veeda fared.

“She is happy and hale in her new home,” I assured him.

“She’s no longer here?” Disappointment pulled at his words as he hopped over my shop counter in the way which infuriated me.

“She’s living in a warehouse,” I swatted at the back of his head, but he ducked out of the way in time.

“A warehouse?” He refused to acknowledge my assault.

“’Tis inconspicuous and grants her plenty of room for her experiments.”

“I see. That’s good then. What about the stone?”

“She has it, for now,” I shrugged as my stomach began to ache at the mention of the vexing situation, “But we simply need to be rid of it.”

“Morley,” he placed an unusually thoughtful hand on my forearm, “I brought this upon you all. I’ll take care of it.”

“We’re most of the way there,” I said, not realizing how wrong I was, “She thinks her father can use his position at the academy to help us…”

“But?” Spiro sensed my hesitation.

“She won’t speak to him. Flat out refuses, she does. And I don’t believe he’ll be persuaded by the pure intentions of a burglar or a fence,” I shook my head.

“Finn,” Spiro nodded, “I’ve gotta see him anyways. I’ll convince him. I promise.”

“He won’t see you!” I objected as Spiro turned and headed for the door, “He won’t even see Veeda, and she’s got the least blame of all of us.”

“I’ll ambush him,” he paused to assure me.

“Where? In his home?” I was incredulous.

“At his place of work,” he smiled and opened the door. “Where is that?” I hollered after him.

“In the theatre, of course,” he called back with a chuckle.

***

Spiro found Finn at the Penchant Theatre. He had already broken in to the Opera and the Vallisium Theatre in search of the gonif, who was nowhere to be seen. This took so much time that ’twas intermission when he snuck into the Penchant.

Finn was seated at the front of the mezzanine, which was sparsely occupied at that moment. With a quick look about for ushers who might toss him out, Spiro headed down the aisle and sat next to his friend. Finn had his hands on his lap, and maintained a bored stare at the closed curtain below.

“What’s the show about?” Spiro asked with matter-of-fact humor.

“It be some plebeian affair of mistaken identity involving the improbable reunification of identical twins separated at birth,” Finn sighed in his deadpan way, “The story be taken from some Panian work which was second-rate in its own time, and has not weathered the years well. The crowd believes it wonderfully droll, though, thanks to my men down there.”

“’Tis a wonder any show in this town had a second performance afore you and your clackers, telling the audience when to laugh and when to cry,” Spiro scoffed as a woman bumped into the back of his head on her way to her seat.

“They are claques,” Finn looked at Spiro from the corner of his eye, “And why have you chosen to assault me at my place of business?”

“Come now mate,” Spiro gave Finn a friendly pat on the arm (which was greeted with naught but a cross squint), “Your place of business is backstage and in dark alleys. Shakin’ down the producers.”

“Why have you come?” A note of anger finally began to seethe beneath Finn’s usual monotonous veneer.

“We need your help,” Spiro turned toward the curtain with the look of a dog which had just been struck.

“We?” Finn cocked an eyebrow as a man walked in front of them to retake his seat.

“You know who,” Spiro replied, “They need to get free of the stone. Only person they know they can trust is Veeda’s father.”

“I’ll have no part in this.”

“She refuses to go to him, though. Seems things ended badly there, and you know no one would give Morley or me a chance. We need you to convince him to simply take it, with no payment and no strings.”

“No,” Finn blinked as he stared ahead, utterly refusing to look at Spiro.

“Fine,” the burglar leaned forward, reaching into his pocket, “I didn’t wanna do this… I wanted you to be a decent feckin’ person so I could just tell you, but here.”

He handed Finn a folded piece of parchment. The gonif refused to take it. Spiro held it out for a moment, ere dropping it into Finn’s lap.

“Meet me at Morley’s tomorrow,” Spiro stood, “After you’ve spoken with Delgado. The house is at 42 Brightwand.”

With that, the burglar turned down the aisle and withdrew. Anon, the lights of the Theatre dimmed, as the curtain was about to rise. Jaw clenched, Finn finally picked up the parchment. Unfolding it, he peered down for but an instant. Quickly, he folded it back up with trembling fingers. He exhaled loudly, and his eyes fluttered. Standing, he sighed with a quiver, and left.

***

Finn tapped his toe on the carpeted floor as Delgado’s doorman fetched his master. He was waiting in a drawing room on the first floor of the stone house. ’Twas not far from his own flat, so he had walked instead of calling a cab as he usually would.

The doorman proved easy enough to talk past, but he now had to contend with Delgado himself. Rubbing the knuckles of his left hand with the fingers of his right, he sighed. The parchment Spiro had delivered was tucked inside his light jerkin. Though ’twas small, it felt like an anvil pressing upon him. He took another deep breath to compose himself, and began to worry at his worry.

As readers will have surely observed, Finn was rarely perturbed. Indeed, he was usually the taciturn stone-face, but Spiro’s note had deeply disturbed him. It now felt like a brand, trying to burn its way out from its leather prison, or through his doublet and into his skin.

Delgado finally entered, without introduction. He cautiously, but confidently, sauntered into the drawing room where the gonif waited. He was a few years older than Finn, with grey hair peppering his temples and the corner of his black goatee.

“Señor Delgado,” Finn did not smile as he offered his hand, for he assumed the wizard would appreciate respect over familiarity, “It is an honor.”

Delgado tilted his head slightly up, and looked down his nose toward Finn. He was suspicious. A slow nod was his only reply as a frown formed beneath his squinting eyes. Finn had to appeal quickly, for Delgado was surely not in a patient mood.

“I bear a petition which would serve you well, and undoubtably improve your standing within the Academy,” Finn dropped his hand and let his emerald eyes radiate their incorrigible honesty.

“Martin has never been so daft as to admit a charlatan before,” Delgado slowly stepped sideways to circle Finn, “So I supposed I might as well behold the man who was able to get past him.”

“On my oath, this offer be as real as the floor on which we stand,” Finn felt his throat tighten.

“I am quite pleased with my standing at the Academy,” Delgado continued to circle, “And I do not find myself convinced by your sincerity.”

His time was almost up, and Finn knew it. He had one ploy left, and he prayed ‘twould work. He knew how passionate Iberians are about family, who are nearly as protective of their women as Scionists.

“You are not convinced,” he forced a chuckle and a grin, “Neither was your daughter. She eventually ‘came around’, as they say.”

Delgado stopped in his tracks. His head lowered and his shoulders inched a little wider. He was ready to fight, but his intellect was holding him back.

“How do you know of my daughter?”

“She be a… friend,” Finn assured him, “We have known one another for some time. To speak the truth, this petition comes from her, not me.”

“Is she in danger?” Delgado’s arms were taught by his side, “Have you harmed her?”

“Me?” Finn was legitimately astounded at the accusation, “I lie oft sir, you have heretofore deduced this, but I was sincere when I said we are friends. She requires your aid, but her pride prevents her from beseeching you.”

A frown carved itself across Delgado’s face.

“Now, that sounds just like someone I know,” a warm feminine voice sounded from behind Finn.

Spinning round, he found Veeda’s mother standing in the doorway. Her complexion was darker than her daughter’s, but she had the same jet black hair and thick brows. Her dress, too, was of the same flowing style Veeda wore. She silently entered the room, moving to the opposite side as Señor Delgado.

“Señora Delgado,” Finn bowed his head, “I did not anticipate making your acquaintance.”

“Do not play the fool,” a slight staccato punctuated her words, “I am no Señora. I am not sure I want to be a Delgado right now either. You may call me Shakti.”

This was clearly a stab at her husband, and Finn turned to assess his reaction. His taught posture and limbs were now loose. His eyes looked up and to the left resentfully. He knew he would be trounced, and resolved to provide but minimal resistance.

This willingness (to give up with but a meager fight) is key to a long marriage. If the losing party cannot recognize when they are going to lose, they will struggle until they are overpowered. The loser then resents the victor. If the losing party gives up without any fight, the victor feels her opinion has not been properly aired, and she will resent the loser just the same. A grudge is nearly unavoidable. The sole solution is to argue but enough to allow the victor (lads reading this should understand that this is nearly always the woman) to feel you understand her.

“We cannot trust this… hooligan,” Delgado indicated Finn.

“If you believe me a hooligan, you would do best not to encounter Veeda’s other accomplices,” Finn replied in a way which would have offended me, had I been present.

“Accomplices?!” Shakti placed her hands on her hips, “This word suggests a crime has been committed.”

Finn’s eyes momentarily widened at the realization of his slip, ere he was able to compose himself, “It would not be prudent for me to recount all the details.”

“Then give us the essentials,” Delgado sighed.

“We – that is, your daughter’s friends – acquired an arcane artifact of vast power. We have henceforth been unable to rid ourselves of it, and have begun to fear it will be discovered.”

“You fear it will be discovered by whom?’ Shakti’s voice grew yet more stern.

“Its previous owner, madame,” Finn turned to her with honest eyes, “Or the Clergy. They would like nothing better than to wield its power.”

“You stole it,” anger twinged in Delgado’s words, “You’ve made my daughter a thief!”

“Now, now,” Finn spun around once more, and feeling rather disoriented from all the back and forth, “It be true that she did not conceive of the heist, but it should not have happened without her planning, which she volunteered.”

“Who was it?” Delgado seethed, “And what did you take?”

“This is where my petition be liable to anger you,” Finn shrugged with forced good humor.

“If that was your intention from the start,” Delgado grew more churlish, “You have already succeeded.”

“It was Terrelum,” Finn said without artifice.

“You lie!” Delgado exploded, his face growing red and his hands clenched tighter than ever.

“Stop!” Shakti shouted at her husband, “You know ’tis true. She disobeyed and went to that ball. Why do you think that was?”

Delgado’s mouth tightened and his nostrils flared as he cast his gaze to the floor.

“What did you expect to happen when you sent her away?” Shakti grew warm again as she crossed the room to her husband.

He looked up as she placed an arm around him, “You expect me to believe you stole the Synergist?”

“Whether you choose to believe it or not does not alter the truth that we did,” Finn shook his head, “Can you set her free from the burden?”

Delgado turned to look at his wife, who still supported him with a devoted arm. The two spoke with the silent words only the truly loving can.

“I can not keep it myself,” he turned back to Finn, “There are plans to be made. Return tomorrow, and I will have them for you.”

“You have my thanks,” Finn bowed.

“We are doing this for our daughter,” Shakti insisted.

“You will not involve her further,” Delgado insisted.

“I presume you have both made the acquaintance of your own daughter,” Finn said dryly, “So you can asses the likelihood of her compliance yourselves.”

Shakti smiled and Delgado frowned as Finn turned to leave.

II: In Which Plans are Made

Finn came directly to my shop from the Delgados’. A sailor was pawning his pocket watch for ale money when he entered. Like an arrow, he made straight for the counter where I sat assessing the watch.

“Where be Spiro?” He demanded flatly.

“Well, ’tis a pleasure to see you as well,” I looked up from under my brows.

“In here?” He pointed to the back room.

The sailor looked to me nervously. Finn’s coldness was putting him on edge.

“Indeed,” I nodded before leaning back down to scrutinize the watch.

Without another word (or well deserved apology), Finn moved around the counter and entered the back room. Closing the door behind himself, he eyed Spiro. The burglar was sitting in my chair, with his feet on my desk. He dropped them to the floor as Finn reached into his jerkin.

“What is this?” Finn pulled out the parchment, throwing it onto the desk.

“Will he help us?” Spiro gulped.

“Yes. He will have the details tomorrow,” Finn brusquely opened the parchment and smoothed the folds, “Who is this supposed to be?”

’Twas a picture. Drawn in faded pencil, it depicted the face of a young girl framed by a mess of stringy hair. A slight smile peeked the corner of her lips, and though ’twas just pencil, the eyes seemed to sparkle.

“Your daughter,” Spiro’s voice wavered nervously.

“What?” Finn looked up, the anger in his voice draining along with the color in his cheeks.

“After… everything happened a few months ago,” Spiro had not prepared himself well to discuss this, and was nervous to no end, “I left to find out what happened to the woman you were arrested with. I didn’t expect to find out much, but I figured you’d like to know what they did with her ashes.”

“My daughter?” Finn fell backward into the other chair with disbelief, and little regard for Spiro’s words.

“After twistin’ a few arms, I found out she wasn’t executed when you were set to be. The prison doctor learned she was with child, so they moved her to a place further south until she bore the little thing.”

“And then?” Finn’s brows twitched in anticipation.

“They dumped her ashes in the Vallis river,” Spiro’s eyes looked far off, “Prob’ly rolled through this town fifteen years ago.”

“The girl! What happened to her?” Finn demanded.

“I tracked her as far as an orphanage outside of Castlerock. Then, the trail went cold,” Spiro shrugged, “The records of where she went next were missing. Only a few of the Sisters running the place were around before she left, ’twas almost ten years ago, you see? Of the ones who were, only one remembered her.”

“And she…” Finn choked up as he pointed to the parchment, “Had this?”

“Aye,” Spiro nodded, “The lass drew it herself. She had a real talent, the old Sister said.”

Finn nodded, picking up the parchment, and losing himself in the face of the daughter he never knew he had. He was not simply showing more emotion than he usually did – he was feeling more than he had in years.

“I believed it was her mother,” Finn finally remarked of the drawing, “The visage is burned in my mind from when we first met as children.”

“The old Sister remembered her well,” Spiro leaned forward, placing his elbows on the desk, “Said she was full of life. Nothin’ got her down and she could make a friend out of the meanest churl.”

“That is reminiscent of her mother as well,” Finn nearly managed to smile.

“The Sister thought she was adopted by an artisan or some such. She’s probably doing work for one of the Scuole by now, but there was nothin’ else to go on.”

Finn shook his head, “It matters not. For sixteen years I lived without knowing. It changes nothing now.”

“It doesn’t?” Spiro let his disappointment show, “It don’t grant you any closure?”

“Why?”

“I known you half my life, mate,” Spiro’s fought to keep his voice from wavering, “I was fifteen when I broke us out of that jail cell, and in all the time I known you, you’ve always had this look. Like you was… fallow on the inside. I figured you were hurtin’ from not knowing what happened to her. I figured you never tried too hard to find out ‘cause you were afraid. After all that happened with you being poisoned, I realized what you’d done. You’d turned yourself into some kind of… of a living martyr.”

Finn looked at Spiro for the first time since he entered. His verdant eyes were honest, but not the way they usually seemed. Now, they held some shimmer of vulnerability. For the first time in years, their honesty was true.

“Perhaps I did,” he stood, “I will return tomorrow eve with news. Have Veeda here as well.”

Spiro nodded as Finn turned to go before blurting out, “Finn!”

“Yes?” He asked without looking back, the door handle in his hand.

“I’m sorry.”

“The apology be mine to give,” he turned his head slightly to see Spiro from the corner of his eyes, “You have saved my life twice.”

***

The following eve found the four of us in my apartment. I was seated on the sofa next to Veeda, while Spiro and Finn stood on opposite sides of the room.

“What’d you learn?” Spiro asked, leaning against the wall.

“Your request was for no payment and no strings,” Finn replied, “And while he will comply with the first requirement…”

“There are plenty of strings attached, are there not?” Veeda sighed.

“There are,” Finn nodded, “We must procure something most unusual for Delgado, before he will relieve us of the Synergist.”

“Did I hear an ‘us’ there?” I asked with surprise at Finn’s sudden willingness to again count himself part of our odd little posse.

“Don’t make this queer,” Spiro spoke before Finn could, “He’s here to help us, that’s enough.”

I sensed this was an attempt to conceal the events which caused Finn’s change of heart. I would not be so easily distracted, but I knew this was not the time to pose such probing questions.

“We need the Carmine’s seal,” Finn said with no regard for Spiro’s comment.

“His seal?” Veeda was puzzled.

“Your father will provide us with a letter. It is our task to enter the Hermitage, and to stamp this dispatch with the Carmine’s seal without leaving a trace.”

“Is that all?” Veeda commented factiously.

“No,” Finn folded his arms for lack of amusement at Veeda’s demeanor, “The Carmine’s seal is an enchanted ring he wears at all times. The wax used is filled with some alchemical substance which reacts with the ring, so we must procure that as well.”

“Why, in the name of the Uncreated, does he have us doing this?” Spiro held his palms up in bewilderment.

“We stole the Synergist, so he surely thinks us very capable,” I replied.

“I believe he meant why this particular task,” Veeda gave my leg a patronizing pat, “’Tis so they can frame the Carmine for something.”

“How now?” I asked, “Who is ‘they’?”

“The Academy, and – by extension – the King,” Veeda sighed at our inability to keep up, “We are becoming pawns in their game. If I know my father, this break-in shall not be the end of our errand. We will be depositing the Synergist and this note into someone’s possession as well.”

“Why?” Spiro was growing as frustrated as Veeda.

“You certainly have no head for politics,” Veeda shook her head.

“The Academy will reveal the ostensible treachery of this ‘patsy’, as I believe you would say. They can then publicly claim ownership of the Synergist, while discrediting the Carmine and likely ruining the life of some enemy of the King,” Finn jumped in with a nod.

Spiro stuck out his bottom lip, still pondering the meaning of ‘ostensible’. He wasn’t paying attention to the rest, but nodded along anyway.

“I suppose we must consider if we are comfortable performing this task,” Veeda contemplated.

“It’s the only way to be free of the Synergist, isn’t it?” I threw up my hands.

“You could toss it in the sea and be rid of it for good,” Spiro observed.

“’Tis too valuable, ‘twould be a moral crime to waste such a precious resource,” Veeda shook her head.

“How are we to get Spiro into the Hermitage, then?” I asked.

“Fortuitously, fate has supplied us an opportunity, and Señor Delgado has provided us means,” Finn replied.

“Less art, more substance,” Veeda rolled her eyes.

“The Grey Brothers will arrive next weekend for their annual pilgrimage to the Hermitage,” Finn obliged.

“They’re the monks who don’t speak, right?” Spiro inquired.

“Precisely,” Finn smiled, “And Delgado can produce us a pair of their sacred robes.”

“A pair?” I asked nervously, fearing I might be drafted into action during the heist itself, “My friends, I am not sure I can have a hand in this. To act against the Carmine… ’tis surely some sort of heresy. I doubt my soul could bear it.”

“They would be for Spiro and myself,” Finn turned to Spiro matter-of-factly, “I trust you have no qualms.”

“I’d do worse to the haughty fool for nothing,” he chuckled.

“And I was not baptized in this Church,” Finn added.

“Perhaps you could consider it an act of crusade and beg your Pontif for an indulgence for your sins,” I grew snide.

“Morley,” Veeda turned to me, “You sell stolen goods and engage in games of chance, ’tis a bit late to worry about the state of your soul.”

“I will have you know, it’s been more than a year since I gambled,” I was shocked by her brutal assault on my character, “And passing along goods of dubious origin seems a wholly different thing than assaulting the Uncreated’s highest servant. Have you no reservations about this?”

“I’m a wizard’s daughter,” her bottom lip protruded, “A natural ally of the King, I suppose. My mother is a pagan, as well, so the Carmine would like little better than to burn alive.”

“You will take no direct part in this,” Finn tried to assuage my misgivings, “Simply hearing of our plan does not make you an accomplice, does it?”

“I suppose not,” I frowned.

It seemed Finn was as dedicated to us as ever. I couldn’t fathom what caused this change, but I wasn’t willing to pry just yet.

“What about me?” Veeda stood and faced Finn, “Shall I not join you?”

“I’m pretty sure there aren’t women in the Grey Brothers,” Spiro shrugged, “The beauty of this plan is that we’ll hardly have to sneak at all. We can walk straight in through the Basilica, and only have to worry once we get to the Carmine’s Palace itself. It’s too much risk to bring you along.”

“I understand the merits of this plan,” Veeda turned to Spiro, “But if events should take a ruinous turn, the two of you shall be surrounded by thousands of skilled mages with no defense!”

“Our best defense it to never get caught,” Spiro frowned, for he did wish for her aid, though it simply wasn’t practical.

“Indeed, that is imperative,” Finn added, “Delgado will not appropriate the Synergist should we leave any trace.”

“My father has forbidden me to help, hasn’t he?” Veeda spun round to face Finn.

He nodded silently.

“Then I shall do what I can,” she folded her arms, “Spiro!”

“Aye?” He was startled by her sudden commanding tone.

“Away with me to my workshop. I have something for you,” she commanded as she made her way to the stairs.

“She certainly is strong-willed,” I observed.

“I wouldn’t have her any other way,” Spiro replied, following her out.

“I guess we’re done for tonight, then,” I slapped my palms on my knees.

“So it would appear,” Finn sighed.

“Do you want to discuss…?” I began to ask him.

“No,” he frowned, before a smile crept up the corners of his lips, “But you should stop by some time. Myfanwy speaks of you often. You must have made quite an impression on her.”

My cheeks grew hot at the memory of my previous embarrassment, as though it was fresh.

“Perhaps,” was all I could say.

III: In Which a Revelation is Made

Spiro followed Veeda through the Longshoreman’s Quarter to the Docks. She spoke little, for she was still in a huff over the way her father was manipulating her, even now. Spiro had no culpability in this, of course, but he was the only man around, so he bore the brunt of her displeasure.

“We almost there?” He asked after several rebuffs.

“Nearly,” she replied, “And do try to keep your hands to yourself once inside.”

“Do you think I’d steal from you?”

“Just don’t touch anything. I don’t want to have to put out another fire,” she rolled her eyes.

“Aye, Morley told me about that spot of misfortune,” he replied.

“Here,” Veeda said, pausing before the door of a smaller warehouse, “I’ll just be a moment with the lock.”

The door was secured with a radial lock, which made Spiro chuckle, “I figured you’d never wanna see one of those again.”

“Any lock that could keep even you out is the lock I want,” she grinned, her humor slowly returning, “Plus, I made a few refinements of my own.”

“Such as?” He asked as she pulled the lock off.

“A glyph,” she opened the door, “Open it without dispelling it, and you’ll be frozen as if you were buried in snow for a fortnight.”

“Impressive,” he commented, stepping inside.

He was greeted by a wall of crates which stretched almost to the ceiling. They wrapped around the interior of the building, providing a sort of inner wall.

“This way,” Veeda latched the door from inside, and led him around a corner of the wall of crates, “These are here to avoid suspicion, should someone peek inside when I’m entering.”

“Prudent,” Spiro nodded, “They’re probably handy for storage as well.”

“Indeed,” Veeda led him through a little maze before they emerged in a large open space.

The area was lit by the sort of enchanted stones which illuminated the Cabinet of Curiosity. A set of three workbenches sat in the center of the space. Off to one side was a bed and writing desk. To the other was a metal stove and a couple raggedy upholstered chairs. Many of the crates had their open sides exposed to the interior, acting as shelves.

“How do you cook in here without filling the place with smoke?” Spiro walked to the cast iron stove and opened the little door on its front.

A wave of vicious heat and crimson light spewed forth. A large but rough-hewn rock glowed yellow within. Spiro threw it closed and stepped back.

“Never mind.”

“Over here,” Veeda was at a workbench covered with small metal fragments, scraps of leather, and schematics.

“Right,” Spiro complied, “What do you got for me this time?”

“These are not toys I make for your enjoyment,” Veeda looked up, placing her hands on her hips.

“Did… I say they were?” Spiro looked about quizzically.

“They are powerful tools with specific purpose and utility,” she asserted, her voice starting to waver.

“Can’t say I can argue with that,” he drew closer to ascertain what was the matter.

“Of course you can’t,” Veeda’s momentary humor was quickly dissolving.

Spiro let the jab bounce off his skin, for he knew something was bothering her. Placing his palms on the table, he looked to her, his dark eyes radiating rare compassion.

“What are you looking at?” Veeda was indignant.

“What’s the matter?” He asked bluntly.

“Nothing,” she raised her brows for emphasis.

“You’re upset,” Spiro shook his head before trailing off, “Is it…?”

After a momentary silence, she tired of waiting for him to finish his thought, “Is it what?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, looking to the left, “I was hoping you’d finish for me.”

“Are you done trying to pry into the depths of my mind?” She rolled her eyes.

“Is it…” Spiro pondered, “Your father?”

Veeda sighed. Her brows pulled up in the middle as her eyes struggled with pent up pain. Spiro realized his guess had struck true, and hurried around the table to her.

“He never believed my experiments would amount to anything,” she cast her eyes down.

“That must have been hard to bear,” Spiro placed his hand atop hers.

She shook her head, “Or maybe he just told me that. Maybe he wanted to break my spirit, to get me to give up on my own accord.”

“He would do that?”

“I would have never thought so,” Veeda laughed spitefully, “But consider the plan he concocted for us. I think he has been more involved with politics than I ever knew.”

“He’s not the person you thought he was,” Spiro observed.

“No,” Veeda choked on her words, “I guess I first observed the signs when he told me to leave, but I did not wish it to be true.”

“That’s a difficult reveal-lation,” he replied.

“It’s ‘revelation’,” Veeda laughed through her pain, “And I suppose ’twas. Too difficult, for I tried to deny it. Maybe he did it to – in his mind – protect me. Maybe he never said he was proud because he thought it would encourage carelessness.”

“Veeda,” Spiro took her gently by the shoulders and turned her to face him, “You don’t have to understand everything. Your feelings aren’t riddles to solve with diagrams and figures. You can just feel them, you know?”

She forced a smile and thanked him, “How does a burglar end up knowing so much while learning so little?”

She hugged him. The warm touch of her arms stirred his soul (and more). He returned the friendly embrace, which lasted more than a moment. Her squeeze softened, but she kept her arms around him as he slowly leaned his face toward her shoulder. His head felt as though ’twas on fire as he caught the scent of her skin. A small gasp escaped her as her fingers trembled against his back.

As the embrace lingered, both began to worry about its meaning in the exact way Spiro had just cautioned against. Without warning, the two pulled apart. Nervous laughs and sidelong glances helped each cope with their butterflies.

“So,” Spiro rubbed the back of his neck, “What exactly did you have for me?”

“Ah…” Veeda coughed, “Yes, here.”

From the workbench she picked up a leather glove and held it out to him. It was short, the sort which just reaches the wrist and leaves the top half of the fingers exposed. Spiro’s right bracer had a similar glove attached to it, so he had to remove it.

Turning toward the table, he struggled with the leather straps on it for a moment before pulling it off and dropping it onto the table with a loud thud. Quickly, he slid on the little glove. ’Twas then he noticed the palm area was double layered, with what appeared to be a thin lens of glass secured with metal rivets.

“What’s this then,” he held it up to examine it further.

“How do you feel about learning to channel the Mystic Tide?” Veeda asked with a smile.

“Magic!?” Spiro was incredulous, “Me… use magic?”

“That’s what this will help you do,” she tapped the lens in the glove with a fingertip, “I spent a week aligning the iron within its lattice structure to achieve optimal energy focusing. Even a novice can harness tremendous power from it, with but one drawback.”

“What’s that?”

“The range of projection is severely limited,” she shrugged.

“What does it project, exactly?” He grew a tad suspicious.

“Electromagnetic distortions,” she beamed.

“Which are…?” Spiro was at a loss.

“Two separate, but closely linked, phenomenon. Magnetic force interacts with any material, but particularly with metals, allowing for spatial manipulation and catalyzation of some alchemical processes. Electrical force,” Veeda realized she would have to put this explanation in more relatable terms for Spiro, “Is like lightning.”

“I can cast thunderbolts with this?” He grew a touch afraid at the prospect of holding such power.

“Nothing that powerful. Not without significant practice, at least. What it will do, though, is allow you to render victims unconscious or paralyzed.”

“How?”

“Ah,” Veeda wrung her hands, “’Tis a bit much to explain. Some Scionist doctors discovered that the brain communicates to the muscles with subtle electrical signals. If these signals are mimicked, the entire system can be overwhelmed.”

“I think that makes enough sense,” Spiro lied.

“In practical terms,” Veeda moved on, “Touching a person with this stone while channeling the Tide will cause all their muscles to contract, effectively paralyzing them. This effect should last for some time. If touched to certain key areas of the body, it can also render the mind unconscious.”

“Where would that be?” Spiro asked.

“The first I have identified is here,” Veeda pointed to where her shoulder met her neck, “But I believe there are others as well.”

“That’s all well and good,” Spiro adjusted the glove, which was a little loose, “But how do I channel the Mystic Tide?”

“You feel it,” Veeda realized explaining this to someone like Spiro would be a challenge indeed, “Come this way.”

She led Spiro around the table to the corner of the wall of crates, where a tall metal rod stuck out of the floor.

“I put this here for testing purposes,” she told him, “You will have to get quite close.”

Spiro approached the rod, and held his hand toward it, “Now what?”

“Closer,” Veeda ordered, “You must be almost touching it.”

Spiro inched closer, and looked to her expectantly.

“Now, clear your mind,” Veeda instructed, “Controlling your breath can aid this process. The stone is very well tuned, so you should feel the power pulling toward it with little help.”

Spiro closed his eyes, taking deep, deliberate breaths, “It’s like my hand is throbbing, or pulsing… something.”

“Good,” Veeda nodded though he still had his eyes closed, “Encourage that feeling. You needn’t direct the energy, simply coax it through your hand, and into the stone.”

Spiro nodded slowly, his outstretched arm growing taught. After a moment, there was a loud snap as a strand of purple lightning jumped from the stone to the metal pole.

Spiro jumped back in fright, “By the Uncreated, what was that!?”

“That,” Veeda grinned, “Was magic.”

“It feels so… odd,” Spiro examined the stone intently.

“Try a few more times. Worry not about sustaining the channel. ’Tis more important you are able to make it at will.”

Approaching the rod again, Spiro held out his hand. He furrowed his brows in concentration. Nothing happened.

“Relax,” Veeda gently chided, “You can not pull it through you, you must push it.”

Spiro looked to her from the corner of his eye, “That makes no sense.”

“They may be the same fundamental application of force, but a pull required you to work against what you are moving, while a push uses inert force to aid you.”

Spiro dropped his arm, “You use the natural downward force regardless of whether you are pushing or pulling a fecking crate down a hill.”

“You are far too literal minded,” Veeda shook her head.

“I don’t know a sodding thing about literature,” Spiro didn’t understand what this had to do with using magic.

“By the Uncreated,” Veeda rolled her eyes, “Just keep your mind clear.”

“Aye,” he raised his arm again, and reached toward the rod.

In a moment, another shock jumped to to the metal. Spiro smiled, and after a breath, conjured another. This one was larger and louder than the first two.

“Excellent,” Veeda rubbed her hands together.

Spiro clenched his fingers, then opened them quickly as a shock escaped to the pole.

“Good,” Veeda nodded, “Many mages utilize bodily motion to help memorize channeling techniques.”

Again he clenched his fist, and throwing his fingers open sent a shock to the rod. This time, it did not stop. The purple strand of lightning changed to a pale blue, and danced up and down the metal pole. It snapped and cracked, keenly cutting though the air.

“That is good, I believe you have it,” Veeda assured him.

“I can hold it longer,” Spiro insisted.

“I do not doubt you could channel this all day if you needed to,” Veeda agreed, “But you should stop.”

“Not yet…” Spiro bit his lip, struggling to maintain his hold on the channel.

The shock traveled about the pole faster. The metal gradually began to glow orange. Veeda looked on with dismay. Finally, as the rod turned red hot, she grabbed his hand away.

“Why’d you stop me?” He frowned as the the pole slowly bent in half where the metal was partly molten.

“That’s why,” she scoffed.

“Sorry,” he frowned without much sincerity.

“’Tis no matter,” she headed back toward the workbenches in the center of the room, “You may purchase me a new one.”

“Ha ha ha!” He followed her, “But you did outdo yourself this time, I must admit.”

“I thought I might attach this glove to your bracer,” she picked up the one he had left on the table, examining it, “Would you object?”

“Certainly not,” he smiled, standing next to her, “I didn’t realize you were such an artisan.”

“I have found that I can accomplish most anything I wish,” she playfully ran her hip into his side.

“I wouldn’t doubt it for a moment,” he awkwardly tried to return the gesture.

She chuckled, and reached for his hand. He gently shuddered as she raised it slowly, cradling it in her serene fingers. Unconsciously, the two stepped closer. Their eyes nervously locked, but pretended to look elsewhere. Spiro felt his heart beating in his fingers and toes, while Veeda struggled to catch her breath.

Neither of the fools had ever experienced such infatuation. They were in the prime of their lives, and this simple touch sparked the passions which are inherit in youthful vigor. If Spiro had not run away while so young, perhaps his father would have taught him such things. Had he not focused so relentlessly on his mischievous craft, he might have learned it from a barmaid. Veeda’s parents, for their part, were surely too defensive to have ever told her how this would happen.

The two struggled with themselves for a moment, their cheeks growing red hot, before Veeda was finally able to speak, “I shall have to relieve you of this, then.”

“Of course,” Spiro gulped as she began to remove the glove from his hand.

Suddenly, the far off light of his dark eyes flashed into sudden fear. Recoiling away, he feigned a laugh.

“Actually, I can do that,” he pulled his arm down to his side and nervously tugged at the glove.

“What’s wrong?” Veeda’s brows tensed and her lips pouted with surprise at the rejection.

“Oh… nothing,” he gulped again, now trembling from fear he may have offended her.

“Then, let me,” she took a step toward him, and took his hand in her own once again.

Lifting it gently, she studied it intently, marveling at the odd vitality it stirred within her. Wrapping her fingertips around the back of the glove, she tugged it slowly, finding an unusual satisfaction in the way it slid off his skin.

He grimaced painfully as the flesh of his palm was laid bare, but she did not notice. In fact, it took her more than a moment to notice the source of his agitation. When she finally did, her eyes widened, and her jaw slackened. The seven pointed star of the Uncreated had been carved into his palm. The thick scar was stained a faint blue.

“What is this!” She could not contain her shock, just as she would soon be unable to contain her horror.

“You know what it is,” he pulled away.

’Twas the mark of a particularly extreme sect of Anabaptist known as the People of the Sacred Blood. All Anabaptists are considered heretics by the Orthodox church, of course, but the Vallisian church persecutes only this particular sect for its ritual of baptizing adherents in blood.

Veeda took a step back, before letting out a malicious scoff, “I should have known. How did I not see?”

“Veeda,” Spiro took a step toward her, but she pushed him away.

“Always carrying on about the ‘holiness’ of your work. Always worried about the ‘glory’ of doing what you do best – assuring me my choices were correct so long as they pushed me to become more than I currently was,” she shook her head in alarm, “It could be nothing but the dangerous ideology of an Anabaptist.”

“You know me,” Spiro pled, “You know I am not dangerous.”

Veeda slowly circled around the workbench as she spoke, “You steal! You’d even kill if it was ‘justified’. What kind of doctrine vindicates murder?”

“Killing is abhorrent to the Uncreated,” Spiro shot back, “I believe that as much as anyone, but I won’t be apologizing for defending my own life!”

“And that?” Veeda pointed from across to workbench to his hand, “How do you defend such an abominable practice? Cutting your flesh, defiling what the Uncreated gave you, and then drinking your own blood!”

“None of the sacred texts outlaw altering the body. Those rules were concocted to line up with old Panian… sensibilities,” Spiro began to lose himself to his own anger at this persecution, “The baptism in blood, on the other hand, is mentioned over a dozen times! And since when do you give credence to church dogma? You’re a witch! The Clerics would see you burn. My people would celebrate you.”

“I thought I knew you,” Veeda shook her head, slowly slipping into a shocked daze, “And I suppose I did – I simply ignored the parts which were repellent.”

“I could say the same,” Spiro placed his fists on the table, “I guess I just couldn’t understand how someone so clever, so strong, and so caring could be so intolerable!”

Veeda stared daggers at Spiro. She dropped the glove, still clenched in her fist, on the table.

“I shall deposit this at Morley’s when I have finished tomorrow,” her voice was bitterly numb.

Spiro sighed, sorely wishing he could say something to make her see him the way she had only moments before. ’Twas no use, so he turned on his heel, and showed himself out.

As the door of the warehouse slammed shut, Veeda wondered if when Spiro had called her ‘intolerable’, he meant ‘intolerant’. Then, she began to wonder if he was correct.

IV: In Which Our Heroes are Caught off Guard

Finn and Spiro’s disguises arrived several days later. The heavy woolen robes were a rough and motley grey. They were simple enough to be easily forged, so I began to fear this might not prove enough to gain them entrance.

“We would be killed on the spot if caught,” Finn assured me, “The Clerics must feel this enough deterrent to keep impostors away.”

“‘Twould be enough to keep me away,” I replied as Spiro tied his robe on.

“Can’t believe they walk a hundred leagues through the summer heat in these,” he remarked noting the heavy material.

“They must, if they are to return home during the harvest season and earn their sustenance,” Finn replied raising the hood of his robe and appraising himself in a small mirror next to my bookshelf.

“I never got why the peasants give them a bloody thing,” Spiro shook his head, “They’re not like the black monks down south, protecting the people from bandits and settling disputes. These grey fellas stay locked up in their monastery for most of the year, then come begging, and for what?”

“They spend those months locked away praying for our sins – well, for the sins of those who feed them,” I replied.

“I’m perfectly capable of praying for my own soul,” Spiro rolled his eyes.

“You don’t toil in a field twelve hours a day,” I reminded him.

“Pray while you sow. Pray while you reap. Don’t try telling me they can’t do two things at once,” Spiro untied his robe and pulled it off.

“You certainly have some interesting theological notions,” I scoffed.

“Not so unconventional for an Anabaptist,” Finn remarked as he too removed his robe.

Spiro’s mouth fell open, his face growing pink.

“How could I not know?” Finn was as dry as ever.

“Holy…” my understanding of Spiro suddenly shifted, and I finally understood his motivation.

“Least it didn’t change your opinion of me,” Spiro frowned.

“Be that why Veeda did not come?” Finn asked.

“I’m sure,” Spiro threw his robe onto the sofa a little harder than he had to, “She didn’t exactly handle it well.”

“She’ll come around,” I tried to assure him.

“You aren’t disgusted by me, then?” An accusatory note underscored his voice.

“I’ve been doing a lot of consideration,” I squinted at him, “And I’m not sure I want to follow the word of anyone who’d see one of my best friends burned alive.”

“Then you’ve more courage than many,” Spiro relaxed a bit, “Shall we meet here tomorrow?”

“I do not believe we should attempt to enter the Hermitage when the genuine monks arrive,” Finn replied, “I foresee a greater chance of being caught than if we wait until after nightfall.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to blend in with the flock?” Spiro asked.

“One might think,” Finn conceded, “But the other monks might recognize us as impostors, and neither of us has been tonsured.” “That’s true,” I agreed, “If anyone sees you without your hood on, they’ll immediately know you’re not real monks.”

“And we can’t very well hide our heads for the next three months while our hair grows back,” Spiro nodded.

“We could shave it completely once the whole thing is done,” I posited, “You’ll look odd, but there’s nothing criminal in being bald.”

Finn frowned, “No barber would dare give us a tonsure. They could be jailed for the offense as well.”

“I can do it,” I shrugged.

“You?” Spiro asked with a subtle smile, while Finn only frowned more.

“I shave myself,” I remarked, rubbing my bare cheeks then twirling my mustache, “And I don’t think I do a half bad job.”

“I wondered how you managed to look like that without calling upon the barber daily,” Finn cocked a brow.

“Let’s get this done with tonight, then,” Spiro clapped his hands, “We want to be healed before we go!”

Finn grimaced, clutching his hands together. He was less than willing to part with his hair.

“I know you’re attached to it mate,” Spiro gave him a slap on the back, “But I promise it’ll grow back. That, or you’ll look a bit like Morley.”

“Pardon me?” I said, unconsciously touching the bare spot on the crown of my head.

“That’s true,” Finn grinned, “He has been working on a bit of a natural tonsure for himself, hasn’t he?”

I put my hands on my sides, “If the two of you jesters are finished poking fun at the man who’ll soon be taking a razor to your scalps, let’s get this over with!”

***

I did, if I might be so bold as to say, a fantastic job tonsuring both of our heroes. After a couple days of waiting, and a touch up shave, the two were ready for their mission. They waited until after nightfall, and wore about their necks the little leather bags in which the monks placed the coin they begged for during the day.

During the weeks the monks are present, Brimgaet seems absolutely thick with them. The resident beggars all know ’twill be a hungry time, for they simply cannot compete with the pious hermits. These little bags would be their excuse for arriving back at the Hermitage so late. We filled them with Dinar, to make it seem they had dallied because they were having a productive day.

From my shop, they had to pass through the west side of the Old Quarter in order to reach the High Quarter where the Basilica and Hermitage sit at the North end of Lucidus Square. Turning down a side street to save themselves some walking, Spiro was adjusting the rope belt which held his robe closed when Finn abruptly grabbed him by the shoulder.

Looking up, he saw why. Three men, barely able to walk shoulder to shoulder, were headed toward them on the narrow street. Turning around, Finn saw that two more were approaching from behind them. These men moved rapidly, with a certain ravenous determination in their steps. They certainly did not seem as though they intended to donate to our masquerading monks.

Before I continue this exciting episode, I would like to stress that though this is the second time someone has been mugged during these tales, Brimgaet is not a city full of thugs who prey on young women and helpless monks. It is no more dangerous than any other city, and I hope that if you have the opportunity to visit it, you will not shy away. You would simply be wise to avoid the Old Quarter after dark.

Finn tensed as he released Spiro’s shoulder. Lowering his arm to his side, he inconspicuously pulled it up the loose sleeve of his robe. The men continued their advance. The muscles of Finn’s legs grew taught as he invisibly retrieved a dagger he had on his belt. Lowering his hand back through the sleeve, he kept it hidden as the men drew near.

His jaw trembled, as he feared there would be no talking his way out of the situation. He might have learned fencing in his youth, but he had never been in a true brawl. A fluttering in his stomach flared, startling him. ’Twas the first time he had felt such nerves in over a decade. Indeed, since the revelation of his daughter was made known, the palisade about his heart seemed to be collapsing in a most unceremonious way.

“What have we here?” One of the thugs remarked, “Looks like someone took a wrong turn on their way back to the High Quarter.”

“You won’t find many willin’ to donate here,” another brute added.

“We’re ever so poor off,” the first rejoined with a cruel smile, “I’d actually say we could use the coin more than you.”

Those bags were their only excuse if they were questioned. Our heroes knew this, and Finn happened upon what he hoped was an imperfect, but suitable substitute for violence. With his free hand, he removed two Dinar from his pouch and held it toward the man who had just spoken.

“Two Dinar?” The thug who appeared to be the leader (or at least the most talkative) scoffed, “Boys, those bags look pretty weighted down. Can’t you be more charitable?”

Finn motioned with the silver toward each man next to the thug.

“What’re you sayin’, mute fool?” the thug cracked his knuckles.

“He’ll give two to each of us,” one of the brutes behind them commented.

Finn turned to face him, and shook he head yes beneath his hood.

“I don’t think you understand how poor we are in this part of the city,” the leader growled.

“Think you’re a real Ivor Kendrick, don’t you?” Spiro spat from beneath his hood.

“Wait, I didn’t thought they talked?” One of the thugs whispered in the leader’s ear.

“They don’t!” He hissed back, “Least… I thought not.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Spiro shook his head, “Out of the way.”

“Or what?” The leader leaned his face toward Spiro.

With that, Spiro dropped a flasher on the ground. Finn wasn’t expecting this, but he faced the opposite direction, so he wasn’t blinded by the burst of light. It startled him enough to make him jump, though. He lunged forward without thinking.

When he regained his senses a moment later, he realized his dagger was wedged between the ribs of one of the men he’d been facing. A jolt shot through him, as his whole body felt lighter than air. Twisting the blade, he tried to pull it out. ’Twould not budge.

The thug hunted for him through the searing white light which was burned into his eyes. Their squinting search seemed at odds with his gaping mouth and pitifully furrowed brows. His cracked and rough lips trembled as he slowly understood his death was at hand.

None of these subtle signs were lost on Finn. His mind raced, and his fingers trembled as he released the dagger’s hilt. The horror of the dying man’s face awakened dormant fears caged in the dark corners of Finn’s soul. They frightened and repelled him. He meagerly pushed the thug’s shoulder, sending him tumbling to the ground.

The other thugs were similarly stunned by the flash. They clutched at their burning eyes, making liberal use of every curse they knew. Still, by this time, the other man who had come up behind them had drawn a knife. Finn caught sight of the blade from the corner of his eye. He jumped to the side as the blinded thug charged toward him. He caught the brute’s hand as he lunged, and pulled it upward. As his arms twisted backward, the brute had no choice but to relinquish his weapon.

Once ’twas free, Finn brought the blade down into the man’s back. It sliced downward, ripping a great hole from below his shoulder to his kidney. Finn jumped back to avoid the crimson shower which spilled forth as the thug collapsed to the ground. He fell next to his friend, who was coughing up thick ichor.

Finn spun round, expecting another one of the thugs to be on top of him. Instead, the three men were sprawled on the ground. Relentlessly twitching, they made no sound.

Spiro was similarly assessing Finn’s work, and looked up to him with a start, “Shite! You fecking killed yours.”

“What was I supposed to do?” Finn shouted, seemingly unable to control his voice.

“Keep it down!” Spiro hissed, “Let’s get out of this sodding place.”

Finn complied without a word, and broke off at a run. Spiro followed, and the two didn’t slow until they were within sight of the gate to the High Quarter. Finn wiped his brow as they walked past the city guard, who regarded them with naught but respectful nods.

“What in the name of the Uncreated did you do to those other men?” Finn whispered to Spiro.

“Knocked ‘em out,” Spiro replied as they headed up the empty winding path to the High Quarter.

“How?

“Magic,” Spiro held out his palm, though Finn couldn’t make out the stone in the dark, “Veeda showed me how afore things turned sour.”

“She will come around,” Finn’s face grew warm as he tried to console his friend.

His eyes fluttered as a lump grew in his throat. In the years they had known one another, Spiro had never spoken or cared for much but his trade. The change might have been lost on me, but ’twas as clear as day for Finn. From the moment they were first acquainted, he could see Spiro was in awe of the young witch. When he looked at her, his eyes filled with a sort of shimmering wonder. Always finding ever more to admire in her, he would follow her to the end of the earth.

Her rejection was clearly taking a toll, no matter how hard the burglar tried to hide it. What surprised Finn, was the way it seemed to affect him as well. The surges of authentic emotion he suddenly experienced still baffled him. He did not realize how close he was to the closure he claimed he didn’t require.

Both men were panting as they reached the summit of the hill where the High Quarter began, so they slowed a bit to catch their breath. The clock struck eleven as they entered Lucidus Square and approached the Basilica. The Carmine’s Grand Basilica is an enormous structure capable of holding well over ten thousand souls. Its great dome sits in contrast to the sharply angled roof of the Academy Library, which sits opposite it on the square. North of the Basilica is the Hermitage, the series of connected palaces which comprise the heart of the Vallisian Church. Its three wings form a square, with the Basilica’s rear comprising the South side.

Finn and Spiro mounted the short set of stairs which lead to the Basilica’s grand facade. Two stoic guards bearing torches flanked the main portal, a set of doors ten times taller than a man. The light of their torches shimmered off the darkly stained wood, and cast deep shadows on our heroes’ faces.

“You’re back awefuly late,” One of the sentries approached as they reached the top of the stairs.

Finn grabbed the bag around his neck, and held it out toward the guard. Shaking it gently, he made its substantial weight clear.

“I see,” the guard nodded, “Perchance some of that gold is for me?”

Finn shrugged, and removed a couple Dinar for the guard.

“And my friend over there,” he pointed to the other guard, “His trouble deserves recognition as well.”

Thus is the cunning of the corruption of even the servants of the servants of the Uncreated. Spiro removed a couple silver from his pouch and handed them to the other sentry. He nodded to his partner, who opened a smaller door, which was built into the much larger one. Our heroes quickly shuffled through with polite nods beneath their grey hoods.

The interior of the Basilica is a glistening cavern of polished granite (marble is exceedingly rare in my homeland, and only used for facades). The arched ceiling is covered in colorful murals depicting moments of the great prophets’ lives, while the pillars are intricately carved with floral designs.

Our heroes could make out little of this in the stark moonlight, which poured in through high windows and ricocheted off the lustrous floors. It robbed the interior of all color, transforming it into a grotto fit for specters and phantoms, not men. The echo of their footsteps grew louder as they crossed the transept beneath the great dome. A dazzling moonbeam poured through the opening at its apex and washed over our heroes as they headed straight for the gilded altar.

Passing around it, they headed through an archway to its right. Spiro led the way up a dark set of stairs. Finn groped the walls to keep his balance as they moved up through the pitch-darkness. Soon, he ran into Spiro’s back.

“We’re here,” the burglar whispered.

“Sorry,” Finn stepped down a stair.

“Just let me spring this lock, and we’ll be into the Carmine’s palace,” Spiro searched in the darkness for the door handle.

Delgado’s knowledge of the Basilica and Hermitage’s layout was impressive. His instructions included a description of this staircase, and exactly how they might reach both the Carmine’s chambers and the Throne Room (where the magic wax for the seal was kept). What he did not know, was how many guards would be inside, or where they would be stationed. There could be a man on the other side of the door Spiro was about to unlock, for all they knew.

“I am surprised they do not glyph these doors,” Finn commented as Spiro removed his picks from his bracer and got to work.

“Guess they figure with all the Clerics about, dispelling them’d be easier than picking a lock,” Spiro replied as he manipulated the lock’s tumblers.

“How do you manage that task in this total darkness?” Finn inquired, vainly blinking in search of some light.

“You do this by feel, mate, not by sight,” Spiro chuckled as the lock slid open, “And I’m done!”

He slowly stood, and opened the door a crack. A breeze from the other side almost pulled the handle from his hand, and he had to use both to keep it from flying open. Quietly stepping through, the two found themselves in a short hallway with several open windows. ’Twas cooler here than in the stuffy stairwell, and the wind whistled as Spiro slowly pushed the door closed against it.

“I’m this way,” he pointed to their left.

“And I this,” Finn pointed an archway to the right, “The Throne Room is just down the hall, if Delgado’s description was accurate.”

“Has been so far,” Spiro whispered back, “I’ll see you in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

With that, the burglar skulked around the corner and toward the Carmine’s chambers. Finn headed though the archway and down another long hallway lined with windows. They were draped with white curtains, which looked like spectral figures cloaked in foggy moonlight. He moved quickly and quietly, his ears alert for the sound of footfalls.

As he neared the door to the throne room, he became aware of a faint yellow light trickling out beneath and spilling onto the polished floor. This light seemed warm and hospitable compared to the starkly bitter moonlight. Though it surely meant someone was within, Finn found himself inexplicably drawn to it, like a proverbial moth. He slowed as he neared the portal, and slowly cracked the door.

Peering in, he could see the source of the light. A lamp sitting on a scaffolding cast long shadows about the room. He pushed the door open further to glimpse more. Sitting on the scaffolding, a man faced the wall. His nose practically touched its surface as he meticulously brushed paint against its damp surface.

Forcing the door all the way open, Finn stepped through so he could see what the artisan was painting. ’Twas a fresco. Running the length of the great chamber, it depicted the life of the prophet Javed. Prowling through, Finn closed the door behind him. The artist didn’t notice him, his concentration was so consumed with his work.

Walking around the scaffold, Finn marveled at the craftsmanship of the work. The fresco depicted the progressively more hideous catastrophes which befell Javed as he sought to prove his loyalty to the Uncreated. The forms of the people and beasts seemed to grow more frantic and unstable as Javed was robbed not only of his earthly gains and family, but his bodily health.

Finn stopped cold when he reached the scene where Javed’s only daughter was caught up in the jaws of a great sea serpent. He had read the story as a young man, but ’twas nothing like witnessing it. Lightening shattered the vessel on which Javed sailed into a shower of splinters which seemed ready to careen off the wall and into the Throne Room. The raucous waves pummeled his body, pinned against the ship’s mast, as he vainly reached toward his daughter. Her terrified form seemed frozen in agonized motion as the serpent’s honed teeth sliced into her tender skin. The agony in Javed’s eyes seemed impossibly angry, yet confused. He seemed incapable of comprehending the cause of his loss – which, in the end, was naught but himself.

Finn’s jaw trembled as he drank in this scene. Swallowing with great effort, his eyes reddened. His mind felt as though it was on fire and his hands made of lead. A solitary tear burned its way down his cheek.

Just then, the artisan realized his solitude had been violated. Bit by bit, he turned to face Finn, who noticed not, for he was too busy grappling with himself. The artist spoke not. He gazed upon Finn’s face, illuminated by the wavering yellow light as the fallow moon turned his grey robe into a sort of halo. His eyes, formerly dead with weariness, grew animated at the sight of this monk silently weeping to behold what his toil had wrought. He saw the great conflict between the vital inner life and restraint the world imposes on man in stark contrast. He understood that this was what he should be painting, not stale tales scribed millennia heretofore.

Sliding off his scaffolding, he regarded Finn with a nod. Our gonif replied with a similar gesture. Turning, the artist left without a word. As the door closed behind him, Finn finally recalled his task. Moving down the hall with heavy steps, he approached the Carmine’s throne. Off to its right was a massive oaken desk with neat stacks of parchment arranged on one side. Searching the drawers, he quickly found the lump of brittle purple wax which was his quarry.

Taking a small piece, he closed the drawer, and waited. ’Twas not long, and a section of the wall which had yet to be painted opened on invisible hinges.

“Veeda’s old man sure knew what he was talking about,” Sprio remarked as he emerged from the hidden passage, “Too bad he didn’t know ‘bout the guards.”

“Was there trouble?” Finn asked as his friend left the door ajar and joined him at the desk.

“I knocked them out from behind,” Spiro shrugged, “They didn’t see a thing.”

“Good,” Finn removed the letter from under his robe and held out a hand to Spiro.

“What?” The burglar asked.

“The ring?”

“Oh, right!” Spiro opened his fist, in which he held a large garish ring, “I thought… maybe…”

“What?”

 

“Well, that I could be the one to stamp the letter,” the burglar looked sheepishly to the side.

“You are a child,” Finn rolled his eyes, “Fine, let me melt the wax on it. You brought a match, did you not?”

“Aye,” Spiro reached into his robe and produced a small waxy string, “Veeda left this with Morley. Said I should be able to light it like this.”

He held one end of the string against the stone embedded in the palm of his gauntlet. After a quick spark, it ignited. He handed the match to Finn, who held it over the wax and let it drip onto the bottom of the letter, next to the Carmine’s forged signature.

“Get that seal over here,” Finn waved Spiro closer.

The burglar obliged, remarking, “Don’t see how this’ll leave a stamp. It’s just a big chunk of opal.”

“You are certain this is the proper one?” Finn asked as Spiro pressed the stone into the molten wax.

“Only one on his hand fit the description,” Spiro pulled the ring off the parchment.

The only effect it had was to smudge the wax around.

“Somehow, I doubt this be correct,” Finn passively remarked.

Spiro frowned. His eyes danced about, contemplating.

“Maybe I need to use magic?” He nodded minutely.

“You? Can use magic?” Finn cocked a brow.

“Just, give me a minute!” Spiro kneeled next to the desk.

With firm concentration, he again pressed the ring into the wax. This time, he searched for the feeling Veeda described of touching the Mystic Tide. He could use the gauntlet she constructed, so it seemed natural to him that he should be able to use the ring as well. Of course, the stone in the gauntlet had been altered to make it as easy as possible to use as a focus. The Carmine was a powerful wizard, and needed no such help.

Spiro steadied his breathing, and cleared his mind. He searched for the swelling, pulsing power of the Tide through the ring, but felt nothing. Fear began to populate his mind with doubtful thoughts, and he struggled to fight them off.

“Are you certain of what you are attempting?” Finn scoffed dispassionately.

“Shut. Your. Gob!” Spiro brandished a finger in Finn’s direction before resuming his meditation.

Releasing a deep breath, he felt something. ’Twas almost like being tickled where he held the ring. Seizing the feeling, he embraced it, searching for more. Again, he felt it, but could not seem to latch on and coax it forth.

“Damn!” He whispered.

“We cannot dally here too long,” Finn looked toward the door, through which the artist could return at any time.

“One more,” Spiro insisted.

Closing his eyes, he gave all his concentration to his breath. He thought only of it, and waited for the feeling to come to him. Quickly, it did. He did not seize upon it this time, for he didn’t wish to scare it away. He focused his breath, imagining that he was sending it to the ring to cultivate the feeling. The tingling grew. It swelled until it consumed his entire hand.

Suddenly, it escaped. He threw open his eyes as the wax sizzled, releasing a small plume of smoke. Pulling the ring off the parchment, he grinned wide to see the symbol of the Uncreated embossed in a shimmering black oval where he had held it.

“Impressive,” Finn took the paper from him to examine it closer, “You had best return that quickly, that we may be away.”

Spiro jumped to his feet and hurried back through the passage from which he entered. Finn folded the parchment back up and made sure the desk was exactly as he had found it. Spiro soon returned, and slowly closed the secret door behind him.

“Let’s be off,” he led the way out of the throne room.

There was no sign of the artist in the hall, and they were soon back in the dark staircase which led to the Basilica. Spiro led the way down the stairs. Finn followed with an outstretched hand, to ensure he wouldn’t fall into his friend. Anon, they headed back around the altar to the transept beneath the dome. Without warning, the heavy footfalls of a sentry patrol began to echo through the vast chamber.

The only places to hide were a few alcoves near the entrance, or the stairwell from which they had just emerged. The two exchanged a quick glance, as they knew they could not reach either before the guards entered view.

Finn placed the letter on Spiro’s chest, and turned toward the sound of the approaching sentries.

“Don’t!” Spiro hissed.

“Get out of sight!” Finn commanded with a whisper, before breaking off at an uneven jog.

Spiro hesitated a moment as his friend hunched over, and began to wheeze. Cursing under his breath, he headed toward the exit, and stepped behind a pillar. Hopefully, Finn could distract the entire patrol.

Coughing roughly, Finn forced himself to breath fast and shallow as the three man patrol stepped into view.

“How now!” One of the guards stopped in his tracks, “Why did you leave the other monks in the courtyard?”

Finn staggered forward, before nearly collapsing to his knees. He reached toward the guard, supplicant fingers outstretched. The other two guards rushed to his aid.

“No use asking him,” one of them reprimanded his friend, “He clearly needs the doctor.”

Finn nodded as he continued to wheeze shallowly. The act was depriving him of breath, and his face was by this time quite red. His arms trembled as the two guards flanked him and put his arms around their shoulders.

“Fetch the Doctor, and we’ll follow with him,” The other guard who bore Finn commanded.

Grumbling, the first guard turned on his heel and ran off.

“’Twill be all right, brother,” one of the guards tried to assure our hero, “We have an excellent doctor.”

Finn wasn’t quite as sure. The darkness was his only defense if they encountered another monk who might perceive him as an impostor. The doctor might similarly see through his faked symptoms, striking the suspicions of the first guard who was far less eager to trust than the two which currently helped him across the expansive quadrangle which formed the interior of the Hermitage.

He continued to wheeze and violently cough as they led him toward the palace on the East side of the compound. A few lights shone from within, but it appeared mostly lifeless. Finn intentionally tripped as they headed up the staircase to the doctor’s quarters. His carriers were alert, and caught him up before he tumbled down the stairs. They lugged him up the rest of the way, and struggled though the entrance.

The first guard was waiting inside, and pointed to the right, “Doctor’s in there.”

They entered a small room with a waist-high wooden bench. A haggard man in a teal robe stood over a chest full of vials in the corner. Without turning to face them he pointed to the bench.

“Place the patient there,” he commanded the guards.

The men complied, helping Finn to sit on the bench. They remained by his side as the doctor turned around. His dark eyes were passively annoyed. He rubbed the bald top of his head, which was the sort of natural tonsure I was recently teased about forming, myself.

“Are all three of you ill?” He asked one of the guards snidely.

“Just him,” he pointed to Finn.

“Then get out of my way!” He shooed them out of the room.

Finn remained hunched and panting. His performance had caused him to work up a proper sweat. The doctor threw off his hood, that he might examine him better. ’Twas then that Finn was finally grateful Spiro had insisted they be tonsured, and that I did such an exceptional job. ’Twas then he also began to fret the doctor might make him remove the robe completely. Though he wore only a simple linen shirt and trousers beneath, both were more opulent than anything a mendicant could afford.

“Foolish monks,” the doctor put his hand against Finn’s red cheek, “Spend all year kneeling in prayer, then walk half way across the kingdom in the middle of the summer, and wonder why half of you end up sick.”

He pushed Finn’s shoulders back, and placed his ear to his chest. Finn continued to wheeze laboriously as the doctor listened intently.

Straightening, he leaned back with a frown, “Well, I suppose I don’t know if you wonder why. Perhaps you realize you are all suffering from exhaustion, and you just enjoy tormenting me like this.”

“Will he be okay?” One of the guards poked his head inside the room.

“He will be fine,” the doctor peevishly replied, “Thanks to my swift and exacting care.”

Turning back to his vials, the doctor removed a few and poured them into small cup. He swirled the mixture quickly with a sigh.

“Had I known this would be the price of the Carmine’s patronage, I might have thought twice before I accepted it. I’m the greatest physician in the kingdom, yet my research – and sleep – are constantly interrupted by porters with dyspepsia and guards with sprained ankles,” the doctor complained as the tonic began to sizzle and bubble, “Now drink this.”

Finn took the cup with a worried look.

“Be quick about it, or it shan’t stay down!” The doctor commanded.

Finn held his breath and threw back the vile, hot liquid. It seemed to coat his mouth, drying it instantly. Swallowing hard, he struggled to keep from heaving at its acrid taste.

“That can’t be much worse than that sour beer you monks swill at the monastery,” the doctor took the cup back, “You are free to go.”

Finn nodded meekly, while still striving to swallow the thickening potion. He slid off the bench and onto his feet. The two guards hurried in and escorted him out.

“We’d better get you back to the other monks,” one remarked as they exited the doctor’s abode.

The two guards who had borne him there helped Finn down the stairs. This time, he was more than grateful for the aide. The potion seemed to slow his breath, and his head was starting to spin. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, he spied the robed form of a monk a small distance away. Finn’s heart lurched at the sight and his shoulders tensed. Thankfully, the guards took this as a sign he might collapse, and not as the urge to escape.

“Looks like someone’s been lookin’ for you,” one of the guards observed.

The monk turned toward the group, and quickly advanced upon them. Finn’s mind, less lethargic from the potion than his body, raced. He had planned to convince the guards he could escort himself back to the monk’s camp, while he would actually hurry back into the Basilica to escape. The monk would be upon them soon, though, so there was little time to carefully consider options. For even if the darkness kept the monk from recognizing Finn as an impostor, there would be no way for Finn to elude him.

The monk approached, and widened his arms. Finn leaned back, to keep his face obscured beneath his hood. ’Twas little use. The monk embraced our hero, forcing the guards to release him. Turning to the guards, the monk waved them away. He placed Finn’s arm over his shoulder and began to lead him away.

“Guess that takes care of that,” one of the guards shrugged.

Finn’s heart pounded in his ears when the monk bearing him whispered, “You didn’t think I’d leave you there for dead, did you, mate?”

“Spiro!” Finn hissed, through slurring lips, “I instructed you to escape.”

“Eh,” Spiro shrugged as they, now out of the guard’s view, turned toward the basilica, “I’d’ve gotten bored waiting till daylight by myself.”

V: In Which The Gonif Tells His Tale

Our heroes quickly made their way through the airy basilica. No guards threatened them this time, and they ducked into an alcove near the entrance. They would wait there until daylight, when they could walk back out the front door with no suspicion.

Spiro finally noticed Finn’s labored breathing as they took a seat on a little bench in the secluded alcove. He peered at his friend through the darkness with sympathetic eyes.

Finn didn’t notice this as he closed his eyes and leaned back. His world was spinning as he struggled to breathe against lungs which seemed determined to work as slowly as possible. He pondered what it would feel like if they quite entirely. ‘Twould be like drowning on dry land, his limbs growing cold as a black curtain drew about his eyes. He imagined it might be rather peaceful, once the terror passed. He oft spent restless nights imagining he was slipping away into nothingness until he finally drifted to sleep. The morbid comfort he found in the concept of death was unhealthy (to say the least), but not unexpected in a man trapped in his past.

Perhaps, in the glory of the holy house, where righteous moonbeams cut through the darkness, he realized this. Or, it may have been the potion addling his mind, shattering the shackles of its repression. Regardless, he chose this unlikeliest of moments to finally share the history which haunted him so.

“In your travels,” he muttered to Spiro through dry lips, “Did you discover my crime?”

“No,” the burglar kept attention fixed Finn’s laborious breathing, “‘The transgressions of the begetter belong not to the begotten,’ your daughter has lived ignorant of your acts.”

“Ah,” Finn nodded meekly, “That be for the best.”

“Yes.”

“You are not going to beseech me?” A smile cracked the corner of Finn’s lips.

“What?” Spiro was not focused on Finn’s words.

“Nary a meeting between us has ended… without you entreating me to divulge… the story of how I came to occupy your cell in that wretched dungeon.”

“’Tis in the past. We escaped, and are living our lives the way we have for the last sixteen years,” Spiro replied.

“I… do not want to,” Finn leaned forward, pulling off his hood with trembling hands, “I desire something else. Too long… I have lived in that cell.”

Spiro finally realized what his friend was saying, “I ne’re thought I’d hear you say that. Admit it, I mean.”

Finn clasped his hands with a frown, “I met her when I was a child.”

“Your wife?”

“Mmm,” Finn nodded, “I, the youngest of seven noble children, she, the daughter of the cook.”

“Star-crossed, isn’t that what the bards call it?” Spiro gently scoffed.

“Star-crossed indeed,” Finn leaned forward as if to concentrate through the fog around his mind, “The moment I saw her, it was as if the planets aligned. I was a boy, and smitten the way only a boy can be.”

“What was her name?”

“Brighid,” Finn smiled with a sigh, “She grew only more lovely with age. She became my sister’s lady’s maid. The rise in rank was quite an honor for her. I was merry, for it meant we could see one another with more ease. Anon, it grew too easy.”

“Got caught?”

“By my sister. My parents thought it some passing fancy of a young man. They surmised I would grow weary of her soon, like a child’s plaything. So, they took no action. When they realized the truth… they gave her ‘the boot’, as you would say.”

“What did you do?”

Finn stifled a laugh, “I stole the silverware. I pawned it under a false name and booked us passage for this island. We were married once we arrived, and the world felt… full of possibility. The feeling faded fast. There were no openings for lady’s maids who had not references, and I… I had never worked a day in my life.”

“You were desperate.”

“What little we possessed, allowed us to endure for a year. It was then that the opportunity… ‘fell into our lap’. We were in a town outside of Castlerock. I was petitioning the few nobles of the town for positions for Brighid. We were posing as brother and sister, since none here hire married women. None were interested, but a widow with a sizable estate took a fancy to me. I was forlorn, and pretended to court her, while abusing her hospitality.”

“And a gonif was born.”

“Not one, but two. Once it became clear the old woman expected a proposal, we knew we could not stay. I made off with what jewelry I could find, and we escaped further south. In the town where we landed, we spent the money we had in order to set ourselves up as nobles. There, Brighid caught the eye of an aged bachelor. He lived in a hole of a house, but had a vault full of silver. The old miser began to court her. When he proposed, we stole the key to his vault, and made off with all the silver we could carry.”

“But you were caught?”

“No,” Finn shook his head, “We came north, and lived off the money for several years. When we began to ‘run dry’, we resolved to attempt our scheme again. This time, I seduced another widow. All went well, but we made off with very little. The widower Brighid found here in Brimgaet proved more lucrative. We kept on like that for half a dozen years.”

“Impressive.”

“We should have known better. We should have attempted an alternate scheme, but we were so good at what we did. Running in the same circle for so long, though, it was only a matter of time before we were recognized. Brighid was dining with her latest beau, meeting his family. The man’s older brother was none other than the miser we had ‘fleeced’ at the start of our career.”

“What next?” Spiro was enraptured.

“He pretended not to notice her, but we knew the risk was too great. She came home, and we packed our things. Before we could flee, the guard broke down out door and led us off in chains. We were separated…” Finn swallowed hard, “I told her I would come for her.”

He looked to the ground, his brows twitching furiously as he fought back scalding tears. Spiro tried to pat him on the knee, but the gesture rang hollow. There was no comfort he could give.

“I was tossed into a dungeon with a scrawny child who said he could pick the lock with a chicken bone,” Finn tried to laugh.

“And you didn’t believe me!” Spiro made an honest attempt at humor as well, but failed.

“You freed us, and I fled. I never undertook a rescue. I never endeavored…” Finn’s voice cracked, “But what would she expect? We made our lives by lying. When they pulled her away, and I said I would come… I could see it in her eyes. She did not believe me. We oft said to one another, ‘If this game falls apart, save yourself.’ I always thought I would rather die by her side, but I said it, for it was what I wanted her to do.”

“And that’s why she said it too, I’m sure.”

“Maybe,” Finn nodded, looking up, “The last thing she said to me… was: go deo.”

“Go deo? What’s that mean?”

“‘Forever’,” Finn looked up, as if to the heavens, and whispered in his native tongue, “Beidh grá agam duit go deo.”

Spiro pondered this quietly. Time slowly passed as the first ray of sunlight broke through the Basilica’s eastern windows. The two sat in silence as the granite cavern turned pink with coral light.

Finally standing, Spiro offered his friend a hand. Finn took it, and the two headed out the door, past the guards, and into the windy streets of the High Quarter.

And that, gentle sirs and madams, is how we unwittingly entered into the twisted scheme which would lead to my ruination.

To Be Continued...