© April 1988
Kallisti sat high in the tree, cloaked in shadow, biding her time. Across the small square stood the austere chapel of Salhomen, the Sun god. These solar worshippers were a peculiar lot, she mused. Fancy thinking the sun worth venerating. Sure, it was nice when the sun shone, it meant it would be warm, although the heat it brought could make Urswell smell like an open sewer sometimes. Why worship it though? She would never be able to understand these people. Still, that was not her concern today. Her priority was obtaining the information her master, Triad Gaull wanted. This was her first big solo ‘job’ since he had taken her on.
She was approaching her seventeenth birthday and it would soon be two years since her father, a prosperous jeweller near the famous Urswell bazaar had disowned her for what he called “her lewd behaviour”. After several months earning her living in the time-honoured fashion for a young, pretty blonde on the streets of a major sea port, she was only too pleased to find employment with one of the town councillors, Triad Gaull. Although he was well into middle age and a worshipper of Dravidi, God of Thieves, he had been very generous towards her and she was learning a whole new way of life from him and the other Dravidi worshippers.
In the year she had been in his employ she had worked hard for him, doing anything and everything from sewing buttons back on his clothes to delivering secret messages at the dead of night, to ‘entertaining’ special guests at Triad’s country house. Then there was the blackmail deal when a prominent member of the town council was found in her bedchamber, tied to the bed, wearing her clothes! Triad had profited from that little diversion and she was rapidly becoming his favourite. She enjoyed her work now. Under the influence of Triad, she was becoming a very worthy disciple of Dravidi. This particular job was important now, as it was the first time Triad had felt her capable of carrying out an important task on her own.
“You know a little about the church of Salhomen?” he had said. Kallisti nodded and turned her nose up.
“My father was a sort of worshipper. He used to make me go along when I was small – stupid lot of mumbo-jumbo.” she tutted. Triad scowled, folding his hands before him on the pile of parchments scattered across the magnificent desk in his study. Kallisti lounged on the chaise-long across from him.
“I do wish you, would not use this new slang that’s being imported from the north. It does not sound polite coming from a young lady.” Kallisti laughed wilfully.
“Oh Triad, you are such a stick in the mud!”
“And what, prey is that supposed to mean?” he sighed, gazing at her from under his dark, grey-shot eyebrows. His whole demeanour emanated greyness, a colour nondescript enough to suit Dravidi, an excellent disguise. With a shrug, Kallisti jumped to her feet and bounded across to sit with a bounce on his desk.
“It means that you are a lovely, old-fashioned rogue.” she leant across the desk and kissed his balding head, taking a good long look at the parchments on his desk while she let him have a good long look down the front of her dress.
“That’s all very well, but you are distracting me.” he sat back, looking directly into her face. She grinned and slipped off his desk, taking a gold snuff box with her. Triad leant forward, hand outstretched, a look of long-suffering patience on his face. “Better.” he added as she tossed it back to him. “Anyway, as I was saying, I have heard that a new scroll has arrived at the Salhomen chapel. It is quite possible that this is the new spell the Mages of the Black Rose are supposed to have discovered. Rumours have been going round about it for some time. They say it came from the depths of caverns in the Blood Mountains. Well, who is to know.” He gave a shrug.
“You, want me to steal it for you?” her eyes lit up.
“No my dear, I don’t think you’re quite ready for that yet.” his eyes twinkled with amusement at her enthusiasm. Kallisti’s face dropped. “I think it is likely to be trapped with spatial anomalies.” Kallisti frowned, puzzled. “No, you’ve never heard of them before have you? There is a form of trap which can be applied to an object which if someone the spell does not recognise tries to take it, it wraps space into a ball so that the person cannot get out. In other words it would trap you in a windowless, doorless room with no way out. I have Zandros at my disposal if I need it to be stolen.” Kallisti’s eyes narrowed with jealousy at the mention of Triad’s master thief.
“What I would like you to do for me is to try and find out as much about what is going on in the Salhomen chapel as you can. Find out if there is a scroll, where it is, what it might be and who delivered it.”
So here she was, up a tree, watching the chapel. It was quiet now. At midday, there had been the usual hubbub of activity as the priest came out to hold the daily thanksgiving to the sun that gave all life. Now, in the mid-afternoon heat, everything was quiet, most of this quarter of the town dozing peacefully – the best time of day for a thief in this part of town! Climbing up onto the highest branch, she looked out and round. Nothing stirred. She could see over the high wall around the rear of the chapel, into the garden. All was still. Quietly clambering down to the ground, she dusted herself down and arranged her clothes so that she did not look to immodest. Keeping her eyes peeled, she crossed the square to the entrance. The big wooden door stood open so she went in.
The roof of the chapel was a large window, most of which was folded back to let the sun’s rays in. Obvious really, strange people. The room was none too large, and simply furnished. An altar stood in the middle of the drab stone floor, a candelabra fashioned with a shining sun in the middle was centre-stage on the altar. It looked like gold, but as she got closer, her practised eyes saw the tell-tale marks which blemished the gold plating. Shrugging indifferently, she looked around. There was one door apart from the one she had entered by. It was directly across from the entrance and was closed off by a tapestry of the sunrise. This was more like it – gold thread and fine workmanship. Not worth much, though. It would have been quite obvious where it had come from, hence its re-sale value was negligible. Kallisti sighed.
“Ah, young lady, may I be of some assistance?” A kindly middle aged man appeared at her shoulder. He was somewhat rotund, an impression emphasised by the outsized habit he wore. His skin was deeply tanned from exposure to the sun and Kallisti remembered that most of the sun worshippers preferred to revel under their gods gaze without clothes of any sort. Hence the tall wall around the garden.
“I don’t know really.” she shrugged. She kept moving, walking around the room, studying the walls and floor, letting the light fall on them at different angles, watching for shadows, glints and cracks. “I’ve been out of town for a while, and I feel a little lost now I’ve come back.”
“Ah, I see.” the man nodded his head and clasped his hands together in front of him. “You, seem familiar, but I can’t quite remember…” he looked up at the sky through the roof.
“My father sometimes worships here or used to anyway.” she said.
“Ah, I see, I think it is coming back. Your father is now dead?”
“No,” Kallisti suppressed a grin. He was trying very hard to be nice. “He’s still alive – as far as I know. No, he threw me out nearly two years ago. I had to leave Urswell.”
“And your name is…” he looked as though he were trying to remember.
“Kallisti.” she said, putting him out of his misery.
“Kallisti, of course.” he smiled as if it had come back to him all of a sudden. “Kallisti?” his face clouded over. “I remember you now, you disgraced your father didn’t you.” he did not seem to be all that keen on her now. Kallisti scowled, thinking furiously to rearranged her carefully rehearsed story, now almost useless since he seemed to remember much more than he should have.
“I – I cannot lie, it is true, but I was forced into it and I regret it now.” she let her lower lip tremble in her best ‘little girl lost’ imitation. Ice melted, as always.
“There there, we all make mistakes at sometime in our lives.” he patted her shoulder. “It takes a strong person to admit their own failure.” he added wisely. Kallisti nodded and took a deep, tremulous breath. As she did so, a tiny shadow caught her eye. Got it! A hairline crack in the wall, a secret door!
“Is it just you here, I was hoping to find the priest.”
“No, I am the only one here most of the time. It is the caretaker’s job to see to the everyday upkeep of the chapel, the priest only comes when there are services or other functions to perform.
“Oh, I see.” she added, taking note of the exact outline of the secret door. “I’m sorry, I must be going. It was nice speaking to you and seeing this place again. It takes me back to when I was a girl.”
“Ah, youth, a wondrous time.” the caretaker sighed, clasping his hands together again. “Are you sure there is nothing I can do for you?”
“Thank you, not at the moment. Bye.” she left him, waving over her shoulder.
The smaller of the two moons was hanging, red-faced above the Salhomen chapel. Kallisti was hidden in the darkness, her blonde hair held back by a long sharp hairpin. Covering it was a dark scarf, a tough steel wire sewn along one edge which meant it could double as a garrotte if need be. On her right thigh, under her short dress she had a sheath with a stiletto dagger ready and accessible. On the undersides of both forearms were more daggers, the one on the left poisoned with a very nasty nerve venom.
Silently moving forward, she reached the wall by the chapel gardens. Glancing around, she reached up for the first handhold she had noticed earlier that day and fitted her toe in the crack between the blocks. Swiftly, she crawled up the wall, looking more like a spider than a girl, clinging to the vertical face. Reaching the top of the wall, she balanced herself and ran nimbly along it to the flat roof of the chapel. The large windows were shut now, but were easy prey to her skills and opened with no trouble.
Lowering herself inside, she hung by her hands and swung her legs back. As she swung forward, she let go and landed atop the altar as quietly as a cat. Crouching, she glanced around. From the pouch on her belt she pulled a small capsule. Tossing it to the floor between herself and the secret door, it burst, releasing the specially treated smoke that Triad let her have. The special property of this smoke was that it was attracted by the energy bound up in magical spells, especially spells of the type used in sealing doors and windows. With her breath held, she watched the pattern of smoke forming, a pattern which would tell her how to counteract the spell and open the door.
Watching the door, she saw that the pattern was fully formed and duly took careful note of it, seeing how she would be able to get past it.
Dropping another capsule, she waited a few seconds while this smoke, a different colour from the first, settled into a pattern she could interpret. This smoke was attracted do a different form of spell: the sort that could be spread across an area to give warning at anyone passing through it. The pattern it formed showed her where the spell was most strongly concentrated hence where she should avoid. To her relief, no pattern formed, the smoke just dissipating randomly.
Shaking her head at their sloppiness, she climbed off the altar and went over to the wall that contained the secret door. Neutralising the spell was easy. It was one of the earliest forms of magic Triad had taught her. It was not so much magic, more of an intellectual exercise in geometry.
Slipping a dagger into the narrow crack, she eased the door aside far enough to get her fingers into the gap and open it further. This was the back-door way past it. A proper opening spell would have pushed the door to one side for her, but that form of spell would only work if created by a person the protection spell recognised. All she had done was fix the spell so that it did not notice her at all. She was able to open the door far enough to slip through into the concealed room behind it – this must be where the scroll was kept.
Sure enough, there on a bookcase next to several dusty volumes was a wooden casket. She recognised the type instantly and was able to bypass the locking mechanism with the tools she carried in her pouch. Yes, inside was a parchment scroll, bound with the clasp and seal of the Mages of the Black Rose. Her fingers itched, but she remembered what Triad had said about traps. Instead, she carefully turned the scroll over with the tip of her dagger so she could read the symbols marked along the edges. A few of the glyphs used in magic were familiar to her, but she knew enough to see that the spell was some form of summoning, with an emphasis toward magic beasts. She scowled and re-read the glyphs. There were several unfamiliar to her, but the ones she recognised definitely seemed to mention magic beasts. But that was silly! She shook her head. Still, Triad would be able to make better sense of it. She went through the glyphs again, committing them to memory.
She closed the box and looked around the rest of the room. It seemed to be a study, sparsely furnished with just two chairs, a desk and two bookcases. Something caught her eye on the second bookcase, a tiny glimmer from under a dark cloth. She lifted it and gasped as she saw the pearl glowing gently on the velvet pad. Reaching out, she took it but almost dropped it as it suddenly flared with light.
“Shh.” she gasped, talking to herself. The pearl dimmed as if in obedience. Kallisti’s eyes widened. “Bright.” she whispered, holding the pearl. The pearl glowed strongly, sending out enough light to fully illuminate the room. “Dim.” instantly, the pearl went dark, all bar a faint glow deep within that seemed to pulse as if it were alive. “Oh you are beautiful.” she whispered. She slipped the pearl into her pouch and looked around the room once more. There did not seem to be anything else of interest to her here. She paused before passing through the door into the chapel again, listening and letting her senses prepare the way for her. Silently padding through the gap in the door, she gently pushed back, easing the secret door closed again so that it was once more almost undetectable.
“And who do we have here?” A man’s voice made her jump in fright. Instantly she was spinning in a circle, daggers ready. She caught sight of the man standing on the other side of the altar and with one flowing movement sent the poisoned dagger straight at his heart. To her astonishment it froze in the air two feet from his body. The man tutted and shook his head. Rolling across the room, she threw another from a different angle, but the same fate befell it. The man’s face was hidden by the hood of his cloak.
“Really, this is not getting us anywhere.” he sighed. Kallisti leapt, third dagger held low as she pounced on him, aiming to bring the dagger up to split his belly open. “No.” he snapped, and moved his hand. Suddenly she was blind. Her eyes were blank. With a cry, she tipped over, dropping the dagger as she covered her face.
“What have you done to me?” she wailed, trembling in utter terror.
“Oh my dear, such an accomplished burglar, yet such a terrible thief.” the man’s voice seemed to come from a great distance. She jumped as she felt his hand touch her arm. “Come on, up you get. Your sight will come back in a while. In the meantime, let me take care of this,” he removed her scarf, “and this,” he took the sharp hairpin, “and these.” swiftly her removed the rest of her daggers. A cold chill seeped into her bones. She stood, blind and helpless before him, her arm held in his strong grip. He stripped her of all her weapons and tools, leaving her with just her clothes. “Right, now you are safe. My, what a lot of equipment for a young lady to carry, and in such unusual places.” he was deliberately patronising her, and it was making her angry.
“Alright, so I’m blind and unarmed, what is the point in humiliating me?” she tried to put steel in her voice, but to her it sounded more like clay.
The man chuckled. “You aren’t stupid if you got this far, so you’re right, I’m not being fair to you. How about this.” Suddenly she had her sight back. She turned to the man who had caught her so easily. His hood was thrown back. He was just a little taller than her, blonde too, although his hair, from what she could tell was more sandy than gold. His eyes were blue and his face thoughtful and witty. He was difficult to put an age to, but at a guess he was in his early thirties.
“Who are you?” she demanded. He raised his eyebrows.
“Cocky aren’t we?” he tilted his head to one side. “More’s the point, who are you?”
“I am nobody. You will never know my name.” she held her head high, defiant.
“Surely my dear Kallisti… oh sorry, I didn’t mean to say it so soon!” he held his hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he added on seeing her expression. “I must not mock you.”
“So you know my name. So what?”
“I know many more things about you, for instance your friend Triad Gaull? He and I are old friends – well acquaintances at least. I know much about you, and I think I know why you are here.”
“Not for the trinket I left for you in the study. The pearl is worth much, but you can keep that. No it is what you saw that I am interested in.”
“I – I saw nothing.”
“Hmph, come on now, I’m being honest with you, please do me the courtesy of being honest with me. You opened the casket and looked at the scroll correct?”
“What if I did.” she gazed at him levelly, defiantly.
“What did you see?” his eyes were bright. She suddenly saw that this was a more complex situation than she had thought. He was desperate to know what she had seen.
“Don’t try to lie to me, I can tell when you tell the truth and when you lie. Please don’t think I’m stupid.” he interrupted her. He meant it too.
“Who are you first, then I’ll tell you.”
“Very well my girl, if you must know. My name is Deldus.”
“Deldus!” she gulped. “The Mage of the Black Rose?” she goggled.
“The very same. Now, will you tell me what you saw? Here, sit on the altar, the caretaker won’t know anything.” he guided her to sit. He sat up beside her, still holding her arm. So, was that how he could detect her lies?
Looking down at her toes, Kallisti told him what she had seen. “Could you, re-draw the glyphs?” Deldus asked her as she told him all she could.
“Mm. I’ve a very good memory.” she said proudly. Suddenly a piece of parchment and a charcoal stick appeared in her hands. Deldus produced the pearl and whispered for it to brighten. It gave enough light for her to sketch the pictograms she had seen. Deldus watched, nodding and murmuring, occasionally questioning her to clarify some detail.
“Very good, thank you.” the parchment vanished as though it had never existed.
“But why… why do you need me to tell you what is on the scroll?” she was puzzled.
“That is a very difficult question to answer. Suffice to say that only a few people have ever been able to see anything on the parchment. None in the Mages College have been able to detect anything at all. The spell on the scroll is protected from sight by a powerful magic. The glyphs only appear to certain individuals, and then only a few glyphs at any one time. What you saw was only a tiny portion of the whole. We still know very little about what the scroll is.”
“What about the magic beasts?” she was intrigued.
“Oh, the Griffins? Yes, they used to exist may centuries ago, but they died out. One idea that has been going around is that this scroll will give us access to the power they were able to use. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, I’m sorry my dear, but I’m going to have to make you forget about all this for now, but just to make up for it here is another prize for you.” Deldus produced a pendant made from a large quartz crystal. “This will be much better than those smoke capsules you’ve been using. It will give you a much clearer pattern of a spell and will work with a number of different types, so you, won’t have to carry a capsule of smoke for each different type. There, that and the pearl should make a nice haul from one night’s work.” Deldus got off the altar and collected her belongings from the pile on the floor. She swiftly concealed everything about her person, accepting with a nod the two daggers she had thrown at him.
“Now come here and stand by the door.” he indicated she stand facing the wall where the secret door was. “Thank you for all your help, you’ve done more than you could ever know. And now…”
What was that? Kallisti looked around sharply. The room was deserted. Something nagged at her mind – but there was nobody else here… She shook her head. Seeing ghosts now! Taking one more look around, she checked the wall to make sure she had shut the door properly. Climbing onto the altar, something stirred in the back of her memory… no, it was nothing. Crouching, she sprang up, reaching high to catch the edge of the window-frame and swing herself up and through, out onto the roof again. Closing the window, she followed her route back to the ground.
Soon she was outside Triad’s house. She fingered the quartz pendant around her neck. Pity about that casket being empty, she had really thought it might contain something of value. Never mind, there will always be another time.
“But Triad…” she pleaded, “its mine!” His face was stern.
“I sent you there to find the scroll, but all you come back with is this trinket!” he gestured at the quartz pendant he held. “It has magical properties, but I was interested in bigger things than baubles. If this is all you can think of, then you have still a long way to come Kallisti. I will look after this for now, and let you have it when you have earned it. That will be all for now. The housekeeper has some jobs for you to do that should keep you out of trouble for a while.”
“Oh Triad…” she wheedled, fluttering her eyelashes at him, but he turned away, ignoring her. Slammed doors are such a satisfying way to release one’s anger.
Kallisti smiled to herself as she stomped towards the kitchen, extracting the softly glowing pearl pearl from inside her dress. It had not been such a wasted job after all!