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I have to get out of here. Now. 

He forgot his masterful creep-step and walked as quickly as he could to the front of the shop. He heard his feet slapping and squelching, looked down, and realized how much water he had tracked into the shop. Right at the moment he had the thought to slow down and be careful, he slipped and fell into the case to his left. He steadied himself by reaching for the top. Instead of the smooth, glass case, he wound up pulling the exquisite jewelry box he had seen earlier, the one with the mother-of-pearl inlay. No sooner than he had touched it did a high-pitched wail emanate from somewhere in the shop. Al froze for a full second, then ran out of the shop.

In his panicked state, he started running down the street to Milxner’s. Then, he remembered he couldn’t connect himself, Milxner’s, or Ember to the crime, so he turned around and ran the other way, dodging through streets with the chalice cradled under his arm. People stopped to stare at him, some even stepping out of the way before he collided into them.

He ran from street to street until his lungs burned. Al slowed down and checked his surroundings while he sucked in lungfuls of air. He was heading towards the docks. Not good.

Even though it had been over two weeks since he and Aggie had slipped past the collective, neighborly defenses of the wharf, he could be spotted and outed by the whores they’d had the displeasure of meeting. He took the next side alley, then another and another, until his route circled around to the Heart of Whitney.

He stood at the mouth of an alley and caught his breath, propping himself against the brick wall of the building’s corner. It was cold and slick from the light rain that had begun to fall as he had whipped through the Heart. He wiped his hand on his shirt, a mostly wasted effort at drying it, and pulled out the card again. Alpine had to find the right angle that allowed him to shield it from the rain with his arm, but not block the light from the nearest lamp. He hadn’t been mistaken. The card definitely said “The Mikros Chalice”. Not achalice of the Brother, or even “one of the chalices”, but the chalice. His chalice.

What Al knew of the gods and their works was limited to what he had learned at Amandorlam, which amounted to three classes out of hundreds. In the intermediate level, they delved beyond who the gods were and what they did and focused on their legacies. It had covered the divine servants, Aps, and how they had created prosperity for their gods after they had left the mortal realm. The professor had gone on to explain how many Aps had created divine instruments, extensions of their masters’ powers, to continue to propagate each god’s religion. Therefore, if this chalice was truly Mikros’s chalice, then there was no possible way this was an heirloom of any family, Ember’s included.

He needed a place to think. Al was sure it was some unknown thread in his mind that had tugged his body to this part of Whitney, the part included one of the nicer parks, several government buildings, and a library. While he didn’t hear of anyone yelling for a thief or a large posse running down the streets, Al still made his way over to the library by keeping to the shadows.

Mikros was one of the twelve major deities, along with Aliorna, Magrithon, and the one that concerned Alpine at that moment, Cyurinin. The latter was the god of commerce, knowledge, contracts, and charity. He did not have temples or priests in the way the rest of His family did. His church was the library and the doors were always open for worship. While Al didn’t consider himself a religious man, if ever chose to he’d probably find himself joining Cyurinin’s church over any other.

Many of the city’s downtrodden and desolate would sleep in the alcoves and under the tables during the worst weather. Whitney had the occasional snowfall, but the hardest nights were usually the windy, rainy, and cold ones. As Alpine made his way up to the top of the stairs, he mentally checked off two of those three conditions. It was going to be crowded.

He wrung out his street clothes, a dark brown tunic and breeches that reached his mid-calf in the style of the bourgeois, though much less refined in cut and material. Al flicked his hands to remove any moisture and entered the library, carefully stepping over the people sleeping on the floor. He inhaled, taking in the scent of aged parchment and warmed candle wax, and relaxed.

Cyurinin loved order, and so all of his libraries followed the same regulations. Tables were in the front, pleasure books on the fringes, and factual books on cases in the middle. He headed to the freestanding bookcase that was to the farthest left and began there. He pulled random tomes out, read the titles quickly, and replaced them. He did this for three more shelves until he found books on the other gods, then finally the ones on Mikros Himself.

He brought twenty books to one of the tables, hoping one would contain just a few paragraphs of what he wanted. It was difficult for Al, since he kept being pulled in by whatever subject the book was about. It didn’t matter if it was about legends, the relationship between the gods and humans, or even just proper temple architecture, he wanted to cram in as much information as possible. He’d never asked himself what he’d do with all the knowledge, as did most academics knew. Learning was the journey, not the destination.

Al narrowed it down to three books and was rewarded with the first. It was written in Old Kolestien and appeared to be a primer on Ap Krivalt’s history and his works for his god. Al’s Old Kolestien was rusty, but there were a couple of diagrams throughout the book that made skimming much easier. One was a sketch of the man in his later years. Another, the temple to Cyurinin in Farrick. And, the most gratifying to behold, one of a chalice.

The page only had the outline, including bumps to indicate the jewels Al could feel inlaid in the cup as he ran his finger over it. The picture filled in some of the areas with the overlay and text around the base, but most of the outline was blank. Invisible to the eyeit said to the right. The writing afterwards spoke of a man who shared the cup with three of his brethren in what Al believed was translated as a blood offering. They were tied to each other for one year. They could not walk far from each other without feeling some great pain.

That was all. He sighed and grumbled, but a picture and a few paragraphs were better than nothing. Al turned the card from Berlont’s shop over to copy the text down word-for-word when he noticed a shine that played across its surface. He turned it back, then over again, noticing again the glimmer on the back. He closed the book and stood quickly.

That would be the reason why a man keeps a shop full of valuables wide open. Al wondered how many times thieves had broken into Berlont’s and stolen his merchandise before the owner realized it would be cheaper to put tracing and alarm spells on some of his prized possessions. He’d probably spent a fortune just in replacing the glass on the front door every time it was smashed. The jewelry box Al had bumped into must be the first thing a thief would be enticed to grab. Maybe that scream would be enough to scare off a potential bandit.

Al calmed down while he thought. Perhaps Berlont had come down from his apartment and thought just that: some thug had tried to nick an antique and gotten scared when the alarm went off. Since the box was still there, he might have reset it and gone back to bed. Alpine breathed a sigh of relief and grinned. He might have gotten away with it!

Then his face fell. The puddles. It had been raining out, so his clothes had been soaked enough that he had left a trail of water from the front past the box, to the back, then to the front again. Would Berlont check that shelf and see the inkwell and card missing? Would he check to see if the chalice was still there?

Al pulled out the inkwell. It seemed to be missing that same shine the card possessed. It might be an artifact like the chalice, in which case Berlont couldn’t have a spell on it. Skethik priests spent much of their time placing spells on items. As the lord of war, any priest-blessed weapon did greater damage and pain than one without augmentation. And, of course, any Skethik holy object could be imbued with whatever they wanted to place upon them. But only the Skethik priesthood could imbue objects and those objects couldn’t be another god’s artifact. They couldn’t touch the chalice, but they most certainly could touch the card Berlont had used to describe the item.

Not wanting to leave any evidence, Al returned the books to their general location. He was finishing up when the doors to the library opened, the wind blowing rain onto the beggars sleeping in the atrium. They complained, loudly, and made it difficult for the group of men in matching, dark uniforms with gold bars across their chests to step over them. It gave Al enough of a warning. He walked brusquely to the back of the library, searching along the wall for an exit. It was off to the right, beyond the sections that would contain Arvonnese alley novels, romances, and Merakian duel books.

Before he left the library, he stashed the card in a book. Hopefully it would stall the group in the front long enough for Al to escape. And then he ran, ten streets over and six down, until his lungs couldn’t keep up with body’s need to breath.

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