Today we begin a series of series of sketches of 20 original fantasy heroes who have been conceived in the mind of our own Robert Rhodes. Rob’s fiction has appeared in several venues and he has been named a finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. We’re proud of Rob and pleased to publish his work. We’ll also showcase several works of art which Rob has chosen to accompany his sketches. Be sure to visit the artists’ websites to see more of their portfolios.
The merchant lord’s library is deliciously quiet in the dead of night. She lifts the enameled coffer from his desk—an elegant piece, but stern cool steel nonetheless—and turns it until its lock rests in a window-twisted fall of amber from a streetlamp below. It is the chamber’s only illumination, as the cursed blessing of moonlight is rare in the cloud-cloaked skies above Cassant.
She draws two picks from a belt pouch, crouches, and begins. Slow waves of bronze roll through the darkness as a temple’s bells mark the hour. She could work the picks more forcefully now, trusting the bells to mask their rasping. Or she could wait, to ensure she notes the faintest footstep in the hall. Tonight she will not wait; she slides and twists the picks. In the echoing of the last bell, the lock clicks.
There are gold and silver coins, of course, and a velvet bag bulging pointedly with jewels. A quartet of keys. A stained signet. Papers and, bound in black ribbon, the lord’s will. But her fingers touch only the velvet bag, and that only long enough to remove the folded scrap of parchment hidden underneath. Hidden the night before by her mistress—mentor, taskmaster, savior—in the lovely confusion of the lord and lady’s elaborate supper. She unfolds the parchment and tilts it toward the window to reveal a single word in one of her mistress’s stark scripts.
She bows her head and smiles thinly. She crushes the parchment, tucks it beside her picks. In moments the coffer is repositioned, and she is stepping lightly through an attic toward the octagonal window that will return her to the night. But as always, she pauses to send her spirit down into the darkness, past bedrooms and parlors, into the servants’ quarters where—she knows with certainty, her heart a cold white flame—girls such as she was seven years before, thin girls with sleek golden hair, toss or cower in their sleep.
She does not know the names of the girls below, but she has also renounced her own. In the North, though, where her people thrived before a disastrous war, there soars a white falcon that dives like lightning upon its snowblind prey. Nor is it falcon, but a name unique to their tongue.
It is her name now. And one day—soon—she will not merely practice ventures such as this. With ashes she will blacken her rapier and dagger, fasten them to her belt. She will unlock the secrets of as many lords, priests, and merchants as she must, in Cassant and beyond; she will hold them to their throats like blades. Those who will not waver, she will end by poison, ‘misfortune’, or steel. She will strike like a bird of lightning, time and again, until they annul the slave laws and free her kinsmen. Every last one. Until that day, she will sleep with no blanket or pillow, drink no liquor, consume no sweet, embrace no man. She will not rest easily, and—soon—neither will the powers of this splintered kingdom.
She climbs from the attic window and balances on the rain-slick roof. A gust of wind stirs the black silk with which she has veiled her bright hair. Another gust and moonlight silvers the vast city—around her, its balconies of stone and wrought-iron, its grinning gargoyles; in the distance its warehouses, towers and spires, rising on both sides of the misted river, its sluggish lifeblood. She pulls away the black silk, shaking free her hair. She lifts her face to the silvered darkness, breathes the rain-scented wind. Then she leaps, dropping onto a stone balcony, sliding down a drainpipe, as the clouds seal shut again. She dashes through the cobbled streets, skirting pools of lamplight and patrols of red-cloaked gendarmes.
The shadows, and the future, are hers.