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Glass Stone


by neesboy

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A hand clutched at a windowsill. An unusual sight, one not found often, especially when the windowsill belonged to the Eliv Thade's castle, and never in the hours preceding dawn's awakening by several candle marks. Next to the hand's grasp, its twin held a similar position. It was an identical save for one difference, apart from being the other's reflection. But it was a difference unlike any other, for one hand bore a black pentagram, the mark of all who had consorted with the dark faeries. Even the weighty adjective of black did not do it justice; it was more like an emptiness, where reality dared not assert its presence.

      Suspended on the two hands hung Calth Merbeck, a lean brown Zafara. His forehead was slightly damp with perspiration, held at bay by a deep red band above his eyes, as well as the cool night air. But what he was known for, what identified him from a common person, and would explain to anybody why he hung in his awkward position, was held in his belt, and concealed by a heavy dark grey cloak that was weighted down with lead. They were several obsidian daggers with hilts carved out of onyx, from which he derived his more commonly adopted moniker, the Obsidian Dagger.

      The Obsidian Dagger was the thorn in the side of the rich, but no hero of the poor. One person profited from what he did, and he was the one doing it. The only ones who sympathized with him had a grudge against his victims and nothing valuable enough to attract his professional attention.

      Calth nimbly pulled himself onto the ledge, careful not to make any noise. The undead were notoriously protective of their aging opulence, which was often comprised of copious amounts of gold and rare gems, with a few enchanted artifacts, and booby traps devised by minds facing the eons. But Thade's hoard was different. The deranged ghost guarded few material objects of substantial worth, but the real treasure was knowledge. Knowledge is power, and all with power know it is readily transposable with wealth.

      As he crouched on the protrusion, he tensed his muscles. He sprang towards his target, a leering gargoyle, and landed lithely on its scaly back. Over the past week, he'd made careful note of which statues were real, and which ones were stone Draiks perched on the outcrops. Eliv did not care for visitors avoiding the puzzles in which he took his fiendish delight.

      Carefully scaling the side of the decrepit building, the burglar settled in front of his selected casement-cum-ingress. The wood around the pane of glass was rotting, and was separated from the stone with a good deal of persuasion from one of the larger blades. The larcenist slowly lowered it into the room, resting it on the floor as he slipped in. If he had merely wanted to get in, he could have simply walked in through the front door. But getting in and leaving undetected, hence with sanity and sound mind intact, was another matter, which necessitated more elaborate measures. Phantasms have forever in which to plan for guests.

      Once in the mansion, he slunk from one flickering shadow to the next. As he carefully tested the floor ahead of him before stepping on it, he gave a slight grin. All this for some scratchings of a madman, the thoughts of a lunatic put down on parchment. A simple tome, with no magic or mystic properties. But as he turned a corner, the smirk left his countenance. Leave it to a Kacheek with an acronym for a name to build a maze in his house.

      Now, as everybody knows, the way to get through a maze without getting lost is to put one's left hand on the wall and keep it there. However, less common techniques are occasionally employed that work just as effectively, such as the one Calth used. Walking up to the nearest barricade, he withdrew several sturdy daggers, and jammed them into the wood. He then used them to climb up onto the top of the wall, and walked along it. The grin returned as he adroitly balanced, navigating his way to the other side of what once was a large dining room.

      The door leading out of the room, much less frequently employed, was locked. But a locked door is only as good as the lock that holds it. With the practiced twist of a thin blade, the rusty dead bolt admitted the caller into the library. Motes of dust skittered across the floor. Not from the entry's opening, but from the soft swish of a tail. "Boo. I admire your ingenuity in proceeding so far. But I prefer not to be the victim of mortal's silly games. I much prefer it the other way around."

      The felon merely nodded his head. "I'm surprised at you. The hospitality of the house of Thade is somewhat wanting, in many regards. Your game is riddles, is it not? And that is what I have, a riddle you cannot solve."

      "Ha! Do you, a petty thief, suggest to accomplish what only one has done?"

      "And do you, an alleged mastermind, suggest that a mere petty thief could make his way through the defenses you both designed and incorporated in your own dwelling? I am no more a petty thief than you one who dabbles in puzzles. But I have a riddle, with only one wholly logical answer, and I do not think you can solve it in ten minutes' time."

      Leering with maniacal glee, the apparition queried, "What of the wagers? I am sure that you did not make your way here simply to pose an enigma."

      "All I want is one book, from your extensive collection. Your estimable Grimoire of Thade, and of course, no direct interference on my way out. And if I am misguided in my hazard, than you shall have both me as your prisoner, and the reputation of being the one to finally sheath the Obsidian Dagger."

      "Tell me, what good is the word of a criminal?"

      "And what is that of a madman?"

      "I concede. Present what simple conundrum you have devised."

      With a mocking bow, he recited simply, "Nothing more,

     And nothing less

     Than what you're

     About to guess."

     So saying, he took a seat, looking up at the grandfather clock. "And as I stated, there is but a single answer that meets logic's strict confines."

      Silence settled, held at bay only by the soft swishing of the tail. As the minute hand neared one sixth of its full orbit around the face's central point, Eliv Thade spoke up. "The answer. The answer is the answer, and that is nothing more and nothing less than what I guessed."

      "No, the answer is not the answer. Therefore, it cannot be nothing more or less than what you guessed."

      "Then what is the answer, that you insist meets logic in all aspects?"

      "I know the way to hold a madman to his word, and that is to use what his madness dictates. I'll tell you the answer the minute I have stepped over the threshold of this abysmal mansion, with the book in hand."

      The poltergeist sighed placidly, and walked through a bookcase. After a second, the case swung open, showing itself to double as the metal door of a safe. "It can only be opened from the inside, so that nobody else could reach the tome without my consent." The larcenist took the volume, and made his way towards the front door.

      Once he stepped onto the miry ground of the Haunted Woods, Calth turned. "The way to make a thief keep his word is to give him what he wants." And then he told the phantom the answer to the riddle, the one thing he would not, through pride, and could not, through psychosis, guess. "Wrong."

The End

 
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