Rima was pressed up against the dirty wall of the underground passage, as close to those up ahead as she dared go. She couldn’t see much, with the only light-source having disappeared around the bend, but she could feel that the masonry wall behind her was slick with moisture and cold to the touch.
“Your business done, Ky?” The woman’s voice was soft, belying the impatience of her words.
“It was our fault she got caught, so it seemed only right.” The man, ‘Ky’, seemed cheerful enough.
“They’re doing a Hunt.” His tone was eager, revealing unexpected enthusiasm.
“It’s a guild thing; a competition to improve status. And whoever acquires the most impressive score while leaving the fewest clues gets to be the next guild master.”
The man let out an amused chuckle. “Hardly. Besides, I’d be in violation of the Royal Charter.”
“Ah.” With that, the conversation ended.
Rima waited patiently for several moments, listening for any movement or other indication what was happening. The steady light of the man’s magical orb remained unmoving, suggesting the pair were still there despite the silence. Did she dare attempt a peek?
“So…” Ky’s voice eventually broke the quiet. “How come Urmorians always wear black?”
“Well, everyone I’ve met hailing from your homeland has been dressed in black silk, so I was curious.” There was something distinctly familiar with the man’s voice, but Rima couldn’t figure out what. “And since we’re just standing here, waiting for her to come out of hiding, I figured I might as well ask.”
Rima inhaled sharply, wondering how they knew she was there.
“The Curse,” came the woman’s reply.
“Gray skies and lands to match. It’s a wonder your skin is more white than ashen.” The man raised his voice. “Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I’m rather curious as to why Katrina dragged me all the way through the entire palace and into a secret dungeon. Come on out, so we can get going.”
Rima felt awkward stepping out from the corner, like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She stared at her feet, waiting for the pair to speak.
Instead, they turned away from her and disappeared behind the next corner. Hurrying after, Rima found herself by a steep slope watching the others gingerly make their way down toward the edge of a dark chasm below.
The man looked over his shoulder and up at her with an inquiring expression on his maskless face. The Locksmith! There was something off about his features but there was no doubt about it.
“I believe this would be your area of expertise,” the woman turned a condescending smile at the Locksmith as they reached the thin lip at bottom. She led his gaze across the pit and to the faint outline of a door in the shadowy wall on the other side.
The man threw her a smirk, then began looking around at the walls around them. The chasm was like a gash in the stone, disappearing into the darkness in all directions. Even the ceiling above was invisible.
“How is this place not flooded?” They were definitely below the waterline of Lake Seren, from what Rima could tell.
“Same way this pit was made,” the Locksmith commented as he ran a hand along the smooth wall beside them. “Magic. Say…” He turned toward the woman. “Did you notice that the whole thing used to be a stairway? You could see on the walls where the steps used to be.”
She nodded silently.
“The pit, as well. I’ve only ever seen something like this once before.”
“The pernicious magic you spoke of?”
“Indeed. I take it that’s why you brought me here?”
“No. I learned of that connection later.”
“Now you’ve piqued my interest.”
“Well?” The woman sounded impatient.
The man threw her a bemused glance, then crouched down to trace a finger over the lip while shaking his head. Slowly, he backed up on the slope a few paces, adjusting his green sash and eyeing the chasm and door beyond with lips pursed in concentration.
Suddenly, he burst into motion, taking a few running strides before leaping. He tucked into a somersault, but there was no way he was going to make it. Rima wanted to close her eyes, but couldn’t keep from staring as he began to fall.
Except he didn’t.
He planted one foot in mid-air and pushed off into another jump to land pressed against the door. Rima could feel her eyes widen. She blinked in surprise a few times, then looked hard where he had made his second leap.
There was nothing there to support him. How had he done it? She had heard of magic to walk on walls, or even fly, but never anything quite like that. Glancing up at the tall woman beside her, she noted an expression of curiosity mixed with admiration there. Apparently, she didn’t know either.
The Locksmith threw a grin their way, despite his precarious position where he as much hung from the door by his fingertips of one hand as he stood on the very thin threshold outside the door. His free hand had somehow fished out a set of lockpicks and was already working to open the door.
Rima couldn’t believe her luck. This was the stuff of legends.
“I take it you are not helping us across, then?”
The Locksmith shrugged, his gaze now fixed on the lock.
“He is quite incorrigible,” the woman turned her gaze on Rima.
Rima fidgeted nervously, uncomfortable under the scrutiny of this strange lady. “Ehm, can I ask you something?”
The woman smiled, her laughter echoing like bells in the rift. “Of course, child. What is it you wish to know?”
“How did you disappear before?”
“A simple spell of invisibility.”
“But-” Rima furrowed her brow. “Why not just be invisible all the way?”
“I am not as accomplished a magic-user as some-” She shot a glance at the Locksmith. “Movement would have broken the spell. Furthermore, the guards have training in how to find invisible intruders and with the right tool, say chalk powder, it would be fairly easy to render someone visible again.”
“Oh…” Rima couldn’t help but feel disappointed that magic was so easily countered.
“It seems your friend here finds our magic lacking, Ky,” Katrina called across the pit.
The Locksmith looked back for a moment, then opened the door and slipped inside.
“Perhaps this will be more to your liking, lady…?” She trailed off, one eyebrow rising questioningly.
“Cat.” Rima didn’t trust this lady and wasn’t about to say more.
The woman nodded politely, apparently content. “I am Mawlana Katrina of Urmor.”
Before she could reply the chamber was filled with the sound of stone grating against stone, the echoes making the loud noise almost unbearable and forcing Rima to cover her ears to block it out. Yet Katrina stood there, looking patiently across the way.
Rima followed her gaze to find the Locksmith kneeling just beyond the door, his hands pressed against the floor. Floor that was moving, stretching out over the threshold and slowly making its way over toward the waiting women.
Rima opened her mouth to exclaim in surprise, only to find that both her words and the sound of moving rock were silenced. She couldn’t even hear her heartbeat, though surely she could feel it racing with excitement at the display.
As the stone stopped moving, Rima eagerly hopped onto it and hurried across. A few moments later, Katrina gracefully stepped across the small gap and onto the narrow bridge the Locksmith had created, effortlessly gliding over just as the eerie silence vanished.
Rima looked around the dark chamber, peering into the gloom only to be dazzled when the Locksmith’s sphere of light suddenly darted across. The light revealed a small dungeon, where a decrepit old man was chained to the wall in the lone cell, a cell so small even Rima could likely reach through the bars to touch the wall.
“This is your surprise?” The Locksmith sounded incredulous as he moved closer to look at the prisoner.
His hair was scraggly and thin, his clothing little more than rags, and his body thin from hunger as much as from old age. He fidgeted constantly, muttering to himself, seemingly unaware of the sudden lightsource.
The woman motioned at the man in the cell. “Kyrion Silverblade, may I introduce the remains of Grand Chancellor Shylith.”