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Shadowstone

©2000 Jari Komppa

First draft - to be rewritten

It had seemed such a perfect job. The king was having some big party and even the least significant nobles were invited. And in order to keep the underworld under control he had even decided to throw another party for us less morally burdened. And everyone was there. Wannabes were there because they wanted to live in an illusion of the glory of the underworld, and the big names were there because they had no illusions and it was the easiest possible way to life off the rich.

Everyone was there, except for perhaps a mere handful who had previous commitments. Such as myself. I would have more than enough time to slip in the party and be seen if everything went smoothly.

I watched from my balcony as the girl persuaded the guard to leave his post for, well, quite possibly several hours, if the potion I had purchased was worth anything. She was actually a good girl, with an honest job, and was doing this only because she had a crush on the wrong guy, one who wasn't afraid to take advantage of her. I found myself hoping the potion would really work. I stopped before I would find myself hoping not to be the wrong guy.

Once I was sure they were far enough I descended to the street, calmly walked towards the door the guard was no longer protecting, and used my personal replica of the key to the house. It paid off to do your homework.

The house was quiet, but even the most prepared thief never knew if something unexpected happened, such as some long-lost cousin had crashed in just in time to sleep away his hangover in the guest chambers. So I didn't plan on making any excess noise. I made my way upstairs to the study.

If I had known that I wasn't the only one with plans on this specific night, and even more specifically this particular address, I would have passed the opportunity without a second thought. Even if it wasn't for the same address I would have liked to have the comfort of as rock-solid alibi as you can have from known names of the underworld.

I was inching my way back to the staircase with the family stones and one certain piece of parchment which I had been requested to retrieve as the door was forced open and light flooded the hallway. Instinctively I backed into a corner, cursing silently the loss of my night vision. Five guards stormed the room with lanterns. Almost instantly I noticed the emblem of the king's guard on their coats. Had the house been warded? Or did they just crash in, noticing the lack of the guard? or had something gone wrong with Anna?

"Look in every corner. It has to be here or we're in trouble" commanded the one with captain's three-pointed flame on his sleeve. As the four darted in different directions, none still coming upstairs, I found myself trying to back through the wall. Captains of the king's guard only answered to the king himself. Still, if the house had been warded there was no way they could have come here this fast. So either I had been watched all along, or then, perhaps they were looking for someone else.

I took couple deep breaths, making sure that my exhaling made no sound. The captain still stood in the center of the entry hallway, turning his head around, as if he was listening to some faint sound. Shadows danced all around the house as the guards systematically went from room to room.

When I had calmed myself enough I rationally started to plan for exit. I had planned for the rather improbable situation of someone blocking the door, yes, but five of king's elite guard running around the house wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

Then I saw something in the corner of my eye. As a shadow slid across the wall, it bent oddly at a place where nothing could be seen when room was dark or lit. I blinked and stared, not believing what I had seen. There, shadow passed again, and now I could see that it had a shape of a perfect diamond, the size of my palm. Why was it here, attached to the middle of the wall, and not in the safe with the rest of the family's most precious, and even embarrassing, possessions?

Keeping an eye for the guard I slid across the wall, reached and took the stone. It had been fit into the wall in such a shallow inset that I surprised that the tremors from my own silent footsteps had not caused it to fall.

I was still looking at the stone in my hands as a guard grasped my arm. I had been so stupid! Of course the house had several staircases. I had more goods with me than I'd need for another six.. well, maybe two months, and still I had to risk everything for something that might not be worth anything. I let myself be dragged downstairs like a common thug, as the captain called his men back. Were they after me all along?

"Well done, Jefferson.", the captain said to the guard who still painfully held my arm. All earlier tension had gone from his voice.

"His lordship shall have a rather akward end of his evening". This made some of the guards chuckle. His lordship?

"Welter, would you take this somewhere safe", the captain continued, tearing the stone from my hands and giving it to Welter, who bowed slightly and turned for the door.

"And now. Would you mind explaining what were you doing in the house of a well respected noble man on his absence?" This made the others to grin somewhat.

"I might ask you the same", I replied, with more anger in my voice than I intended. I was angry, but not for him. I was angry for my stupid luck and for my stupid, stupid mistake, after weeks of preparation, after years of practice.

The captain glared at me but before he could make up his mind whether to dignify me with a witty answer or just to have me dragged to the jail, there was a wet sound of Welter's scream drowning in his own blood as a shadowy figure thrust its hand through his back, grasping the stone through him, and rode away with it on an impossibly silent horse as Welter's lifeless corpse hit the cobblestones, the clatter of his armor making unnervingly loud noise in the silent night.

"For the Grace of Light.." the captain whispered. Everyone stood paralyzed.

Afterword

This is a story I first thought up when I was once asked to write a background story for a computer game. I would only have been one of several candidates they approached, and the contract they required was such that I couldn't sign it. Nevertheless, I did think the idea and here is the very beginning..

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Possibly modified around: April 25 2010