There was nothing singular about the unadorned wooden sign hanging above the shoppe door, so why did it catch your eye? Perhaps it was the way the sign creaked ever so slightly as the wind hit against it. Perhaps it was the way the lantern light seemed to reflect from the lettering. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that, despite your past visits to this section of Stormpoint, you had not noticed the shoppe before. Resolving that explanations may safely form the subject of latter debate, you decide to pay a visit to the Kuriousity Shoppe.
A familiar aroma wraps about you as you enter. A warm and inviting scent, you can't quite identify it, resulting in a sensation that both pleases and annoys. Ah well, surely it will come to you. A prominent sign warns you to watch your step. Prudently, you heed its advice as you take two steps down onto the floor of the shoppe and glance about. Odd, the shoppe didn't appear this large from the outside.
Some items are immediately recognizable. Tomes on all subjects and in various languages, some long forgotten, sit neatly in rows of immense wooden shelves. A cherry cabinet, devoted entirely to decorative containers of varying shape, size, and construction, stands just to the side. The sturdy ladder leaning beside the cabinet, and a conspicuously empty space upon the top shelf suggests a recent purchase. A display case along another wall houses a modest collection of jewelry---brooches, lapel pins, necklaces, bracelets, rings, cuff links, and even a few diadems bearing unknown insignia. The size of the case suggests that more pieces may lie inside, undisplayed.
Other items appear entirely foreign. A large wooden object comprised of extraordinary angles leans against what you can only imagine to be a stand. Smaller objects of similar design rest nearby. To the right, you spot a rack of tapestries, rich in color and texture. The designs, however, depict creatures with which you are not familiar. Some are enchanting. Others are disturbing. All are breathtaking. Behind the last tapestry you discover a small, decrepit cabinet holding an assortment of what ostensibly appears to be . . . dare you say . . . junk---feathers, pieces of string, bits of metal, leaves, stones, twigs, shards of glass, etc . . . You mull it over, and decide that "junk" is a generous label indeed.
Suddenly, alert to a set of unseen eyes, you spin to the rear of the shoppe. A large bird, plumed in deepest black, sits perched upon a metal arm protruding from the wall, its eyes fixed upon you, unmoving. Inquisitive, you take a few steps towards it. Is it alive? A sharp squawk followed by a fierce clicking of its rough beak and a ruffling of its dark feathers reveals that it is. Best perhaps to avoid it.
To the left and rear of the now quite agitated bird, a set of stairs climbs along the back wall from floor to ceiling, revealing no evident exit. A small sign scripted in a forceful hand hangs from the banisters by a braided cord, advising that there is no admittance to the upper level. As if to emphasize the admonishment, the bird (is it larger now?) dives from its perch and lands atop the banister. It stares darkly as it continues squawking. You can take a hint, and you slowly back away. After a few steps, the bird begins to quiet and returns to its prior perch with an air of smug satisfaction.
Pivoting towards the front of the shoppe, you are surprised to find the main counter sitting by the entrance. The counter is bare save for a ledger book, a black quill pen, and a small silver bell.
As he wanders about the shop, studying everything, an occasional smiles crosses Calo’s features as a knickknack from his adventuring days with the shop keeper catches his eye. Aware of the high justice’s distraction, one of the two black and silver uniformed rangers quietly clears his throat, drawing his lord back from memories of long ago and to the reason for this visit. Thoughts of how his friend will receive his current visit or, invitation he brings, race in Calo’s mind as he rings the silver bell and listens as its sound fills the shop.
As the sound of the bell fades, a winsome young woman steps quietly into view, her pale complexion rendered all the more fair by raven tresses which fall unrestrained to her waist. She moves with graceful fluidity, but the sight of the uniformed rangers brings a hint of trepidation to her gait. She eyes them with wariness, taking full account and quick measure. Two guards and one . . . one Calo Digerian!
She allows herself a quick smile and greets her guest with a nod. "Well met, my lord Calo." Her voice is clear and vibrant, a curious accent dancing within its playful lilt. "It is indeed a great honor to receive such a noble personage within my humble establishment," she continues, her voice now dripping with sarcasm. "Pray, tell me how I may be of some small assistance to your lordship." The smile turns wry as she delivers her final stab, "Oh, forgive me, should I curtsey?"
Leaning one elbow against the counter, Calo smiles ruefully at his "friend's" well place jibes. She knows full well that a position and title was the last thing he ever desired.
"Ye had best be careful or I will make you curtsey Eowyn. Actually, it is that dagger wit of yours I came to see you about," he begins, as he starts to pace and work his hands to follow his words. "I have been given a position that I hardly want or am completely suitable for. I lack the patience for the subtleties of law, and the skills of a speaker. I need someone who can speak for the city in court when the need arises, to advise me away from trouble, and can solve all the mysteries that baffle even my Rangers. In short I am asking if you want the job."
"Hold a moment!" Eowyn exclaims in mock outrage. "I refuse to stand idly and let you decry your abilities. That’s my responsibility, remember. And at any rate," she continues, her voice softening as she places a hand atop her friend’s, "I can think of few whose experiences make them better suited to temper justice’s blade with equity’s shield."
"As to your offer," she pulls away, turning and taking a few steps before facing Calo again, "I find it most intriguing." The last word carries an emphasis punctuated by a raised brow. "You understand, however, that I have certain," she pauses meaningfully, "responsibilities . . . which may take my away from Stormpoint from time to time." Eowyn waits for his response, studying her friend carefully, a scrutiny which continues even after he nods in understanding.
Suddenly, she turns again, heading towards a closed cabinet in the rear of the shoppe, her raising her voice slightly. "Still, I believe that I shall," she stops as she reaches cabinet, produces a key from her sleeve, and unlocks the heavy wooden door, "give the idea due consideration."
The cabinet's hinges groan tiredly as the door reluctantly opens to reveal a small, solitary leather box. Taking the box, Eowyn carefully closes and locks the cabinet, secreting the key away once again. She stands silent for a moment, staring down at the box, weighing alternatives, considering possibilities.
Finally, a decision made, she turns and walks resolutely back to the counter, stopping a few feet before Calo. "I have something for you," she says simply, and hands him the box, a fey look in her eyes.
Remembering Eowyn's predisposition to practical jokes, Calo hesitates before opening the leather parcel, eying his friend carefully and trying do divine an answer. But, as always her features and eyes betray nothing to him. Looking at the box with both curiosity and caution, therefore, he slowly lifts the lid expecting an explosion, a leaping killer rabbit, or his hair just to turn pink.........again. When nothing happens, he blinks a few times in surprise, shoots Eowyn a quick smile, and peers into the box to see....
He blinks a few times, surprised that nothing has happened, then shoots Eowyn a quick smiles and peers into the box to see . . . . a glass dagger . . . no, not glass . . . crystal. Calo hesitates before lifting it gently from the box. It is heavier than he expects, and surprisingly warm to the touch. As he cautiously turns the blade to examine it from all angles, light dances across and through its many facets, sending small sparks of color flittering about the shoppe. He stares at it, transfixed by its elegance, marveling at its flawless design. Wonder and curiosity mingle in his face, an expression which tells Eowyn that the blade's purpose presently eludes him.
She smiles softly, trying to conceal her concern, but her eyes belie her lips. Feigning momentary blindness from the dagger's reflections, she raises a hand to her face, shielding herself from her friend's gaze. Has he noticed? A glimpse through pale fingers reveals him deftly maneuvering the dagger, finding its balance and grip. He has not. She lowers her hand, grateful for Calo's distraction, and leans silently against the counter, her face a mask once more.
'Strange,' she thinks as she watches him. 'So many secrets I have known and kept, why should this one be so different?' But it is always more difficult to keep the truth from a friend, especially this one, and especially when peril attends the revelation. Eowyn sighs silently as she tries to expel her doubt. 'He is clever and experienced,' she reminds herself, 'and has known danger before. He will discern its use. He will understand the risk. He will survive.'
She convinces herself just as Calo's appraisal draws to a close. Looking up to his friend once more, Calo's brow furrows slightly, and his lips begin to part. Eowyn sees the question in his eyes, and answers before he can give it voice. "You may have need of it," she says simply, her tone making clear that no further explanation will be forthcoming.
The glow of her cigarette illuminated her face in the dark. Not that anyone wouldn't know her. Not many humans had the nerve to walk the docks at night in Stormpoint. Her fingers danced over the vial at her neck. Looking ahead the Cathedral loomed high. She had heard about the new priest ensconced there. Seemed everyone in town was paying him a visit in one way or another, everyone but Triana. She ground the end of her smoke as a flash of light danced over the cobblestones. Was it lightning? Looking to the sky, Not a cloud in sight. shrugging she kept moving as another flash escaped the shop ahead. The Kuriousity Shop the sign read. With caution she approached the front window peering into the shop. It took a moment to find the source. The owner a woman she only knew by reputation stood near the back speaking to a man. In his hand was a dagger, the crystal blade throwing off light into the shop and out the window. One flash lit his face and her heart stopped. She froze, then started backing away from the window. He was back in Stormpoint and hadn't even told her. A single tear slid down her cheek. How could he. She reached for the Vial around her neck and with a tug broke the chain. The red liquid shimmered in the moon light almost alive in the vial. Looking back at the figures in the store she let the vial drop to the cobblestones and turned back toward the Club.
As a Vistani, Calo understands Eowyn’s gift of the foresight perhaps better than she herself does. Answering her cryptic statement and actions with a nod he says only, "Thank you,” knowing all will be revealed in its time. Giving her a half smile, he adds, "Perhaps I have a gift of sorts for you. I know how you love mysteries, and now it seems that no sooner than I arrive then one begins. A lot of people have been turning up with broken necks. Nothing taken, no sign of a struggle, has the feel of a professional, no obvious motives, or connection between them. At the moment I am at a loss and was hoping you could 'talk' to people who will converse with me or a ranger.........."
As he trails off, a tingling at the nape of his neck causes him to shoot a quick look out the window. He instantly recognizes the retreating figure. ~Juleana~
Quickly slipping the dagger into a safe place, he hurries for the door, shouting back. "Sorry, there is something I need to see to, my friend. Marcus here can answer all your questions. Endari-vitir." With that he slips out into the night and after Juleana.
One of the two Rangers who had accompanied Calo steps up to Eowyn and nods to the other to watch over their leader. Slightly taller than Eowyn, midnight black hair and beard frame the remaining ranger’s handsome face as he smiles warmly, bowing slightly. "I am Marcus, Milady. How may I be of assistance?"
((continuing from Honor Among Thieves))
Calo arranged to have the horses returned to Rianna, and so Eowyn walked back to her shop in the merchant's district. Quick thinking and years of experience allowed her to elude the watchful eyes of Marcus long enough to slip away, unseen; and so she wandered through the darkened streets of the city---a solitary figure wrapped in bleak contemplation, little more than a shadow in the fleeting darkness.
There was precious little of the night left, and already rosy-fingered dawn was peeking above the eastern horizon, filtering through the rows of shoppes and homes, and painting the travel-worn cobblestones with the soft hues of morning. The air was brisk with the crisp scent of fall, and Eowyn breathed deeply, enjoying the sights and sounds of the impending dawn. Having grown disillusioned with so much of the world, she enjoyed the simple pleasures of life, taking small comfort in their continuity.
'I wish Calo could see this,' she thought wistfully, the small smile that had begun to play across her features fading with the night. Calo would not see another dawn, or another day. It was poor decision, she thought, but many of Stormpoint's nocturnal denizens no doubt would disagree, finding the trade to be more than equitable. Still, Eowyn knew that Calo now regretted his decision. He'd never voiced his regret, but she could sense it in the thousands of tiny gestures, expressions, and mannerisms that only a friend can read. The choice had been made, however, and, unfortunately for Calo, there would be no turning back.
A chill breeze brought Eowyn back to the matter at hand with a sudden and involuntary shudder--Giacomo. What was it with her mind these days? These musings, these visions that led down mist-filled paths to nowhere? Giacomo. That was her charge, and she could not afford to be distracted. Still, her mind kept drifting to other places, places she was not entirely certain she had been before. She saw Lady Samantha and a man she did not know standing within what she believed to be Samantha's private office. The stranger carried a stack of papers, and handed them to Samantha in rapid succession. When the final page was read, the two engaged in a heated discussion. They both looked terribly concerned, but for different reasons.
The vision faded and was replaced by another. She saw an old church standing near the French quarter. Before its steps a lone priest stood talking to a beast of a man. Behind him, a small child clung protectively to a young woman with long blonde hair. Juleana? The scene switched again suddenly, focusing on two dragonets, green and blue, hurtling through the air---backwards, and an infant in need of protection. Or was it that the child offered protection? She couldn't tell which, and before she could reason it out, the image changed again, revealing two men in a darkened room. Shadows obscured much of their faces, but one was oddly familiar. They spoke in low, guttural tones and their hands were covered with blood.
The image faded and was replaced by yet another, this one of a young girl, perhaps in her late teens. She was dressed in most unusual garb, and two overly developed canines revealed a kindred nature. Eowyn saw the girl smile, a cold and empty gesture, and noticed that the blue of her eyes paled and hardened with the spreading grin. The scene shifted once more, and Eowyn saw the church again, this time engulfed in pandemonium. She strained to find the source of the confusion and caught a glimpse of Giacomo before the entire scene erupted in a sudden burst of light which sent her reeling. Finding her balance with the help of a nearby building, Eowyn slid slowly to the ground. Resting in a heap on sidewalk, she buried her face in both hands and waited for her mind to clear.
When she was able to stand once more, Eowyn resumed her return to the shop. She arrived some time after dawn, a soft chime resounding through the building as she opened the door. A dark bird swooped to her shoulder as she entered, squawking in welcome, or more likely, in admonition. She tossed a handful of grain into a bowl by one of the shelves, and the bird happily alighted from her shoulder to attack its breakfast with a savage ferocity. "Watch the shop, will you?" Eowyn called back as she headed towards the rear of the building, "I'm going upstairs for a bit." Another squawk and a slight ruffling of feathers sounded in response.
Lifting the braided cord lying across the stairs, Eowyn steadily climbed. When she reached the upper landing, she uttered a single word, "biblioqhkh," and walked through the door which winked into existence on the back wall. Closing the door behind her, she stepped into a large, windowless room lined with bookcases. Leather tomes of all colors and sizes were packed into the shelves, their order yielding to no form of explanation save that of their mistress.
Running a long, pale finger along a middle shelf, Eowyn selected two books. She retrieved a third from separate shelf, and yet another from a locked cabinet tucked away in the back of the room. She tried not to think about the earlier visions, and instead tucked them away into her memory for later consideration. For now, her quest laid elsewhere. Toting her small stack of books to a corner niche, she settled into a well-worn leather chair, lit two nearby candles with a preoccupied wave of her hand, and began to read, the heavy silence of the room disturbed only by the hollow crinkling sound as Eowyn turned page after page in studious contemplation.
Somewhere, somehow, she had to find the answer, a way to put an end to Giacomo's reign of madness. She had banished the daemon once before but she had underestimated him, and he found a way to return. It was a mistake which had cost many lives, and one which she cared not repeat. He had grown stronger since then, but so had she; and though she had no wish to face him in open battle she was prepared to play his game of escalating insanity as long as it took to coax him into a trap. A game, a joke as Giacomo had called it, a never-ending prank of lunacy and death to all who refused to play, to all who looked upon his blood-soaked hands and into his soulless eyes and saw not humor, but depravity. She wondered, as she recalled their meeting of the previous evening, had she been playing with him, or he with her? And would this game end, or would she find herself locked in a vain and eternal struggle with the daemon? 'No!' she thought suddenly, bringing herself back to reality with a sudden start. There had to be a way to defeat him, to banish him again--this time, permanently; and she would find it.
Her first book provided little useful information, and the second fared but scant better. With tired eyes, she opened the third tome, gingerly turning each decrepit page with a weary hand. One candle, nearing the end of its wick, sputtered and sparked as it fought against the encroaching shadows. The pinprick of light it cast, however, could scarce stand against the vast darkness beyond, and its battle was quickly lost. With a final sputter, the candle died, spattering bits of hot wax on the table and a sleeping black cat, curled on the floor by its mistress' feet.
Waking with a start, the cat yowled in surprise, and leapt into Eowyn's lap, knocking the book from her hand with a sudden demand of protection from its unseen attacker. Eowyn sighed in frustration, petting the cat with one hand, and reaching for the fallen book with the other. Having found the reassurance it sought, the cat purred contentedly, unaware of, or perhaps unconcerned about, its disruption. Balancing both the cat and the book, Eowyn resumed her research. Another sigh, this time in greater frustration. The cat, poised once again on the verge of sleep, had caused her to lose her place.
She started to close the book, exhaustion and vexation weighing heavily on her mind, but something caught her eye--a handwritten note in the margin of the page. Time had taken its toll on the book, however, and the note, written in a familiar spindly hand, had all but faded into the past. Her eyes narrowed as she strained to make it out, and widened with epiphany when she finally did. This could be it. She continued reading with greater fervor, her pace quickening with each turn of the page. Finally, she leapt from the chair, sending the sleeping cat to the floor with a thump and a plaintiff meow. Eowyn mumbled a hasty apology as she darted across the room, collecting a few more volumes and spreading them out on a large wooden table.
After a few more hours of research and verification, Eowyn looked up from her study, a dark enlightenment shining in her eyes. She finally had the answer. Gently lifting and cradling the again sleeping cat, she sank back down into the chair with a sigh of satisfaction and resignation. After a moment, her second candle died with a final sputter of protest, leaving only a winding trial of rising smoke in testament to its passing. Exhausted, but unable to sleep, Eowyn sat shrouded in the darkness, lost in thought.
With a clatter of hooves, Katrianna rode up to the shop...none of the lights were on but that didn't necessarily mean no one was there.....it was late enough for everyone to be asleep, after all not all of Stormpoint's residents kept the same hours as her aunt and Lady Samantha.
She dismounted in one easy movement and ran up to the door....pounding on it with her fists she cried out "Lady Eowyn.. .It's Katrianna from the Gypsy camp...Lady Samantha and my Aunt Rianna need you...it's about Jaysa..." and then she waited for a reply.....
It took several seconds for the pounding to break through Eowyn's wall of thought, drawing her back to the present with a sudden start. 'What time is it?' she wondered, glancing about the pitch room before the possibly more relevant question of 'What day is it?' rose to the forefront of her mind. Before she could discover the answer to either, the pounding resumed, joined this time by a clarion voice which cut through both the darkness within and without.
"Lady Eowyn...It's Katrianna from the Gypsy camp...Lady Samantha and my Aunt Rianna need you...it's about Jaysa..."
The last name carried no recognition for Eowyn, but Samantha and Rianna she knew, and she could scarcely deny them any assistance she might offer. Rising quickly from her chair, she spoke but a single word as she headed towards the door of the library, "Eisodos."
With a sudden burst, the lights of the shoppe flared to life and the front door flew open. Had she perhaps more time to think, Katrianna might have hesitated before entering, but such was her urgency that she raced into the barren shoppe in time to see Eowyn step through a door which promptly vanished behind her on the upper landing.
Eowyn took the stairs in two's, her fluidity belying her haste. As she descended, she scrutinized the young woman standing on the floor of her shoppe, noting that she did indeed bear a fair resemblance to Rianna. The concern in her eyes bespoke the exigency of her mission, and so, pausing only to grab a dark cloak and a small leather pouch from a previously empty shelf, Eowyn ushered Katrianna out the door.
"I am Eowyn," she said finally as they stepped into the darkness. "I see that you carry a message of some import. Perhaps you can share it with me on the way to the camp. But first, I should like to know who this Jaysa is."
"Jaysa is a friend of my Aunt's.....she is also of the same "kind" as my aunt Rianna.....The lady Samantha is already at the camp....and if you can find your own way I must continue...there is one other person I must find"
Katrianna looked at Eowyn expectantly hoping that she could get the Priest before it was too late....
At another time, Eowyn might have responded to the last comment with mild amusement, but Katrianna's expression was filled with such urgency that she said simply, "Go. I believe I can find my way to the camp without an escort." The young woman wasted little time departing, and left the shop behind in a flurry of hoofbeats. Eowyn made note of the direction she traveled before setting off on her own, wondering who Katrianna could be looking for in that part of the city.
© 1998 Stormpoint Writers Guild
All rights reserved