by William Guo
Art by Advait Patil
Issue: Aphelion (Spring 2016)
First it was the blacksmith.
Then it was the priest.
And then the third one fell into my hands.
“Please, I would like to make a deposit.” The man pushes a large book into my hands. The book has leather bindings, and is well worn. From a glance, it seems to be a record book, but nothing of value.
“Any box is fine, I’ll pay upon pick up,” he whispers, and he rushes to the exit.
On the way, he keeps looking over his shoulder, each turn revealing a rough unshaven face. There are grey whiskers on his chin and cheeks, and stubble creeps down his neck too. He has deep bags under his eyes, and a frantic crazy look in them.
A step away from the exit, he stops. “Keep it safe!” and he runs out the vault, careful to cover his face with his coat.
My words hang on the empty air, and I don’t bother to tell him that he hasn’t even taken the key to the correct deposit box.
I look at the book, and flip through a few pages, but there isn’t any writing worth reading in it. In fact, there aren’t even words, just numbers. A logbook, perhaps? There are rough sketches smeared on the borders of some of the pages.
The light catches the edge of the spine, and I take a look at what caught my eye. There are gold engravings running down the book. The art spirals around the edges of the spine, and is cleverly done.
I bring it to the light, and right along the spine’s end, there’s a small gap, a thin black line running perpendicular to the pages. I take out a small sharp pocket knife and ease through the gap. A long box, a bit thicker than a deck of cards slides out of the spine, cleverly concealed behind the bindings. I open it and take out a small package wrapped in cloth. A brilliant blue opal the size of a small egg rests in my palm. It couldn’t be…
A cold fist closes around my heart, and I quickly return the small object back into its hiding spot. I place the logbook into a deposit box, and hurry to close and lock the vault door.
Torrence. I had to see him. He would have answers.
It was the third gem of Karth to join its sisters gems in my possession. Their previous owners both disappeared, and I suspect that the mysterious raggedy man would not be returning to claim the book.
“It is said that these gems granted immense power to whoever had possession of them,” the man before me says through a silvery beard.
“But the creators of magic relics were gone long before Karth had even been created,” I said, and I watch the old man knit his eyebrows in thought.
“Aye, but the king was rumored to have been granted magic armor and weapons for his selfless deeds. What’s to say that that didn’t include the Queens’ gems?” he asked.
“Torrence, you’re the historian. I didn’t ask you about rumors, but of what you actually knew about them.”
Torrence grins. “Well, no one knows if they ever existed. They aren’t even of particular value because no one has seen them before. But what I think is most intriguing is how curious about them that you are. Why the sudden interest?”
“Sea divers from the North have said that one of the treasure hunters in the area found a shipwreck, and retrieved a chest with something of immense value in them.”
Torrence leans forward, his eyes gleaming with excitement and something else, something which I can’t quite place a finger on.
“What was in it?” he asks.
“From what I’ve heard, they were gems-” I start.
“How many? Of what color? Which ones?” he asked, teeth flashing.
“I have no idea, it’s just speculation.” I begin to grow uneasy about the glint in his eyes.
“Well, okay, maybe I was not being very straightforward about the gems’ worth,” the old man said, straightening his back. “They are claims to the throne, and are said to have been made by the Tiaren blacksmiths.”
“You said they weren’t of any value!” but he raises a withered palm to my protest.
“And I told the truthYou really can’t put a price on them.” Fingers lightly drumming the table, he focuses his eyes on mine.
“Do you have one?”
I barely manage to pass off my flinch and I try to hide it with a smile.
“No, why would you think that?”
“No one asks about value unless they have something in it for them,” he grins, and the same light from before appears in his eyes. They look like the eyes of a hyena, and I realize that it is hunger.
Breaking from his gaze, I realize just how tricky it was to deal with someone like Torrence. He had an uncanny ability to read others, and it was said that the entirety of his library’s collection was won from high stakes poker games he played.
I clear my throat. “I don’t. I can’t anyway. The job description unfortunately does not allow me to keep anything valuable.”
“That’s to keep you from being able to be manipulated. Besides, everything in the vaults are valuable. You guard them, so what more could you need? All the valuables are like they are yours.”
I shifted my feet, and he continued.
“Recently, I’ve taken to studying these vaults, and I’ve found something that might be of interest to you. I’ve been reading up about these vaults you know. Apparently if the owners of the vaults do not return the items that were theirs become property of the vault owners?”
Torrence chuckles as he takes a fat book at the top of a large stack of records on the table and casually opens it up to a bookmark.
“Should the patron not return for his belongings, the patron’s possessions will be forfeited to the vault. If the patron does not return within a year of his signed due date, or is deceased without an heir to the vault, his possessions will be forfeited to the vault. The job of the vault and its guardians are to keep safe the material things of a person, and nothing else. No loyalty shall be born to any person, city or country. See index IIV for details on the rights of the possessors, Vault allowance and Maximum capacity.” He closed the book.
“Convenient, is it not?” he smiled. “So, what do they look like?”
“Don’t play stupid. Everyone knows about the men who were murdered. And the last place in town that I hear they were last seen was exiting your vault. There were also some rumors that they had something to hide. Something good. Something precious. And, well, now they’re dead, and naturally their possessions in the vault are now the vault’s.”
The doors suddenly fly open, sending dust spiraling upward and they catch in the afternoon sunlight. Three men step in, all of them in dark cloaks. They are tall, and move with an unnerving precision. Two of them assume take the left and rightmost sides of the library and begin to move down the aisles of books.
My hand goes to the weapon on my belt. I quickly slip back between the aisles row of books behind us and press myself against them. Torrence does the same, and he nods at me to move toward the stairs.
Torrence stops moving, and glances at me. He steps toward the railing and calls out, “Hello. Can I help you?”
A crate of papers explodes, and bullets rip through the quiet library.
Torrence fought for his breath.
“Holy shit, that was quick.”
The other two men pull out guns and begin to pepper the railings of the library’s top floor of the library with lead.
“THIS IS MY LIBRARY, MOTHER FUCKERS!” Torrence grabs a lamp from off the table and chucks it at the men.
I shoot over the railing, not bothering to aim precisely, and grab Torrence.
“We have to get out, man,” and I pull him toward the stairs.
One of the men charges up toward us and I empty out the rest of my clip at him.
His body tumbles down the stairs.
We manage to run out make it out to the side entrance of the library, but not before the walls get riddled with holes, and the two of us are showered with plaster.
I reload, prepared for the worst, but we manage to get away. Torrence flags a taxi, and we flee toward a different town.
We get off at an inn, and I check myself for any scrapes while Torrence takes in a few breaths, hand over his heart.
I glance over at him.
“You all right?”
“Not quite as agile as you are I’m afraid. I ought to exercise more.”
He finally manages to get his wheezing under control.
“I’ve got a few confessions to make.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“I know that I’m not known to play hero, but every time there is a conflict, I always side with the greater good.” He turns away.
“I’m not proud of what I’ve done,” he continues, “but sometimes you have to play from a bigger perspective, see the bigger picture. And That means making hard decisions, even if it requires you to make sacrifices.”
He takes out a small pouch from the inside of his jacket, and pulls out a tightly-wrapped scarf.
“Here,” he says.
I tentatively take the small package and realize what is inside. I tentatively unwrap it to find four ← add small description and then perfect!
“I had to do it, Aaron,” his eyes lowered.
“You murdered them?”
“Not with my own hands, but indirectly, yes.”
“These gems aren’t just gems, you know. They’re symbols of status. Of power. And most importantly, the people who gain possession of them these are often unaware of what these they are,” he says, holding one up to the light. “They are keys to the kingdom, they could be sparks for revolutions, and right now? Right after the Reconstruction?”
“They’re huge responsibilities, Aaron. They’re loose ends. And the worst part is that there are seven of them! Seven!”
“I’ve been hunting these damn things down since the first one was found in the mines of Viru. I didn’t believe that they existed at first,”
I nest the precious stones back into the pouch.
“But the lines between legends and reality began to blur as I kept searching. Right and wrong gets harder and harder to differentiate.”
Torrence turns to look at me.
“I’m getting old, and I don’t trust anyone to be their keeper.” The old man looked at me with new eyes.
“But I get it now. You’re the way out. Take them into the vault. Let the vault be their keeper. I don’t care. Just make sure that no one will after can have them.”
“You would just give them up?”
“I never wanted them.”
“I just had to make sure that no one else would ever have them. I needed to make sure they were safe -that everyone was.”
I watch the vault doors shut one last time before walking out the door. I hand the keys over to the next vault keeper before exiting.
“Keep her locked tight, you never know what might be in it.”
I resigned my position in hope to forget about the whole Karthian fiasco, and to finally wipe my hands clean from it. I had lost too much sleep trying to think about what I should have done with the jewels.
But I know, deep in the dark corners of my mind where those gems are, and what power they had over men.