THE BOOK OF STORIES CHAPTER 00: AUDITION
[In which a man and a woman are thrown into a book without much say in the matter.]
As Aldech Shaw sat on a park bench under the shade of a towering oak tree, with blood that was not his own drying on the front of his shirt, he mused to himself that it had probably been a bad idea to take that last job. The target had led a very paranoid existence, being wealthy and a politician and generally dislikable, and as such there were few opportunities to sink a knife in his back. The man's house had been an impenetrable fortress, complete with a private guard, thick windows made of stained glass to obstruct vision from the outside and not a single unguarded latch or lock for the picking. He'd tailed the man for days, only to concede the only chance to strike was during daylight hours.
His plan? Knocking out the man's driver and attacking while the noble was getting into his carriage. While Aldech could have said it had been a masterpiece work of stealth and dexterity, what it essentially boiled down to was chancing that the guards wouldn't react fast enough between the acts of stabbing and running. It had been ballsy, that was for surehowever, being the infamous Aldech Shaw, he'd succeeded in landing a throwing dagger right between the bastard's eyes.
Unfortunately, and also explicitly because he was the infamous Aldech Shaw, and because there were few shadows to disappear into in the midday sun, the guards had a very good idea of who they were looking for.
On the plus side, his mark was certainly dead and a notice of payment would be delivered as per usual to his father's bakery. The downside was going to be making it home without getting himself skewered, or at the very least, having to run all over the city to shake off authorities. When the sun was below the horizon he'd be able to move around more freely, over rooftops and through shadow, not needing to worry about whether someone might notice the blood or recognize his face from the many wanted posters scattered around the city. But there was at least another hour of daylight left hanging in the sky, and until that time he was stuck trying to blend in plain sight while every guard for a few miles around checked every nook and cranny they could find in their search for him.
There was really an art to hiding out in public, in the broad daylight. First off, location was key. He'd positioned him on a bench under a tree along the walk-path, not ten paces from a very high wall. It would take effort for someone else to see him from the other side of the wall, but it wouldn't be impossible to scale in the event of other routes being blocked off. He could see clearly both left and right at a glance, allowing him to keep an eye on who was walking around the park and whether or not anyone was paying too much attention to him. Another requirement for hiding in plain sight was not looking suspicious, which was much harder than it sounded, twice as so in his case, what with the blood. One had to look like they were relaxing, lost in thought perhaps, while making sure no one realized just how much he was keeping an eye on every single person within the area. And finally, he had to risk being very obvious while he hid. His half-cloak could hide the sight of the blood and his blades well enough, but a man with his hood up while sitting in the shade was the very picture of suspicious, and so he'd let it down. This was not to say he hadn't taken some small precaution--he kept a ring that changed the color of his hair for exactly such occasions, but even with his bronze hair now appearing the color of light gold to all who glanced his way, it wasn't as if a good look at his face might not jar people's memories.
Just until nightfall, and then he could get to a safehouse. If he was lucky, he wouldn't even need to take the long-way back to the bakery. Normally, after a job well done and no major injuries to fix, Aldech might have stopped off at a seedy little dive he knew that served the best damn clam-chowder in the whole of the elven nation, but between gathering information about his target the last week or so, he'd heard a rumor that something had gone down there that had the regulars in a panic. There'd been talk of the place just up and disappearing, clean out of the alley without a trace left before. He hadn't run into anyone who could confirm the story, but disappearing buildings sounded a very great deal like some kind of magical botch-up, and if that was the case then he was content to sit tight until things cleared up. He didn't want to go around messing with magic when he could avoid it.
Aldech let his eyes wander back and forth several times across the grass, paying attention to those who were walking around the paved path in groups of two or three, or those sitting in the shade of the trees and flowering bushes. There were a few children running about, their mothers or nannies standing in clusters, chatting merrily while the children played, and a good handful of people who just looked as if they were passing through from one side of the park to the other. Nothing at all out of the ordinary, and not a guard in sight. All in all, people seemed to be letting their gazes slide right over him, finding nothing extraordinary to take note of.
There was a flash out of the corner of his eye, and immediately his cornflower and gold gaze was trained to the side, his entire body tense and ready to move.
Just to his right, only a half-pace from his shoe, a sheet of white parchment was laying the grass.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Nadia glanced up as she caught the tone of her mentor's voice, and it didn't bring her any comfort. The sound itself was that of being only mildly baffled, and a little displeased, but the furrow in his brows indicated a deeper level of discontent. Ibial Lazugaudi, headmaster and professor at the Helcotz Magic Academy, was one of the greatest magical and academic minds on the Aren continent, and for him to be troubled was never a good sign. Then again, from her own judgment regarding the information she'd been made privy to that day, nothing that was happening was any kind of positive sign.
A number of strange happenings had been occurring during the past week in the elven capital, and for a while they had gone largely unnoticed. The first incident had been the mysterious disappearance of a statue from the middle of a residential square. This could have been very well chalked up as simple theft, or even some kind of vandalism to irritate the family of the war-hero whose image was honored in stone in front of their home, but a good number of people could not validate that the statue had even been there in the first place. The family was certainly upset regarding the matter, but the locals in the area could not be sympathetic, for they held no recollection of such a statue, even though they would have had to walk past it on a near-daily basis. A similar case was reported from various individuals complaining of the loss of a favored restaurant. It was described in the authorities as a hole-in-the-wall sort of dive, not three blocks off of the docks, and a favored haunt of a good many fisherman and naval officer when they came into port. But the diner was gone, entirelya simple lack of building between one shop and another. One of the owners was near hysteric with the vanishing building, but the proprietor on the other side claimed to have no clue what everyone was raving about.
Such incidents, while highly strange, had hardly made the evening news for the criers and gossip printings. They were little incidents in little places, and those involved in the investigation were of the opinion that it was a highly unusual magical sort of prank. But then something a little more unusual happened to the city bank, and as always, when there was money involved things tended to garner a great deal more attention. The building had disappeared for a number of hours, which had been rather hard for most people to miss, but unlike the other cases, it returned to its proper place. The issue was that although the outside was that of the same bank, the inside looked off, as is someone had put mis-matched decorations and furnishings within. The alarming part, however, seemed that if one went inside, they were not guaranteed to come out again and still be in An'Arde. Instead, there were reports of elves ending up in the Vanir city of Helcotz, while many Vanir were ending up in the elven city after they'd left their own bank. As best Prof. Lazugaudi and the others had been able to surmise, there seemed to be two banks existing in both and neither places.
"Any ideas, Professor
?" Nadia asked hesitantly, turning her head to look directly at her teacher as they ascended the stairs of the inn they were staying at.
Ibial sighed, running long, spidery fingers through his graying hair with a solemn look. "Many, Nadia, and none of them seem very likely." Two black cats walked with him, one on either side, each fitted with a collar, and they looked up at him as he continued to muse aloud. "If this were just some simple matter of someone rearranging the city, they wouldn't have needed to call upon me for help."
This was true. Such spells would have left some kind of residuea trail of magic, or the leftover energy of a spell completed and closed off. But even after subjecting the areas to every magic-detecting test they could think of, there was still nothing bringing an answer within sight. The professor had even gone to the strangely-merged bank and taken her inside to look for anything particularly unusual, and to see if anything residual could be sensed. At one point, Prof. Lazugaudi had stuck his head outside the door and remarked lightly that it was showing Helcotz outside, and that they ought to wait a few minutes before trying to go back. Sure enough, ten minutes later he'd given it another try and deemed it a good time to take their leave of the place.
The men showing them around the city and explaining the situation had been hoping Ibial might be able to tell them something, but the problem was leaving even him stooped.
"And if it were just the first two cases, I might have even thought that the memories of people were the things that had been tampered with. But there cannot be any doubt about the last one, and gods only know if there have been other unnoticed or unreported cases." His brow furrowed as they reached the top step and made their way towards their rented rooms. The cats ran ahead of them, pawing and scratching at the door. "If I had to hazard a very hesitant guess, I would say
there seems to be something regarding the altercation of reality at play here."
That wasn't quite the answer she had been expecting. "Reality, sir?"
"Yes, though that's something I think I ought to talk to Abrem about," he continued, though an instant later he seemed to be started out of his thoughts, and he turned to look at Nadia with a smile. "But Nadia, we've done as much as we can for the night. Why don't you go downstairs after you change and get something to eat while I contact Professor Lucastawitz?"
Nadia shook her head quickly, trying to wave off the suggestion. "No, it's all right, Professor. I'm not hungry."
Ibial looked at her with an expression that told her she should have known better than to argue, his eyebrow raised and his tone firm. "Nonsense, Nadia, you haven't eaten all day, don't think I didn't notice." Nadia resented that the man had an uncanny ability to get by on almost no food himself, but he took the time to take note of the eating patterns of others. "Come now, I won't be long with Abrem, and you'll need something in your stomach if we're going to stay up looking through the reports that were sent over."
There was no way to argue with him, not sensibly, and she could only sigh a "Yes, Professor," as they neared their rooms. The cats gliding through Ibial's door as it was opened, their master slipping in right behind them before Nadia heard the dismissive sound of a lock turning, and her cue to go.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
There was a sheet of parchment laying in the grass, and Aldech was positive it had not been there before.
He considered the piece of paper, immediately suspicious as it its origin and how it had come to be so close to him. Normally a scrap of paper in the middle of a park was nothing too tremendously out of the ordinary--enough students and scribes passed through that a bit of missing paper was common enough to see. However, no one had walked passed him for quite some time, and he would have noticed had they lost something as they were passing by. There was no wind to carry it towards him, there had been no flutter as it settled in the grass, it had just simply and suddenly came to be.
Taking a closer look at the thing, the parchment itself was unusual. Had it been some missing scrap, it should have been covered in dirt or grass stains, been wrinkled as if a person had handled it or it had been caught in something. But the sheet's edges were perfectly straight, and the paper was very fine--too fine to be anywhere outside of a library or the office of a very wealthy person. Most paper was yellowed, or at least a cream color, with a watermark of the maker sunk into it, but this sheet was more white than sun-bleached bone and completely smooth. There was not an inconsistency or raised surface in sight. It was impossible that this paper could've fallen from someone's bag or book, white and pristine, to settle in the grass below, untrodden by boot or nature, without him noticing.
He considered the paper again, with only his eyes and a decidedly stern expression. He didn't want to fly off the handle and expect it to be some explosive mage's tactic, but Aldech's immediate conclusion was that the thing was probably magical. Magical and not to be trusted.
Being completely and utterly null to magic in all its forms, Aldech had never been able to cast a single spell, and had instead only experienced magic on what he considered to be the wrong end. That is to say, the end where it was used against him, usually with the intention of bodily harm or death, both of which he was very keen on avoiding. He might, and there was great emphasis on the word, might consider magic okay if he could learn at least the basic protection spells. But he could not. So as it was, dealing with magic was always so much less straight-forward than just dealing with someone who had a blade in their hands. Unnatural stuff, and completely untrustworthy.
Still, even with this in mind, he had a feeling he couldn't just leave that scrap of paper where it was on the ground. He was not at all tempted to keep the thing for himself, no--Aldech had a sense of self-preservation that allowed him to very easily overcome such frivolous stupidity. But he knew enough about magic things and the people made them to know they were altogether a bunch of scheming, bothersome bastards,, and if they had an interest in you, for whatever reason, it was very difficult to just walk away and come out unharmed. The assassin found himself somewhat resigned after this thought. Slowly, very carefully, Aldech leaned down and brushed the very tips of his fingers over the paper, just for an instant, so see if there might be some reaction, like an explosion of flame meant to kill him. The corners of his mouth turned downward.
Nothing happened, and very gingerly, he picked the paper off of the ground and bought it up to examine more closely. He turned it over to see the other side, unable to make out any writing or markings on the thing, but even as he watched, thin lines began to appear on the paper as if drawn by an unseen hand. Aldech knew better than to drop the thing, but his immediate reaction had been a need to throw the thing away from himself. He forced his eyes to remain on the page. The lines were perfectly straight, and when they were complete, the paper had been sectioned off into sixteen separate sections. He turned it over in his hands a few more times but there was no more of a reaction from the strange piece of parchment. It had gone quiet. A slight tension went out of his shoulders.
It was a mistake. A glimmer of something metal caught Aldech's eye, accompanied by the sound of rattling chainmail. His head shot up to see a group of armored men approaching him, their swords at the ready. His expression had gone hawkish, and the guard in the middle faltered briefly before brandishing his blade.
"You there, halt! By order of the General, I hereby place you under arrest!"
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
There was something both insulting and hurtful about being told to go downstairs and her enjoy her dinner while her professor was having a conference call regarding the matter she was supposed to be helping with. Of course he hadn't meant anything by it, but she would have rather been hungry and informed than downstairs, wondering what ideas they were throwing around. In addition, it wasn't as if being a young woman, alone, in an elven inn's pub was exactly her idea of a good time. It was a nice inn, and she'd been given good service from the staff, but there was just something about the looks she was getting that made her want to bite the head off the next person who tried to leer at her. Dressed in her plain clothes, without the signifier of her school and the status as a magic-user, she was just another woman alone in an inn, and there were always interesting assumptions about such women.
She nibbled at her fish begrudgingly, arm propped on the bar counter and resting her head in her hand as she thought about the day. The more thought she gave to the matter, the more it frustrated her. Even after seeing all of the locations, testing it for magic or ritual, tracing the currents of magic and looking for disturbances, she hadn't been able to contribute anything to the finding or the conversation. it made her feel useless, and a little angry that she wasn't seeing something, some bit of evidence, that had to be there. Things didn't just happen without reasons, so there had be something they'd overlooked.
A voice drew her out of her thoughts, and when she looked to the side she came face to face with a man who she hadn't even noticed sit down next to her. It was a young, dark-skinned man, and a human, of all things, far as she could tell. He was dressed in strange work-clothes, a walking stick resting against his chair, and he had an easy smile and a very open face as he regarded her.
"I saw you earlier. In the robes, right?" The young man asked his questions without reservation and the same friendly grin, as if they'd known each other forever. "Are you with the group come in to look at the strange disappearances?"
Nadia blinked, a little unsure of exactly how to respond to such blunt questioning from a person she'd never even met before, and it was especially surprising coming from a human in an elven establishment. The elves were notorious slave-traders, and there weren't many humans running around the city who would walk up to someone without invitation--had she been an elf, it would have been like asking to be beaten or arrested.
"I... yes, I'm working with Professor Lazugaudi," she conceded, brows furrowing. "I'm sorry, but you are...?"
"I go by Mudd-pleased ta meet you." He extended a hand to her, and although it was rough with that was probably hard travel, it wasn't the hands of field labor. The man certainly wasn't a slave, and he hadn't been in An'Arde long, not that Nadia minded.
She hesitated for a moment before extending her own hand out, and gave Mudd a good, firm handshake. "Nadia VonTrapp. Pleasure." It seemed her manners were still running on automatic, even when confronted by strange people. "You know about the people being brought in to investigate the recent disappearances?"
He chucked and took a swig of water from a flask he removed from his bag, and Nadia wondered if the innkeeper had ignored him. "Figured if there were folks running around from different magic schools then it meant they had to be some kin'a problem. Those missin' buildings are just the beginnin' of this city's problems, though."
The statement seemed very... self-assured, and she wasn't certain if he was referring to the magical happenings that were going on or if he was implying something in a more general sense about the city and its various issues. "What do you mean by that?" she asked, a little suspiciously, and wondering if he possibly knew about anything it..
"Did you know most cities are virtually the same?" The question seemed to come out the blue, as if he hadn't even heard her question. "Not, like, architecture or layout, obviously, but fundamentally same locations--post offices, jails, banks..."
"Nah, it's the little things that keep a city individual. Things they have that other places don't, the little inconsistencies that really give a place their certain feel," he continued on, not even looking at Nadia now, almost as if he were just talking outloud to himself. "Merge and make uniform, that's what's goin' on. At first there wasn't really much trickle-over, but it's been months now and time is runnin' out."
Confused, and more than a little irritated, Nadia snapped at the young man. "If you're going to ramble at someone like a crazy person, the least you could do is give a little context!" She was turned fully towards him now, grey eyes narrowed and looking him over from head to toe, as if trying to take him apart and figure out what he was. "I don't know what your game is, but what's happening here is serious and all you're doing is going off like your head is in the clouds. What did you mean, when you said it wasn't the worst of the city's problems?"
Mudd only continued to grin at her, eyebrow raised. "You really wanna know?"
Nadia's brows furrowed in frustration, nails digging into the palms of her hands while she tried to keep her voice down. "Well, of course! If you know something then it ought to be reported. People might get hurt!"
This was dismissed with a shake of Mudd's head. "Hurt? Nah, not hurt so much as just gone, y'know? Over edited. Merged once again with the great void--"
"What are you going on about?" she snapped, her irritation rising with each word out of the strange young man's mouth. "Make sense!"
Mudd paused at this, and his expression changed to one that was carefully neutral. He seemed to regard her for a moment, really studying her, and she wasn't quite certain what exactly it was he was seeing in those eyes. "You know," he started, a grin starting to break through the short-lived serious face. "At first I thought you might be more her type of person, but I think I like you just fine. You wanna know why, well, then you're my kin'a girl."
"Shame," Nadia growled as she started to move off the stool and collect her things--suddenly she felt even less like eating. "you're the exact opposite of my type. I don't go for strange men who speak solely in cryptic blather." He chuckled at this, but she was already beginning to think he took most everything she said more like a joke. Not that it mattered, since she was going to leave anyhow.
"Well, if that's the way you feel then I suppose I could talk straight to you. Tell you what I know."
Already halfway to folding her coat over her arm, she paused and glanced back to him. He had an irritatingly knowing smile on his face, much like the ones her professor would bait her with when he knew she was going to do something. One day she wanted to take that smug sort of smile and dash it across the pavement, just walk away and not give them the satisfaction of having gotten under her skin.
She said back down on the high seat, her coat on her lap. "Start from the beginning."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
His plan to continue hiding out until nightfall pretty much shot, Aldech had done what any sensible outlaw would have when confronted with half a unit of armed guardsman--he'd run like hell. Escaped had a better ring to it in his mind though.
A part of him reeled and raged at the entire ordeal, and he blamed it entirely on the thrice-damned scrap of paper he'd picked up. He was the Aldech Shaw, and he was too good at what he did to be so closely cornered by half a dozen soldiers. He hadn't even noticed they were approaching! It was a large blow to his professional and personal pride that he could count the pores on the young guardsman's nose. Aldech was sure that whatever happened had something to do with that meddling scrap of magical paper--what the hell kind of guard actually approached criminal head-on and shouted 'Halt!' ? He'd shoved the scrap of paper into his pocket as he'd fled, of course, just in case it might take some sort of offense at being left behind, but he was more than a little eager to be rid of the thing. For the moment, however, he was going to concentrate on shaking off his pursuers.
Down the streets and into the alleys, he circled in and out of people, jumping over larger items that might hinder the gentlemen in armor, such as piles of crates or rubbish, but it was late afternoon, and there were just too many people on the street to point out the right direction for the good men of the law.
So he went up.
Even in the full light of day, most people didn't bother to look up at the sky or skim the lines of rooftops--and why should they? What was important was usually on the ground anyhow. Aldech had no doubt in his mind that even so, someone would have seen him climbing the buildings, and the guards themselves would be looking for it. Still, it would take them longer to get up there in order to follow him that it would for him to scale a building and get a little distance.
The white skyline of An'Arde seemed to glow with the last of the evening sun sinking below the horizon, ocean glittering in the light, and even when running for his own safety, he had to admire the view. His eyes scanned the buildings as he sped along, glancing in through windows and searching out some place he could slip in unnoticed. He had the layout of the city down pretty well in his head, but it wasn't late enough for many of the more public buildings to be unoccupied, so he'd have to risk letting himself in somewhere and getting out before anyone noticed he was there.
A building caught his eye, one he'd been to a few times before, looking for information. It was a mid-level sort of inn, with decent food and openings to at least three different alley ways. So far he hadn't caught the sound of anyone following him, so even if they managed to catch him entering the building they'd have to split up in three directions to try and follow him. And, better yet, it looked like there was an open window...
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
"...I hope you know that I find the idea of some great, cosmic book holding ever story in creation suddenly undoing reality itself to be highly doubtful."
Mudd grinned at Nadia, who was rubbing her temple and looking very tired after his little explanation. "Well, that's a step up from thinkin' it's impossible, so I'll take 'doubtful.' 'Doubtful' 's all right."
Her head hurt. What he'd just told her defied reasonable explanation, and there were just so many questions buzzing around in her head. How did this apparent-book come to exist in the world? Why did it have sentience, if he had gone off on its own? Where the stories written in it as they occurred, or did the stories happen because they were written down? And who made it, and Mudd and the sister he'd mentioned?
"Is there a good reason I should believe this?" she asked softly, though Mudd caught the words.
"Because it's the truth?" he asked with a smile. If he thought he was being cute, he was severely overestimating his charm.
She considered this for a moment, weighing things back and fourth in her head before she slowly stood up and slipped on her jacket. "I... need to talk to Professor Lazugaudi. Whether or not this is actually true, I don't know, but if it's a possibility then he needs to know."
Mudd studied her carefully as she paid for her food, most of which was still left untouched on the counter, his expression curious and maybe just the tiniest bit hopeful. "Are you going to try and fix it?" he asked, his tone not sarcastic or patronizing, but simply curious.
"I have to try," she shrugged, quickly doing up her buttons. "We have to learn about this book, try to fix what it's doing, if we can. Professor Lazugaudi will know where we can start checking."
"...can I see that thing?"
Nadia glanced up at Mudd and saw that he was motioning to her necklace, an hourglass on a long silver chain, with silver-white dust inside, the symbol of her people. She paused, and moved closer and held it out towards him without actually removing it. Mudd took it carefully in his fingers, more carefully than she would have expected from such rough-looking hands, and turned the delicate thing around to get a good look at it.
"You know, I think you may actually be able to?" he asked conversationally as he studied the thing. "When a door opens, you'll just need... an opportunity."
There was a pulse of something in the air, magical but not, but before she could question him regarding it, he'd already let her necklace go and was standing up himself, grabbing his bad and his walking stick. "It's been very nice meeting you, Nadia VonTrapp. Good luck."
Nadia tried to say something in reply, but she blinked, and in that brief span of time he disappeared. She looked around the room, trying to see if he was slipping out somewhere or another, but it was if he'd never been there. No one seemed to have noticed he was their, let alone his leaving, and she was standing alone. Perplexed, she looked down at her necklace and noticed something different about it right away--tiny, intricate doors had been carved into the metal. She frowned and wondered what kind of magic he'd used to do it, but sighed and shook the thought off--it hardly mattered now, he wasn't around to answer the question anyways. She had to talk to her professor.
Turning on her heels, and making her way around the other chairs and tables, she wondered how her teacher would take the strange bit of information left with her by a human-like young man whose actual origins were highly questionable. He was one of the most tolerant and open-minded men she knew, but it was still going to be an interesting experience attempting to explain what she'd been told.
On the other side of the door was the hallway she had to take to get to the staircase leading upwards to the next level. She put her hand to the sliding door, and moved it to the left.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
The window was just wide enough for a man to fit through, and although the leap from the roof and through the window was a bit of a stretch, he had very little trouble slipping inside without a hitch. He rolled when he hit the floor and was on his feet in seconds, ready to reach for a knife, if need be. His eyes scanned the room critically, checking for traps, weapons, anything that could conceivably cause him bodily harm. It seemed to be devoid of people for the moment, but not unoccupied of customers--there were bags at the end of the bed, and a set of robes folded neatly over the chair by the writing desk.
Not wanting to waste a second, he set about starting to look through the room. The desks were empty, save for parchment and some quills, and a pouch of very fine sand used for setting ink. A quick glance at the robes was enough to make his nose turn up, just a little--they were Helcotz student robes, meaning this was the room of a magic-user. If he encountered them in the hallway it was going to be an interesting experience, so all the more reason to get out quickly.
He opened the bags and carefully gave the contents a look over, but they were nothing all that out of the ordinary--spare change of clothes, more writing materials and a few textbooks. Seemed the person occupying the room was a very serious student, if they'd brought their materials all the way out here, but it meant they probably weren't an elf if they were staying at an inn.
It had not been a good day for Aldech Shaw, and he was going to make the cleanest get out he could from a bad situation. Carefully he opened the door and peaked out into the hallway. It was empty, save for the last rays of dimming light coming through the window, and without a sound he slipped out of the room and closed the door gently behind him so as to remain completely silent. He glanced down either side of the hall, but there was no one in sight. From the next room over he caught the sound of a man's voice, but the tone was continuous and conversational, as if he was wrapped up in thought. He was safe to make his way downstairs.
His deerskin boots muffled the sound of his weight on the old wooden floors as he slipped down the hall and descend the staircase the an the bottom. Only a little further down was a door he recognized--a sliding door that led to the inn's bar. Beyond that was another hall, and three possible doorways leading to different alleys.
No one in the hall, just the general murmur of people beyond the door. He took a breath and let it out slowly, putting his hood up--a hooded man was not such an unusual sight in bars, and he did not care to create any more witnesses for the day. Reaching for the door, he slid it open to the right.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
They pulled the door open, and then they were gone.