August 21, 2009




April 5, 2009

Chapter 4.5

Chapter 4 <—*—> Chapter 4.75

<<Amy’s Perspective>>

“Informants are very good at being almost helpful. You can ask them for anything: the time of day, the history of the spotted unicorn, even how much beer is at the bar, and they will remain almost helpful until you slip them a coin.” – Guide to the Lower Class by Arnold Van Shepherd

She nudged him until he shifted to one side of the bed. “Now, tell me this big secret of yours.”

He stretched out on the bed and rolled till he was facing towards her and away from the furnace pipes. “The Duke is receiving threatening letters. He sent for me after learning of my history here in Kaluna. I’m to reestablish myself on the streets and keep the Duke informed about any news that may be useful.”

Amy glanced around. Molly had given him the largest room in the inn, as befitted an Invoker, but it was his luggage that made it look rich. Even unpacked, the large swathes of embossed leather trim and silver locks spoke of his wealth to any who looked. A gold timepiece tossed carelessly onto the room’s single table sparkled with enough precious stones to keep a would-be thief fed and clothed for a year. She returned her gaze to his face. “You can’t possibly hope to fool someone set up the way you are.”

He shrugged. “I can with your help.”

She resisted the urge to shake her head at the impossibility.  “What do you expect to gain from all this? If the letters annoy his Grace, put a bounty up. There isn’t a thief, informant, or dealer on the street who wouldn’t turn his own mother in for that fancy timepiece of yours.”

He shrugged again. “All I need is for you to get me in. You don’t have to tell me anything I can’t guess. Just keep your ears open. I’ll make it worth your while.”

Bernard reached across her to pull the thick sheet of paper with the Assassin’s Eye into clearer view. “His Grace received this note a few days ago, right after he pledged his troops to an attack on the Stronghold. It disturbed him so much that he called for the best of Kaluna to serve. Of those who came, one of them recommended me as a head for the team combing the streets. In particular, His Grace wants us to find the person who wrote the letter. I figured my best chance of that would be finding you.”

Amy glanced over the ordered sequence of letters, and handed it back to him. “What does it say?”

“Can’t you―” he choked on his words. “Of course not. It’s a notice from the Western Stronghold advising the Duke to back down or risk being overthrown. The Stronghold boasts of their spies right here in the province. It won’t be long before they figure out he’s not changing his mind.”

Amy licked her lips and ran her mind over the possibilities. “Did the letter arrive by courier or did it simply appear?”

Bernard’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know.”

She closed her eyes. If it had arrived by courier, the Duke would have asked questions, Bernard would have learned the answers. The letter had appeared, increasing their fear, which meant the wards had been up. The possible list of suspects narrowed.

She took the sheet of paper without looking at it and smoothed it flat on the bed. There was a hint of wax on the surface of the paper, a preservative to keep it from getting wet. Odd that it would be added in such a dry and dusty climate as the Stronghold. The seal also was wax, or at least the trace left over suggested it. Didn’t the assassins tie their letters with a simple ribbon, daring the messenger to open it? Whoever had written the message had done it somewhere inside the country, she guessed. She met Bernard’s curious gaze.

“How many people have died?” she asked.

He searched her face. “None, yet.”

He didn’t understand. She could see the faraway squint in his eyes, and the small wrinkle over his forehead that only appeared when he was working on a puzzle. He was trying to figure the reasons behind her questions, and above all, she couldn’t let him do that. Bernard had always had a penchant for getting into trouble, but this time he’d gone too far. She took a deep breath to ease the knot in her stomach.

“I can’t help you.” Despite the relative ease they had shared, she couldn’t quite look him in the eye.

He stared at her. “Why not?”

“Telling you that would be helping you. You’re not one of us anymore.” Even that, she feared, would give him a clue.

“You want my advice? Don’t ask for help from anyone. The smart ones won’t help you. The stupid ones will die.”

She let the letter flutter onto his chest and crept out the door, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

Chapter 4 <—*—> Chapter 4.75

March 29, 2009

Chapter 4

Chapter 3 <— * —-> Chapter 4.5

<<Amy’s Perspective>>

The man named Schreber did not need Amy’s keen memory to be remembered. He was a warrior, a leader, and the owner of the only indel retreat in Outer Kaluna—the Wolf Trap. Everyone knew that. What most people did not know, and what Amy had been paid to never reveal, was that Schreber had ties to the Western Stronghold. Amy didn’t think he had the power to order someone’s assassination, but there was no sense in taking risks. Dealing with him would be messy.

“Don’t worry too much about it. You may remember Invokers are a rare sight this side of the gates. People hope to see something worth gossiping about—or worth being paid to report.”

Bernard’s eyes narrowed, and he mouthed her words as if trying to devise some secret from them. She waited, praying he wouldn’t slip anything important in the next few moments.

“It’s about the Duke—“

Amy didn’t give him a chance to say another word. She clapped a hand over his mouth once again, and yanked him back till he was laying on the bed. “Cover your head with the pillow and keep your nose pressed into the sheets. Do not move until I tell you,” she whispered.

Schreber would give her hell later, but if she got something worthy of his attention it would probably come out alright. If not, there were places she could hide until things cooled down. She waited until Bernard’s head was completely covered by the pillow, and then reached deep into her shirt for what she kept hidden there.

The soft leather pouch she withdrew contained eighty or so sectioned rabbit intestines, their ends tightly sealed to prevent what was inside from leaking out. Not the wisest thing for an Invoker to see (or smell) herself carrying, but under the circumstances she had no problems using it.

She pulled a needle from where it had been thrust through the leather, and pierced the membrane with it, carefully spraying the floor near the door and the window sill with pungent fluid.

An outraged snarl came from outside the door, and Amy caught the soft sound of padded cat paws running as fast as could be managed. Schreber had been listening after all. No doubt he’d be back in human form, his nose dulled to the scent, and listen in once more. After he stopped wretching, and if he could find clothing so it wasn’t obvious to everyone he was snooping. They had a little time, now all she had to do was make sure Bernard didn’t know what she’d done.

She replaced the pouch around her neck, and reached for her belt loop, where the only other object she carried at all times rested. Another pouch, this one containing several mishappen glass tubes. She selected one, tried not to think of how much it cost, and dashed it against the floor as hard as she could.

The smell of lavender flooded from the container, almost strong enough to make her gag, but it covered the smell of the repellant. Whatever Bernard had it in mind to say, it better be good.

“Alright,” she said, lifting the pillow from his head. “You can tell me now.”

He sat up, coughed, and grabbed for his handkerchief. “What’s that stench?”

“I dropped a bottle of perfume.  The Duke.”

He stretched out on the bed and rolled till he was facing towards her and away from the furnace pipes. “The Duke is receiving threatening letters. He sent me to reestablish myself on the streets and keep the Duke informed about any news that may be useful.”


Discussion time. ^^ What do you think is going to happen next?

Chapter 3 <— * —-> Chapter 4.5

March 22, 2009

Chapter 3

Chapter 2.5 <— * —> Chapter 4

<<Amy’s Perspective>>

Bernard kept quiet as they walked towards her room, strolling like a couple of lovers reunited after a long separation. It was a beautiful lie, and the only one she could think of to distract the gamblers at Shadowfy’s card table from the urgency Bernard had expressed. She congratulated herself on her ingenuity, opened the door to her room, and waited till they were both inside before letting her real opinion show.

“While I appreciate your attempt at secrecy Invoker, no one ever comes to this side of the gate unless they have a very big problem. Every informant in Outer-Kaluna is going to be after you now, trying to find out just what that problem is.”

The object of her displeasure perched on the edge of his bed and stared at her as if she had grown a second head. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it again, and then laughed. “You don’t change do you?”

He could laugh, she fumed. He had nothing to lose. She flopped down in a chair across from him and glared. “Not when it comes down to making money. I’m very firm about my position on money. If it’s not coming in, it’s going out, and out is not as good as in.”

He shook his head. “You really don’t change. As it happens, that’s what I wanted to talk with you about. There’s a job working for the Duke available that might put a few coins in your pocket, if you’re interested.”

That would mean getting a work pass, paying for travel, and getting sneered at by people who considered themselves better than her. Still, it might be worth while. “What sort of job?” she asked.

Bernard put a finger to his lips. “An investigation. I can’t tell you more than that. I’ve been followed since I reached the gates.”

He spoke in a stage whisper, and when she could see he planned to go on in the same loud whisper, she leaned over and clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Do you know by who?” she breathed into his ear, so soft she almost couldn’t hear it herself. Or what, she added to herself.

He shook his head, and lifted one hand long enough to run his thumb along the lines of the tattoo on his cheek. Three slashes dotted by a predator’s eye. Bernard had gotten that tattoo to cover the marks left by an indel. Which kind was it? Her mind flashed over the various shape-shifters she’d seen, and then shuddered as she found a match. It had to be Schreber.

Chapter 2.5 <— * —> Chapter 4

Revised 6/21/09

March 15, 2009

Chapter 2.5

Chapter Two <— * —> Chapter Three

<<Amy’s Perspective>>

uninvoked1The world and all it promised sank away the moment she saw him.

He looked well. Good living had rounded out his stomach, and added weight to an already imposing figure. It went well with the gold hoops that glimmered at his ears, and the colored tattoos decorating the right half of his face. Good living, good eating, everything that she could not and would never have thanks to him.

“Invoker,” she whispered. The word made her tongue hurt, as if the sour taste of defeat was still there. It was said Invokers couldn’t choose who had magic. It was said either you had magic, or you didn’t, but Amy knew otherwise. She knew with all her heart that if Bernard had looked hard enough, magic would have been there. It was in her dreams. It had to be real.

“My good friend,” he replied.

He wanted something, and the fact that he would probably get it just made her feel worse. She glanced around the inn looking at the curious faces surrounding her. Many, many people who would be asking her later just how close she was to the second greatest man in Kaluna. Even if he left now his presence had damaged her, but didn’t it always?

Bernard seemed to take her silence as an invitation to pour  out his woes. “Amy, I need to speak with you privately. Would you mind stepping into my room for a moment?”

Of course she did. Stepping into his room meant stepping back into his life. But if she didn’t go willingly she’d be dragged in kicking and screaming. There was no sense, however, in letting him have his way without a price.

“Of course,” she stepped forward, and then turned back as if on a second thought. “Molly? I believe the Invoker would like to pay for a round of—“ Don’t say ale, she demanded of herself. What was the most expensive thing Molly had? “—Gray Demons. Its only fair to celebrate old friends isn’t it?

Bernard’s color was a satisfying match to the drinks, and so was Molly’s. She eyed the Invoker, and then Amy too. “Last time a brew of Grey Demon was successfully imported into Eberhard the Tree-Eaters still owned the unicorn forest. You’re asking him to pay for an entire bottle.”

Not really, she thought to herself. She was asking him to pay for every second of life she had to spend on the outskirts of life. Every moment serving someone who was made better by the touch of an Invoker’s hand. Every moment in hell brought to her by Bernard himself.

She leaned back against the counter and watched as Bernard drew his heavy purse and counted out coins.

“I’m worth it.”

No one would ever tell her different.

Chapter Two <— * —> Chapter Three

Added 6/21/09

March 8, 2009

Chapter 2

Chapter One <—-* —-> Chapter 2.5

<<Amy’s Perspective>>


“It is a very blessed indel indeed able to take the form of the Eberhard Boar. When a child is found to have this magic, celebrations are made everywhere in Eberhard, and the child is taken directly to the castle for training as a knight of Eberhard.”

Amy Quintessa did not have quite the same outlook on life as the other indelfy. Where her friends saw endless poverty and no way out, she saw opportunity. When they muttered about the treasures locked away behind Inner-Kaluna’s great bronze gates, she pointed out that same barrier kept the indel from imposing on them.

It was just that attitude that made her succesful at her business, and the first person people turned to when they needed help. She might never be rich, even by indelfy standards, but if things kept up she’d have a very nice retirement in her future. All she needed to do was keep her head up, stay friendly, and retain a golden track record.


The accusatory voice of the bartender cut through all conversation in the shadowfy inn, and caused more than a few people to glance her way. The bartender seldom said anything to her unless it would cause her trouble, one way or another.

“There’s a man in your rooms. He says he knows you. Were you expecting someone?”

Color flared in her cheeks as she caught the speculative glances sent her way by the farmers crowding the main table. Stupid of her to not check her room first. Who needed her advice so badly? They were getting charged double, no matter what it was they wanted.

“Not anyone in particular, did he give you a name?”

She rather hoped the man hadn’t. The last thing she needed was for Melissa to have had time to invent her own gossip.

Melissa leaned back until her spine cracked and set the thick glass mug she’d been cleaning down with a thump. “No name, but you could see clear enough he came from the other side of the gate. He’s got tattoos all over his face and not one of them proper for an indel. Do you suppose he’s foreign?”

“What sort of tattoos?” she asked, eying the crystal glass Melissa was pulling from the top shelf with care. Melissa must have really meant what she said by the man being from Inner-Kaluna. Crystal glassware wasn’t even used for the indel who made their living along side the ‘fy.

“Go see for yourself,” Melissa snapped, pouring a dark amber liquid into the glass, “you can take this with you. He wants to stay here at the inn for a while, so you’ll be moving your stuff into the basement till he’s gone.”

Amy eyed the glass, and decided a half copper or two was indeed worth playing waitress to her landlord. “Do you at least know how long he’s planning on invading my personal space?”

“Not long,” an oddly familiar voice said from the top of the stairs. “Unless you make things difficult.”

She closed her eyes for a moment and prayed to every star in the sky it was not who it sounded like. When she at last opened them and turned around, disappointment flooded through her veins.

It was Bernard. The invoker who had marked her magicless.

Chapter One <—-* —-> Chapter 2.5

Updated 6/21/09

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