Thursday, 21 August 2014

Shadow and Life

Jade - Lore of Life
"You're a plague in the town's body, nothing more, Farren!" Arabella Artz called into the empty museum. "It's time to cure the disease!"

Beside her, the captain of the town's soldiers stood alert, sword drawn in one hand, lantern held aloft in the other. His men were scattered through the wings of the museum behind them.

"There's nothing there," he whispered to her. "Just shadows."

Sure enough, the hallways were dark. Darker even than the stormy night outside seemed to warrant. Arabella snorted impatiently and marched forward, forcing the soldiers to keep pace. Her polished boots echoed on the tiled floor. Stuffed animals stared from glass cases, portraits of ancient Teutognans gazed down from the walls. But of the traitorous wizard Xander Farren, there was no sign.

A series of grisly murders had put her on to him. As a Jade wizard, she was often called to examine the mortally wounded, in case her healing arts could do something. But nothing had availed the mental and physical torture inflicted on Farren's victims. Wealthy merchants all, he'd almost murdered each one, leaving them to expire in plain sight. Their broken gaspings revealed nothing of why they'd been killed, however, just the depths of Farren's depraved imagination.

Slowly and surely, she'd pieced together the clues and tracked him to his lair - Galendorf's Museum of Anthropology and Antiquity. With the vengeful soldiers at her back, there would be no escaping the punishment due to him.

"He's in here," she said. "I can feel him."

The storm waxed ominously outside. They stepped through an archway into a vaulted chamber at the very heart of the museum, a high-ceilinged space crammed with tall display cases. The lantern light of the guardsmen was reflected as hundreds of dim flickers. It did nothing but confuse the darkness even more.

"There," she told the captain quietly, stopping his advance.

Far above, a caped figure stood against a huge window, a smear of shadow against the rain-beaten panes. It was slumped, no doubt exhausted after the long chase through the massive building.

The captain made a couple of swift hand signals. Armed men trooped past them into the hallway, weapons readied.

"Xander Farren!" she called up to him. "There will be no more fleeing. You will answer for your murderous crimes!"

"And who will hold me to account?" her quarry asked. He had a soft voice that seemed to roll from every corner of the room, a trick of the acoustics no doubt but eerie all the same.

"We have forty of the town's finest guards with us, monster," she shouted. "Surrender now and I'll make sure the trial isn't drawn out."

Grey - Lore of Shadows
"Ah, Artz," Farren murmered. "So certain of your facts, even now. You must have wondered why? Why those particular lives, and not others?"

"Why any life?" she asked, angrily. "You were sworn to protect this town, not kill its citizens! Now come down! We have two dozen crossbows pointed at you, it's useless to resist!"

It seemed to her, then, that the shadow at the window shifted somehow. As though it merged with the patterns the rain made and ran down the glass. Dark forms seemed to float through the air, the floor became thick and sticky with black clouds.

"Quite wrong," the soft voice said, echoing from all directions. The captain spun round, searching the corners of the room for a trace of the foe. Guardsmen pointed crossbows in all directions.

"As usual, Arabella. You never thought to question the motives of those you serve, did you? All life is sacred to you. I suppose that makes sense in a way. For me, the truth is a little more... cloudy. I question everything. It often makes me examine where my loyalties lie."

"Enough mockery! Come out and face justice!" she called.

"What if I told you that the men I killed served not the Empire, but a darker power? What if you knew the truth of Nine Families? What lies behind the mask of the Caperer at the annual balls? If it was something... ruinous?"

A cold feeling went through her spine. "Lies!" she shouted, but at the same instant, she made eye contact with the captain of the guard. And there was something there, something...

Crossbows started firing in all directions, men shouted and screamed, firing at shadows or each other. Then, as the captain swung his sword for her, there was no more time for questions.

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