Castle of Wolves

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Elaine led them through the castle until they reached the base of a tower. She led up the spiral staircase until they were at a locked door at the top. She opened the door with a paw and stepped inside an empty room. She waved for the magicians to follow her into the room.

“This is the resting place of the Jewel.” Elaine swept a long arm around. “As you can see, it is no longer here.”

“Are there any defenses?” Breach lit a cigarette from a lit torch in a sconce on the wall. “Are they on right now?”

“There are defenses, but I turned them off when the theft was discovered.” The queen frowned at his smoking as he inspected the empty room from the threshold.

“Can you turn them on?” He held his cigarette cupped in his hand. “I have to see what I am dealing with so I can tell you how it was done.”

They stepped outside. Elaine grabbed the air with one paw and turned it. A sound like a lock clicking in place filled the small foyer. Nothing seemed to have changed in the room.

Breach stepped through the door, putting his cigarette in his mouth. He stood on the stone floor, looking around. He nodded to himself as he took a long drag from his cigarette. He walked to the display stand in the center of the room, stepping around unseen things as he went.

“Why aren’t you dead?” Elaine almost stepped into the room after him. A human hand on her arm stopped her.

“I think he’s showing off.” Syria shook her head. “Cut the defenses off first.”

Elaine raised her paw and twisted the air the other way. An audible whoosh blew past the group inthe foyer. The wolves flicked their ears at the sound. Syria raised one hand to her ear.

“An Iason.” Breach smiled at them when they ventured into the treasure room. “They don’t make those any more.”

“The security magic has been on guard since I was a pup.” Elaine glared down at him. “Why aren’t you dead?”

“I have a dispensation.” Breach waved the following questions away before they could be asked.“You said the Jewel was right here, until it wasn’t?”

“That’s right.” The queen nodded down at him. “You’re quickly moving into the prime suspect territory.”

“Doubtful.” Breach shook his head. “I don’t need the Jewel to help my magic. Where did you find Syria’s scent?”

“By the window.” Elaine pointed across the room.

The window resembled an arrow slot more than anything else. A small row of them ran along what appeared to be the median height for a wolf archer.

“That’s too high for a human.” Breach jumped up and looked outside. “She would have to be more versatile with her spells than I give her credit for being.”

“Are you crazy?” Syria crossed her arms. “I could totally scale that if I wanted to do it.”

“Also a bit smarter.” Breach turned from the window. He puffed on his cigarette. He inspected the room again with his eyes as he stood there.

He ignored the outraged “Hey!” and quiet chuffing snigger of the Queen as he thought.

He needed to resort to a trick to get the job done. He liked to do things with minimum effort, but this might be something a bit bigger than he liked.

Where was the simple farm boy he could shuffle the job on while he stayed in the background?

He set fire to his hand with his cigarette. It glowed as he held it palm up in front of him. The spell would work better with blood, but he doubted he would get a donor in the crowd watching him at work.

The room lit with stripes of colored letters forming chains that rotated around the room. Elaine growled at the display, but everyone froze. If this was the defense system in action, they were all targets if they moved.

“The gem was in the center of the room, on its display stand.” Breach scanned the enhanced room.“That’s in a line with this window.”

A line of light traced from the window to the stand. A small rectangle embodied the missing jewel.The magician frowned at the stand.

“What are we missing?” He looked around. “Let’s put Syria’s stink in.”

“Do you mind?” She didn’t try to cross the lit room to express her displeasure.

A small cloud of white drifted in from the window. It wasn’t much, just enough to cover the sill and part of the inner wall. It was enough to put the wolves on her trail, but the indicator was if she had entered the room, she hadn’t walked in far enough to grab the jewel.

It looked liked a framing at the moment. He could be wrong. He needed something big to change the Queen’s mind before she carried out her own brand of justice.

“What happened to the Jewel of Jealasco?” Elaine’s ears flickered as she studied the moving chains.

“Working on it.” Breach started to the display stand. Maybe there was a clue there.

He examined the stand without touching it. He frowned at the bits that glittered on the cushion. What was that? He couldn’t quite make them out under the shifting of the Iason net’s simulacra.

“Light these fragments.” Breach watched as dozens of shards came to life in purple. He frowned at the way the pieces pushed away from the window. “Best guess, original shape.”

The bits assembled themselves into a purple block floating in the air. It spun in place as he looked at it.

“That’s the Jewel!” Elaine rushed over to get a better look at it. “How did you get it back?”

“It’s not the Jewel.” Breach released his spell. “I’m afraid you’ve been tricked.”

“I don’t understand.” Elaine’s paw reached for the hilt of her sword. “Explain.”

“Someone took the Jewel much earlier than what you thought. They replaced it with a copy. When they no longer needed the copy, they got rid of it from outside the window.” Breach picked up one of the fragments from the cushion. “They sprayed part of Syria’s scent on the window as a distraction as they continued to do their business. I suppose they think they can’t be found while they are holding the Jewel.”

“No one should be able to find them.” Elaine crossed her arms, ears forward. “You know how to find the Jewel of Jealasco.”

“I know a lot of things, but I don’t see why I should get your artifact back for you.” Breach shook out the fire burning his hand. “I don’t want anything, and you know as much as I do about it.”

“Why did you intervene for this Syria if you don’t want to get involved.” Elaine gestured at the small woman. “I think you protest too much.”

“You know far better than that, Elaine.” Breach smiled as he lit another cigarette. “I lost my empathy and compassion a long time ago. What would you give me to find the thing for you and get it back?”

“What do you want?” Elaine’s bared teeth weren’t quite grinning at him.

“I don’t know.” Breach shrugged. “I don’t need anything but free passage. Maybe you could escort Syria back to the bridge. She’ll need that, I guess.”

“I can get myself back to the bridge.” Syria glared at him. “Don’t you think I want to go along and get this guy? I have more of a stake than you.”

“Elaine has more of a stake than the both of us.” Breach waved at the Queen of the Wolves. “I don’t want to take her either.”

“We’ll both go, and we will take our guards with us.” Elaine gave him a smile of too many teeth and tongue. “What do you say to that?”

“It’s your funeral.” Breach stared down at the piece of glass in his hand. He puffed on his cigarette.“I guess you guys can be the farm boy.”

He walked to the door, heading for the steps. He frowned as he clumped down to the door at the base of the tower. Why go to all the trouble that had been shown just to blow up the fake and try to frame Syria?

What was the motive? Did he really want to know that much? Had he done the right thing choosing the right hand fork instead of the left? What was Syria’s life worth in the long run?

Which way did the path lead him?

“Brooding, Lone Walker?” Elaine paced at his side, armor chiming like small bells. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“Really?” Breach smiled. “I like to brood some. It allows me a chance to reflect on all the things I could have done better.”

“One thing is evident.” Elaine chuffed quietly. “You still can’t lie very well. That is something that you can brood about and try to make better.”

“Really?” Breach puffed on his cigarette. “I thought I lied with aplomb and grace.”

Elaine shook her head.

“Let’s talk about something else, puppy.” Breach held up the fragment in his hand. “Do you know what this is?”

“A piece of the false jewel left behind by our thief.” Elaine squinted at it. “Why is it so important?”

“Because it forms a link between the false gem and the thief.” Breach picked up the fragment between thumb and finger. He spun it with his other hand. “It makes a chain that we can follow.”

“What makes you think he has not thought of that?” Elaine touched the hilt of her sword.

“I don’t think he has.” Breach watched the fragment spin on his thumb. “I think that is why he tried to frame Syria in the first place. That was his plan B.”

“We would chase her, but since she knew nothing, she could tell us nothing.” The queen nodded.“She might have killed some of the guard on top of that defending herself.”

“She’s not that good.” Breach paused, checking the direction his compass wanted to go. “She might have got one guard if she was lucky. The rest would have chopped her to pieces afterwards.”

Elaine didn’t comment that was what their thief wanted them to do. She also didn’t comment that Breach hadn’t appeared out of some case of sheer luck. She knew him too well for that. Someone had told him something was in the air, and he had approached it in his usual oblique way.

Why make the offer to help directly to the offended party, when you could set up as the defender of the accused and prove that they couldn’t have done the crime.

It was a risky strategy, but it had kept both sides from doing things they would regret later.

Elaine also knew that her companion had fought others of her kind and killed them with his bare hands. He was more than capable of dealing with a squad of guards if he decided he didn’t like how he was being treated.

“We’re at the end of the road.” Breach looked up in the darkness. “Looks like I go on alone.”
He stepped into the night and vanished.

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