by Jenn Zuko Boughn

What was that?

Brother Mortimer, second guardsman and acolyte to the Master Builder, halted in his tracks. Fingering the handle of his iron hammer, he whirled around, frowning into the corridor behind him.

The hallways in the Stronghold were ornate--symmetrical yet unusual-a true tribute to the Builder's glory. Yet those same carvings and deep doorways that made the architecture vibrant also cut through each space with blocks of shadow. Mortimer, to amuse himself, often imagined that each corridor was a puzzle, and would attempt to fit each shadow into geometric shapes.

He was not amused now. Anyone could hide within those wedges of impenetrable black, and he thought he had heard a noise. But as he peered, he could see no glint of steel, no movement of any kind, nay, not even the whites of startled-still eyes. He sighed, and shook his head. Nothing now. But he could have sworn…ah, no matter. These old buildings had a way about them, the Builder only knew…

Odd, considered Mortimer. All evening, his heart had been pounding like a Hammer on a Forge: he jumped at small, even perhaps nonexistent noises as though the Trickster himself were after him. "May the Architect preserve me," he muttered, "what's come over me tonight?" Perhaps it was the excess of black gahveh he had taken to break his fast. Perhaps it was only the warnings of Cardinal Carfax earlier this afternoon: "Be wary," he had warned, "our faithful informant has told us that a master thief is abroad, and he has filching eyes on the Cornerstone."

Not that Mortimer bemoaned his station in life, but pressure like that? The Cornerstone was probably the most valuable jewel in the known world, and sacred to the Order. That anyone would have the gall to tarnish the Builder's finest shrine…ah well, Brother Mortimer sighed again, there's no accounting for the antics of the heathen. And besides, he yawned, again becoming calm and bored with his watch, nobody can get into this highly fortified sanctuary. Stifling a second yawn, he found himself almost wishing he had heard a noise, that he might have something to do besides pace his endless pacings…

Blinking away his growing ennui, he began to whistle as he sauntered along his assigned watch. It was his favorite hymn, "The Faithful Shall Fix Stone on Stone." It never ceased to keep him awake during his nightly watches, and tonight it becalmed his sound-inventing imagination.

It was truly marvelous, mused Mortimer, becoming more and more at ease as he paced the path through the Hammer stronghold he'd trod innumerable times already tonight, and would the next night, and the next…marvelous that to the Faith we have been blessed to accept fifteen new novices, and all in the past threemonth. Strong we are, strong our Hammer-wielding numbers have been, Mortimer's armor-plated chest swelled with pride, but that we should increase our foundations with new bricks now...stronger indeed we shall be. The Trickster be cursed! We shall pave new roads over his green chaos and condemn him to the Forge-Fire

Mortimer sighed and clucked his tongue. Shame, to get himself fired with the bellows of faith, only to awaken to lulls and ever-same, torchlit halls. He turned the fifth corner of his watch for the fiftieth time. Couldn't Cardinal Carfax enliven his ranks by changing each guard's watch, say, every week? Why, even if the Arch-Fiend himself were to crawl into the Hold, take Mortimer's hand and steal the Cornerstone out from under his very nose (the Builder forbid!), he doubted he'd even notice.

Mortimer's inward complaints faded as he squinted. What could it be? Up ahead, a proscenium-like arch adorned the hallway, protruding outwards and framing the hall. It cast a large pool of shadow on the ornate carpet that even the torches before and behind it couldn't penetrate. Brother Mortimer squinted harder. Damn my failing eyesight, but what is that?

Something was wrong. The carpet, though obscured with shadow, had an odd humped shape to it that it hadn't before. He sure of it. He edged closer. No, not the floor. Something on the floor-

Mortimer began to run. He halted inside the pool of shadow, knelt to the side of the crumpled figure. He recognized its face with a curse, then felt for the pulse of his comrade, Brother Holtman. Mortimer sighed with relief. Alive, then. He rolled his fellow Brother over, and noticed a bruised lump the size of a goose-egg on his forehead.

"By the green-twigged carcasses of all the Trickster's bugbeasts!!" he exploded, then, not having enough vocabulary to continue his invective, he ran headlong down the hallway, leaving Holtman unconscious where he lay.

"Help, Brothers, to me!" he ran; around the next bend was a cubby in the wall which housed a bell he had been instructed to ring in emergencies. Damn his sleepy eyes, his routine-lulled mind!

"Thief!" he shouted, drawing his hammer. He skidded to a halt in front of the brass alarm bell. He swung; the bell clamored. Then, the sound of many running footsteps.

The alarm clanged. He shouted.

"Stop, Thief!!"

Go back to Thief Fanworks