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Short Story Entry - Secrets, Suspicions, Shadows


TaCktiX
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Secrets cannot remain so if truly sought. The unknown will always lose to the desire to know.

 

More. I need more. My eyes darted across the manuscripts, shuffling the pages, throwing aside the useless drivel in search of what had to be there. The chair creaked as I shifted my weight, pushing the billowing cloak off to one side. It almost, but didn't quite reach the shocked face of the study's owner. Previous owner.

 

His eyes were likely still staring into the ceiling, his secret study no longer worthy of the title. More. There must be more. I snarled, the minutiae blurring together as I dared the ledgers, diaries, and dispatches to withhold their deeper secrets. I knew this man, this...merchant. He plied his trade on a dying world, seeking profit in the midst of a chaos even the gods seemed impotent to bring to heel.

 

No one has such success without seeking the accursed counsel of that bastard child. Or one of his twice-mongreled spiders. Another snarl wrenched from my lips, filled with bile. He is not worthy of the secrets he seeks. Never. The papers continued to shuffle, each page shriveling into dust as it left my hand.

 

But finally, I arose. I had taken the secrets I am owed. The study was an empty husk of what it had been. Stepping around the merchant, I felt the drag of my cloak hem on the fool's nose. Barely a hindrance. I crossed the threshold, and vanished into shadow. I must find more.

 

Masters can be hidden under the best masks. Suspicion sees the cracks, probes the edges. Risk pulls it away.

 

My eyes had long since adjusted to the darkness, but the stumbling priest of whoever couldn't have picked the moon from his beer stein. She is not here yet, just as planned. I had tracked her for weeks, seen her movements, even separated between rumor and myth, fact and legend. Actually deserves her cold reputation. Surprising.

 

But coldness didn't mean she was without weaknesses. Secrets always end up being told. Only the grave holds its tongue. I dropped from my perch, my hands gripping the wavering head firmly before wrenching his neck into a shattered mess. He crumpled, his head smacking the cobblestones. In a blink, my eyes were already surveying the hapless drunkard from another vantage point.

 

My vigilance was not without reward. Second Thursday of the month at fifteen after midnight. She moved with purpose, her dark blue cloak pushed apart to reveal the white dress beneath. Until she saw the priest. Curiosity struck her face, then her stride, and finally her knees. A giver's heart, and a giver's weakness.

 

I was before her in a moment, my shadowy form enveloping the full moon's light and blanketing the alley in gloom. Her eyes flashed in surprise, then softened to acceptance. She knows she is beaten. “Tell me what you know,” I rasped, my vocal chords unused to speech.

 

She gathered her skirts and rose, her eyes maintaining contact with mine despite the shadows hiding my face. Dignity. A rare trait in this forsaken era. “I pledge to no one, just like you.” Her voice was the opposite of her legend: soft, warming...dangerous. “But my secrets are my own. Even you have no right to them.” A trace of a smirk played on her lips.

 

I laughed, the strain of it daring to collapse me into coughing hysterics. I love it when my reputation precedes me. “So they are,” I whispered, the words coming easier now. “So they are.” I turned, letting the moon strike her blind in the sudden light. “But secrets are just one form of currency...and of rebellion.”

 

“You cannot rebel against the Hunger.” Her eyes were slits, her fair face a mask of annoyance. Even so, she made no move to run or fight.

 

An opening. “You want death at my hand. A fitting end to your legend. A tale worthy of skaalds and orators in worlds far beyond this dying husk.”

 

Her face softened just a touch, true feelings breaking through the charade. “It is what you want, too.”

 

I laughed again, the pain gone. “And that is where you are wrong. I give you two choices. Watch as your legend collapses into the sham it never was, or tell me your secrets.”

 

She glared again, her breath huffing in scarce-controlled rage. “A bluff. That is all you have. I go to my grave unconquered and unmastered.”

 

I smiled, knowing it would reach my voice. “Are you so sure about that?” I kicked at the priest between us, making his foot rebound. “We all have our weaknesses. I have exploited but one tonight; there are many more.”

 

“Then you also have weaknesses.” Her voice almost sounded triumphant, a plea for victory amidst the mounting defeat.

 

“Everyone knows mine, and yet they are powerless to exploit it. Even the spider-bastard has failed. I must know more.”

 

The cold glare made another return. It is hard to chill that which is already frozen solid. “Kill me, or I'll do it myself.”

 

“Are you so sure that you will? Consider the scene.” I waved my arm slowly around us. A dead man, a distraught woman. A murder, a suicide. A highly respected priest, the cold-hearted broker of secrets and trade. “And don't think of running. I have many secrets I could use to...keep the scene intact.”

 

Real despair finally broke her composure, her knees finding the cobblestones under very different circumstances. “What do you want to know?” Victory.

 

I took a breath, weighing the gamble before tossing the chips forward. “Speak the bastard's name.”

 

She convulsed, her body no longer her own. “Never!” a deep, resonant voice rent from her throat. She pitched forward, a lurching leg stepping over the priest to within a meter of me. Her hands reached out, grabbing at empty shadow.

 

A wager won. “There you are, mongrel,” I spoke to her back. “You speak of so many secrets, but dare not return the favor.”

 

She whirled, her irises blackened pools of night. “Death shall claim you tonight. Know this and fear!” Her limbs were blurs, propelling fists and feet as they sought to seek purchase in the deep folds of my cloak.

 

“You are not master of death. Nor master of her. And certainly not master of secrets.” I closed my eyes and spread my fingers wide. Her limbs halted, the possessed rage drained of its ability to control. “No, certainly not. For I am. Begone, and know that tonight is not your first defeat at my hand, nor the last. Before the Hunger consumes all, I will sit on your throne. Only then will I be without weakness. Only then will I be satisfied."

 

My eyes opened on her collapsed frame, the dress dirtied and her forehead bruised from the fall. “You have fulfilled your end of the bargain.” I picked her up and was gone, the full moon the lone witness to our discussion.

 

Power does not come from knowing secrets. One must keep one's secrets locked in the shadows.

 

Dark clouds and a chill wind greeted my passage. Not long remains. I ducked under the uprooted remains of a tree, its trunk rent in two from several dozen arrows and a fireball. The fortress wall beyond looked no better, its solid stones either melted, broken, or fallen to the ground. I stepped through, the hem of my cloak dragging against the worn edges. The inner keep still remained, its roof caved in by a trebuchet's boulder. But I still have time.

 

I ducked under the timbers blocking the front doors and planted my feet. “I have come.” Shadows resolved into forms, the darkened interior occupied by three others. “Speak.”

 

“They fought well, but the Hunger won.”

 

“Neither army remains. The Crows have fled.”

 

“The alliance is shattered by discord.”

 

My head tilted to the side. A secret I did not know. “Oh?”

 

“None could agree on a defense strategy when the enemy arrived. Then the Hunger consumed. Whispers say the alliance is no more.”

 

“Are they ours?”

 

I could hear the smile in his voice. “Yes.”

 

“Excellent. We must now depart.” I turned for one last look at the shattered remains of a dying world. I had learned much in my time here. Secrets are not just to be learned. They are to be shrouded in doubt. No one else shall know what I do. Especially not that bastard. My cloak fell to the ground as my wings powered me into the realm between.

Edited by TaCktiX
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