Lock and Key #steampunk

Welcome to part 17 of the Black Medallion series. This is the final installment of this story. Yep we have finally reached the end. If you are new you can catch up with the links below (sections are individually listed in their respective sections).

Section 1
The Black Medallion
Section 2
Through the Night Fog
Section 3
Shaper Magic
Section 4
Escape
In the Company of Shadows
A Chance Meeting
Lock and Key

Lock and Key

The cab pulled through the gates of a walled courtyard, as the gates closed behind them. They drove on a winding path through dense woods. Trees, so rare to see in any part of the city, grew here with abandon. He fought the urge to gape at the forest around them.

They stopped at the coach house, with several other carriages. There was a place for each cab so that they all were parked undercover and protected from the elements. The coach house, hidden in the darkness outside, connected to the main house by way of a tunnel. A secluded fortress obscured from the furthest views.

lock and key

Flicker Creative Commons via Mark Turnaukas
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The monsignor tapped Tisdan’s shoulder with his cane. “This way, young man.”

The tunnel was well lit. Sconces fueled by aether light lined the walls. The floor was marble, smooth, without a trace of dirt or dust. Tisdan had been singing an old nursery song in his head, something he heard a mother sing to soothe a child once. It stayed with him over the years, a song he thought a babe should hear. They arrived at a foyer before he had reached the second verse.

The walls were simple, plain, nothing of what Tisdan had expected. A butler dressed black coat and tails met them inside the foyer. He silently took the monsignor’s hat, and helped him out of his travel cloak as well. He ignored Tisdan, a pointed slight that bristled at the base of his neck.

The next room assaulted the senses with its audacity. Elaborate scroll work along the baseboards and dark woods were offset with more aether light that hovered without a visible source; heavy fabric curtains had been drawn closed over the windows along a far wall; bookshelves lined another wall. The space appeared unnaturally clean, every surface scrubbed free of life. The grand entryway branched off to hallways that lead in opposite directions and a stairway that lead to an upper floor.

“We are expected in the east wing,” the monsignor said. He followed the left hall out of the entryway.The walls were lined with paintings and tapestries. Items too large for a quick snatch and grab. They passed a number of doors as they walked the hall way, stopping at the door on the very end. He knocked three times, a pause between each knock.

The room had shelves of books along the walls, so many books that they were stacked on top of each other where they did not fit on the shelves. Papers and several open books were littered over a large oak desk in front of the book shelves. Wing back chairs with glass end tables faced the fireplace on the left wall. Smoke rose from one of the chairs near the fire.

They stood in front of the desk and waited. No words were exchanged, except for the occasional puff and then exhalation of smoke from the chair. Tisdan searched the room, his gaze moving from the papers on the desk to the various books opened in front of him and then to the book cases. He lost count after the first couple of shelves. After what felt like an eternity, the man stubbed out a fat cigar in the ashtray beside his chair.

Shadows clung to him as he stood, light filtered around him in a way that made him appear larger, imposing. The room itself was there to serve his needs. Tisdan and the Monsignor were simply a part of the room. The man’s eyes and the features around them held Tisdan’s attention. A youthfulness that didn’t quite fit into this man’s world stood out to him. He had expected older, grayer, power that could only come with age. Instead he faced a man in his early thirties who was still active and alive. The man circled around them without saying anything. He stopped in front of them on the other side of the desk.

“You have something that rightly belongs to me,” he said. “How do we remedy this situation?”

“If it belonged to you, you’d already have it.”

The man smiled, “I don’t think you understand the situation properly.” He came around the desk, now standing right next to Tisdan. “The amulet is mine. I have no time for the games of petty thieves.”

Tisdan noticed something in his eyes. His life on the street had taught him the one thing that it seemed those who lived in high town had never learned. He had bluffed enough people in his life and been bluffed himself. Maybe it was a twitch, or a flicker in the eyes. But it was there for that brief moment, long enough to see it. This man hid behind the magic, the power he held in the crystals. But deep down he was nothing more than a child begging for a toy he thought his own.

“I came here today, prepared to do the honorable thing,” he said. “I never meant to kill that man in the market. I never meant to hurt anyone. I do what I do to survive.” A battle of wills, no magic, no one pulled from the aether for aid. Tisdan looked him straight in the eye and did not falter. “You have set your dogs to hunt me down. They return to you again and again without their prize. It is only when I voluntarily come to you that you are a breath away from what you seek. And still can’t have it.”

“Impertinent–” he began.

“You look for answers in things you do not understand. And have no clue when they are right in front of your face,” Tisdan said. He pulled the amulet from his sash and placed it on the desk in front of the man. “Take it, it will never reveal itself to you. You will never be able to unlock the power it holds.”

As the amulet left his hand, he stepped away from the desk. The temperature in the room dropped in a rush. The fireplace blew out with a cold wind. Fog blew in through the chimney filling the room. Tisdan stepped through the doorway into the aether, closing it as he passed through.

He closed his doorway behind him, cut them off from pursuit. They could not trace him, could not go where he had gone. His mind full of thoughts of Jillian and where she lay sleeping, guided him back to where he had started. He was in the world and stepping through the door into the building in the space of a heart beat.

Jillian lay still asleep where they had made a makeshift bed, where he hoped she would be. He kneeled beside her, and gave her a quick shake. “I’m back,” he said. “They have what they wanted. Little good it will do them.”

She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, looking up at him. “But how,” she asked.

“They have no idea what it is,” he said. “They’ll never figure it out.”

She crossed her arms to ward off the cold, “How can you know that?”

He smiled and sat down beside her. “The amulet doesn’t have any power,” he said. “It isn’t like the crystals the shapers use to harness the aether. The amulet is a key, a key to a specific lock.” He opened his hand palm up. A small blue flame grew in the center of his palm. He set the flame on the ground beside them. It grew in size giving them warmth deep to their core without burning what it touched. “Ever notice the different shapes on the edge of a key? They become useless when you change the tiniest detail.”

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