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Chapter 9: A Huntress is Born
Long into the night had she read, both the book from Cavit and the advanced lessons for the day ahead. The amount of information was astounding and the forbidden book gave her the feeling of being unclean. To know a person had the ability to undo the very essence of another was a horrifying thought. Maybe that is what this M.L. had done? No, she did not believe the man depicted on the poster could have been capable of such a monstrous act.
She was so distracted that she barely remembered her first class that day. She simply nodded along to the conversation of Abby and Neal, who both seemed to be in high enough spirits to carry the conversation. Professor Hurst was uncharacteristically brief in his notes, but she had already done the take-home work ahead of time and simply turned it in early in order to leave before the rest of her class. No, this was not the class that was to take her energy today.
Cavit stood leaning against the wall next to her second class, a crooked grin on his face as she approached. “Have a nice day off?” He asked casually, straightening to walk into the room with her.
“It was very informative, and I have a proposition for you.”
His eyebrows rose and the smile faltered. She had him in her trap. He would be thinking about this untold proposition all class until he couldn’t wait anymore, then he would walk with her from the room and ask to be indulged. She smiled.
Their professor flounced in, today seemed to be a day of high spirits all around and instructed the class to partner up. She saw several students turn to her, but Cavit was already there to lay claim. “Partners?”
She nodded and took the seat next to him.
The note she had received earlier was passed to him and he frowned. “What is this?”
“I thought you might know.”
He looked at her skeptically and then nodded. “I don’t know, but if you’re showing me then you either assumed I sent this or you want my help.” She remained silent, watching his expression. “Or both.”
“Well I didn’t send it, so any other ideas?”
She frowned. “Honestly? I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t know anyone.” Well, no one in Isima currently, but apparently people knew her.
“So are you going to tell me what this is about or am I supposed to keep guessing?” He sounded annoyed and it almost brought a smile to her face. For the first time, she had an advantage over him with information.
Pulling the wanted poster from her bag, she passed it to him and watched his eyebrows rise as he read.
“That’s… more money than I make in a month. You really want to catch this man?”
“I do. I do not know why, but I think he is important to our—” she searched for the right inconspicuous word “extracurricular research.”
His eyes gleamed greedily. “So what’s the plan?”
“I overheard one of the birds near the Eyrie and they know this man frequents several of the bars near the outer rim of Istima. We would need to leave the city at night and bring him in under the cover of dark.”
A frown pressed his eyebrows into a wrinkle. “Sounds easy enough. We are both capable mages, so surely we can handle a single fugitive.”
“I don’t think we should use our own magic. We need to try and be as inconspicuous as possible, what if this Lecht man has powerful friends? I don’t need another target on my back. I just want to catch him and turn him in as the note says.”
That was probably the longest string of words she had spoken to Cavit since they had known each other, but he didn’t seem to mind. “Okay. Don’t judge me, but I know a place that may have things we can use…” His voice trailed off as they put their heads together, ignoring the lecture taking place around them.
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Lyssana walked through the near-empty streets, her cloak pulled closely around her. She was dressed in dark brown and muted reds so as not to attract as much attention. The shop she sought was supposedly full of curiosities, and just maybe a thing or two that could aid in the capture of a fugitive.
The Croon and Crown set centered against the alley walk and would have easily been overlooked if she hadn’t been looking closely. The shop windows looked dark with the exception of a single candle in the front window, lighting a hand-painted sign that said “Welcome, we are open” in a blocky script. She opened the deceivingly heavy door with a grunt and walked inside.
The ceiling seemed endless as the rafters ended in shadow. Dark shelves lined the walls and clutter blocked the walkways. She picked her way through the shop gingerly, careful not to touch anything. “Hello?” Her voice sounded suppressed, as though the darkness muted the sound as it even left her lips. It felt almost like drowning; but if drowning were only a distant memory. A clock to her left chimed quietly at the ninth hour and Lyssana felt a chill run down her spine.
Eyes seemed to be watching her from every corner, but when she turned there was only that same cluttered darkness. Only after the idle thought that she was going insane crossed her thoughts did a hunched woman shuffle out from behind a front desk that Lyssana didn’t remember seeing until now. “Can I help you, dear?” The woman rasped, her head tilted slightly as she wore a placated smile.
“Yes,” Lyssana cleared her throat, “I’m looking for some very specific things and was told this was the place I could find them.” Her voice felt harsh and raspy like her throat was filled with smoke.
“Well then, find them you shall. I do aim to please.” A laugh filled the air and echoed around her. Then, a dim light appeared on the shelf in front of her. It highlighted a fountain pen made of polished dark wood with silver runes carved up the handle.
“The shop knows what you need.”
Lyssana jumped as the woman appeared next to her, somehow out from behind the desk in a blink.
“Go on, take it. The price will be made known.”
“I have gold,” she stared, but the grey-haired woman was gone. A deep breath and she reached for the pen. It felt cold as ice under her touch and a voice seemed to whisper as she held it. “Open a gate…open a gate…it is the key to the gate that does not exist!” The words were faint but clearer than the conversation she had with the woman.
The gate that didn’t exist? An image appeared in her mind, like a memory that belonged to someone else, of a man drawing a door onto a tree. A dim light showed around the drawing and he pushed on it, opening a now very real doorway that went through the tree. “Draw the gate that does not exist, then the gate will be the key!” The whispers grew excited and she grasped the pen firmly. This was exactly what she needed. But there was no price listed on the shelf?
She spun around, looking for the older woman. There was no one. A slim gold ring with a bright blue sapphire slipped from her finger and bounced across the floor, rolling along until it had vanished into the dark.
“The price is paid. The deal is struck!” The whispers were frantic now and a sourceless breeze chilled her. Then she was alone once more.
Lyssana stood there in the silence, watching every shadow for signs of movement. There was none. Only a single beam of light which landed on a coin she did not recognize. A smile fell across her lips as an overwhelming need filled her and she pulled another ring from her hand, this one an emerald, and replaced the coin on the shelf.
“A deal has been struck!”
She sat before the massive fireplace as a warm orange glow filled the room from the burning coals. The Corpegara were sprawled at her feet, enjoying the warmth reflected from the marble. She looked over the pen carefully, the dark wood felt smooth between the tiny carved runes that circled it. She had absolutely no idea what they meant or even how they worked. The way of that magic was foreign to her. “Open a gate,” the shop had told her, but how? There was no nib to hold ink, only that cold wood, like something that was only holding the image of a pen. Or pretending to be a pen. “It is the key to the gate that does not exist.”
The only thing she could do at this point was try anything and see how it worked. She would need to figure it out before tomorrow evening, which was when Cavit would help create a plan. Lyssana stood and walked to the kitchen, opening the jar of dark ink on the counter. She dipped the wooden tip into the jar and drew an arched doorway on a scrap piece of paper. The lines she drew glowed a dull white before disappearing into the parchment. She frowned and tried again with the same result. Perhaps a different surface? She drew another door, this time directly on the counter top. Again, the black ink glowed and then disappeared.
She was drawn from her concentration by a light knock at the door. It was the rug she had paid to be delivered. Two burly men ogled the apartment as she directed them to the main living area and they spread the massive carpet along the floor. It immediately made the room more welcoming and she applauded herself at choosing the vibrant red and orange designs that matched the decor perfectly. After tipping them a few drams, she was once again at the counter with the pen in hand. She tried once more with the ink on the counter and growled in irritation before hurling the pen onto the counter. Regret immediately filled her, but it was stopped short as the pen fell against the wall of her kitchen. A line was traced along the top of the pen and a vertical slit opened into the wall. She froze. A tiny orange glow radiated along the line and as she walked closer she could feel the fire from the other room. The line closed of its own accord and a triumphant grin tugged at the corner of her mouth.
She picked up the pen and drew an arched doorway on the kitchen wall. The lines seemed to sink into the wall before falling away and creating an opening to the fireplace against the other side of the wall. A key to the gate that doesn’t exist indeed.
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They had been to several bars before finding their way to The Mage’s Doorstep. It was a dirty place with sticky tables and dim lighting. Cavit had given her the signal though, so she entered the room and sat at an unoccupied table, ordering a drink while she scanned the faces around her.
There he was. Michael Lecht. A mage with classified crimes who refused to be seen in court. His image was surprisingly similar to that of the poster, with high cheekbones, and curly hair plastered to his forehead. He seemed at first glance like a nobody; but she would drag him into the Birds feet first if she had to.
Cavit sat across the room from her, watching the room carefully though he appeared to be resting lazily against a table. She noticed the man beside her eyeing her silk dress and she scowled at him, holding her gold pouch closer to her side. He grunted and turned away, pretending to lose interest.
Having to set a mugger on fire would ruin her plans for the evening, so she would have to act soon. Lecht ordered another drink from his seat at the bar and she took a sip of her own. It was watered down to the point of being flavorless.
They needed to intercept Lecht, but he had to stop drinking first. The man beside her slid closer, his hand falling to her leg as he drawled. “Wha’s a pretty lady like yourself doing in a not so pretty place like this?”
A look of disgust came over her face and she twisted his hand by the pinky in a sharp motion. She used the heel of the same hand to pin his palm so he couldn’t shift to alleviate the pressure. He gasped at the sharp pain and tried to jerk his hand away, but she held him tightly.
“Touch me again, and I will burn your hand from your arm.” Her voice came out in a low growl and a look of terror flashed across his face. She released his hand slowly and he all but threw himself out of the seat next to her and nearly ran out the door.
She scoffed. Men.
Lecht stirred in his chair and she saw him mouth the words “gotta piss” before he stumbled off to the bathroom, which in this fine establishment was nothing more than a room with a hole in the ground. She made her move.
Rising from her chair, she glided past the man, pricking him with a thin needle through his shirt sleeve as she passed. He didn’t even notice. In a few minutes he would be stumbling around and she could go in for the final move.
Cavit looked up as she joined him at the table and a mischievous smile split his face. “Hey, Hot Stuff, you come here often?”
She snorted and took the seat across from him.
“Very funny,” she muttered through a false smile stretching her lips. She was attempting to look like he had caught her eye from the other side of the room and that she had come over to introduce herself. It had been his idea; in case anyone remembered their faces, so they could be less memorable. It seemed to work, as no one even lifted their eyes at her movement.
He nodded at her, watching the bathroom door for any signs of movement. There were none. It had been several minutes and the poison would have taken effect by now. He mumbled a corny line about needing to “take a whizz,” but promised a speedy return so she better not go anywhere.
A man next to them snorted and winked at her as Cavit left.
She rolled her eyes.
Cavit disappeared into the bathroom and she waited until the count of 25 before sighing and gathering herself to leave. The man beside her gave a frown as she stood up. She just shrugged and said something about the time before walking out the door.
Lyssana hurried around the back of the building to see a figure lying in the shadow of the alley. It was Lecht. Cavit had been able to use the pen to open a hole in the wall and push the body out before closing the gate. He was probably inside the bar now exclaiming about his ‘hot date’ disappearing, and the overly-invested man who had winked at her was likely telling him that if he left now, he would probably be able to catch up to her.
Sure enough, Cavit joined her in the alley a few moments later, eyes bright with excitement that their plan had worked so flawlessly. “We did it!”
“Not yet, we still have to get him to the Eyrie.” With that, they each grabbed him under one arm and made their way to the ferries. The concerned ferryman was given a quick explanation: they needed to get their drunk friend back to his home. With a few extra drams, the ferryman nodded and they were on their way.
From the dock, it was an easy walk to the Eyrie. Well, easy if they hadn’t been dragging the dead weight of an unconscious man between them. Next time she was going to find an enchanted ring or something that would help her lift more weight.
Next time? Was she going to start a habit of kidnapping unconscious men and turning them over to the authorities? The thought made her shudder.
Cavit allowed her to take the lead once they made it inside the building and she presented the bounty paper to a rough-looking man at the front desk. It was late into the night by now, but the building still had a buzzing energy about it.
The man in uniform grunted as he read the paper and stood up to examine Lecht’s face. “I’ll be damned, but it’s him alright.”
A loud whistle summoned two more men who took the prisoner and carried him not so gently down a hallway. “Alright, let’s start the paperwork. Good job you two, this man has been on the run for two years.”
Lyssana and Cavit were shuffled into an office where a seemingly important man with a shiny badge displayed on his breast read over the doorman’s paperwork.
”Huh,” the man said, slowly counting their numbers and then comparing it to what was written in the file, “and he didn’t kill any of you vultures?”
Cavit chuckled before realizing the man wasn’t joking and then gulped.
“Fancy that, ” the bird said, though Lyssana could have sworn she heard him mutter something under his breath about there being a first time for everything.
He opened his desk drawer and handed them both silver pendants. The medallion was almost like the badge the man wore, only smaller and with a vulture inlaid rather than a hawk.
“Gary at the front will get the reward and these will get you access to… better bounties.“ The bird said, something about his tone going strange at the end of his sentence. ”Welcome to the team.”
“Better bounties?” Cavit asked, confusion written across his face.
Lyssana blinked at his abruptness and he seemed to notice their confusion. The hawk scratched his face, voice the same disinterested rumble one would use to discuss evening chores, “But yeah, could get you bigger bounties too.”
“May I ask a question?” Her voice was strong and full of resolve. The gruff man shrugged and she continued. “The poster said his crimes were classified, but since we brought him in to face justice, I feel like we have a right to know.”
Cavit stared at her incredulously but nodded in agreement.
The man examined them, eyes level. “Fine, but loose tongues lose badges. And lives.”
They both nodded in understanding.
”He was a small fish trying to ride the coattails of people experimenting with evil magics.”
She moved to the edge of her seat in anticipation, but the words seemed to catch on his tongue before meeting the air. “Lots of honest men dead ‘cause of them,” he finally said.
“How did they die?” Cavit asked, his voice apprehensive.
For the first time since they had seen him, passion moved behind the gruff man’s eyes and his fist involuntarily clenched. “They had their souls harvested like meat from a fucking hog.” His voice seemed to echo in the room and Lyssana could feel bumps rise along her arms. Cavit visibly shivered.
It was obvious this case was personal for him, and she almost felt sorry for the prisoner they had brought in.
“Thank you for your time, sir, but it’s getting late and we have class tomorrow.” She placed her palm under the chair, sticking a single object to the bottom of the seat while pretending to smooth her skirts. Neither man seemed to notice the subtle movement.
The man grunted and moved to sit down. But he paused and turned back to them, “Don’t push your good fortune. But,” he said, something potent flashing across his face before he once again retreated behind his disinterested facade, “you bring us more of these… things, and you’ll not want for gold.”
With that, they were ushered from the office and coin purses were placed in their hands by Gary before they were out in the night once more.
“What the hell was that?!” Cavit turned to her. “Why would you even ask about a classified crime?” He watched her unwavering features. “You already knew. That’s why you wanted my help capturing him. Did you fabricate that note to lure me in with the mystery of it all?”
She said nothing but opened the purse to count her profits. “Too bad we won’t be able to learn what they discover from Lecht.” Lyssana smiled as she walked toward her apartment, a baffled Cavit in tow.
She had bought more than the pen device the other night, but he would never know.