Shadows and Dust

by Dawn Elliot

Reyna froze, one hand hovering over the small silver and ebony chest. To breach the sorcerer’s tower, she’d crept through sewage tunnels and servants’ passages and struggled up the narrow chimney that vented heat into the evil mage’s private chambers. Now, sticky with sweat and ash, her hands scraped raw from gripping the rough brickwork of the vent, Reyna was within the sorcerer’s most hidden, warded chamber.

At her throat, she could feel the peculiar buzz of the ward-stone. It was a device of the Old Kingdom. Though she loathed the dull reddish stone and its price–it must be bathed in a cup of blood every full moon–it enabled her to pass through the wards set to foil thieves like her.

Her blades had been blackened with soot and grease, as had the buckles on her dull gray garb and the grappling hook she’d used to scale the walls of the keep’s bailey. Her pale skin was darkened as well, and now a layer of chimney ash left her nothing more than a slender shadow in the darkness.

She was strong and swift and, thanks to the Queen’s Finest, better trained than she had ever been in her life. All for this one moment, this one task she had willingly taken, knowing the price of failure was a fate worse than death.

Reyna stood still, not touching the small chest for which she’d been sent. Instead she turned her head from side to side, trying to catch the elusive something she’d heard a moment ago. Though her dark hair was hidden under a gray cap, her delicate ears were bare, and it was those that gave her warning now. She tipped her head–such a small thing she’d heard. A noise so faint and fragile that she was not sure she had heard it. Still, she listened and did not move.

After a moment, she crouched down, peering at the chest and the ornate pillar upon which it rested. She shifted her weight, and again, there was that sound. A faint scrape where there should be none. The pillar was supposed to be black granite, and the tiny chest atop it filled with such evil it would take great effort to move it, yet the noise was the sound of something light, something far different from what Reyna’s eyes told her. It was clear the pillar was rocking, ever so slightly, and that should not be. She remained there for a long moment, searching with her eyes, but could see nothing amiss. Everything appeared as she had been told it would, but her ears told her different.

Finally, Reyna slipped back, away from the pillar and the chest she’d risked so much to steal. She eased the grate open again and began the long climb back down the vent. Whatever her eyes might say, her ears and her instincts were always true. That tempting little chest was nothing more than a trap.