Chapter 9 of a book I'm working on.
Feedback is appreciated
In the middle of a wide forest clearing, a large marble building gleamed in the late afternoon light. The single-story structure stood rectangular in shape and had a gold-plated dome in the center of the roof which sunlight glinted brightly off of. Small gold-plated cupolas has been placed atop the four corners of the building, and a silver dragon statue sat atop each, as well as atop the dome. A stone wall a few hundred yards out surrounded the building.
Men of varying ages and wearing robes of varying colors were out in the courtyard. Some sat on benches scattered about, reading books. Others tended to a large vegetable garden off to one side. A few others were practicing swordsmanship with wooden swords. Occasionally, someone inside the building would walk by a window and pause to watch the people outside before continuing on.
This was the temple of Samaryu.
High above the temple, a falcon glided in lazy circles in the cloudless blue sky. Slowly, it made its way down, eventually landing on a branch of a tree on the edge of the clearing. There, it watched the temple and the people outside it with its beady black eyes.
After a while, the sky began to grow darker, and a gong sounded from the temple. The men in the courtyard stopped what they were doing and began returning inside the temple by way of a large set of oaken double doors in the front of the building.
The falcon's head gave a slight nod as it whispered to itself in the voice of a young woman, “Now.” There was a brief flash of light which went unnoticed by the priests. When the light faded, a small brown bird had replaced the falcon.
The wren took off, flying towards the temple and the open doors. It flew slow enough and high enough not to draw the attention of the priests. It also made itself appear to be heading towards the roof, in case anyone was watching. At the last moment, just as the doors were closing, it slipped inside near the top of the doorway.
None of the priests noticed that the small bird had followed them in and roosted on the bust of a silver dragon over the doorframe. As the priests made their way down the hallway, some going left, some right, and a few down the intersecting corridor straight ahead, Wren watched them and thought back to what Tarn had said about where the library was located.
When Raven had contacted her, Wren had been surprised. She had not expected to hear from her teacher for a while yet. She had been even more surprised by what Raven had asked her to do and why she wanted it done. She could understand Raven wanting to help Tarn, given their history together and the fact that Raven's home was not far from the temple - only a few hours when flying as a bird - but the story about the swordswoman and elf was astonishing, as was High Priest Usiah's actions. Yet as surprised by everything as she was, Wren was more excited to be part of the adventure her teacher was on – and to finally be using her thieving skills again. She had not used them much since becoming Raven's student five years earlier and she was eager to make sure they had not become dull.
Once the priests were gone, Wren left her perch on the dragon bust and flew off down the torch-lit hallway to the left. When the hallway stopped going straight and branched to the right, she followed it. After a few hundred feet, she found a set of closed double doors, just as Tarn had said she would. She landed on the floor in front of the doors and looked around, making sure no one was nearby and that all the doors she had passed and all those further down the hallway were closed. Seeing that they were and that there was no one around, Wren changed back into human form. Following a brief flash of light, the small brown bird was gone and in its place stood a young woman of about eighteen years of age. Her shoulder-length mousy brown hair was pulled back into a small tail by a leather thong. She wore a brown cloth tunic over a loose white shirt and brown leggings. Across her waist was a leather belt to which she had attached a sheathed dagger on her left hip and a small leather bag on her right. Completeing the ensemble were brown, soft leather boots.
Wren leaned an ear against the crack in the doors but could hear nothing from inside the library. Kneeling down, she peered through the keyhole with a jade-green eye. All she could see was darkness, though. She made a quick check that she was still alone then stood up, grasped one of the brass doorknobs, and turned it, only to find it locked. With a small sigh, she reached into the small bag on her belt and brought out a small purple cloth pouch. She made another check of the hallway then knelt down in front of the keyhole and opened the pouch, revealing an assortment of small metal sticks and hooks of varying shapes and thickness.
Wren studied the keyhole for a moment then selected a stick and hook from her pouch and stuck them in the keyhole. Giving them a few deft lifts and twists, she was rewarded after a few seconds with a slight click from the lock. With a small smile, she removed the lockpicks and returned them to the pouch, then placed the pouch back in her bag. Wren then stood back up, checked the hallway once more, grasped the doorknob, and turned it.
The library door swung open with a slight creak that made Wren wince. She hurried inside the library and closed the door behind her.
Wren found herself engulfed in blackness. She reached into the little bag at her waist again and brought out a small glass sphere. She softly spoke a couple of words to the bauble and it started to glow with a soft white light. Wren tossed the sphere up into the air. The globe stopped and hovered just over her head. The light from the floating bauble only lit an area of about ten feet around Wren, but it was enough for the young mage to get her bearings and see what was around her.
Wren stood in the center aisle. On both sides of her were rows and rows of shelves full of books and scrolls. As she slowly made her way down the aisle, the floating globe moving with her, Wren could make out an occasional table and chair between some rows of shelves. She could also barely see, in the distance, unlit oil lamps on sconces hung intermittently on the walls.
When Wren reached the back of the library, she found herself faced with sets of shelves full of books and scrolls covering the back wall, just as Tarn had described. Recalling what the red priest had told her, Wren went over to the next to last set of shelves on her right. “Tarn said Usiah had reached out to this shelf,” she muttered to herself, thinking aloud. “He had to have touched something to get it to open. But what?”
She studied the shelves with a practiced eye. She saw scrolls and books about history and theology, theories on a variety of topics, collections of spells and poetry, and an assortment of other things. But nothing that seemed to stand out to Wren as out of the ordinary. Wren tried pulling on some of the books, thinking one might be a disguised trigger. But nothing happened, so she studied the shelves themselves. She carefully looked over the casing and the shelves the books and scrolls rested on and ran her fingers lihgtly over the edges, giving an occasional push or tap on the wood when a spot seemed a little suspicious.
About halfway down the set of shelves Wren found a place where a small spot felt slightly raised. A closer look revealed a barely visible small button in the center of a section of tree ring. If she had not bee looking for it, she doubted she would have noticed it. Fairly certain this was what she was looking for, she pressed the button. A barely-heard click sounded, then the whole set of shelves quietly swung back into the wall like a door, leaving Wren staring in mild surprise at the black opening. Though she had been expecting it, it was still a little startling to see it.
The light from the globe floating over her head illuminated a little of the opening, showing the young mage that what the shelves hid was not a room but a narrow passageway. Not sure what may lay ahead, Wren placed her hand on the dagger at her hip, ready to draw it at a moment's notice. Then she stepped into the darkness.
She had barely gno a few feet when she sensed the set of shelves close quietly behind her. As they did, she turned to look at the back of the shelves. She studied the wooden panel by the light of the globe, looking for the trigger to open the doorway when she was ready to leave. It didn't take her long to find it, since it didn't have to be hidden on this side of the passageway. The small lever was prominently displayed on the wall to the right of the panel, next to a lantern which Wren passed on using as she did not want to leave any trace of her presence. A simple pull on the lever when it was time to leave would open the door. Wren would just need to remember to step back out of the way after pulling it.
Having found out how to leave, Wren turned from the door and headed down the dark passageway, going slowly so she would not miss anything or run into something, since the globe's light did not reach very far. But there was nothing to see.
The empty passageway ended after about fifty yards, bringing Wren to a stop at a closed wooden door. She grasped the handle to open the door, but found it locked. “Of course,” she muttered. Wren pulled out her pouch of lockpicks from the small bag at her waist, studied the keyhole, and selected two picks. Within seconds, she heard the satisfying sound of the lock clicking. She put the lockpicks away and opened the door.
* * *
“Will Wren be alright, do you think?” Althea asked after swallowing a bite of leftover stew. She and her companions sat at a table near the door, eating dinner by lamplight in the early evening. A light breeze from outside seeped in through the cracks of the door, brining with it a hint of the chill autumn air and scent of the nearby river.
“She'll be fine,” Raven said with confidence and a hint of pride.
“As long as she's not caught,” Loren added pragmatically as he bent over to place a bowl of stew next to Anju, who sat on the floor next to the elf, impatiently waiting for his dinner.
“She won't be caught,” Tarn said with almost as much confidence and pride as Raven had, which Althea and Loren both thought a little curious. “Wren's a smart, talented, and resourceful girl.”
Raven nodded. “Wren worked as a thief before she became my student. She was very good at it, too. She's never been caught.”
“An impressive feat,” Loren said. “So how did she go from thieving to being a mage?”
“You mean, how did she end up as my student?” said Raven. “It was about five years ago, while I was visiting Lantan, a small city not far from here. I happened to notice her at work one night while I was out for an evening stroll.”
“Out looking for some mischief to cause, you mean,” Tarn interjected teasingly.
“Perhaps,” Raven replied with a wink before continuing. “Curious, I stopped to watch Wren. She was about twelve or thirteen years of age and was picking the lock on the door of some business, a jeweler's store, I believe. I hid on the roof in bird form and watched her.”
“Bird form?” Althea asked.
“That's right. The spell is a specialty of mine. I can take the form of any bird I choose. I've taught Wren how to do so, as well, of course. I happen to prefer taking the form of a raven, personally, for obvious reasons.”
“Sounds like a handy trick,” commented Loren.
“It is. Well, as I was saying, I hid on a nearby roof and watched young Wren. She was very skilled for someone so young. Evidently she had lots of experience. In no time she had the lock picked on the door. As she silently went inside, I flew down to a windowsill of the store and watched her work inside.
“I saw her take a small glass globe out of a small bag at her waist and whisper a couple of words to it. When the globe lit up with a dim, pale light that wouldn't draw attention, I knew she possessed magical ability. Items like that are not typically to be found for purchase. Wren glanced around the store for a few moments, studying it. She spotted a large painting on a wall at the far end of the store, gave a small smile and nod to herself, then quietly made her way over to it, passing by display counters full of jewelry as if she had no interest in them. I couldn't tell why she was interested in that particular painting and not any of the others hanging up in the store, but something about it must have spoken to her and her thief's instinct. She quietly took the painting down from the wall to reveal the small door to a safe in the wall. Wren picked the lock on it quickly as well, took all the coins out of the safe, and placed them in the small bag at her waist. As much as went into the bag, it did not bulge or split, and I knew it was magical as well.
“Rather than let such a promising magic talent be wasted, I decided to take her on as my student. So when she finally left the store, locking the door behind her to cover her tracks, I followed her a short way before revealing myself to her.After the initial shock of my sudden appearance wore off, I explained myselfe and my intentions to her. She didn't seem all that eager at first, so I let her have some time to think it over. We met up two days later, and she agreed to become my student.”
“It was about that time that I met Wren,” Tarn said. “Raven and I had been together for a while by then. I stopped by to visit one day, and found that Raven suddenly had a student. I was surprised, to say the least, but quickly got used to the idea, and even became rather fond of the girl. Wren was a quick learner, and it was obvious she had a talent for magic. And for getting into mischief, too. I guess that saying about birds of a feather flocking together has some truth to it.”
“Ha ha,” Raven said. “Very funny, Tarn.” She turned to Althea and Loren. “So, that's about it. Any other questions?”
Loren shook his head as Althea replied, “No. I don't think so. I think you explained it well enough.”
Raven gave a small nod of acknowledgment.
Althea pushed her chair back and stood up “Well, then,” she said, “I think it's about time to retire for the night. Tomorrow's the big day and we'll have to be up early to get ready.” She turned to her elven partner. “Loren, help me clean up the dinner dishes before we lock up and head upstairs.”
He nodded and began gathering the dishes off the table
“Raven,” Althea said to the mage, “I'm sorry but we don't have any spare rooms. Tarn is already using our guestroom. I can give you some coins to get a room at a nearby inn, if you like.”
Raven waved away her offer. “I appreciate the offer, but there's no need for it, Althea. I can always...”She glanced at Tarn, who knew what she was going to suggest and gave her a small frown and a shake of his head. “...sleep in the rafters again,” Raven finished, with just a hint of disappointment.
“Rafters?” Loren repeated in slight confusion.
“Again?” Althea added.
In response, Raven quitely said a couple of words. The swordswoman and elf closed their eyes against the brief flash of light. When they opened them again, Raven was gone, and in her place was a large black bird. Althea and Loren stared at it in awe. The raven ruffled its wings a second, then flew up to the ceiling and perched on one of the wooden beams. “Good night,” the bird called down to them in Raven's voice. Then she tucked her head underneath a wing.
“Wow,” Loren said as he shook off his stupor.
“Yes,” Althea agreed. “Well, let's clean up and head to bed, Loren.”
They collected the dishes from the table, wished Tarn a good night, and headed to the kitchen. Tarn headed upstairs, whispering a prayer to Samaryu for Wren's safety and success as he climbed the steps.
* * *
Wren entered the hidden room, closing and locking the door behind her in case someone might come along while she was in there. She also cast a quick spell on the door to warn her by turning the globe's light blue if anyone approached. Then she took a look at the room.
The room Wren was in was of moderate size. Sets of shelves lined the walls. A small table and chair stood in the middle of the room. On top of the table were sheaves of parchment, an inkwell and quill pen, and an open book. On the wall by the door was an oil lamp. Wren left it alone and used the light of her floating globe instead to look over the shelves.
Rare books interspersed with scrolls and folios sat on some of the shelves. Other shelves housed an assortment of items, from jars of liquids and odd powders, which Wren guessed to be spell components, to a variety of trinkets and small whatnots. There were even a few daggers and other small weapons, some crystals, a few glass spheres on wooden stands, and some jewelry. Though she was impressed by it, Wren felt the collection was rather strange for a priest and she wondered what Usiah was up to.
Now that she had an idea of what was in the room, and where, Wren began looking for the book Tarn had mentioned. After a few minutes of searching the shelves, she found a large book bound in leather, with gilt letters and edging. She took it off the shelf, fairly certain it was the one she was looking for. She checked the rest of the shelves, though, to be sure there were no other, similar books. Not finding any, she took the book over to the table, sat down in the chair, and began looking through the tome. She had to be sure whether it was something that would be useful to Raven and Tarn or not, so she could tell them one way or the other and they could make plans accordingly.
Unfortunately, the book was written in a language Wren could not read – except for the name “Aerith”, which turned up occasionally. That in itself made Wren think the book might be useful. But as she could not read it, she would have to take the book to Tarn so he could possibly decipher it.
She cast a quick spell on the book, shrinking it down to a size small enough to fit into the bag on her belt. Once it was stored safely away, the young mage stood up to leave, already planning a way to get out of the temple and the quickest way to get to Maarkess. Before she could the room, though, the light from her globe turned blue, warning her someone was coming down the passageway.
“Damn,” Wren muttered under her breath.
She grabbed the globe out of the air, the touch of her hand turning off the light. With the ease of practice, she put the globe away in the bag at her waist, then quickly turned into a bird, making sure to stand far enough away from the door so the flash of light from the spell would not show through any cracks in the door. Remembering her surroundings, the small finch she had become flew to the nearest ground-level shelf and hid behind some of the jars of spell components.
Within moments, the door opened and the oil lamp was lit. Wren flinched against the sudden brightness then carefully peered around her hiding spot to see what was happening.
An older, bald man in purple priest robes had entered the room. Wren recognized High Priest Usiah from Tarn's description. He walked over to a set of shelves across from the door and retrieved a small glass sphere, which he held out in front of him in the palm of his hand. He whispered a couple of words that Wren was not able to discern, and the globe began to glow. Wren could see some images moving within the globe and could barely hear some voices, but she could not distinguish anything clearly. Usiah apparently could, though, for after a few moments Wren saw him scowl and grasp the globe tightly in his hand. She thought he was going to toss it across the room in anger, but he just set it back down on its wooden stand on the shelf.
“How could you disobey me, Tarn?” he growled. “You were told to kill the girl, not offer to help her. Now you've put us in jeopardy. But I suppose you always were too curious for your own good. I just hope you've forgotten about that book.” He paused. “I'll place some wards on the door, then, to be safe. And I'll send out someone to take care of you in the morning. Maybe Lenaeus.” Usiah gave his head a small shake and frowned slightly. “It's a shame it had to come to this, Tarn. You were a good priest, all things considered.”
Wren wondered what he meant by Tarn putting them in jeopardy and why, if Usiah was able to spy on Tarn, did he not know that she had been sent to get the book.
She did not have time to think about those questions for long, though. Usiah grabbed a dagger from a nearby shelf and placed it in a pocket of his purple robe, then headed back to the door and opened it. Not wanting to be left in the room after Usiah placed wards on the door, Wren quickly flew over to the door, keeping to the shadows to avoid being seen. After he put out the light from the oil lamp, Wren followed him into the passageway.
A lantern hung on the wall by the door lit the passageway, and Wren quickly hid in a shadowed corner while Usiah closed and locked the door. After he cast a quick spell on the door, he took the lantern from the wall and walked back down the corridor to the secret door to the library. Wren flew after him, staying just far enough behind him to avoid notice.
When he reached the door, Usiah hung up the lantern and pulled the lever by the wood paneling that was the back of the set of shelves, then stepped back as the door swung inward. He put out the lantern light and stepped into the library. Wren quickly flew out behind him before the door swung closed and perched atop a nearby set of shelves.
She waited a few minutes after Usiah left the library, giving him time to be far away before she flew down and resumed human form. She took out her globe and lit it, keeping the light dim, then hurried to the door. Finding it locked, she muttered, “Of course,” set the globe floating above her head again, and brought out her lock picks. Within moments she had the door unlocked. She returned the picks and globe to her bag then slowly opened the door and peered down the hallway. Not seeing anyone, she stepped out, shut the door behind her, and quietly ran down the hallway, retracing her steps to the front door. At the first intersection, she paused and peered around the corner. Seeing the path was clear, she hurried to the door, checking the intersecting corridor before turning her attention to the door. Hoping it was not locked, she took a deep breath, grasped the brass handle, and pulled.
The door opened soundlessly.
Releasing her breath, she stepped outside and shut the door behind her. She stood quietly for a moment, listening for any guards. She did not hear any, but still ran across the yard as fast as she could in the half-moon light, making her way to a somewhat-shadowed corner of the wall. There, she quickly changed into a falco, hoping the brief flash of light from the spell would go unnoticed. With a couple of beats of her wings, Wren took to the air, flying as fast as she could southward toward Maarkess.
She had decided to fly until morning, putting as much distance as she could between herself and the temple in case someone should notice she had been there. Then she would pause for breakfast, and also contact Raven and Tarn and let them know about the book and Usiah.