The Mirror of Lies: Part II

By

Accipiter G. Goshawk

The story continues from where it left off in The Mirror of Lies: Part I.

Enjoy!

He couldn’t believe how quickly his luck had abandoned him.

Only an hour had passed since he’d managed to successfully penetrate into the fabled vault of Lady Portia Krix. One hour since he’d cracked the fiendishly difficult mechanism to her precious safe; one hour since he’d departed her residence with the Krix Sceptre under his arm.

Now he was hanging upside down in a dark alley only three streets from the Wounded Boar, his arms restrained by swirling eddies of green magic and the sceptre lying on the cobbles beneath him.

He cursed Yersch softly under his breath. The demon had grown too greedy and now Thorn was going to pay the price.

“I should’ve never even considered this job,” he thought to himself angrily, as he scanned the shadows, searching for his attacker.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” came the calm reply.

The thief’s breath caught in his throat as Lady Portia herself emerged from a dark alcove. Her eyes glinted dangerously in the eldritch light emanating from her clenched hands. She looked more annoyed than angry; one elegant eyebrow was slightly arched, as the aristocrat studied the thief.

“So, you are the infamous Shadow-skipper? I have to confess that I was expecting someone a little more…charismatic?”

She strode forward confidently and ignoring the fallen sceptre, moved to stand directly in front of Thorn’s upside-down face. In other circumstances, the thief would have relished the chance for a tête-à-tête with the striking dark-haired woman. Now however, he was only concerned with escape. Tentatively, he reached out to the dark space that Yersch usually occupied, his mind straining as he tried to ignore Lady Krix’s hypnotic emerald eyes.

He felt nothing.

“That won’t work, little thief,” she said, placing one gloved hand on the side of his head. He was confused: had he heard a note of pity in her voice?

“I’ve taken precautions so as to ensure that your pet won’t be interrupting our conversation. I apologize for your current discomfort, but we aren’t going to risk you disappearing again.”

“We?” he asked, suspicion suddenly flaring like wildfire in his mind.

“Well met, master Shadow-skipper. I was certain that you and I would soon cross paths again.”

Ukal Velirius stepped lightly off the roof of the building overlooking the alley and slowly floated down. His ornate boots barely made a sound as he alighted on to the wet cobbles.

“Law-master! I don’t have your Circlet! I am of no use to you!” Thorn gasped as he tried to struggle against the magic holding him prisoner.

“I’m quite certain you don’t, dear boy. I imagine that your demon friend consumed it; am I correct?”

The thief nodded in defeat as the small elf stared deep into his eyes.

“I thought so. I was also certain that it’s greed would force you to attempt more heists of the same kind. That is why I asked for Portia’s assistance.”

He bent over and retrieved the sceptre. He peered at it for a moment and then smashed it against the wall to his right. Thorn heard the sound of wood cracking and his face contorted in realization.

“It was a setup.”

“Correct,” said Velirius tossing the remains of the decoy-sceptre aside. “I was certain that your next attempts would target other members of the aristocracy, so I made a few calls. In a way, you were lucky that you chose to infiltrate Lady Krix’s estate; I doubt Lord Bohron would have been as…humane.”

Thorn shivered at the thought of the steel-eyed noble. He was well known for his cruelty and his hatred of thieves.

“I…I had no choice. I am compelled…I…He has my soul,” he finished dumbly. He didn’t expect any mercy; the nobles of the city despised commoners. He was perfectly aware that the penalty for stealing from the nobility was death.

“Please,” he rasped, as the blood in his head began to throb into a headache. “Please make it quick…don’t execute me in the square. I don’t want to be tortured.”

Velirius shared a glance with Portia. Then he turned towards Thorn, his expression oddly neutral.

“I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding; we aren’t here to kill you. I am actually of a mind to free you from your demonic possession. However I want something in exchange.”

“Anything! Name it and it’s yours! I’ll do anything to be rid of him!” the thief exclaimed. The hope he had felt when he’d first encountered the Law-master two weeks earlier flared in his chest once more.

“Very well. Once we have found the source of your condition, you must agree to aid us in securing the means with which to banish the demon. Once that is done, I would very much like to recover my Circlet; I believe that it won’t be very difficult to find. Then, I will require you to enter my service as an agent to the Emperor. After a ten-year period, I will free you of your obligations and you will be able to go wherever you choose. Are these terms agreeable to you?”

Thorn hesitated for a moment.

“What happens if I don’t uphold my end of the bargain?” he asked quietly.

The Law-master sighed.

“I will not hold the theft of the Circlet against you, should it prove to be lost forever. However, if you try to leave my service before the end of your term, I will make it my personal mission to punish you.”

There was no emotion in his voice. In a way, that scared the thief more than any yelled threat.

“Fine. I accept. But I have to warn you that I’m not sure I’ll be able to shake Yersch’s influence…he is powerful beyond your understanding.” His words echoed the demon’s own description of itself and for a second, Thorn felt confused.

“Let us be the judge of that. Very well, we may begin. Portia, if you would be so kind…?”

“Certainly, Your Excellency,” she murmured, stepping forward and bringing her hands on either side of Thorn’s face.

A look of concentration clouded her gaze. Then, her voice rang out like a bronze bell within the thief’s mind.

“Thorn Etheren. That is a beautiful name. I prefer it to Shadow-skipper.”

He felt himself turn red at the Lady’s compliment. He closed his eyes and immediately found himself standing in a long hallway; Portia was holding his hand.

“Thorn, I need you to take me to the day you met Yersch. We need to understand him before we can get rid of him. Could you show me?”

Pictures appeared in the long corridor of his mind: his time on the streets, his rise to fame…his childhood.

“There,” he said, pointing at a painting on a far wall. Immediately it floated over to them; it appeared to be a portrait of a comely woman, dressed in the clothes of a seamstress.

“Your mother?”

“Yes,” he answered softly. His gaze however was fixed on the simple silver mirror lying on his the bedside table. The portrait morphed and followed his gaze, until the silver surface of the mirror took up the whole painting. Thorn recoiled, as Yersch’s horrible features emerged from within, grinning toothily.

You cannot hide from me, slave! I will collect my debt! You are mine!”

“Ignore him,” said Portia, gripping his hand. “Here, he is only memory and thought. Show me what happened. Take me to that day!”

A storm had begun to rage around them and tendrils of smoke where now pouring out of the mirror, moving towards the young man’s neck.

“I can’t, I can’t…,” he moaned as the demon took a step towards them.

“This is the first challenge you must overcome to be free of him! Only you can defeat him!”

“I can’t…I’m too weak,” he whispered as smoke wrapped around them. Dark laughter erupted from somewhere within the dark miasma and Thorn began to shake.

“You are not! His power is only an illusion; observe him! Don’t turn away; look him straight in the eye.”

He felt her hand in his own and for a moment, he let go of all fear.

He turned to face Yersch.

Immediately the smoke lifted and the demon disappeared, leaving behind only the painting and an empty hallway.

“What happened?” he asked, peering over his shoulder to make sure that his tormentor had truly left.

“That thing is not as powerful as it wants you to believe. So far, it has resorted to illusion and trickery to cow you into servitude. By choosing to truly look at it, you have taken the first step towards freedom.”

Thorn sighed deeply.

“It feels good.”

Portia smiled and led him forward towards the painting.

“Good. Now, let us see where Yersch originally came from. Are you ready?”

A look of determination slowly settled on the thief’s features and he turned his gaze towards the portrait.

“Ready.”

Without as much as a backward glance, they stepped forward and disappeared into thought and memory.-

The story continues in The Mirror of Lies: Part III

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