The Nighttime Visitor No. 1 – A Head For Subterfuge

Rakel woke to the clatter of metal on metal. She had halfway unsheathed the dagger beneath her pillow before she realized what the noise had been. She climbed out of bed, sheepishly buckling the sheath at her side, and groped her way over to the candle standing hooded on the bedside table. Lifting the hood, she saw the nail she had, when she’d come up to the room for the night, stuck in a few hours down the candle’s length sitting on the base of the candlestick. Taking it between two fingers, she held it up in the candlelight and looked at it through half-lidded eyes, mouthing a few syllables of Elvish. The nail sagged and flowed like hot wax. For an instant it was nothing but a shapeless blob, but a moment later it was a fine likeness of a one-chieftain coin.

Rakel looked at it with an air of faint satisfaction. She’d left off some of the fine detail, but it would probably pass in a bad light. She pocketed it and felt a little pang of guilt; she could list about twenty rules she’d broken by making a coin, but she supposed it would be alright if she didn’t try to spend it.

She covered the candle again and looked out the window. The moons were out, but only a little light reached past the rooftops down to street level. She stared into the blackness until shapes began to reveal themselves in the shadows, and then swung the window wide open and looked down at the side of the building. She was on the third floor, and it would have been a difficult climb had Kajsa not predicted that such a climb might be necessary. Rakel heard heavy footsteps and saw a particularly large shadow round the corner of the building. She waved, and the shadow set the ladder it carried up against her windowsill.

Kajsa had made use of an old conjurer’s trick, one of the few which took no magic beyond the mundane, everyday magic of expectations. It went like this—at any given time, somewhere between a few dozen and a hundred conjurers were in the city. Almost every one had a couple of constructs to his name and business all over the city which needed attention. It turned out that constructs made excellent couriers—they never tired, were impossible to sidetrack, and couldn’t be forcibly stopped by anything short of a gang of very determined men with very large hammers, or possibly a small siege engine. Constructs charging unstoppably around on a myriad of errands had been woven into the tapestry of city life to the point that they were seen as background detail, no more unusual than anything else on the long list of unusual things that happened in Vrimderheimdalskaagerholmegvorrighrimdalholm on a daily basis.

Kajsa had taken advantage of their ubiquity and simply sent the construct on a long and circuitous path around the city to the inn; even late at night it wasn’t out of place, and it wasn’t as if anyone was going to challenge it.

“Hello, Two,” Rakel said to it, stepping off the ladder’s bottom rung. She had always held a special disdain for conjurers who gave their constructs real names; it was a bad idea to get attached to tools. “Hold on a moment.”

In her letter, Kajsa hadn’t mentioned why she’d chosen Two for this task, but Rakel had an inkling. Two was no whirling engine of death like Six through Nine were, but rather an engine of versatility and stubborn endurance. To those ends it had working hands, of which Rakel was still very proud almost a decade after she’d made them, and rather a large build—it was several feet across the chest. Rakel reached up and rapped on it, and was rewarded with a dull echo. She grinned. A head for subterfuge indeed.

A few moments’ worth of Elvish mutterings served to open the construct’s chest. Rakel looked inside. It was too dark to see anything more than the vaguest of shadows, but she figured she trusted Kajsa to get it right. She closed Two up and told it, “Off you go, then, as soon as I’m back up the ladder. You know where you’re supposed to unload?”

It nodded at her gravely, and she scrambled back up to her room. She waved at the construct, who shouldered the ladder and stomped off.

Rakel climbed back into bed. There were two things she was thinking when her head hit the pillow: first, that it wasn’t until later that Kajsa’s plan got good, and second, that even though she could now add the threat of apocalyptic distortion of reality to the list of crises she’d worked on for Henrik, she could not deny that it was always fun.

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