The Coldstone Bridge spanned Coldstone River. It stood in gray stone, and allowed people to leavethe city for the suburbs. She stood on a sidewalk put in for walkers and looked over the railing tothe flowing water below.
She wore a jacket and skirt of the same black hue, a shirt of dark gray, and black hair that she triedto keep short when she could. She had a knife that she used to keep it as short as she could reach.
She turned to look down the length of the bridge from her spot in the middle. They called it lover’s leap, but she didn’t plan to kill herself by jumping.
She looked to her right. A man stood at the end of the bridge. He paused to light a cigarette with cupped hands. He puffed the cigarette to life before he started along the bridge’s walkway.
He wore a tan jacket and pale pants tucked into boots. His hat had suffered a fate that had folded the brim on one side so it almost looked like a classic bush hat instead of a fedora. Lines of light scarring formed a question mark on one side of his face under one eye. That eye was a different shade than the other one.
“Breach the Burning Hand.” The woman raised one hand. A burning knife appeared in her hand.“What brings you here?”
“I heard a rumor, and followed it down along the river.” Breach puffed on his cigarette. “Syria ofthe Shining Knives. Put it away, Syria. I’m only passing through.”
"Really?” She stepped back. “Why should I?”
“Why shouldn’t you?” Breach shrugged. “Right now, I have heard the wolves are looking for something, so I’m here chasing that. Matter of fact, some of them should be coming here in a few minutes. I advise you to put it away.”
“Why would wolves be looking here for anything?” She dropped the burning knife into the air and it vanished in a wisp of ash.
“The rumor wasn’t specific.” Breach glanced upwards. His lips tightened at the moon changing above. “They’re close.”
A howl drifted to them. It hovered on the bridge. Then wolves wearing armor walked on the bridge, lances in their paws. Visors covered their snouts. They growled at the two humans.
“How do you do?” Breach smiled, puffing gently on his cigarette. “I’m Breach. This is Syria. What brings you to the human world?”
“We are looking for a thief.” The leader of the patrol sniffed the air. “The scent on the bridge indicates it is the woman.”
The wolves lowered lances. Syria whisked a sword out of the air, fire burning down it’s blade. Growls and other noises sounded.
“What did she steal?” Breach raised one hand. The other hand knocked the ash off the end of his cigarette while holding it.
“Nothing.” Syria whisked her sword in front of her, burning the air with its presence.
“You stole the Jewel of Jealsco, the centerpiece of the Queen’s Jewels.” The captain of the guard snarled at them. “Your scent was everywhere.”
“Queen Elaine still in charge?” Breach threw his burnt up cigarette away. “Maybe I can help you out.”
“Help us out?” The captain of the guard squinted at him. “How will you help us out?”
“Maybe I can find your Jewel for you.” Breach smiled. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from the inside pocket of his jacket and shook one out. He put the pack back before lighting the one he had kept. “I’m good at the sort of thing. There’s no point in taking her back if she doesn’t have the jewel on her.”
"What do you want in return?” The captain of the guard raised a hand. His soldiers lifted their lances off line.
“Nothing.” He puffed on the cigarette. “I have been chasing a rumor for a while. I guess this is what I was hearing.”
“Put down the sword spell, woman.” The captain glanced at Syria. “You might be allowed your freedom if you have nothing to do with this.”
“What if I don’t want to put the spell away?” Syria squinted at him.
“Then we will execute you here and now and write off your death as a necessity for the good of the realm.” The captain raised his hand.
“You don’t have a chance, Syria.” Breach shook his head. “Put it away.”
“I didn’t do anything.” Syria glared at him.
“Your execution will be a great miscarriage of justice.” Breach shrugged. “You won’t be around to celebrate the clearing of your name.”
He walked pass the hunting party, and headed to the end of the bridge under the transformed moon above.
Syria shook the sword into a cloud of smoke as she stared at the hunting party. She followed the tan man as he stepped on the trail leading into a forest where city lights should be.
The wolves followed with a slight creak of leather and metal. They carried their lances on their shoulders.
Behind the hunting party, a highway of concrete and steel let blind drivers pull to the other side of the bridge and cross the river into the city.
Breach walked forward, puffing on his cigarette as he watched the trees on either side of the trail, and the full moon above. Of course it would have to be a full moon so the wolves could reach into the mundane world. He paused and looked around. He stepped off the trail and vanished into some bushes.
“Breach?” Syria paused at the darkness off the road. She raised her hand to create a light, pausing at the surrounding knights with their weapons ready.
“What are you waiting for?” Breach’s voice drifted from the dark. “I found a short cut.”
The captain pressed into the dark first, waving at his wolves to follow. One lifted Syria and carried her on his arm.
“Three steps forward, then a step to the right.” Breach’s voice giving them the directions sounded as if he was far ahead of them. He appeared as the party stepped out on a cliff overlooking a vast lake. The Queen’s castle stood on the other side of the lake.
Breach found a trail heading down to the lake. The others fell in behind him. They watched their footing so they wouldn’t fall into the lake from above and drown. Four steps later and they were on a road leading to a gate.
“How did you do that?” Syria walked at his side as he paced toward the castle.
“I know a few shortcuts.” Breach smiled at her. “This isn’t the first time I have dealt with Elaine.”
“Really?” Syria frowned at the looming castle. “Any suggestions?”
“Don’t look her in the eye.” Breach paused as they approached the steel gate and its keepers. “Don’t make any moves that might be considered a threat. Don’t go for a weapon unless you’re ready to die.”
“I think I can do all that.” She almost smiled. “I think I can take these mutts.”
“They’ll eat you after punching holes in you the size of bowling balls.” Breach shook his head.“You might be able to get out of here if I help you, but I’m not inclined to do that.”
“What kind of wizard are you?” She grabbed his arm. “We have a code of assistance.”
“Not for suicide.” Breach looked down at her hand. “The wolves would track you down and eat you if you did run for it.”
“Have you dealt with them much?” Syria released his arm.
“Some.” Breach waited for the gate to open. He could have done it himself, but the wolves wouldn’t have liked that at all.
He couldn’t blame them. No one wanted a potential enemy close to the doors of the keep.
The captain of the guard barked at the gate keepers. They turned a winch which pulled on the chains to lift the portcullis. The hunting party surrounded the two humans to escort them into the presence of the queen.
Breach lit another cigarette as they walked toward the main hall. His eyes took in all the details they could while the escort called for the door to open. Then the group walked down to the door that separated the unwanted from those who had an audience with the Queen.
The captain knocked on the door. His ear flicked with a command the humans didn’t hear. He opened the door and waved his burden into the room to talk with the Queen before they were ritually torn apart and eaten.
Breach led the way. His hands rested in his pockets. Half of his cigarette had gone up in smoke, but he knew he probably wouldn’t get a chance to light another one any time soon.
Elaine tended to frown on smoking despite not being affected by it.
Syria examined the room for escape options. She knew she could kill some of the guards that flanked her and the other magician. Then she could cut through a wall and escape if she was fast enough. If the wolves chased after her, then she was ready to do away with any who wanted to cause problems.
Elaine made her pause and rethink her ideas. The Queen was taller than any of her subjects that they had seen. She wore something that looked like a mail shirt over a dress. The hood had been pushed back to reveal her flickering ears and gray fur. Yellow eyes examined her guests, as teeth showed in what could be a smile.
A sword as long as Syria’s height rested in Elaine’s hand. She tapped the flat of the blade against her foot as she thought. One cut from that would go through a human like a bullet.
“Breach Lone Walker.” Elaine nodded her head. “It has been a long time since we have dealt with each other.”
“It’s the nature of things.” Breach bowed slightly, doffing his hat. “I understand you have a problem.”
“Your fellow magician’s scent was found at the scene of a crime.” Elaine took one long step forward, raising the sword in her hand. “I wonder where the loot is.”
Syria drew her own sword. Lances pointed at her from every direction before she could bring it up.
“I don’t have any loot.” Syria looked at the implacable expressions on the guards’ faces. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“How do you explain your presence?” Elaine placed the flat of her sword on Syria’s right shoulder.
“I can’t.” Syria looked around. “I did nothing wrong.”
“Let’s look at the scene of the crime.” Breach placed his hat back on his head. He took a puff of his cigarette. “Maybe there’s something there to show what happened.”
“Why should I do that?” Elaine growled at him, not moving her sword.
“Because she doesn’t have what you want.” Breach threw his spent cigarette butt in a vase of flowers. “And she can’t tell you where it is no matter what you do to her.”
“Come along then.” Elaine raised her sword and sheathed it in a holster in her belt. “Let’s look at the scene of the crime.”