Stones Unbound (The Magestone Chronicles Book 1)

BOOK: Stones Unbound (The Magestone Chronicles Book 1)
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Stones Unbound

 

The Magestone Chronicles:

Book 1

 

By Richard C. Innes

 

 

Copyright 2015 Richard C. Innes

 

 

Kindle Edition

 

All Rights Reserved

Kindle Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This
ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to
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this author.

 

Note From the Author

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and
incidents are the products of the author's imagination, or are used
fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Cover Art

Cover art produced by Alexander Nanitchkov

http://artofinca.com/

You can find him on facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/Artofinca

 

Prologue

 

Koltan walked swiftly through the arched hallways that were
mostly cloaked in shadows.  He did not cast a spell to light his way - the
shadows worked to his advantage.  He knew that he was short on time, as his
report was due this night.  Although it was not his fault, his master accepted
no excuses for failure.  It was a dangerous task, but the payoffs would be
immeasurable.

He now knew, by what he had overheard today, that the agent
in the Imperial Palace in Tala'ahar had done their job well.  A shipment was to
be sent to the embassy in the Imperial City.  This was the moment he had been
told to expect, and now he had to complete his task or his master would indeed
be angry.

He found the chamber he was looking for easily, as he had already
spent some nights on duty here.  Due to some bad turn of luck he was not on
duty tonight, and his other errands had taken him longer than they should
have.  Damn Faradan to the Abyss!  Making him recopy the runes until he got
them exactly to his teacher’s liking took bells longer than it should have. He
looked at the ink staining his hands.  Anyone else would have been satisfied by
his first or second attempt.    But ten!  Curses upon the man!

He opened the door to the chamber and stepped inside, leaving
the door ajar.  The student on duty turned from the book of spells he was
studying with a quizzical look on his face.  “Has my shift ended already?” 
Koltan remembered the student’s name from some of his classes – Griffan.

“No, sorry Griffan,” he started as sincerely as possible, 
“I took too long in copying my runes, so Faradan Shilaar decided that he would
send me to relieve you as my punishment.”  He kept his annoyance on his face
for the other to see, and made sure he used the honorific.  Koltan moved over
to the table and pulled his own book of spells out as if to study.

Griffan collected his things into his pack.  “It has been a
quiet night so far, I took only two messages.  They’re in the log.  Have fun!”
he called back wryly over his shoulder as he left, pulling the door shut behind
him.  Koltan went and made sure the door was latched and then threw the bolt. 
He could not be interrupted on the task he was about this night.

He turned from the door and moved to the desk upon which
rested the magemirror he needed.  Normally the senior students were tasked with
monitoring this room, and two others around the citadel, in case any general
messages came in through the mirror.  Tonight, he would be sending out a message,
a very important message; a message that would make him a very powerful man; a
message that would change the world.

PART I

 

I have determined that life is all about choices.  Some good,
some bad, most with immediate consequences, and some in which the outcome isn’t
felt for years, if at all.  I’m not talking about what you may choose to eat
for dinner, or which cloak to wear; we’re talking about
Choices
– with a
capital ‘C’.

It was an assignment like any other; steal something rare and
valuable for money.  And yet, it was different than all the previous jobs I had
taken, more danger, but also more reward.  It was enough gold that I could
retire from my thieving ways, even after the guild took its cut.  I was always
cautious.  Heck my motto was “
It's better to be careful than dead
.”  I
looked at every angle, watched all the players, checked the timing, and tested
all the angles.  I could do it.

Seven Hells
, they had come to
me
for this
assignment.  I was the best in Tala’ahar, possibly even the Empire.  I wasn’t
in it for the glory, only the money, and possibly, if the chance came along –
revenge.  There was always revenge. 

But I was talking about
Choices
.  And little did I know
that by accepting this particular job, by making that
Choice
to say
‘yes’, that I would set in motion events that would destroy
my
world,
and possibly, just quite possibly, the
entire
world.

Journal of Hoyle Dardanel

The 5
th
of Jarn,

In the year 89 IR (Imperial Rule)

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Stepping over a steaming puddle laced with floating detritus
of human waste at the head of an alley, Hoyle glanced back over his shoulder.  With
his footsteps sliding in the ankle deep snow along the side of the Imperial
Way, he refocused his attention on the road ahead. His furtive glance had not
shown anyone following him, but of course, that was the reason he was using the
wide, straight avenue through the Imperial City.  With its wide expanse of flagstone
that would allow four wagons to pass abreast, its narrow boulevard containing
the tall, narrow, skeletal worshyr trees, and the wide walkway siding the
building faces, there was very little concealment available for his pursuers to
use.  Of course, it was the morning after the night’s savage spring storm
dropped a rare hand’s span of thick, wet snow on the city, piling much higher
in spots where it fell off the steeper roofs.  And he was out early in the
morning, barely dawn really, which meant he was one of the few people on the
avenue.

            Stopping to take a short rest from the exertion
of slogging through the snow, he stepped into the relatively dry recessed doorway
of a dress maker’s shoppe that was yet to open.  He caught a glint out of the
corner of his eye, but he turned to find that it was only the reflection of the
silver firebird earring he wore in his left ear appearing in the shoppe’s
window.  He ran his fingers over the earring, his only affectation – the
earring his sister gave him before she was murdered.

Hoyle pulled his dark woolen cloak tighter about him against
the crisp, damp wind that was all that remained of the night’s storm, and
watched a man guide a team of wagon-pulling oxen through the deep snow yet to
be cleared by the veklian slave teams.  Looking ahead to his left, he could see
the distant Imperial Sky Citadel floating above the shadowy Palace Square at
the end of the long, straight thoroughfare newly lined in a cleansing cloak of
white snow.  
Like a vulture hovering over its kill
he thought.

Looking back to his right, from whence he came, from where
he should still be, warm under the down-filled feather mattress, the lithe
Salrissa at his side, nuzzling at his neck, he felt a pang of reluctance.  He
let the warmth of that recent memory flood through him to ward off the chill
morning air.  Turning his face up at the band of sky visible over the avenue, he
could see that the clouds had moved off, and that the day was going to be
clear. However, it also told him that it was nearing the sixth bell and he was
running out of time.

            Hoyle checked the store signs to confirm his
location, realized that he only had three more streets to go, one over and two
down, and pulled his black cloak even tighter as he stepped from the scant
protection of the recessed doorway.  Moving as swiftly as he could through the
soupy mess that covered the ground, he turned the corner and ran straight into
the chest of a man coming the other way. Rebounding off the larger man, he lost
his footing and fell to the ground, catching himself awkwardly on his hands.
Without apology, but several curses, the barrel-chested man moved off around
the corner leaving Hoyle sitting in the slush cursing under his breath.

            Realizing he was going to be late, he picked
himself up and brushed off the snow and slush as best he could. His clothes
were soaked through, and the wind began to bite through his clothes, causing a
chill to run up his spine.  Checking to make sure the pouch carrying his precious
cargo was still attached to the belt at his back, he settled his rapier and stiletto
at his belt and began to run, looking left and right, trying to determine which
building he was looking for.

            Once he found himself on the correct street,
Hoyle slowed to take a more careful look around.  It seemed this street had
quite a few early risers based on the foot traffic.  He spotted two taverns and
an inn further down, possibly explaining the anomaly, however, there were still
very few people out in the chilly spring air; he only noted one man several
buildings down sitting on a barrel smoking a pipe. 

Hoyle finally located the described building.  It was a
three-storey stone and wood structure, overhanging the street at the front and
crammed nearly to the neighboring buildings on each side.  The whitewashed plaster
was in bad repair, and falling off in chunks and the slate roof looked in need
of repair.  He proceeded to the side of the building and down the narrow alley
as directed.   His steps finally found him at the bottom of a rickety set of
wood stairs crammed between the two buildings that led to the second floor and
above.  He could see through the open stair piles of refuse and broken
furniture beyond.

            Hoyle climbed the creaky stairs, and came to
the blue door that had been described to him.  Following instructions, he
knocked twice and pushed the door open quietly.  He stood to one side as it
opened easily on freshly oiled hinges.  Peeking in from beside the door, he
noted no obvious danger, in fact no movement of any kind. Stepping inside, and
closing the door as quietly as he opened it, he turned to find himself in a
dimly lit, sparsely furnished, living area.  There was a small table, two
wooden rail-style chairs, and a three-legged stool in the middle of the room
with a small bed and bedside table in the shadows to his left.  Long, heavy
curtains that hung almost to the floor shrouded the windows looking out over
the street to his right.  At least he assumed they looked out over the street,
it was the correct direction.  In the dim light of the single candle, there
appeared to be no one in the room.

            “Hello?” Hoyle whispered, taking a careful look
around with his hand on his stiletto.  He heard movement from behind a door to
his left, hidden in the flickering shadows beside the bed at that end of the
room.

            “Just a minute,” came the muffled reply from
behind the door.  Shortly, a tall, thin man with a hawkish nose, wearing dark
robes came through the door, carefully closing it behind him. “You are he?” he
inquired quietly with a slight accent.

            “Yes, I’m Hoy-...“

            “Names are not required,” the tall man
interrupted with an accented whisper, looking briefly over his shoulder towards
the back room.  “You have the package, I presume?”

             “You have the money, I presume?” Hoyle quipped
back.  Although he had already surveyed the room, he kept his eyes on the
shadows.  Though this thin, almost frail man did not appear to be a threat, he
wasn’t about to take any more chances than he already had to get to this point. 

            The tall man walked over to a foot locker at
the end of the bed, unlocked it with a small key and lifted the lid.  Hoyle
could see gold glinting in the candlelight.  “Five thousand Imperial Marks, as
agreed,” the robed man quietly stated with an accent that seemed familiar, but
Hoyle could not place.  Hoyle’s heart skipped a beat at the number.  It was
enough to set him up in comfort for the rest of his life. 
It was also a
number to make men brave... or stupid
he thought.

Without further talk, he pulled the pouch from the back of
his belt and walked over to the small table.  Loosening the draw string, he
poured the contents of the pouch upon the table.  Nine small stones, each a
different color of the rainbow, glowing steadily from within, rolled out onto
the table, dramatically increasing the illumination in the room.

            “Unbound quafa'shilaar,” Hoyle stated frankly. 
"Magestones, to the common man."

            “Power to others,” whispered the tall man. 
“How did you obtain so many?”

            “Stealth, skill and no small portion of luck.”

            Still staring at the stones on the table, the
tall thin man waved dismissively at Hoyle, “Take your gold and go.”

            Hoyle stood where he was for a moment, slightly
annoyed.  A little appreciation and awe wouldn’t have been
too
much to
ask for, would it?  He turned from the table and cautiously walked over to the
chest, closing and locking it with the small key still in the lock.  Crouching
down, he went to lift the chest, and was barely able to move it – five thousand
gold marks weighed a lot!  A quiet
creak
of hinges alerted his highly
tuned senses, honed through years on the streets, causing him to drop and roll
to the side as a loud
thunk
sounded from where he had been.  He turned
and saw a quarrel was stuck in the bedpost above the chest, still quivering
from the shot.  Still in his low crouch he saw the door to the back room now
wide open, with shadows moving towards the opening.  Hoyle jumped forward with
his back to the wall beside the door as the
hiss
of swords leaving
scabbards echoed throughout the dark back room.  Hoyle tried to pull the door
shut, but it was wrenched from his hand by a large man in dark leather armor,
who began to advance through the portal while drawing his broadsword.

             Backpedaling away from the door, Hoyle assessed
his options.  The tall, thin man (whom he had just decided to call Whisper) was
holding the magestones and chanting quietly in the middle of the room.  As the
magestones flared brightly, he saw that the large man was through the door
maybe two strides from him now, with two more men behind him.  A fourth was on
his knees, reloading the crossbow that had nearly claimed Hoyle’s life mere
seconds ago.  Hoyle drew his thin rapier and stiletto.

Whisper’s voice grew louder, and the glow of the magestones grew
brighter, based on the increased illumination on the walls.  Hoyle did the only
thing he could think of – he lunged.  The large man with the thick eyebrows who
was advancing on him was caught off guard, but managed to parry Hoyle’s quicker
rapier with his heavier steel.  It accomplished what he had intended.  The move
brought his opponent’s forward momentum to a halt, trapping the other two soldiers
with swords in the back room.  Turning quickly, he deftly sent his stiletto
turning end-over-end at Whisper with a quick flick of his wrist.  It wasn’t
meant for throwing, but it still hit Whisper awkwardly in the shoulder - point
first, eliciting a cry of pain, scattering the magestones around the room, and
disrupting what could only be a magic spell of some sort.  Ducking a swing he
felt must be coming from behind by dropping into a crouch, he heard, more than
felt the blade whistle over his head.  Finally, he jumped high, spinning with
his foot out, to kick the large man in the center of his chest before he could
recover his back swing.  Staggering back, the large man (he had by now decided
to call Brows) bumped into his compatriots, yet again blocking their progress
from the back room.

In the flickering illumination from the scattered
magestones, Hoyle noticed that the crossbowman had managed to reload by this time
and was waiting for a clear shot.  Inspiration came to him – so he lunged a
second time.  Or at least he pretended to.  As Brows flinched from his fake
lunge, Hoyle turned and ran, aiming for the heavy curtains at the far end of
the room.  As he ran past the wounded Whisper, he grabbed his stiletto from the
man’s shoulder, eliciting another cry of pain.

“Thank you for holding that,” he quipped as he took three
more steps and hurled himself shoulder first as hard as he could at the
curtains.  His shoulder jolted as it made contact with, and broke through, the
thin glass pane behind the curtain.  As he fell towards the street, he grabbed
the heavy fabric to slow his fall.  He finished his fall, unrolling from the
tangle of the heavy fabric curtain and dropping the last two paces to the
ground into a crouch.  He heard shouting from up above, and heard the door at
the side of the building crash open.  Looking up he saw the crossbowman
fighting his way through the now flapping curtains, as the breeze was still up
and was tossing them about, impeding a clear shot.

Hoyle turned and ran down the still empty street.

---o---

 

Three blocks later, Hoyle stopped and leaned against the
wall to catch his breath.  Peeking back around the edge of the building, he
could not see any sign of pursuit.  He could hear the whistles of the City
Guard several blocks over, however.  Maybe they had caught his ambushers, but
he knew he was going to have to check – his gold was still back there.

Still shivering from his earlier fall in the puddle and his
more recent adrenalin rush; he doffed his cloak and reversed it so that the interior
greyish-green was to the outside, the black to the inside, and re-donned it. 
It wouldn’t fool anyone looking closely, but it was enough of a change that he
wouldn’t be recognized out of the corner of someone’s eye.  It was also a less
suspicious colour now that the sun had crested the horizon.

Taking a circuitous route back to the scene of the struggle,
he noted only one guard patrol, and they seemed to be headed the wrong
direction.  Once he was in the alley behind the buildings across the street from
the shoppe, he climbed a drainpipe up the two storeys to the slate roof of a
random residence above another shoppe on the main floor.  Lying with his back
against the cold tile, he braced his foot on one of the peaked dormers and
inched his head up so he could see over the peaked roof into the front street
below.

A large black carriage was parked out front of the apartment
he had just fled from, tethered to two large, black draft horses.  The curtain
still flapped in the breeze from the second floor window of the residence. 
More importantly, he witnessed Whisper and Brows exiting the building via the
side stair and enter the carriage, Whisper cradling his injured arm.  The three
remaining soldiers followed them down less than a minute later, two carrying
the chest containing his gold.  One climbed up into the driver’s seat at the
front, the other two hefted his chest of gold into the back of the carriage and
stepped up on the running boards, grabbing onto the side handles.  All three men
looked uncomfortably around as an early morning crowd was starting to collect
at either end of the tight street.  The driver cracked the reins and the horses
began to canter down the street at a leisurely pace, forcing the small crowd at
the end of the street to slowly part, allowing the carriage through.  Turning
the corner heading northbound, it was lost to sight.  Hoyle looked at the sky;
all this had happened in the time it took the sun to climb a finger width into
the morning sky.  He knew he should follow the carriage, but realized that by
the time he got back to ground level it would be pointless.  Besides, a
carriage like that was not easy to hide, and would be noticed, so he adjusted to
a more comfortable position and settled in to see what events might yet transpire.

BOOK: Stones Unbound (The Magestone Chronicles Book 1)
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