Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chapter 4: The Wizard's House

Revised chapter 4 of The Wizard's Pearl

            It hadn’t been Gabriel’s plan to run into Finnean and Toby that night. He had forgotten about them in the midst of Seth’s arrival. It was luck, then, or fate that had him walking the same path that Finn and Toby were to reach The Circle. Toby had looked angry, ready to chastise Gabriel for lying to him and forcing Finnean to lie in turn. But one look at Gabe’s face had Toby rethinking his words and whatever boiling hurt he had felt at Gabe’s betrayal left the moment he heard Gabe’s story about Seth and the job he was supposed to finish by midnight.
            “You promised you wouldn’t go back to stealing again,” Finnean said, giving his brother a disapproving look.
            “That’s what you got out of the story?” Gabe snorted. “I just told you some jackass is in our apartment and blackmailed me into lifting this thing from some wizard and the only thing you can say is ‘you promised you wouldn’t go back to stealing’? Thanks, Finn. You really know how to look through the bull to find the heart of the story.”
            “Stop it,” Toby said, having been around the twins long enough to know that they could bicker and argue for hours without skipping a beat. “One thing at a time, yeah? What exactly did he blackmail you with?”
            “That’s not important,” Gabe said, quickly changing the subject. “It was a risky move, I’ll give him that, but it worked and now they know they have something to hang over my head whenever they want me to do something for them. After this, I’m stealing those pictures back, do you hear me?”
            “You promised you wouldn’t go back to stealing!” Finn said again, glaring at his brother this time.
            “Shut up about the stealing!” Gabe hissed. “My hands are tied and if you want us both to go back to our lives than I’m going to have to do this one last job. If I don’t, we can both end up in the clink and I am not going there and I refuse to let you end up there because of me.”
            “Both of you relax,” Toby interjected again, needing to be the one voice of reason between them. “If Gabe’s in it this deep then we really don’t have a choice. Even though Finn is right, now is not the time to get into who said what.”
            Toby closed his eyes and thought of Luna and Aidan. They were waiting for him to return home. He should have just gone with Finn and forgotten whatever Gabe had planned. It all seemed to go awry anyway. “We’re coming with you,” Toby said succinctly, knowing that he could barely go home knowing that his friends were in trouble.
            “Like hell you are,” Gabe laughed. “No offense, but what do you know about breaking and entering? I don’t think you’ve crossed the line once since we’ve known you.”
            “Gabe does have a point,” Finn said, shrugging his shoulders. “You aren’t the most quiet of people and we’ve been doing this far longer than is safe to admit.”
            “Oh, now you’re on his side?” Toby frowned. “Look, if you’re going then so am I. I’m not entirely sure I’ve forgiven you about lying to me and if the only way I can be certain you’ll make it back here safe and sound so that I can give you a piece of my mind is by going with you, then by the gods that’s exactly what I’m going to do. You owe me, Gabe. For all the times I watched out for you and stuck up for you, you owe me. When we return after this is all over, you will tell me why you thought it was necessary to send Finn to distract me while you were sneaking into the Gallagher’s store room.”
            Gabe grumbled beneath his breath and turned to his brother. Finnean shook his head as though replying to a thought that they both shared. “You’re taking both of us,” Finn said. “You’ve heard how stubborn Toby is about this and you’re not leaving me behind.”
            “Fine,” Gabe spat. “But if either of you get us caught-”
            “We won’t,” Toby said, feeling strangely confident. “It’s not even an option. We won’t get caught and we’ll bring Seth the ball.”
            “I will bring him the ball,” Gabe said before adding, “And not because I’m in it for the fame - don’t look at me like that, Finnean. It’s the way that Seth talked about this job. He was scared. Not only that but he came to me instead of doing the job on his own. Something else is going on and I don’t think it would be a wise decision if you both were with me when we turn it over. There’s just something -”
            “Not right,” Toby filled in, his voice distant. “I feel it too. But it doesn’t matter. First thing is to get the ball, and then we can discuss who will deliver it.”
            The two brothers exchanged another silent look before Finn nodded. It was strange but the atmosphere between the three of them suddenly changed - shifted. He had never known Toby to show an interest in taking the lead but now, it seemed to come as natural to him as breathing.
            “Let’s get moving,” Gabe said, pulling his coat tighter around his shoulders. While Finn seemed to be in awe of the new found confidence in Toby, Gabe was more wary of it. He shivered, feeling the strange sensation of being lead to his doom. He didn’t like this and with every minute that passed he liked it even less.
            Toby followed as Gabe lead him down a winding path of side streets and alleys. They seemed to be avoiding any area where others could see them and that made sense. The light was dim now - soon it would be completely dark and the grey in the shadows would hide their forms. He felt an odd sense of excitement fill him and his steps grew light, almost as if he instinctively knew how to walk without making a sound. It was true, he had never really wanted to go with Gabe before and he had been pulled along from time to time but this time was different and he could feel it deep in his body.
            He could sense things that he couldn’t before, his eye sight seeming to melt the dark into shapes. And something was pulling him, luring him on. It was mad to think and he was sure that if he confessed his thoughts to Finn and Gabe he was sure they would declare him unfit to continue and brush him off. But Toby didn’t want to go home. He needed to do this, to go to the Wizard’s house and to find this ball - whatever it was. It was so important and more so than just for Gabe and Finn’s sake.
            “Toby?” Finn asked, seeing the strange change in his friend. He had never seen Toby so focused before. It was almost frightening to see that with every step, Toby seemed all the more anxious to get there. “Are you alright?”
            “Of course I am,” Toby said, grinning at Finn. “What wouldn’t I be alright?”
            “You just seem... different.”
            “Different? From ten minutes ago? It’s your eyes, Finn, they must be going. I’m just anxious to get this over with.”
            Finn frowned as Toby walked ahead of him, catching up to Gabriel. Something was off with Toby and Finn had such a bad feeling about what they would find. Or worse, that Toby would end up making a mistake that landed them all in so much more trouble. It was one thing if Gabe or Finn landed on the wrong side of the police but Toby had a family that cared about them. Finn would never forgive himself if he was the reason that Toby lost that family he so happily found.
            “Pick up the pace, Finn,” Toby said, looking back with a smile. “Gabe says it’s only just around the corner.”
            “Yes, yes, I’m coming.”
            The houses grew larger as they moved closer into the center of town. This was where the rich lived, the ones that held high positions in the local government. Wealthy merchant homes made up the outer circle but even they were separated from the true upper class - the Wizards. A wire wrought fence separated the two, as though the wizard class felt the need for protection from the less fortunate. It was a laugh, Gabe thought as he climbed up the fence and hopped over. The fence actually trapped the wizards, making them such easy targets for cat burglars and petty thieves alike. By living together in a large community, the wizards ensured a rich pay day to any who was brave enough to venture past the walls.
            Gabe had always been brave enough.
            “It’s the third house on the right,” Gabe said once Finn and Toby were over the wall.
            “What are we waiting for?” Toby said, winking at Gabe as he took off, moving swiftly in the dim light. Gabe frowned and looked back at his brother, his own mood sinking just as quickly as Toby’s seemed to rise.
            “I don’t like this, Gabe,” Finn said, confiding in his brother as they closed the distance between themselves and the house.
            “It’s just a routine job,” Gabe shrugged.
            “No, I mean him - Toby. There’s something wrong with him. Ever since you showed him the picture of the ball he’s changed.”
            Gabe wanted to brush his brother’s worries off but he couldn’t, not when Finn was right. “We’ll just have to keep an eye on him,” he said with a sigh. “If he gets too unpredictable I’ll count on you to help me drag him out.”
            “And the ball?”
            Gabe was silent. He knew that no matter what they would need to get the ball if they had any hope of putting Seth off of their backs. “Just help me, Finn,” he said, reaching out to touch his brother’s hand. “Please. I’m sorry for dragging you both into this mess but... help me.”
            Finn squeezed his brother’s hand affectionately before he lifted it and swatted at the back of Gabe’s head. “Idiot,” he said with a smile. “I always help you no matter how big the mess you get me into.”
            “What are you two doing?” a loud whisper came from the third house on the street. Toby was standing in the garden, hidden in a darkening shadow. For a moment Finn thought he saw Toby’s eyes glint in the dying light but, no, that was just his mind playing tricks on him.
            “Calm down,” Gabe said, seeing how jittery Toby was as the other boy was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. “We need to take this slow. I don’t know the layout or where the ball is located. All I know is that these are Wizards and we need to assume that they have certain traps set up to protect against anyone who wants to break in.”
            “Right, slow,” Toby said, looking up. But he couldn’t go slowly, not now. He needed to get inside. Once there he was sure he could find the ball. How he knew that was something he really wasn’t focused on. He just knew it and the longer they waited outside the more anxious he felt.
            “How far do you think that balcony is?” Toby wondered out loud, a plan already formulating in his head.
            “Are you mad?” Gabe hissed. “Maybe you should wait outside - be our look out. Finn and I will find a low lying window and check to see if there are any warding spells that-”
            Toby didn’t let Gabe finish. He crouched down and jumped, his hands closing around the metal bars of the balcony. He swung there for a moment, feeling the exhilaration of dangling in the air before he pulled himself up. Below him, Finn and Gabe stared up in shock. There was a good fifty feet of space between the ground and the balcony. No one should have been able to leap that high. And yet-
            “He must have climbed,” Finn reasoned, seeing Toby grin down at them and give the two boys a wave.
            “Climb what?” Gabe said incredulously. “Do you see anything he could climb?”
            “Maybe there’s a drainage pipe or the brick is crumbling.”
            “He jumped,” Gabe said his voice still quiet. What in the hell was happening here? “There is no way he could have climbed the wall. He jumped fifty feet from a standing start.”
            The air was calm, almost too still. Finnean shivered.
            “Hey, the window is opened up here,” Toby whispered down to them, his mind completely focused on the task at hand. He didn’t even stop to think about the impossible feat he had just accomplished. His mind was completely on that ball - the Pearl. How he knew it was called the Pearl he wasn’t sure. It might have to do with the strange attraction he seemed to feel for it. Toby needed the Pearl, needed to touch it and hold it in his hand. He would do anything to get it.
            He reached for the window and he paused only for a moment. A bell rang in his ears and he winced. It was an alarm of some sort but it only seemed to ring for him. The bell stopped just as soon as it had begun and it was then that the whispers started. He couldn’t make out what they were saying but it was as if the voices were calling to him, beckoning him to enter the house.
            “Wait for us,” Gabe called up to him but Toby seemed to be mesmerized. He watched as Toby slipped his hand into the open window, opening it a bit more before disappearing inside. “Toby! Hey, come down and let us in. Are you listening to me?”
            “What’s wrong with him?” Finnean asked, seeing the way Toby completely ignored them. It was almost as though he had forgotten the reason they were here. Something was wrong. Something was most definitely, horribly wrong.
            Gabe cursed before he turned to the nearest window. He dug beneath his shirt and pulled out a small necklace with a grey stone on the end. A rune was carved into the stone - Gabe used it on most of the jobs he was given in the Wizard’s district. It was a neutralizing stone. Any spell that the Wizards would have cast to shield the windows and other entrances was dispelled when the stone crossed their borders. It was a skeleton key for Wizards and Gabe kept the fob very close to him at all times. If any found out how he was able to do the impossible jobs then he would be a target himself and that was something Gabe was not keen on happening.
            He took the fob and placed it on the sill of the next window. He waited, counted until five before he placed the stone beneath his shirt. The window was unlocked and Gabe made easy work of lifting the glass pane before he slipped inside. “Wait here,” he whispered to Finnean. “I’ll get Toby and the ball and meet you. You know what to do if you see someone.”
            “Be careful,” Finn warned Gabe.
            Gabe nodded, knowing that they were far beyond being simply careful. He turned and let his eyes adjust to the darkness inside the house before he began to navigate his way through the lower level. He hated that this was a blind job. He should have known it was all pear-shaped before he started and this was just damned icing on the cake. When they got out of there he was going to knock some sense into Toby’s head. His friend must be touched in the head to act like this and Gabe knew exactly the sort of medicine to cure the sort of madness that had you running around and acting like some damn hero in an adventure story. Gabe had been on the receiving end of his fair share of beatings for that very same reason and he wasn’t about to let someone else’s delusions ruin his reputation or land him in jail.
            He moved silently through the house, listening to the sounds around him as he slipped across the room (the dining room by the looks of the furniture and the fine crystal that was being held in the cabinets around him) towards the hallway and the stairs that lead up to the second floor. Small creaks above him indicated movement and Gabe held his breath, not wanting to make a single sound. He didn’t know if the owners of the house were sleeping or if they were out for the night. Again, he cursed the circumstances that landed him in this damned situation. After he thumped Toby for running about like a lunatic, he was going to murder Seth for being the jackass that plopped this job in his lap.
            Gabriel reached the top of the stairs and he turned, counting his heart beats as he waited, listening to the house. The silence could be deafening but in the quiet even the smallest noise sounded like a crash. He could hear someone moving in the room down the hall which could only be Toby. The floor was soft and carpeted so Gabe was able to move quickly down the corridor towards the room. He wanted to begin a systematic search of the rooms but he couldn’t, not without knowing what Toby was up to. It was a liability to have him inside the house and until Gabe was absolutely certain he wasn’t going to muck everything up, Gabe couldn’t finish the job.
            He reached the door and pressed his ear to the wood, listening to the sounds that drifted through. Gabe could hear a rustling as someone opened and shut different drawers and objects, clearly in search. Gabe frowned before he pushed open the door. The window was open, letting the moonlight illuminate the study. Toby stood by the wall with a strange look on his face. He seemed hypnotized as he ransacked the room dumping papers and books on the floor. His mouth was moving as though he was muttering to himself, growing more and more agitated as he went.
            “Toby,” Gabe said, growing a bit more frightened now. He walked over to his friend, reaching out to touch his shoulder when Toby’s eyes widened - his focus completely on a box he had pulled from the shelf. The look on Toby’s face was so terrible that Gabe pulled away, unable to do much but watch his friend.
            “It’s here,” Toby whispered to himself, caressing the box almost affectionately as he lifted the lid. A pale pink glow filled the room, making Gabe feel as though his skin was crawling. It was a repulsive light, making Toby’s face appear hallow and sunken in. The other boy didn’t seem to mind, in fact, his eyes were filled with a frantic joy as he reached out to touch the ball.
            A loud, harsh caw reverberated in the room and pulled Gabe’s eyes from Toby’s face to the large black bird that had appeared at the window. At first, Gabe couldn’t understand why a bird would suddenly show up at the window but when the creature shifted and a tall, thin man stood where the bird had been Gabe remembered. “Magpie,” Gabe breathed, remembering the few times his path had crossed with others. They were bird creatures, able to shift between a large crow and a human form. Just as the Wolves, they were not common in the cities but as they were hopelessly attracted to anything valuable and shiny, the Magpies were becoming far more attracted to the Wizards and their riches.
            This one seemed to be just as focused on the ball as Toby was - mesmerized and completely taken in by the appearance. The man reached forward and with a speed that was only a blur to Gabe, the pink ball was in the Magpie’s hand. A snarl appeared on Toby’s face and his eyes seemed to glow, highlighting the oddity of them - one green and one blue. The Magpie had been about to shift again, moving his hand with the ball up to his mouth so as to carry the object in his ‘beak’ when he saw the glow of Toby’s eyes. Gabe watched as the Magpie’s mouth opened wide and the pink ball fell to the floor, bouncing and rolling towards Gabe.
            “Caspian,” the Magpie said his voice high-pitched like the voice of a crow.
            A growl came from Toby’s chest as he took a step towards the Magpie, his hand out to his side as if he was holding something. Gabe lunged for the ball and covered it, using a piece of cloth he kept in his pocket to pick it up just as the something in Toby’s hand turned out to be a long staff that he used to swing at the Magpie. The man took one look at the staff and cawed, shifting just in time to miss being hit by the staff. The bird took off, flying off into the night and leaving the two boys in the study behind him.
            Gabe pulled the ball to him, careful not to let it drop to the floor once more. There was something about the ball that made him want to stay very far away from it. There was an ugly, dirty feel to it and Gabriel would be happy when they dropped it off. Let Seth deal with the creepy thing.
            The moment the light was gone from the ball, Toby collapsed on the ground. Whatever Gabe had seen - the strange staff suddenly at Toby’s fingertips and the brightness of his eyes - was gone now. Gabe wasn’t even certain if it had been there in the first place of if he was just seeing things. He highly suspected that the pink ball was a magical item that could make a person see strange things. That was just what they all needed, a damn ball that created hallucinations. As though they hadn’t already seen enough weirdness tonight.
            “Toby,” Gabe said, careful to keep the ball away from his friend. “Toby, are you alright?”
            “Gods, my head,” Toby whispered, his hands moving up to rub his forehead.
            “What in the hell was that?” Gabe asked him, refraining from giving Toby the thumping he had been dreaming about in the hall.
            “What in the hell was what?” Toby asked, his voice sounding very small and weak.
            “That staff, your eyes, the glowing pink ball - take your pick!” Gabe snapped before he took a breath. “Never mind. Can you walk?”
            “I... I think so,” Toby said, pushing himself up off of his knees. He felt so strange and he couldn’t for the life of him remember where he was. He had a vague memory of Gabe telling him about a job - something about a ball but after that his mind went hazy and … pink.
            “Where are we?” he asked as he followed Gabe out of the room.
            “Not now. Outside,” Gabe whispered, needed to keep his voice down just in case the Wizards, who he assumed weren’t home since all of that commotion would have woken even the living dead, returned home. “I’ll explain it all when we get outside because, to tell you the truth, I have no idea what I just witnessed. No idea at all.”

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