A Hand in the Shadows
Many people think magic can do all,
Many think it can change the very fabric of the world.
No. Magic is subtle, gentle, and a rare subject in the world.
It's true strength lies in the belief of the people,
For if you believe something to be true, you give it true power.
Oskar stared over his wineglass at the man across from him, smiling confidently whilst he let the fine italian drink slide down his throat, savouring the taste almost as much as he was savouring the look on the whelps face. A workman, one of the thousands under Oskar's employment, accused by his work mates of stealing raw iron ingots from the foundry floor. The guilt was clear, written so plainly over his face Oskar had to resist the urge to fire him then and there.
But no. He was a fine employer, he would let the man have his say. Even if his words changed nothing.
'That...is a fine suit of armour, sir.' said the workman nervously. Wringing his flat cap in his hands while he waited for his employer to speak.
Oskar placed the wineglass onto his desk, careful to avoid the stacks of papers and manufactory documents scattered across the fine oak surface. He didn't need to look to know what the whelp was talking about, it was his pride and joy. A suit of armour so fine a dozen museums across the world wanted it in their collections, it had belonged to his father and his father before him, a family heirloom from before the time of machines. But even with the most modern smelting technologies and greatest metal smiths, it's beauty could not be replicated. Twisting slightly Oskar marvelled at it for a moment, breastplate, helmet and vambraces, displayed in a custom made glass case that had cost more coins than almost every other thing in his office. Including all the jewellery on his person and clothes he wore.
The carpenter who made it said it was his finest work, and the locksmith had assured him the lock was unbreakable. The whole thing impenetrable without use of the key around his neck.
'What is your name?' asked Oskar coldly, returning his dark gaze onto the workman just as rain began to patter against the window pains. Another storm. This city bread them.
'You know what you are accused of, Jaque?'
He couldn't answer that apparently, voice catching by his adam's apple, so instead he just nodded, scrunching his hat tighter and tighter in his fists.
'Well, explain yourself.' Said Oskar, sitting back into his high-backed chair. The rain was falling harder now, a strong wind blew through the office's open windows, lifting the curtains and making the flames of the oil lamps flicker for just a moment.
'I, I don't know what to say sir,' Jaque spoke for several minutes, pleading his innocence to Oskar who wasn't listening to a word he spoke, instead he just watched his employee, scanning his face as he recounted his tale. The rain fell harder and harder now, the night skies turning even darker as more clouds clumped together, the wind was so strong every time it blew through the windows the office was plunged into darkness for several seconds until the oil lamps finally spat back into life. All the time Jaque talked he never once looked up from the floor.
A true sign of guilt if there ever was one.
Oskar counted down the minutes his employee was talking on the ornate clock on the desk, watching the golden hands sweep across the porcelain face. When he finally stopped the hands overlaid each other, pointing up towards the stormy heavens just a delicate ring echoed from beneath the glass dome. Midnight.
'That is your excuse? You talk of your innocence, of your workman's heart and need to feed your family, but as you tell your story, you never once had the belief to look me in the eyes. Look at me, Jaque.' still the man didn't look up from the floor, he just turned his face even further down. 'Look at me!' Oskar bellowed, slamming a fist onto the desk. Knocking over the wineglass and making the whelp jump on the spot. Finally Jaque lifted his head and looked at Oskar, who now stood behind his desk, leaning over it like a jackal over its kill. 'Now, now you look at me.'
Oskar stared, disbelievingly, at Jaque as all colour drained from his face and his eyes drifted to the back wall. 'Why do you insist on staring at my ancestors armour!' spinning Oskar looked into the display case and nearly collapsed. The armour...it was gone. The lock open and the velvet lined case empty of all it's contents. 'Wha...What...security! Lock down the building! We've been robbed!'
Looking at the city from afar the buildings glistened slightly in the spark of lightening that cracked overhead, slicked with dirty rain they stood out from the matt black clouds that hung oppressively over the huge city. And across the rooftops a figure leapt and ran across the wet tiles, leaping over chimney stacks and sliding down rooftops before leaping to the next building. As agile carrying the heavy armour he had just stolen as he was without it. Sliding down a steep tiled roof the thief twisted, grabbing hold of the guttering to slow his descent before letting go and falling into the alley below. Landing in a deep puddle formed in the cobbles, splashing water up the walls and across the finely dressed man that was waiting for him. 'A timely arrival,' the businessman said, pulling the pipe from between his lips and blowing a great lungful into the thief's hidden face. 'It's done?'
The thief said nothing, instead he just slung the bag onto the floor, its mouth opening to reveal the finely crafted metal within, its pearlescent sheen dulled in the dark light from the street lights. 'Very good,' said his employer. 'That bastard loves this armour more than his children, he'll be so busy looking for it, he'll overlook the sale of land at the docks, allowing my company to buy it from right under his nose. Thank you, Crow.' the finely dressed man smiled, tipping his pipe to the thief in gratitude. 'Au revoir.'
'I need payment,' barked the thief. Taking a step forward and grabbing the businessman's arm.
Flicking his azure eyes to the armour soaking in the rain the nameless businessman smiled. 'Keep it, boy. It's got more value than anything I could give you. I have no use for it, my battles are fought with pens and coin, not swords and muskets. Good day.'
Crow let him go, watching him enter his carriage and ride away from the shadows. He looked down at the bag of armour, it was fine, he could probably sell it for a few hundred coins? That would pay for food for a couple of months at the least. Heaving it over his shoulder Crow pulled the scarf from around his face and walked through the streets, sticking to the shadows whenever he saw people. This late at night the only people who joined him were guards on patrol and courtesans, strutting across the cobbles in their finest corsets and glistening with cheap jewellery. These were the people who inhabited the night. Guards, criminals and whores.
It took less than twenty minutes to reach the cathedral, its gothic architecture and stain glass windows were hints this building was built during an early time, when the world ran on gold and food instead of steam and iron. Crow stopped in front of the huge doors and pulled the scarf down his face, letting him breathe freely for the first time since leaving his home. Pushing the door open Crow was careful not to push to hard, or else the iron hinges would creak and wake every monk inside the cathedral. That was the last thing he needed.
Some of Crow's earliest memories were of this building, looking up from the floor as he pulled himself along the flagstones with bloody fingers. He remembered looking up from the floor at the two square towers, dark and oppressing like a great monolith of some darkened world. That was his earliest memory, and he was eight years old when this happened. Crow closed the door behind him quietly and walked through the cathedral as silently as a ghost. Even in his heavy boots his steps were as quite as falling leaves, if you didn't see him with your own eyes there would be no evidence of his existence in the cathedral. Crow stalled at the end of the isle, looking up at the huge crucifix hanging from the ceiling, that symbol had always made him feel uncomfortable, like it was watching him and he knew he didn't belong here.
Uncomfortable under the cross's oppressive presence Crow turned to the huge font at the base of a small set of stairs. Looking into its still water he saw his reflection rippling up at him, the rose window behind his head, haloing him in a disk of pink glass. This was another early memory, looking into this font, the face of a strange child staring up from the water. Now that face was older, shallow and pale with dark eyes and darker hair. His face marred only by a twisted and knotted line of scar tissue that ran down his left eye and stopped on his cheekbone. This was the face of Crow. Master Thief of Paris, a face that had a bounty of ten thousand coins, but had never been seen by anyone he stole from or by any of the guards that patrolled the streets.
It was the face of a ghost, a spectre...a grayling.
'You have been gone many hours this night, Ombre.' the voice echoed across the cathedral floor like a church bell. Deep and powerful and utterly undeniable. It could only be one man, only one ever called Crow by the names the monks gave him.
'I have,' smiled Ombre, keeping his gaze down on the font. 'How long have you been waiting for me?'
'Long enough,' he said calmly. 'Where have you been?'
'I love how you criticise me now, Father. But you forget that my business has saved his monastery from bankruptcy more than once.' said Ombre, turning to look at the man that raised him since he was eight.
'God is always watching you Ombre,'
'Doesn't your lord have anything better to do?' he interrupted with a cocky smile.
Tomaz was a good man, but much like the reflection he remembered as a boy, he had changed much in the years he'd been here. Ombre remembered him as a man, strong and proud, now age was eating away at him, wrinkles creased his skin, silver hairs salted his hair and a strange dryness covered his deep green eyes. But now he was head of the monastery, a hundred and ten brother monks looked up to him as their spiritual leader, but Ombre only saw him as the man that raised him. 'You have a great gift Ombre,' he said, sliding his hands up his deep sleeves. 'God has a plan for you, as he does for all of us, but I feel the path you're walking is not the one our lord has for you.'
'Your lord, father. Not mine.'
'I remember the day I found you, crawling up those steps, half dead and delirious, I knew then you were a gift from God. But I never thought that small boy could become such a criminal.'
Ombre laughed dryly, hiding the pain that just blossomed in his heart. 'If you don't like what I do father, why don't you turn me in? Call the guard and collect the reward! With money like that you wouldn't need my, business.'
'Because somewhere in you is that little boy I brought back from deaths door with the help of God. And I cannot give that boy up, no matter what type of man he has become. Goodnight, Ombre. We'll speak in the morning.'