Oh, I didn't use a lot of names here-called one guy the strongman-because even though I named them in the first chapter I forgot what name I used in some cases. One of the revising things I need to do.
So I have done this six times-I think-five years in a row and one somewhere around 8-10years ago. I have written mostly Science Fiction but also Urban Fantasy, steampunk, and now what I think of as classical fantasy. Two of those books I have revised and formatted so they are for sale. A third one is waiting for a cover then it will be published. And yes, this year I am doing it again.
This is an excerpt from the prologue of what I am now calling "The Paper Key"
This is a more or less a classical fantasy: A half-elf spy steals a key that could rise a war-god. The worshippers who owned it are better organized than he thought therefore he has to hide with a troupe of performers to get it to his boss. Before he can extract himself from them however, the war-god is raised, now he has to stop it.
Part of the Prologue to The Paper Key
A shadow moved on top of the ten foot tall stone wall. It joined other shadows, for the moon shone down and a breeze blew. Branches moved, as did night birds and cats on the hunt. Torch light flickered on the outer streets and inside the house he had come to rob.
His black with dark gray panels, trousers and tunic faded into the dark as easy as a snow leopard hid in snow. Already he felt warm which would increase throughout this event but he had experience that many times and knew what to expect. The climb up the outside of the wall had gone without a hitch. The class and sharp metal embedded into the top of the wall did not prove to be a deterrent as the owner had probably thought.
The air carried scents of trees, tended flowers, fresh mulch, dogs and guards who didn’t seem to care how much they sweated on duty. Two of which just went by so he better get moving. The guards that worked for this house patrolled by twos in a pattern that moved in a strange way. So it would be possible that another two would show up in seconds or in half an hour.
He looked down then with quick short steps, ran to a tree limb that hung over the wall. The shadow had seen it earlier when he came by to check the security. He smiled with humor. He had dressed in black and white finery just like those who kept track of money and who managed estates for those too rich to do it themselves. He knew of one religion who sent out young men dressed like that. He went only by himself instead of with a partner but no one seemed to notice.
But he saw the humor of the idea of one religion going to the door of another to talk about their god and book. He managed to get in by just not taking no for an answer and by pretending to be a new believer with a fire inside. They had chased him out of the house with sharp bladed weapons. It hadn’t been his fault that in his fear induced hurry he had taken a wrong turn and ran along the wall until a dog chased him back the right way. Just because he yelled didn’t mean the dog had bit him as everyone seemed to think. His clothes had been ripped by then and the guards may have seen a spot or two of blood but even injured and yelling curses down on them he somehow made it out of the gate and on his way. Everyone saw him leaking blood and yelling.
Now his clothes were still made from very fine cloth and silk but none were white and these would not tear anywhere near as easy as those special garments.
He half ran to the spot under the limb and hopped upward. He caught the rough bark with the first attempt. First with one hand he let go and reached higher before he could start to fall. The second hand went up further. When both hands settled over the top of the branch he pulled himself up. Somehow he got a leaf in his mouth. Chewy. He didn’t spit it out like most humans would have done. Half of him came from his dad’s side and his dad’s people liked greenery of many types.
Once in the tree he stood up and ran across the limb. He knew it would hold his weight. The same with the next one, on the other side of the tree. He spotted a branch from the next tree and leapt to it. It gave a bit when he landed but didn’t break or even crack.
Dogs barked down the way almost as if they could sense him this far away. Maybe they had heard something or as well trained animals they just knew someone who shouldn’t be there was. Of course no one but their handler was supposed to be there. That included other dogs, squirrels, birds , etc.
The Shadow moved from tree to tree. Something else he had noticed while here a few days ago. The tree were old and needed trimming for their branches reached each other. A nice trail for someone who knew how to run over narrow “trails” and who could see well at night.
A dog came near under one tree just as he landed near the trunk. It looked up, might have smelled him, but didn’t see him. He left a tiny bit of scent from a bottle then leapt to the next tree.
He cursed on his way through the sky. In his hurry and distraction, he had jumped to the wrong branch. The one he landed on bent, jiggled and creaked. The dog must have heard it but it gave him only a glance before it resumed its surveillance of the tree he had been on. It knew something was up there. The scent confused its thoughts though for it still searched the tree he had been on when it saw or smelled or heard him.
The guard though came running and called for the dog. He is used a name from a language the Shadow was not familiar with. It sounded guttural and angry. A further confirmation that he had chosen the right estate after all.
The dog took its time responding so the guard turned his attention to it for a moment. While he said something else in that tongue the Shadow moved through his tree and launched himself through the air to a last one in this row. If the guard, or anyone else, had looked they would have seen something block the lights from the house for a moment. But he figured no one looked. From the last tree he checked out the guard and dog who had finally lost interest in that tree. Maybe that had been its favorite tree to fertilize since the guard cursed in the town’s language.
He took advantage of that to leap high and to gab hold of an ugly face in a bias relief on the corner of the house. He held onto the guy’s head-he figured no woman would be that ugly-and pulled himself up. Sweat rolled down his back. The clothes had gone passed warm but he knew how to live with that too. So he did. He licked his lips and got sweat off his upper lip. Quite a bit too.
Once his feet rested on top of that head, he looked around and noticed more heads. He had seen them earlier but hadn’t been able to get a good enough look to know what they were.
Lights from distance windows made his climb a bit easier but they also would allow someone to notice him better. They still may not know what he was, maybe a trained Kull spider sent to kill someone, or a lost monkey in search for food, but they would sound the alarm anyway.
Up he went, his hands became slippery with sweat but because of his gloves they could still grip protrusions and more of those heads. But not all of the bricks he used as footholds were of the same quality.
When he pushed on one with the pad of his right foot, the edge crumbled. His foot slipped. He looked down in time to see small pieces of brick fall. They would land near that guard. He would look up. His right foot hit his left and knocked it off of its perch. Now he hung like a Christmas goose ready to be sold by just his hands. He managed to swing to one side where it was darker.
Even though he lost sight of the brick pieces he knew when they landed. The guard turned to look. Sweat dripped down The Shadow’s back. His shirt had come untucked and some of the sweat dripped out from under the shirt before it could be absorbed. He saw the drops twinkle when it reflected various lights. If any hit the guard he would look up.
The fingers of one hand started to slip. The guard couldn’t help but notice when The Shadow landed on him. It would not matter though for both of them would be dead.
He let go with the hand that had begun to slip, held his breath and reached up again with it. It landed to hard and bounced. His second hand trembled. He quickly threw the free hand back up. He managed to catch the head again. The thing’s ceramic hair helped to keep his hand in place.
The Shadow managed to get his feet back in place. He looked down. The guard was walking away, at a sedate speed. So he hadn’t been seen. He didn’t know if the man had looked up or not but obviously he hadn’t seen anything or thought the movement of shadow around the head was bat.
After a short rest he continued on. After a few still fast heartbeats he stopped to listen: the very feint rustle of his clothes, a guard talking in a soft voice, a slight breeze curving around the corner of the building.
Even up this high he could smell the scent of the trees and mulch, bird droppings too. Nests were built over in that direction. They really should check on that more often.
Another minute of climbing and he found the right window. Nice of them to place one in a good position for him. He held onto one of the heads with one hand. Even though his flexible glove he could feel the spikes of the man’s hair. Jar wiped more sweat off of his upper lip. This time dirt and grim had gotten mixed in with it. Must be from the dust he stirred up or when he brushed a bit too close to the materials the house had been built from.
A click sounded. He froze for a heartbeat but he knew that sound. The window’s lock now lay in the open position. Most house owners skipped on the locks and security of upper windows. Some even left windows open all night: for air or for a romantic visitor.
One foot slipped when he swung it to the open window but he hopped for one jump and managed to get through the open space. His second foot hit something but the thud wasn’t loud.
Once he stood on the floor inside, he made sure the window was closed. He even hooked it shut without locking it. He may be in a hurry to leave later.
The hallway he found himself in had no lamps, but a trace of light came from the stars and another bit from various lights on nearby floors.
One room, two rooms and finally at a door that looked ordinary. He slipped a small pouch out of an inside pocket, sewed to be just wider than the pouch. One small button kept them in that pocket. He flipped open the cloth and studied the objects in the pouch. He picked one, placed it in the keyhole and fiddled with it. Nothing.
He tired the shorter one. Still nothing: oops, it caught. A twist of his hand and the tumbler moved. Not far though. He tired it again to mixed reviews:It turned more but the door still wouldn’t open. A third try and the lock turned two tumblers. A jiggle on the door handle and it opened. As he thought it would.
A fast move inside, made quicker when he heard a footstep from around a corner. He closed the door and listened through it. The smooth wood made pressing his ear against it feel comfortable. Most be waxed too. The footsteps continued on. He stood there for a minute to make sure than turned to look at the room. A den or office. A large desk close to the door, carpet on the floor, shelves with scrolls and six tall cases with glass fronts filled with the new books and small statues and other ceramic, marble and wood items. One larger one on the desk sort of looked like the guy whose head adorned the house. He moved closer to see it better. One ugly man with short hair except in the middle where a strip looked over two inches. In real life that had to be close tall as the length of the Shadow’s foot.
He moved around while he looked for a hidden compartment. While he did Jar picked up various pieces and made sure they were not put back in exactly the same spot. Three that looked gold or had gems he placed in his pocket.
He found what might be an alter in front of the desk near where the tall statue of the ugly man stood. Various small statuettes had been placed in various positions. They all sat in a case that looked like the inside of a cave. An obvious alter but to whom?
The Shadow moved on. Touched and moved more of the cups, statues, and curved animals just a touch. Not every one but enough for them to notice. He pocketed another cup, a sliver one this time. They would get that one back though. His back had stopped sweating and he kept his nose alert for scents that would give away a hiding place or someone in here.
Every time he moved over his eyes went back to the small alter. After the sixth time he moved back there. He reached out and touched one of the figurines. It didn’t move. When he tried to lift it he found it was somehow connected to the floor of the cave. Why?
Even his eyes could not see anything in the darkness around the cave. Was it that way on purpose?
Jar took out a small, special lantern. It burned unscented oil, it held only enough for ten minutes of light. The box that held the tiny flame had only one clear side and that only in the center. Carefully crafted mirrors direct the light through that clear spot.
He set it down and used the built in flint to light it. He shone it on the crafted cave. There on the edges of each side a very tiny line. That could explain why the statuettes were sealed to the floor. He moved to the back of the desk and slid in as close as he could get. He reached for the cave but something sparked. Instinctively his hand pulled back before he realized it needed to. So it had protections. Another reason to get into it.
The Shadow mumbled some words in ancient elfish and reached again, slower. Same reaction. This time though a tiny star appeared for half a heart beat next to the larger statue on the desk.
Okay, that was interesting.
He placed an invisible shield around it that kept all magic inside the shield. So no alarms could be sent or an order sent to the cave. He managed to reach for the cave through an invisible wall that made his hand tingle. He touched the closest wall and felt around. There had to be a latch somewhere.
It felt rough like real rock. Someone could have carved it out of rock. It would take a lot of work but it could be done.
The Shadow found a tiny hinge under an outcrop of rock in the back.
Good, now to find the method to lift the top.
He reached further back but at the moment he decided no one would make it this hard to get at a latch when they would want to get it often, his foot slid forward. His side touched the magic wall there. He had been too eager and stretched his body too far.
Something snapped. When he pulled back, his body did not move.