Friday, April 24, 2009

The Tale of The Exile -- The First Night: Into The Darkness (Part 2)

Part 2: The Man in the Empty Room

I take a few minutes to let my eyes adjust to the gloom. To pass the time, I try and remember all I can about how this city is laid out. I wish I'd learned more, but most of my week here was spent getting into contact with the underworld and planning the job, so there wasn't much time for sight-seeing.

The city is shaped like a millstone grinding against the Western Ivthian Mountains. In the center is the Tower of Miir, the spoke around which the whole city revolves, a tower so high it scrapes the bottom of the sky itself. The noble houses and guild halls cluster around it, forming the Bastion, the wood that turns the city. The stone of the city is the Pen, where most of the merchants and skilled workers not wealthy enough to live in the center but too well off to join the rest of the chaff at the edge struggle through the days. Then, at the rim just past the Pen Wall, is the Cobwebs, where the slaves, the poor, and the refuse of Miir get crushed to powder, their toil and misery feeding the rich.

When I was in the Bastion, I noticed Fireglass lamps blazing at every corner. And even here there should be brazers, but they're all out. Why aren't there any lights here? If everyone is so afraid of the dark, why not keep the fire lit until dawn?

Uh-oh. Something is moving! I whip around, wishing I had a weapon to defend myself with.

I hate this city. It was just a piece of canvas that got loose from a stall, flopping around at a stray breeze. This place has me jumping at shadows already.

I haven't seen any crossbow-wielding guards yet. Perhaps this Exile truly is what they said: The freedom to run around the city at night. If that's the case, then the nobles are fools. I've got rent to pay, and really only one way of using my talents to make a living.

Most of the windows are shuttered tightly. Probably barred, as well. If I had my tools, that wouldn't be a problem, but I need to improvise. Ah! Luck! there's an open window over there! I can see a lit candle, but no movement. The wall is easy climb. I look inside.

There isn't much here. A bed, a desk, a footlocker, some tapestries on the wall. No one inside. This is good...easy access to the house. I check the footlocker first. Just some clothes. Feminine. There's a nice leather cloak I slip on to ward off the chill. That's better.

I catch sight of myself in a mirror on the desk as I check it out. Huh. I'm looking more haggard than usual. I haven't had a shave or a bath in days, and I haven't had my chestnut hair sheared since I left Calisapas about a month ago. I'm thin and shaggy enough to scare crows and small children. Well, nothing to be done about it...let's see what we have here.

The desk has a few drawers. The bottom one is locked. There's a letter, an inkwell, and hey! Quills made from dragon claws! These will fetch a tidy sum. I pocket the quills--a dozen in all. But how to open the locked drawer? Hmm...The quills are brittle, but they might serve. I pull one out.

I work the lock with the quill. Boil and damn. It broke...but the drawer is open now. And it was worth it. There's a glow from inside. Excellent. It's a dagger, made from Ivthian Fireglass, an obsidian-like rock that glows with its own inner light. This is a real find here. I smile. This is the first house I've hit tonight, and already I've scored well. Now on to the rest of the house. I turn to the door...wait.

Where is the door? All I see are blank walls. Where is the door!? Where is the dragon-boiled door!?

I look to the left. Wall! To the right! Wall! I tear down the tapestry. Wall!

I'm trapped!

I stumble back to the window, half expecting it to be gone as well. Nope, still there. By God and the Dragon, what is going on? I go to the desk, frantically search it for answers Nothing useful. Then I remember the letter. I pick it up and read.

Dearest Jessamine. I now have no choice. Please forgive me, and may the Shadows have mercy on your soul. Eric. Not helpful. OK. No time to panic. Obviously, the watch set this trap up, and are on their way. It's time to get out of here. I turn to the window.

There is a slight breeze, and suddenly the candle goes out. I hear the clink of a chain, and the smell of rose perfume fills the air.

"Hello there, Gaven Morren." Someone whispers.

My blood freezes. There is a figure at the window. The glow from the fireglass doesn't shed much light, but I see he is thin, tall, and pale. And very angry.

"I'd ask what you are doing here, but it is obvious, is it not?" He continues. “You have stolen from me, Gaven. Taken what is mine, and your Exile is but a few minutes old. Regrettable.” How did he get up the wall without me hearing?

Perhaps it's not too late to escape. If I strike quickly enough, I may be able to silence him before the alarm is raised. I lunge.

The Pale Man is quick. His cloak flutters as I collide painfully with the window sill. Ow! Then the world tilts, and I am spinning through the cold night air. I meet the ground even harder than the wall.

Struggling to breathe. Pain in my side is incredible. Must have fallen out the window. Think I've broken a rib. There is laughter above.

"Entertaining." His voice, right above me. How did he get down so fast? "I did not come to fight you, Gaven. I simply want what's mine."

"How do you know me?" I gasp.

He shrugs. "You chose Exile, Gaven. You gave yourself over to the night. Were you expecting no consequences?"

I feel a boot rest lightly against my throat. "So. You're my keeper, then? I didn't know I was going to be chaperoned."

"We can play these games later, Gaven. Hand over what you have taken, and I shall leave you to your own devices." The boot grinds down. I consider my options. I can't fight like this. The guards may be on their way. the Pale Man has the advantage here. I'll get revenge later.

"Take your dragon-cursed dagger, then." I grunt, and release the blade. I don't see him move, but the boot is off my neck. He looks the blade over.

I think something is wrong. The Pale Man isn't pleased. "You would play me for a fool, Gaven?" he says.


"She isn't here." His voice is calm, but ice cold. There was a seething, venomous rage lurking just beneath it.

"Who isn't...?"

The boot jabs into my wounded side. It suddenly occurs to me that I've given up my only means of protection to a madman in the dark. I feel the blade at my throat.

"Listen to me very closely, Gaven" he hisses. "You will find her, and return her, before dawn."

There is a lunatic with a blade at my neck. There is only one reasonable course of action. "Yes, sir. Whatever you say, sir."

The dagger lifts away, and I let out a breath that sounded more relieved than I intended. I stand, the broken rib grinding in my chest. "Here." He tosses the glowing blade at my feet. "You will need a light to see by. When you find her, simply summon me and I shall appear."

Fat chance. He's armed me, and I won't be fool enough to let go of the blade again. When I'm out of sight I'll be gone like cobwebs in a fire. Still, I need to make him think he's getting what he wants. "What name should I summon you by, then?"

He smirks. "Call for Naros Miir. And remember, Gaven. The Shadows are always vigilant. You have until the sun rises over the Pen Wall and no later. Do not fail me."

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