I lean back against the gnarled plum tree that has been my constant companion in these recent days of waiting, watching the white clouds crawl around sluggishly above me. I can smell the fields to the west, whatever fragrance the plants have drowned out by the muck and mire of the swampy land they were planted in.
Have I made the right choice, I wonder, seeking out a Jailer? Circumstances required that an associate of the Library investigate a certain missing book (no, stolen, not missing, it was confirmed today, I remind myself). I stretch, stand up, and catch the scent of plum blossoms on the sunny summer breeze. I glance to the sky, try and pick out spots of blue in the murky white of thunderstorm season. A friend of mine was once able to read clouds. He disappeared one day when some men in white coats decided to make certain inquiries in the village he lived in.
It will be interesting, I think to myself. A race it shall be, but only one party knows the truth, the entirety of the story.
The book is a legend within itself, the stories surrounding it are vague but numerous, something about herbal remedies, miraculous cures, a mystical plant that could “push back death’s grasp”. Bound with shackles carved from human bones, the pages are said to have been pressed from the bark of trees that grow at the entrance of the caverns occupied only by Death. The book was the property of a Library patron, lost some time ago when they were robbed, and recently discovered in the possession of another ignorant, ordinary thief, this time one who'd killed for it.
A trilling cry, a swallow swoops from the direction of the distant mountainsides, to my waiting hand. I laugh to myself. If they knew of my gift with birds, would they try to lock me up as well? The bird angles its head at me, waiting, curious. I remove a small scrap of wood-pulp-pressed paper from my sleeve, the bird takes the proffered message in its beak, and with a flap of wings I am alone with my thoughts once more.
The small circle of lesser mages who are my allies in this task have yet to confirm an identity. Still, birds are clever, and my friend will rendezvous with the necessary people before the message is delivered. It’s nice to be a wanderer, really. One meets so many interesting people, and those who are friends don’t keep track of simple favors. If friends are in the area, any area, they will help those who seek their aid.
Seek me out if you desire, jailers. What you seek belongs to someone else. I’ve taken the liberty of returning some personal property to its rightful owner, is that so wrong? I am headed to a land where mountains shelter dragons and phoenixes hold their court in splendor, you’re welcome to follow, and if you can catch me, perhaps we will discuss a deal.
Send your brightest, your young and curious. I will know if they mean my colleagues harm. ~S
I wonder if my quarry will appreciate the adventure ahead, what with them being buried neck-deep in their articles, procedures, write-ups, and so on… All of the jailers tend to stick irritatingly close together, after all, grasping at their secrets with grubby claws. Everything is a safety hazard for them, because they fear what they work with.
A falcon’s call in the distance, and I leave the plum tree.
A female Jailer was sent. Young, probably ambitious, maybe just a little too naïve overall. She was accompanied by two men, one who seemed familiar with her, the other anything but. A companion and a guardian, I assumed.
They followed the same trail the Hand operatives had, a several hours ago. They knew the story of the thief who could work miracles. Granted, they didn’t have the day or so head start that the Library associates and I had, but a few idle jests couldn’t hurt all the same.
A golden oriole was my messenger this time.
An exceptionally bright star shines in the sky, twinkling just like you, love. Its shimmering reminds me of you, struggling to shine against the others. As surely as the shadows shift, you know you will fade to dust and darkness eventually, why not live in the light you believe in? Stay vigilant, more to follow. ~S
My golden friend later told me that the Jailer had looked supremely irritated, and her group had begun to travel faster.
The three arrived at the inn a few hours after I did, and immediately entered the garden grounds. I asked one of the mages to provide a distraction; he now strides hurriedly through the adjacent courtyard with a song sparrow on his shoulder, chirping merrily (the bird, not the man). The stone-faced guardian watches him silently, and the group moves to follow.
I watch this from a comfortable seat indoors. With a small turn of my head, I can see the man both our groups seek. Dressed in the clothing of the locals, shadows curl beneath his eyes, and the hands grasping his utensils are uneasy, twitching sporadically. He reaches for a teapot on his table set for one, I hear the faintest crackle, and he freezes, one hand going unconsciously to the folds of his shirt.
The man is a petty thief, but I admit a grudging admiration. He’d done well to run so far so quickly, though the Jailers were not far behind. I suppose it would have been simple for them to scan airline records for a man with many miles to travel and few belongings. Strange belongings.
I chuckle. Ordinary transport for someone carrying an extraordinary object. That can’t have gone well. I glance at the clay teapot in front of me, and idly wonder of the Jailer. I wonder if she’d bothered to try the chrysanthemum tea they had in the area. It’s lovely.
Someone enters the room, someone wearing slippers that whisper across the floor, someone whose very aura vibrates with calm, restrained power. Not that others in the immediate vicinity would notice, though.
It’s time to return a book.
A satin tear-streaked melody alights the skies this eve
A dewdrop-dazzled melancholy brings only slight reprieve
The pearl-rounded bridge, sunset.
I think on the words of my recent note, wondering if the little Jailer will actually follow. Surely she knows it would be foolhardy to be so blind, but then, it’s not like her kind ever know everything anyway. Who would tell them?
My emissary this evening is a crane. He stands out well enough to a passing tourist, and is shielded from the eyes of the unnecessary with a simple enchantment.
Have they ever teetered on the edge of a sickle moon, looked into the chasm of the unknown as its jaws gaped before them, and taken the risk anyway? When one lives with the wind and sun, breathes air untainted by chemicals and sterilization, perhaps then will they understand.
Perhaps I had been a little desperate, I think to myself. But then, the notes provided the necessary distraction. The Jailers were kept away from the path of the other operatives, and in the end the Hand reached the object first.
The folded scrap of rice paper in my hand is delicate. How easily it gives way reminds me of the brand of flame we all play with by these ill-advised associations. It will be the last contact with the truth that this little Jailer will have for a long time.
You believe you protect the ordinary from the extraordinary, as if those who have special abilities have none of the emotions of those without. There was a time when mankind respected the extraordinary, reveled in it, revered it. Do you truly believe the common man fears the extraordinary more than you, Jailers? I leave you now, without what you seek. Keep an open mind, and perhaps someone will pity you.
The sun is dipping lower on the horizon, and I have a book to return to a library that keeps unusual hours. Nevertheless, there is no hurry as I make my way towards a doorway not many people see. The wind mutters something about someone, three someones, approaching. They will arrive momentarily.
I skirt the shadows to a clearing of shifting leaves and smooth stones. A familiar individual awaits me, with a songbird perched on his shoulder.
“There you are, at last, Sylvain.” He inclines his head slightly.
“It is good to see you, my friend. Do thank the rest of the mages for me.” I beckon to the bird, the song sparrow twitters, leaves his shoulder, and settles on mine.
“It was an honor to act with you, wanderer. Though your bird pecked me a few times.” Though he wears a hood, I can make out the grin in his voice. Ah, it is good to speak freely with good friends.
“And an honor to act with you, mage brother. As for the pecking, that means the bird likes you.” The mage chuckles and walks towards the doorway. A quick glance behind tells me that the Jailer has received my message: the elegant crane is fast disappearing into the distant night.
This is definitely something to remember, I smile. Really, Jailer, what did you think you’d find?