Its been a while since one of these! I’ve had a nagging idea for another couple of Prophecy of the Circle bonus stories running around in my head. Soon I’m going to have enough for a book when I get them all edited and polished.
Why, Halena wondered, for precisely the fifty-sixth time – she knew it was, she’d counted – but why was it always, always the middle of the night when the summons came to her? She’d pondered it, as regularly as the rushing tides, for more than a full cycle of seasons, ever since the HighPriestess had taken a very, very keen interest in her particular skills.Gainful employment was a brilliant change of pace, but it also heralded the very last of the opportunities for her to actually sleep through the entire night dependably.
She wasn’t called every night, of course. That would be ludicrous to the one’s who’d hired her (and deliciously enjoyable to her, curses and depths for all the missed chances). Instead it was more of an occasional, unpredictable, wildly full of chance sort of arrangement with no warnings, no courtesy calls, no queries of availability or future plans. Every once in a while, she’d just find herself no longer alone in her own little cave. There’d be a gentle cough to wake her, and then, once she was no longer blinking, squinting, and muttering half-sentences from the dreams she’d had to abandon, she’d finally recognize the shadowy figure standing in the corner, already growing impatient, and she’d have to dress and go out into the streets under the light of the moon to do what she did best. She’d taken to keeping a heavy cloak very nearby to her bed just for such visitations. It was cold in the dark.
The shadow never said much. Whoever she was, her identity was almost as much of a secret as Halena’s. Her robes were a Priestess’ robes, but dyed black from their usual shades of green. Her face was covered almost completely, only a pair of brown eyes framed by very short pale blue fur marked her as one of the Tieke Sisters.
For the thirty-seventh time, she wondered how this particular woman had gotten her job? In a similar fashion, perhaps? It seemed the Sisters were on the lookout for those with very particular, very useful, and often overlooked skillsets. Stealth. How would they have found someone so stealthy and gotten her to stay put long enough to offer her a sum of money? It begged questions, and she’d definitely tried to answer on more than one occasion, but to no avail. The woman was quiet in every way, from footstep to word. It was like talking to part of the wall.
Her body language was impeccable, however, something that Halena could appreciate in several ways. She was graceful under those layers of fabric, and probably very strong in a lithe sort of way. Her every step was precise, and there was never even a bit of guesswork as to what direction she’d go next. The gestures were subtle but clear. A nudge of the head, a flick of the wrist. It was all very artful.
“I really do wish you’d just have a little chat with me sometime.” She picked up her pace, sidling in beside her midnight companion, “I mean, you do come over to my home so often, and I don’t even know your name? What harm’s there in a name, hmm?”
The woman’s eyes darted sharply in Halena’s direction, just once, lingering long enough to express every single level of her utter disdain.She didn’t make a sound, but she said so very, very much, none of it polite.And then she walked faster.
Halena laughed, but quietly. Sound carried in Tieke City.
They arrived at the Temple a short time later and completely bypassed the usual entrance. At such a late hour it was locked, and there were too many of the Sisters of the great public display staying where they could hear nighttime intruders, invited or no. The shadow instead led the way down and around, into a cavern beneath the Temple and onto a stairway lit in tones of sapphire by the bioluminescent bubbles of water and glow-in-the-dark sea creatures that served as lamplight in the more frequently frequented tunnels of the cliff city. Before long, they’d turned off and into a much, much darker set of tunnels, where the lady of the shadows disappeared completely. She blended in both to the eyes and to the ears, and became one with the dark.
This was the part where Halena’s memory and far-too-curious mind came in handy. Her eyes had never adjusted to the darkest of the dark tunnels, not once in the dozens of times she’d been led through them. Her feet, on the other hand, remembered. Cracks of a particular shape, nooks and bumps that touched her toes in such a way. She entertained herself with the idea of archaeologists in a thousand years finding her little path and marvelling at the perfect indentation of perfect feet that had eroded stone after hundreds and hundreds of exact steps.
It was an aspiration for her. There’s leaving a mark on the world and then there’s leaving an actual literal mark. What a joyful idea.
And then they were through and into the basement of the Temple, in a part of it where very, very few were permitted – or even knew – to tread.
The High Priestess was waiting there, beside another tunnel -one crafted by Tieke hands in ages past – with a scrap of paper in her hand.
The black cloaked servant bowed and then slipped away, vanishing down a corridor and back into non-existence as she always did. Halena turned to face her employer with a cheeky grin and a bounce in her step.
“What do you need?” She asked.
The High Priestess eyed her. “Something a bit different than usual,” she said, extending her arm to its full length, as if she wanted to keep as far as possible from the short little scavenger she’d acquired.
Halena was only too happy to oblige, snatching the paper so quickly that they didn’t even touch. “Oh?” she chirped.
“It might take you some time,” she said. “But you have all the time you need.”
Halena quirked a brow at such a generous offer. “All the time? You’re giving me eternity?”
“Within reason. What you have there is the only known diagram of something that Teykaneska herself may – or may not – have left in our keeping. It may, or may not, have vanished into Harangin hands. We’ve never been able to find it, but I know that if anyone can, then you can.”
Halena grinned broadly, and it wasn’t returned. Then she looked down at the paper in her hands. She frowned, squinted, turned the paper sideways and then upside down. “What is it?”
“You don’t need to know. But it’s in there, I hope.Somewhere.” She pointed down the hallway. Door after door lined the walls, leading on into darkness and the barely visible wall at the very end. A wall with a heavy iron door in the center that no one was ever allowed through without special permission.
Special permission that Halena now had.
She couldn’t stop smiling at her utter good fortune.