4-1

Raulin Kemor stretched against the railing of the port beam, holding his hands tightly around the wood while pulling his body back. “That appears to be a brutish storm,” he said to the captain.

The man he addressed stood behind him and to the right, his hands in his coat pockets. Not once in the four and a half weeks of the journey across the Gamik Sea had the captain spoken to him, save the normal curt pleasantries expected in his position.  Captain Lagres did his job well, but he was obviously wary of Raulin, as were most of the ship’s crew.

It was probably the mask. It made most people wary.

When Raulin looked back briefly, he saw the captain opening his mouth a few times, his eyes locking with Raulin’s before dropping again. He lit his pipe and relaxed as his gaze moved out beyond the port of the ship at the horizon.

Raulin had been fine with the isolation up to a point.  He’d read every book he’d brought with him five times over, gazed at the stars and plotted what he could, and even began whittling a replica of the Spirowan out of driftwood.  He couldn’t take it any more.  He was starved for action and interaction. He craved a simple conversation.  The storm seemed like a good enough ice breaker.

It was quite a distance away, but it stretched on for miles. In the front, the clouds were a calm gray, lightly brushed to the sides and moving slowly. Deep within, blotting out the underside and staining the background, were dark clouds a foreboding shade of charcoal. Lightning flashed in tiny bolts and pops of light in the storm.  A typical sights on the sea, though something about it made Raulin uneasy.

 

After watching it for a few minutes, the captain finally responded. “Aye. I’ve seen few as large in my journeys.”

Raulin almost sighed in relief. “What’s the expression you Westerners use again?” he asked. “Kabidon is fighting with his sister?”

“Aye,” he answered. He moved closer, to stand next to the railing. “My older brother is a priest of Kabidon. If you are interested in our religion, I could tell you all about Askilla and Rayik, if you wanted, sir.”

Raulin already knew the mythology behind the High Twelve in and out, but feigning ignorance would extend the conversation. “Please, I am interested.”

The captain took the pipe out of his mouth and cleared his throat. “Long, long ago, there was only Askilla and Rayik to rule the world and beyond. They were the opposites in everything; light and dark, male and female, sky and ground, hot and cold. For aeons things were in harmony. But, at some point, they made the decision to explore farther, to do more with their lives. The more they discovered and governed in the heavens, the harder it was for them to handle. They decided to split themselves apart into six pieces, each with their own minds, though linked in perspective. They became our pantheon.

“Rayik became the twin gods Kabidon and Magrithon, their sisters Queyella, Iondika, Uvarna, and their brother Kriskin. Akilla divided and became their balances. Beliforn and Aliorna, twins themselves, married Kabidon and Magrithon to cover the heavens, Man’s creations, and his place among them. Queyella, dark and mysterious, is offset by the knowledge and assuredness of Cyurinin. While Miktos seeks to bring men together, his wife Uvarna culls the unjust from the good, law abiding citizens. Skethik is the lord of war and aggression; his wife, Iondika, is the repetition and patience involved with skill. And finally, Kriskin rules over death, but his wife, Zayine, is the goddess of life and bounty.”

“It seems like he taught you well. Thank you for honoring me with his teachings.”

“My pleasure. My brother feels it’s his sworn duty to bring the light of the gods to everyone. I’m sure he’ll be grateful the next time he sees me.” He puffed on his pipe a few times as his crew took up an Aroukean sea chanty, some thinly veiled song that likened the land to their wives and the sea to their mistresses. Raulin knew Aroukean, but their style of singing clipped the words and relied heavily on slang, making it difficult to follow.

Raulin watched the horizon again. The captain leaned next to him, pensive as he stared with him. “Enjoying your voyage so far, sir?”

“Oh, yes. Very much so. The crew has been pleasant, I’ve had no incidences, and I’ll even admit that your cook is one of the finest seafaring chefs I’ve ever had on the seas. It’s amazing what he can do with such simple fare.  However, and no offense offered, I’m not a sailor and I will be happy to see land again.”

The captain smiled at this. “None taken, sir. I understand traveling the seas are a requirement for some and a retirement for others. The less seafaring men there are, the more sea there is for me.”

“That’s a great way of looking at things. I like an optimistic man, especially a captain.”

The man nodded his head once in deference. “I find it’s a healthy way of looking at the world. Helps a man find his place.”

There was a lull as the two men looked south again. Raulin could sense the captain wanted to say something, but hesitated several times before he finally asked, “Mind if I ask what your business in Gheny is?”

“I think you can guess what my business is. Or what it will be, when I find it.” The captain’s spine straightened a little. “I should point out that I have no business on the Spirowan. There’s nothing you need to fear.”

The captain let out a long breath. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you seem like a friendly sort of fellow. I’ve never heard of a trirec being so congenial.”

It was Raulin’s turn to give the captain a nod of deference. “Well, not every man is the same. Some gravitate towards social things while others prefer a bookish life. I will admit that many of my brethren are rather tight-lipped.” He shrugged. “I happen to be of a different breed.”

The captain looked hesitant again and puffed on his pipe for a few moments. “I’ve always wanted to meet a trirec, to see what they’re like. Would you mind if I asked a few questions, since I have the opportunity?”

Raulin’s teachers would have told him to chide the man and walk away, to maintain the mystery and threat of the organization. It was considered punishable if they discovered he had spoken of their secrets. There was, however, a way around both that would please the order, should they hear about his loose tongue.

Should he, though? Was it better to give the captain the grapes or the grapefruit? Sometimes it was better to let men believe trirecs were phantoms with mysterious powers. It helped steer the fear the public had into a wary respect that meant a trirec wouldn’t be bothered on the street. However, there were times when it was better to make people comfortable around you. Raulin found that, when used with the right person and the right time, sharing information let you get something in return.

He turned to face the older man, one arm still braced on the railing while the other hung loose at his side. “Go right ahead,” he said.

“You’re certain? I’ve heard rumors about trirecs. If you’re caught staring at a trirec, for instance, he’ll find you in the middle of the night and slit your throat…”

Raulin laughed lightly, to which the captain responded in a similar but more guarded way. “You’re confusing us for bogeymen or spring-heeled jacks. I can assure you that many of your men have been staring at me for weeks and they’re all accounted for, I hope? Besides, why would I want to kill the captain of the ship I’m on? I want to get to Gheny and I’m not exactly sure of the competence of your first mate.”

“He’s good at what he does. I’ve worked with him for six years now. Though,” he said, smiling, “if you plan on killing me, he’s terrible at his job.”

Raulin laughed at his joke. “Good crew, then. I’m glad to hear it.”

“Yes, I’m pleased with my company,” he said. “I was curious about the masks you wear.”

“We are required to ritualistically scar our faces,” he said. “The mask hides our face so that people aren’t frightened of us. It makes walking the streets of cities easier, especially those in Noh Amair and Gheny who aren’t used to seeing it.”

In actuality, the only reason Raulin was wearing his mask on board was due to a gaff by the first mate of the ship. The trirec office in Arouk had sent a trirec down to book passage for Raulin and the first mate had correctly assumed that he was going to be a trirec as well. When he approached the first mate without his mask on, he had luckily caught the mistake in his open log before revealing his name. He’d asked the man about their fees and feigned disgust at the price, then left to put on his mask and return. He wasn’t about to kill the first mate to correct that mistake nor did he want to book passage on another ship. The Spirowan was a large galleon that had comfortable quarters available for passengers and was also sailing for Riyala in Genale. Another opportunity like that wasn’t going to come along for months, so Raulin dealt with the inconvenience.

It was the connection. He could show his face or he could be a trirec, but not both. The punishment for getting caught was severe enough not to risk it.

The captain peered at him, as if he could see Raulin’s skin through the mask. “Really? It sounds like a ghastly procedure. Why would anyone want to do that?”

“I will admit some of the trirecs do not make it through the procedure. Many fall ill to infection or blood fever before they can recover. The reason we go through it at all is because it allows us to be a conduit for magic. We can hide better, move faster, see clearer in the night. Things of that nature.”

“And what of your nature? Are you…are you a man?”

Raulin patted his chest as if he were confused. “I believe so. Why, do you know something I don’t?”

The captain laughed at this, a genuine guffaw with a hint of nervousness. “I’m sorry. It’s a stupid question. I’ve heard tales of trirecs being changelings or the sons of demons. It’s just nonsense.”

“Well, no, not entirely,” he said and the captain stopped laughing. “We take in any and all, so some of us are a bit otherworldly. In Merak there are lots of creatures other than humans. There are spirits who walk the streets chained to masters. There are men who can grow and shrink at will. There are those who are very tiny, no taller than your knee.”

“Why haven’t I seen one?”

“Well, they are more common in Merak. A trirec that was winged or had horns would be a bit conspicuous in the West.”

“Ah, yes, this is true. I suppose you could finger one of them as a trirec easily.”

“We are good at blending in besides. If any of my differently raced brothers made their way to Gheny, you wouldn’t see them.”

The captain seemed to believe this nonsense and stared out at the storm again. “This talk of tales and religion makes me yearn for my home. What of you, sir? Where do stay when you’re not working? Where is your family?”

He gave a dramatic sigh. “My parents sold me to the trirecs when I was four, to pay off their debts. They are my brothers now and Merak is my home.” He was surprised to find talking about his family brought no pain that time. Usually it was difficult, even after all those years.

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir. My family is a treasure to me. My parents are long gone, but I do visit my brother when I can. My wife and children are back home in Kitstuar. That’s on the western coast of Noh Amair.”

“In between Arvonne and Arouk, if I remember correctly.”

“Aye, sir. That is where it is. That is my home.” He sighed heavily with such emotion that Raulin looked over at him. “I don’t suppose those scars of yours makes your fingers nimble. Are you good with tying knots?”

“Alas, I’m terrible at it. I have clumsy fingers or else my family would have kept me. They were rug weavers.”

“Mmm. That’s too bad. I may need you later tonight, nimble fingers or not. Until then, I suggest you get as much sleep as you can. That storm may look far away, but I guarantee you we won’t outrun it. And when it hits, I’ll pray to Queyella, but I’ll still call for all hands on deck.”

1-13

Ember kept Alpine waiting, like she always did. This time, however, she made a very poor show of disinterest. While Al sat in his seat, his hands folded in front of him, she kept glancing up from her tea. She’d put the cup down and continue writing, only to look him over quickly to see if he had the chalice on him. The third time she did that she caught his eye. Al gave her a smirk as she put down her pen.

“So, you have returned,” she said, taking off her pince-nez and letting them hang by the chain attached to her brooch. “How did last night fair?”

“It was exciting, to say the least. I was chased across half the city by a group with tracking abilities. Let’s just say I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Then you stole something else? Why? I warned you about the consequences.”

“You did.” He shrugged. “My greed got the better of me. Since I was stealing one thing, why not steal something else?”

She looked a little surprised at Al’s admission. “Well, you did get away in the end and you didn’t connect the acquisition to me or Milxner’s. I suppose I have no quarrels with you taking a little something for yourself.” Ember graced him with a small smile. “Now, about the chalice…”

“Yes. I did get it.”

Ember sighed, her shoulders dropping as she sat back. “And? Do you have it with you?”

Al got comfortable in his seat. “I thought it might be dangerous to bring it here.”

“I see. Why is that?”

“Ember, I didn’t just steal an additional item from Berlont’s last night. I also stole the card attached to the chalice. Would you care to explain how a deitic artifact is a family heirloom?”

Al watched her carefully. She quietly sipped on her tea with a placid look on her face. She almost set her cup down, then took another sip. He had a hunch that whatever she was about to say was going to be a lie, but he’d listen anyway. “I assume, that with your particular taste in hobbies, you know of the Divine Bestowal?”

“Of course,” he said. “Royalty are the chosen leaders of their lands because they are blood descendants of Magrithon. He fathered children with a few of His aps and they went on to found countries and rule them.”

“It wasn’t just Magrithon who fathered mortal children.”

Ember let the silence hang as Al thought of what she was implying. “That’s ludicrous. I’ve never once heard of anyone speak about Mikros fathering humans.”

“We like to keep it under the rose, my family. We’ve tracked our lineage as far back as Ap Nourith. She was responsible for the Noh Amair Accord and founding the Sisterhood of Sancilot. She also was the only ap of Mikros to sire the Brother’s children.”

Alpine shook his head. “This is hard to believe…”

“Trust me, it is. It was a great surprise to learn of my heritage when I came of age. I learned it right before my family sent me off to Amandorlam, in hopes of learning more about where my ultimate grandfather’s treasures are.”

Ember put down her tea and stood, walking around her desk to stand in front of him. “We’ve been searching for generations. It means a great deal to my family to finally return our heirlooms to their home. Alpine,” she said, pausing before placing her hands on his forearms, “Al, please. I beseech you to do what is right and return the chalice to its rightful owners.”

Something seemed off about Ember’s story. Al had only a few things he trusted his life with, and knowledge was one of them. Magrithon had mortal descendants only because he had been stripped of his powers temporarily by the others as a punishment for many abuses against both the pantheon and mortals. Mikros, on the other hand, had always been a calm, benevolent god. He couldn’t think of a single myth involving Him that suggested moral ambiguity, never mind the fits of grandeur His brother was renowned for.

Al’s mind trailed a little while he left Ember waiting. She wasn’t used to it. In fact, the longer he made her wait, the more fretful she became. She took his silence as not contemplation, but as Al trying to figure a polite way to turn her down. “Al, do you want money?”

He looked up. “Money?”

“Yes,” she said, opening a locked drawer in her desk and pulling out a blue velvet cinch-bag. “Here. Take this. I assume this will buy your silence over what we spoke of?” She placed the bag in his hand and folded his fingers over. “I can pay you the same when you bring the chalice here.”

“Okay,” he said, giving her a dopey smile. “I’ll be right back.”

Thankyou,” she said, moving out of his way so he could leave.

Alpine walked through Milxner’s, through the maze in between to Jindahl and Stohr. He opened his office, lit a few candles, and quickly counted the money. Fifty gold? That was over two months wages for Al. Another fifty was waiting for him, when he brought the chalice to Ember. One hundred gold.

What could Al do with that much money? If he could get Ember’s protection, he could put a down payment on a nicer house. He could woo his wife back. He could put the money away for Marnie’s education.

What he’d probably do, given the opportunity, would be to start his own business. He was only one of three Touch wizards in the whole city, as far as he knew. He could start fresh, bring his clientele with him, and start implementing all the little things he wished he could suggest to his bosses. Maybe he could get an office closer to his home, so that he could rest better.

But, in the end, he knew what he was going to do. The whole ordeal had taught him a few things about himself that he’d never known. Mainly, and most importantly, he was better than this.

He smiled sadly, grabbed a piece of paper, and wrote down two words. He locked his office and handed the paper to Peni along with the key. “Please give this to Mr. Jindahl or Stohr when you see them next.”

“Why, Al? What does it say?”

“’I quit.’”

* *

As usual, it was twilight when Burdet fumbled with the front door and stumbled in. Al was reading by candlelight, a book he liked but didn’t treasure. It took her a few moments before she saw him.

“Where were you last night?” she slurred.

“Shh,” he said, putting his finger up to his lips. “Marnie is sleeping. I was out, like I said.”

“You said it was only going to be an hour or two. You didn’t get in until past midnight! I knew it! You’re cheating on me.”

“I’m not cheating on you,” he said. “I have never cheated on you. I have been a good husband, despite the fact that you’ve been a terrible wife to me.”

She made to leave for the kitchen when Al said, “Sit.” Stunned by his force, she complied. “We should have spoken a long time before now.”

“I don’t want to speak with you. I have to.”

“What went wrong, Burdet? We loved each other once. We were happy.”

“I’m getting wine,” she said. She went into the kitchen and returned with the full, uncorked bottle of Caudet Al had been saving for a special occasion. It irked him as he watched her take a long draw from it. She was drinking to get more drunk, to loosen her tongue so that she could say the cruelest things to him.

“I was happy…until I wasn’t. One day I realized you weren’t the man I thought you’d be.”

“I thought we had been pretty honest with each other. Who did you think I’d be?”

Successful,” she spat. “You were the smartest man to come out of Amandorlam in generations. You almost set a record as the youngest. You were bright and passionate and ambitious! And now look at you! You practically beg for scraps, lay down on the ground like a good dog for those stuck-up, snobby women. You’re smart! Why aren’t we rich?”

“That’s all you ever wanted from me? To make you rich?” he asked quietly.

“I deserve better than this,” she said, holding her hand out and almost dropping the bottle of wine. “Any woman deserves better than this. You don’t have the money to buy me things. I’m the poor, pitied girl at work because my husband doesn’t buy me what their husbands do.”

“It must be terrible, having a cup full but not overflowing.”

She threw the bottle against the mantle of the fireplace. “You don’t understand what it’s like!”

“You’re right, I don’t. I don’t know what it’s like to have people pity me. I don’t hear the gossips say, ‘Poor, Al. What a good man he is, taking care of that bastard child his wife cuckolded him with. Tut tut.’”

“I wouldn’t have cheated on you if you had just given me a good life.”

“So, it’s my fault that you broke your vows?” he said, his voice rising. He took a deep breath to calm himself. He had promised himself not to say things out of anger. “I provided for you. I gave you a house, food, clothing. You wanted more, so I said, ‘Get a job, then’. And you resented me for that? Some husbands won’t let their wives leave the home and make their own way in life. They leave them at home to keep house and they deal with what they get. You, however, get your freedom and your extra money and you’ve been spending it not on your child, but on drinking.”

“I don’t love you any more.”

Al was surprised hearing that didn’t hurt nearly as much as he thought it would. He sat up, grabbed a large backpack he had filled with clothes and things he couldn’t bare to part with, and moved towards the door. “I think we’re in agreement there.”

“Where are you going?”

“I stayed to make sure Marnie wasn’t alone.” Then, he said the lie he wished was true. “You know where I’m going, where I always wanted to go. I have passage booked on a ship taking off for Arvonne they day after tomorrow.”

Burdet was dumbfounded, but she wasn’t stupid. She closed the gap between them, placing her hands on his shoulders. It was some farce like the last three years had never happened, that they were young and in love again with their whole lives in front of them. She searched his eyes and smiled. “We…we can make this work out, Al. We can talk. I’ll stop going out at night and you can go out with your friend more often.”

He leaned over and kissed her high on her cheekbone. “It’s done and so am I.”

“No! You can’t leave! How am I supposed to support our daughter?”

Yourdaughter,” he said, although it hurt him to say it. He was truly going to miss Marnie. “Maybe you should find her father, have him marry you and acknowledge her.”

“Maybe I should!” she shouted so loudly, Al was sure Marnie was going to wake up. “He’s a wizard, you know. He makes so much money he can afford to buy me earrings and rings. See this!” She turned to show him the comb in her hair. “Stalagmite bought me that because he said a man needs to buy his woman pretty things.”

“Stalagmite?” And he didn’t think anything involving this was going to hurt him.

“Yes, his name is Stalagmite. Why, are you going to fight him over me? You’d lose, you know.  He’s very strong and…”

“You’re right, I would.” Al took off his wedding band and placed it on the table by the door. “You’re going to need all the help you can get. Sell it,” he said, before closing the door.

1-10

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.