Shadows

By Victrix All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Action

Prologue

Lambert took a deep swig of his ale, a light hoppy brew with a kick like a rabid mule and lumpy froth that defied close inspection. As he returned his mug to the table, his right hand reached out and picked up the gold crown lying on the table, picking it up and running it with surprising dexterity for an old man between his fingers - over, around, below, above, over, around, below.

The sable brother standing opposite sneered silently, his lip rising to reveal teeth yellowed through decades of chewing on demon's wort.

'You think you're clever, Lambert? You think you can betray the brethren and walk away unmolested? Kings have grovelled when they angered us. Heroes of the realms have begged for our clemency. We are...'

His hands, which had been weaving interesting shapes as he spoke, suddenly spasmed and jerked as the short, narrow crossbow bolt which had emerged from beneath the rough timber trestled lodged in the brother's eye-socket, the tip scraping the inside of his cranium, neatly severing several important connections in the brain.

Lambert smiled. He'd been watching the mage throughout his rant. He'd been watching the way the mage kept an eye on his hands, expecting some show of force. And so he had used the old coin trick to draw the focus of the mage's attention to his right hand above the table while his left had gripped the loaded hand crossbow at his side and lifted it, pointing it upwards at a troublesome angle that involved some skill and more guesswork. He'd have aimed better and got the bastard in his smug, arrogant mouth, but he'd seen the mage's fingers start to move, and that meant that time was running out.

The sable brother made a number of surprised gagging noises, reached up with his spasming fingers and touched the bolt lodged in his head before toppling back to the rush-strewn inn floor and shaking madly for a moment before lying still.

'Magic's a gift and a power, but it's slow, Geldrin. Slower than a crossbow, anyway.'

With a grin he stood, slung the last of his ale down his craw and wandered across to the bar where the innkeeper was standing, shocked, his mouth an 'O' of horror.

'What have you done?'

'Him?' Lambert barked a laugh. 'Pest control. No charge.' Despite his joke, he tipped three silver coins onto the counter. 'For your trouble, and your helpfully very poor memory.'

As the barman momentarily weighed up the value of three silver coins against the danger of angering the sable brethren, Lambert wandered back to the table and picked up his kit bag. On the way to the door, he paused at the body, crouched, and peered into the mage's remaining glassy, dead eye.

'Tricky little bastard.'

Whipping a needle-pointed misericorde from his belt, he turned the man's head. His other hand found a small glass vial and cupped it ready. A single, sharp jab with the blade cut deep into the dead mage's temple and blood welled up, already thickening. As he swept away his knife, Lambert quickly jammed the open vial over the wound as a wisp of darkness leaked out into the dim tavern - a tendril akin to oily smoke that bloomed up from the cut and quickly filled the vial. Keeping it upended, Lambert jammed in the cork and rose, sauntering over to the counter once more, whistling a jaunty tune. He dropped the vial onto the bar and slid another coin next to it.

'Next time you bank the fire, put this in its heart and don't remove it. Just let it render down to ash with the rest. And if a sable brother comes looking, you saw nothing, remember?'

The innkeeper nodded nervously and Lambert flashed him a horrible grin to compound the effect. With that same happy tune, the old man wandered over towards the inn door. As he passed the body of the mage, he gestured down with one pointed forefinger and swiped that of his other hand across it. In half a heartbeat the body dessicated like a millennia old mummy and rotted to dry dust on the floor - nothing more that a pile of ash.

'Be lucky,' Lambert called to the innkeeper as he strode out into the night.
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