Authors: J.S. Morin
Book 2 of the Twinborn Trilogy
By J.S. Morin
Copyright © 2013 Magical Scrivener Press
All rights reserved.
Cover Art by Duncan Long
To Kristin, who has been behind me all the way
(pushing as needed).
I would never have gotten this far without you.
With naught but the faintest whisper of fabric, a shadow
rendered in flesh crept down the moonlit corridor. The polished stone floors
and vaulted ceilings that always made a chorus of echoes at the clop of
leather-soled shoes lent no voice to soft slippers. Light from the nearly full
moon poured in through the stained glass, turning red, gold, and green as each
pane added its own hue to the otherwise colorless moonbeams, but the windows
were high above, and cast their illumination only to one side of the hall—the
other remained a haven for shadows.
The shadowy prowler crept among pedestals and glass cases
that displayed various artifacts of Acardian history. There was a bust of
Paillus Imarcos, the High Priest of Moloun who had originally commissioned the
building as a cathedral to his god; a copy of the Writ of Establishment signed
by General Tonald Duthford; a sword that dated back to the nomadic tribes that
lived in the area some fourteen hundred years ago; and many other treasures
whose value lay more in their history than their substance.
The prowler passed by these and many more. Curiosity was for
the daylight hours, and lingering over valueless relics was pastime for the
idle and the scholarly. There were exceptions among the exhibits. Not every
case contained bits of metal or scraps of writing that were mundane in every
way save for their age. There were items of far more intrinsic value elsewhere
in the vast halls.
* * * * * * * *
Mulview tipped back in his familiar old chair, the wood
creaking as he shifted position. His feet were up, crossed at the ankles on the
worn oak desk that he shared with his cohort. His thick-fingered hands cradled
The Fables of Fenmund
, as if it were made of fine crystal.
Professor Darlingsworth had let him borrow it on condition it be treated
gently, and Mulview had no wish to upset the curator. The book was filled with
children’s stories, but the old watchman pored over it as if it contained the
lost mysteries of the Kheshi Empire. The book was fragile with age, its binding
crackled as it was opened and pages past yellowing to the point where they were
near to crumbling—but not quite so close that occasional handling was out of
the question. Mulview was familiar with many of the stories, but not
intimately. He would learn the tales as best he could, and recount them to
eager little faces, too young to realize their grandfather was anything less
than a master storyteller.
The room was quiet except for the turning of pages, the
of knife on wood as his fellow watchman Danberry whittled away the hours, and
the ticking of a clock. It was lit by just a pair of lanterns, one belonging to
each of the night watchmen, who each used theirs to light their own hobby-work.
There was a pleasant whiff of freshly cut wood in the room, but it fared badly
against the odor caused by long hours of men idling about within.
As he finished “The Prince’s Dog,” Mulview spared a glance
at the clock; it was very nearly eleven. He would not have time to begin
another story. He closed the book and set it carefully aside.
“What’s this one to be, then?” he asked Danberry, peering
across the desk at the misshapen hunk of wood he was bothering with his knife.
“A boat,” Danberry said. “I got this bit o’ wood on the
small coin—fella said it floats in water no matter what shape it is. I figure
to make the hull solid so’s I don’t need to worry ’bout makin’ it too thin and
pokin’ a hole.”
“Good idea. Smart friend ya got, Dan.”
“I ain’t said he was no friend, mind ya. Just a fella,”
Danberry returned, just a bit defensively.
“What? You got some fella sellin’ shady driftwood or
sumthin’?” Mulview asked, giving his friend a hard time of it.
“Naw, just don’t wantcha thinkin’ I gots friends what has
connections or nothin’. Next thing I know, I gots every man o’ the watch
dogging me for short-coin deals.”
A small clock, dangling from the wall by a single nail,
stepped in to break up their discussion. It was a small, ugly thing, a cheap
copy of the magnificent clock tower that rose majestically from the upper
reaches of the very museum they guarded. There had been clocks before Cadmus
Errol had built the tower, but the master tinker's landmark touched off a
frenzy of popularity of the devices, which had spawned a small industry of
“That thing right?” Mulview asked.
“Ya, I think. Bromny said he set it jus’ this morn—by the
bell,” Danberry replied.
Mulview nodded, having suspected as much, but secretly
hoping he had a bit more time off his feet. With a grunt of effort, he set his
feet back on the floor and hefted himself out of his chair.
“Ah well, another round to be made. See you in about an
hour,” Mulview said and then sighed.
The two men took up their lanterns, and headed out into the
museum, heading in opposite directions.
* * * * * * * *
The prowler heard the footfalls echo across the massive
central chamber of the museum, illuminated by the moonlight cascading down from
the stained glass overhead. The soles of the watchman’s boots made for a hard
clacking sound that was easy to track back to its source, despite the acoustics
of the former cathedral. The chamber was subdivided into aisles by silk ropes
strung between short wooden posts. The watchman made his way deliberately up
and down each of them.
The prowler worked out the pattern of the patrol, and used
the displays themselves to shield against the watchman’s sleepy gaze. It became
a simple matter for the prowler to reach the true target for that night’s work:
the glass-enclosed cases that housed the royal family’s heirlooms.
King Gorden was a humble man. It was a trait rare enough in
common men, and rarer still among monarchs. But it was the age of the
Progressive Reformation Movement, which Gorden supported. The king would lead,
but the people chose their own destiny: elected parliaments, participatory
governance, voluntary civic service. It was unseemly in such an age for the
king to hoard such artifacts as his ancestors had accumulated over their
centuries of rule. Thus for years, the king had commissioned scholars and
artisans to clean and restore old jewels and artwork that had long moldered in
palace cellars. When they were fit to display, they were sent to the museum so
that the public might marvel at them during very reasonable public viewing
That was fine for other folk, but for what the prowler had
in mind, unreasonably late hours were the rule—and the fewer viewers, the
At the center of the rather large display of royal
adornments was the official raiment of the office of the king: scepter,
doublet, crown, and cloak. All had been worn by King Gorden at his coronation
and not since. The king dressed as well as any well-heeled nobleman, but no
better, and certainly not with the gaudy tastelessness of the merchant guild
Surrounding the royal raiment were numerous displays of
similar regalia from earlier in the kingdom’s history. Rings, crowns,
necklaces, brooches, swords both ceremonial and those wielded by warrior kings,
scepters, diadems, chalices, and censers. A fortune could be made selling any
one of them, but the risk was too great. The pieces were famous, distinctive,
and beloved. The reward alone for their safe return would exceed the price one
might find for them among disreputable connoisseurs.
Coin was power, so it was said, but an indirect and often
unreliable sort. The prowler’s eyes unfocused, and saw a different sort of
power. There, in the currents of aether, was a small beacon among the drab,
mundane bits of diamond and worked gold.
Among the old relics was
one wholly unlike the rest. A bit simpler in design if not material, it was a
gold circlet set with rubies across the front—or so it appeared to most eyes.
In the aether, it took on a blue-white glow, standing apart from the indistinct
forms of the non-magical items and the general swirl of wild aether that filled
the rest of the chamber.
Turning, the prowler looked back across the museum and saw,
highlighted in blue-white like the circlet, the Source of the night watchman.
Man-shaped and leaking aether, that Source was the guard’s life essence. All
aether flowed from the Source, and all life depended upon the aether.
The watchman was wending his way to the main entrance on the
back end of his rounds. Shaking away the trance-like state of aether-vision,
the prowler returned to using normal sight. The circlet was boxed in a small
glass case along with a handful of other jewels from its own era. Top, bottom,
and all four sides of the box were of expensive clear glass, girded at the
joints with thin edges of gilded steel. A quick check confirmed that it simply
sat upon the display pedestal, with no lock or clamp or catch to hold it in
place, just its own weight.
The dark-clad prowler took the case in two gloved hands.
With care and steady nerves, those hands slowly lifted the glass from the
the prowler swore mentally.
crazy tinker must have rigged some sort of alarm for the museum when he was
here to build the clock tower.
It was too late for stealth, so the next logical step was
distraction. The prowler took the glass case cover, and threw it as far as it
was willing to fly, smashing to the floor with a crash loud enough to be heard
clearly over the alarm bell. A quick glance revealed that there was a tiny,
hidden catch that had been held down by the weight of the glass.
Eschewing the other finery, the prowler grabbed the magical
circlet, and shoved it into a satchel. Light from a lantern was sweeping about
the area, and the prowler dove for cover to avoid being spotted.
* * * * * * * *
Drat! The alarm!
“Danberry! Rouse the city guards! Now!” Mulview shouted.
Taking in hand the truncheon that he kept hooked at his
belt, the stocky watchman set a well-practiced scowl on his face, and stalked
back into the exhibit hall he had
finished checking. There had been
false alarms before, but with the alarm making such a racket, the watchmen
could hardly be taken to task for rousing the city guards; the lads probably
could hear it from their barracks anyway, just next door.
Mulview swept the aisles with his lantern, seeking a glimpse
of the intruder. Ungainly though he was, he tried to make his movements quick
and unpredictable, to catch his quarry off guard.
“Aha, found you!” he cried.
The light from his lantern framed the prowler mid-scurry,
showing a figure dressed head to foot in black cloth, with a hooded cloak of
black pulled so low that there were slits to see through it.
“Whatever you’ve got there, thief, drop it and give yourself
They were good words, and practiced often in the heads of
guards who seldom saw any real excitement in the course of their duties. The
mere presence of guards was supposed to deter thieves, so actual thefts were a
rarity. Thus it was with great disappointment that Watchman Mulview found that
his order went unheeded.
The prowler kept low, and ducked behind displays, crossing
rope barriers, and violating the sanctity of exhibits of priceless artifacts.
Mulview did all he could to keep himself between the prowler and the doorway,
but it was a lost cause. The portly guard had come too far into the exhibit
hall to confront the thief, and was not quick enough afoot to backtrack and cut
off the path of escape.
“Danberry! He’s past me! This is no game; there’s a thief
escaping!” Mulview yelled before lowering his voice to curse himself thoroughly
for being a creaky old man, too slow to run down thieves from behind.
Things had always gone much better in his daydreams.
* * * * * * * *
“C’mon, lads! You heard ’im!” Danberry shouted at the
regiment of glassy-eyed city guardsman he had just let in through the museum’s
The guards were unarmored, but wore short, heavily padded
jackets with the Golis city sigil on them. They carried drawn truncheons but,
unlike the museum guards, had short swords belted at their hips as well. Two
took up positions at the entrance to prevent exactly the sort of error Mulview
had just made in the main exhibit hall, and the rest followed after Danberry to
sweep the museum for the thief.
* * * * * * * *
Thank you, Merciful Tansha,
the prowler prayed
The alarm bell had either been shut off or had run down on
its own accord. The sounds of booted feet—lots more than there ought to have
been—were no longer drowned out by the blaring alarm.
Down one corridor then the next, the prowler stayed ahead of
the encroaching boot-steps. Thoughts of escaping back out through the open-air
courtyard were dashed when guards could be heard from that direction.
There are enough of them that they are splitting up and
cutting off all the exits.
There was one exit, though, that they would not have thought
* * * * * * * *
“We’ve got ’im now, eh?” Danberry said to the group of five
guards who had stayed with him as others had split off to seal all routes of
escape. “He’s heading up fer the clock stairs. Ain’t nothin’ up there ’cept fer
clock bits and a fair view o’ the countryside.”
The thunder of the guards’ boots rolled onward and quickened
apace as they spotted the black-clad thief entering the stairwell as Danberry
“We got him panickin’, cuz he ain’t got no other way outta
here now,” Danberry said. “No rushin’ now. Stairs is a might tight, ya see. No
point in breakin’ yer neck runnin’ now that he’s caught.”