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Moonless - Chapter Two
I sprint to the other end of the room, heedless of the noise that I make now. I have three minutes, at most. Then this room will be so filled with soldiers I’ll be hard-pressed to make it out alive.
There’re two low tables on either side of the opulent throne. The lord is planning for a very important visitor tomorrow, so they’re filled with impressive jewels, gold pieces, anything advertising his wealth. What I need will certainly be here. Lord Ravanvere claims to have stolen what I seek from his rival, Lord Helladia, but I happen to know that all he did was buy it off a trader who didn’t know what it was worth. But I do. And so does the Alliance.
All I know about the piece I seek is that it’s profoundly powerful. That being so, it should be easy to find. I slide my mind gently beside and around the jewels, searching for something that stands out. Nothing does. I recognize a few wisps of power coming from some of the pieces, but nothing like what I was expecting.
I’m beginning to get worried, but this is no time for panic. I won’t allow adrenaline to blunt my reasoning. If the piece is here, it’s been disguised. There are ways to mask something’s power, though few that can rival my skill.
However, if I’m going to find this talisman – and it is vital that I find it tonight – then I am going to have to dig deeper. To do so is very dangerous but, in this case, essential. And I have to hurry. I only have about a minute left.
I kneel, gripping the edge of table so hard that my knuckles stand out white. I relax the rest of my body completely, letting my eyes drift closed. My mind goes blank. The only tension in my body is my fists gripping the table so that I don’t fall over. Slowly, I drift away. Time slows to a crawl.
It is an absolutely terrifying feeling, being separate from your body. Normally I keep many strong tethers to myself, so that I sense more than any normal human, but remain completely alert and in control of my body. But not here. Now I am almost completely separated, only a few threads trail between my consciousness and my physical form. Enough that I continue to breathe, and can find my way back again. I fight the panic that wells up inside of me and concentrate on my task.
I focus, visualizing exactly what I need and how to achieve it. Then I imagine the scene before me, adding more and more layers of color and texture until I see a scene much more vivid than that which my corporeal eyes could ever comprehend. There’re many different features of the jewels I see. There is the color, shape, size, and more aspects that I don’t have a name for, that perhaps don’t exist except in my vision.
I quickly locate the pieces that I am looking for, the ones that have power. They are conveniently placed in one corner. I concentrate, staring at them as hard as I can, then imagine peeling away their images like a layer of old paint. Nothing happens. I try again, focusing so hard that I feel as if I can see through them to the polished wood beneath. This time I manage to get a grip on something. I pull, hard, harder, straining against the power that binds the façade. Then, with one final burst of strength, I rip it away.
And am blinded.
One of the pieces, an amulet, is shining so brightly that my eyes burn and water as if I were staring at the sun. I look away, and color spots dot my vision. The full import of this strikes me. A wizard. The lord has a wizard working for him, and an extremely powerful one if he managed to veil that much magic.
Then something strikes me, the corporeal me, and I am jerked back into my body. I dive to the side, into a roll, and gain my feet. I quickly assess the damage. I can’t move my arm. It feels like it’s probably broken. Aside from that, however, I seem to be fine. By now the soldier is coming at me again, staff raised. I drop to the floor and roll past him, slicing the back of his knee as I go. He falls to the ground with a grunt, and I take a moment to survey the room. It’s rapidly filling with soldiers – there are at least a dozen here already. A dozen I can handle, but my first priority is the jewel.
The guards have formed a loose semicircle blocking me from the door. The closest ones are about six feet away, and a table corner is digging into my back. I grope behind me until I find the right amulet and slip it into the pouch at my waist. I’m holding my other arm tightly against my side, and I steady it with my good hand. I can fight them without the use of my arms, but I’ll be slowed down if the broken one gets jostled. This won’t be easy.
There is a moment of absolute stillness and silence. Then everything erupts into chaos.
The captain gives a shout and the soldiers burst into motion, coming at me from all sides. I dart for an opening. But a soldier’s fist manages to clip my bad shoulder and I am sent to the ground yet again. I come up running, turn my good shoulder, and manage to barrel my way through the surprised guard in front of me. I’ve broken out of the mass of guards, and now I sprint for the door.
Relief floods through me. I’m running and no one can catch me when I run. I’m safe now unless one of the soldiers brought a bow – unlikely – but even then I could probably dodge it before it hit me.
That’s why I’m surprised when a small glowing missile strikes me square in the back of my leather jacket. It moved too fast for me to dodge it. How did it do that? That’s all that I have time to think before I feel the flame.
The jacket is off my back and on the ground behind me before I process that I’m on fire. I reach around and slap away what still clings to my back. It’s unusually difficult to put out, but I manage before I become significantly singed.
I break out of the hallway and into the courtyard. I can hear the hordes of soldiers stumbling along behind me. This is no time for stealth.
“Caleb!” I roar. “Run!” He’s surprised – but only for a moment. Then he’s running, and he’s almost as fast as me, so we’re home free. Except… the fireball that hit me as I fled the castle. And the disguised amulet. Those could only be the work of a wizard. And where a wizard is involved, nothing is certain.
“Caleb” I gasp. “The lord… he has… a wizard. A very powerful one.”
“What? He does? But… wouldn’t we have heard about it?” Caleb seemed very surprised. Almost too surprised. Like he knew about the wizard already. But how could he? And why wouldn’t he have warned me beforehand?
Then I realize. When I entered the castle, Caleb was standing over five unconscious guards. When I left, they were gone.