Al felt the tell-tale echo-y shift around him that indicated Anla had silenced what they were saying to anyone outside their circle. “What’s going on?” he asked, having a slight fear that he knew exactly what was going on.
“Several men came to the hotel saying there was a stolen item they were looking for. They had some contraption that pointed towards our room, Al. I barricaded myself inside and plead hysterics, then escaped out the window.” She hefted his bag to him. “I couldn’t find the chalice quickly so I took the whole thing.”
“It’s not the chalice they’re after,” he said.
“It’s not?” Raulin asked.
“No. Tracking spells, or any other kind of spells, won’t stick to deitic artifacts.” He rummaged around until he pulled out the inkwell. “This is what they want.”
Raulin reached out to take it, but Al snapped it back. “I was curious as to what was so important that you left everything for.”
“It’s King Aubin’s inkwell. It was sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, in a curiosity shop. I…couldn’t leave it there. Yes, I stole it. Yes, I know that’s against the law. But, I couldn’t leave it.”
“Are you certain it was genuine? I would hope you didn’t run for a forgery.”
Al felt doubt for a moment, then said, “If it was a forgery, why would they send a team of trackers after it? Besides, it’s not the inkwell that’s important but what’s inside.”
Al had few secrets left to keep. This was one of the last, and he wasn’t ready to tell it. Not yet, at least. “You’ll have to trust me on this; I know absolutely that this is what they’re after. It has the tracking spell on it. We need to hide this until we can leave Whitney.”
“All right, Wizard,” Raulin said, “I’ll trust that you don’t have anything really terrible in that tiny box. Ideas, and quickly, before they realize the inkwell is gone from the room. We need to stash this somewhere that only we can reach until the time is right.”
“Some place tall? Like, the top of Ap Caston’s Temple?” Al offered.
“As much as I’d love climbing to place it, Wizard, someone else could potentially get it.”
“In the ocean?”
“Too shallow and they can find it. Too deep and we can’t retrieve it. I don’t suppose your gift involves air pockets for breathing, Anla?”
“Not that I know of, but I don’t think we’ll need it. Telbarisk was able to hollow out that boulder and stuff us inside. Could he do that again for the inkwell?”
“That…would work. Anla, take Al’s pack and head back inside. Make it appear like you never left, if possible. Tel and I will go hide the inkwell. Wizard, you need to face the trackers and clear your name, if you can. We’ll bust you out of jail if we need to.”
Al relinquished the inkwell. “Promise me you won’t look inside.”
“If it means that much to you, I won’t,” Raulin said before heading down the alley, Tel in tow.
There were two trackers milling about outside the hotel entrance. You know nothing and will be surprised, Al told himself over and over again, trying to become the confused, innocent man instead of pretending to be him.
The two guards outside let him pass inside without so much as a second glance. Al was feeling disappointed when one of them said, “That’s him.”
He was quickly surrounded by four trackers, the buttons on their overcoats flashing in the dim lamplight. “I’m sorry?” Al stuttered. “I need to get to my room.”
“Yes, go right ahead,” said a dark-haired man with craggy skin. “Your wife has been most uncooperative with our investigation.”
You know nothing and will be surprised. “Investigation? What passes?” he asked, turning the key in the lock. “Anladet?”
“Oh, Al! Those terrible men were trying to steal our clothes!” she said, running into his arms. “Don’t let them in!”
“Why did you scare my wife?” he asked, turning to face the nearest man. “Why are you trying to steal our things?”
“Sir, we were led here to recover an item that was stolen several months ago…”
“So, why are you in my room?” he asked as the men squeezed past him and starting opening drawers and pulling things out of his pack. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We have reason to suspect you to be that man. We will search your things until we are satisfied either way.”
“Excuse me! You have no police with you and therefore this search is unlawful! If I find one item missing…”
One of the men upturned his pack and a very loud, metallic clang filled the mostly quiet room. “What was that?” one of them asked.
“Oh, one of you brutes must have dropped my hairbrush!” Anla said. “Al, make them leave!”
“Gentleman, I’m giving you to the count of three before I started yelling and throwing fisticuffs at you lot. I don’t care who you say you are; this is vulgar harassment and you are upsetting my wife!”
“Boss, it’s not here,” one of the men said, holding a hexagonal box in his hands. The arrow on the dial in the middle pointed to the corner and moved slightly to the right as he walked towards the area.
The man who’d been speaking took a deep breath and looked like he had swallowed something bitter. “Men, out. Sir, I apologize for the intrusion.”
“You’d better! I should call the constable himself and make a complaint! I hope you’re…”
Anla put her hand on his arm. “Dear, let’s clean up and forget about this. They haven’t stolen or damaged anything. Besides, I’ve been meaning for you to reduce your pack. Maybe you can finally do that.” She gave him a steady, knowing glance that was obvious enough for him to read as “let it go”.
The dark-haired man bowed stiffly. “Again, sorry for the intrusion,” he said before leaving.
Anla let her breath out. “That was close.”
“Yeah,” Al said, dropping down to his knees to pick up all the items on the floor. “You think I really do need to reduce what’s in my backpack?”
“Not unless you want to. You’ve had some handy things in there, like the chalk and the salt and pepper. I’m surprised they didn’t say anything about the ax.”
“An ax is probably fine. An ax with a Skethik spell on it is a little harder to explain.”
“So, why didn’t their box point to that?”
“Each spell is slightly unique, even spells with identical consequences. It’s like when someone copies a letter; it’s still the same content, but they probably looped their Bs a little differently. There is a piece of paper in the tracker those men use that corresponds specifically to the spell on the inkwell.”
“Out there somewhere is the paper that created the chalice then?”
He shook his head, holding up a pair of tongs and remembering he had used them to help make Tel’s medicine before tucking them deep into his pack. “The chalice is different because it was created by an ap in direct link with his god. The ‘paper’ that corresponds to the spell is in the chalice itself, bound with the gold and jewels that make it. It’s very hard to create something like that, having the spell interwoven instead of on the surface.”
“And I’m guessing it’s impossible to destroy?”
Al’s eyes widened. “Destroy it? That would have catastrophic consequences. The gods have to keep balance and they do that through their intermediaries, including any artifacts. The fact that the chalice is in play means that the gods are active in restoring the balance.”
“Does it?” she asked, amused at the thought. “Or is it just a man happened to find himself in a situation where he chose to act unlawfully to save himself from losing his job?”
“It could be, but the more I think about it and the further I am from the situation, the more I feel like I was pushed. There were several occasions before in the weeks leading up to that moment where I felt the same need to just break my normalcy. I was tired of my life; I just didn’t know it until I acted before thinking about the ramifications.”
She was about to retort that the idea had no merit when Raulin and Tel came into the frame of their window. “It’s taken care of. Those trackers will be scratching their heads for hours, trying to figure out why it’s pointing inside solid stone three stories up on a church, all while in one of the busiest streets in Whitney.”
“You didn’t look inside the inkwell, did you?” Al asked.
Raulin sighed. “No, Wizard. You asked me not to. You’re welcome for hauling the damn thing up the side of a building, by the way.”
“He didn’t,” Anla said to Al, who sighed in relief. To Raulin she asked, “Just out of curiosity, would you say you’ve felt prodded into a certain path, like you’ve been repeatedly asked to do something and only recently decided to follow it?”
Raulin crossed his arms and leaned against the sill. “I don’t think so. I suppose this year-long docket has been different for me, taking on partners and working together, but I don’t think I was pushed hard in that direction. I came to the decision to let you work with me on my own. Why do you ask?”
“Al and I were just discussing how odd it was for him to start this whole thing and he mentioned how he felt prodded repeatedly to come to the decision to lash out instead of bottling up his emotions. I was considering my own path and wondered if there was any merit to the idea.”
Telbarisk ducked down into the window. “Hayinfal experience feelings like that. Those that don’t listen well to kouriya claim to feel a subconscious whispering or jolts in an odd direction.”
“But Al and I aren’t hayinfal,” she pointed out.
“There is no one here to confirm you’re hayinfal, but I actually have thought you two are very likely to be one. You both have been pulled into something greater than your lives normally would, enacting change along the way.”
“What change?” Al asked. “We haven’t done anything.”
“That is the mystery of being a hayinfal. You may never know when you did something that enacted a great change. Usually, though, you do, and I suspect it hasn’t come yet.”
“Something to look forward to,” Raulin said. “Speaking of change, I do need to talk with everyone. Perhaps in your room would be more private?”