Prologue

Prologue

Crafted on the remains of some ancient citadel, the patterns of mixed stonework, added over the centuries, made the Library exponentially more intimidating than mere scholarly prowess should allow. From atop the building, imposing moonlit figures of gargoyles and other statues cast stalagmite shadows all along the walls of the Library compound. Strange glows and noises were known to emanate from the place, such that no one wandered near the walls of the large compound, especially at night. Even the wind seemed to avoid the building; seemingly choosing to gust around the walls rather than cross over the compound.

With a noisy crack like a static shock, the magical alarms of the Wizards’ Library sparked on as the lone goblin guard stepped out of the shadow of the building’s back entrance. Anxiously, the squat figure pocketed the activation charm and pulled his cloak around his shoulders to ward off the night chill. With the door secured, the old guardian goblin warrior hefted his spear to the ready. Protected against the night’s chill, he peered across the inner courtyard to the iron door in the outer back wall.

Guesarsh disliked the darkness more than most of his kind. Though he could see well enough, his eyesight was not what it used to be. On nights like this, where the gaps in the heavy clouds meant there was only irregular light from the waxing moon pair, the elder goblin found he could see only as well as most elves. It was a handicap he tried to keep hidden from others.

He paused to give his eyes a little longer to adjust to the gloom, but the clouds seemed unwilling to let through the light of more than one moon at a time tonight. A glance up told him the silver moon was out, while the clouds shrouded the golden moon. At least it was the bigger of the two.

It was more than enough to get him across the courtyard safely without any spooks. The helper spirits of the Library were unsettling enough to be around; but having the intimidating defenses behind him made him more nervous. The statuary guardians were supposed to be off but he still did not trust them after having seen what they could do.

As Guesarsh opened the solitary iron door in the wall a gust of wind pulled it out of his hand, banging it loudly against the wall and startling him. Mumbling a curse on the ghosts of ancient Khoma, the goblin pushed his helmet back for a better look while double-checking behind the door for any spirit that might have heard him. Khoma, City of the Returners, the Wayfarers, and the Goblin Lords of old, was bound to have more than its share of restless spirits.

Careful not to slam the door again, he shut and locked it behind him. Eight keys and four locks, he thought to himself, because wizards are paranoid like that. He smirked.

Hefting his spear over his shoulder and wrapping his cloak back around his arms, he wandered a short ways through the dark shadow of the wide alleyway that ran around the wizard citadel’s outer wall before turning up a side alley to head home. As he neared the junction with the main street he began mumbling an old war chant and stagger-stepped his movements to the beat as he did the rest of the dance in his head.

In the midst of one of the sidekicks, a hiss and a flash lit up his contorted face and smoke exited his back. With a thud and a rattle from his helmet, the old goblin fell to the alley floor. His clawed right foot twitched as his spirit fought to defy the wound and the darkness it brought. Two gasps escaped him and then, after a moment, there was only the sound of the Warren’s nightly bustle.

Slowly, sniffing as it went, a large thin black dog separated from the shadows of the alley and moved forward to nudge at Guesarsh’s body. Sitting down next to the body it looked around twice; watching the shadows for movement, then reached forth with its lengthening paw and pulled the dead goblin aside. Its dog form shifting; it began removing the goblin’s gear. The dog’s legs thickened, its body widened, and its paws grew into hands.

Like a shadow changing with the movement of a lantern, the dog rose up on its hind legs and became more and more humanoid. In moments, it became a wiry, goblin, with helmet-matted hair, just like the dead Guesarsh who lay at its feet. The new goblin donned his double’s helmet and cloak, before picking up his spear and digging out his keys. Sufficiently disguised, the new Guesarsh pushed the body back out of sight into the shadows. With the same mannerisms as before, the goblin began dancing and mumbling his way back up the alley towards the walls of the citadel.

As the new Guesarsh moved on, another figure entered the alley. It was larger, like a human, and its cloak was topped with one of the gaudy neckpieces popular with the nobility of Orhompo. Around his damp and pale hairless head, small shiny globes rushed about like a swarm of large honeybees protecting the hive. He wore a mask over his nose and mouth, and his breath wheezed and gurgled inside it as if the simple walk up the alley were a hike up a mountain.

The shapeshifter, now disguised as Guesarsh’s doppelganger waited at the door into the wizards’ compound for the figure to catch up to him, then, much more carefully and quietly than Guesarsh had, he opened the metal door for his companion. The two figures disappeared into the doorway. With a series of clicks the door was latched and locked behind them.

The disturbance gone, a lone speckled cat hopped from behind an empty box in the alleyway. Carefully it approached the familiar figure of Guesarsh on the ground, sniffed the smoldering hole in his chest and turned away displeased. Then it worked its way down to his waist, searching. Purring excitedly the cat struggled to pick the last of Guesarsh’s dinner from his pockets.

Next Chapter: Chapter 1