Shocked, Courtney tried to run around the counter, but by the time she’d gotten around it Anders had already thrown the old bookseller to the ground.
Whipping out a small strip of paper from his pockets, Anders slapped it on the struggling man’s forehead, at which point the struggling seller suddenly went limp like a broken puppet. “Here,” Anders said, thrusting the book the man had been carrying into Courtney’s hands, then he whipped out a scrying mirror.
Courtney looked at the book, “A Study of the Grey Fawn-Mouse” it was called, but a quick check with mage-sight revealed nothing unusual about it, it was a normal book, with the only exceptional thing about it being a rather nice rendering of a fawn-mouse on its grass green cover.
Moments later, Vulfang and Jorah slipped inside the front curtain.
“Check upstairs, watch for traps.” Anders ordered, and the two men rushed past and up the spiral staircase at the back.
“Sir, this book..?” Said Courtney, now somewhat confused.
Anders, who was now rooting around through the seller’s pockets, didn’t bother to look up, but began to explain. “Courtney, what color are the books in the front window?”
This caught the young woman by surprise, she hadn’t really thought about it. “I don’t know”, she admitted. “Should I go look?”
She caught Anders rolling his eyes and decided to stay where she was.
“Brown,” Anders told her. “Most decidedly brown. All of them.”
Finishing with the seller and not finding anything, Anders shifted his attention to the rear of the counter. “Why place a bright green book among a collection of brown ones in a front window?”
That’s when it hit her.
“A signal, he was sending a signal.”
Anders nodded. “Somewhat late, but at least you finally arrived at the proper conclusion. Didn’t you notice how his manner changed when I mentioned the scribe? He clearly wanted us gone, and there had to be a reason for it.”
Finishing his search without finding anything, Anders stood up. “No scrying mirrors, or other means of signaling. So you’re holding the one we want.”
Courtney looked down at the book again, impressed. She never would have thought of that.
“Anders, upstairs!” Jorah called down.
“Cover the door, but don’t let them see you do it.” Anders ordered, gesturing at the wooden boards that lay next to the entrance.
When she’d done as he ordered, Courtney checked the bookseller to be sure he was still out. A large black and purple blotch was starting to form on his temple where he’d hit his head when Anders had thrown him down, but the sleep talisman Anders had used was firmly stuck to his forehead. He wouldn’t awaken until someone removed it.
Then Courtney slipped up the narrow stairs and into the upper level. The place was a messier version of the store below, with cushions for sitting and clothes strewn about. She followed the sounds of her comrade’s voices into another room, and through a hole which had been knocked in a side-wall. Next to the hole, a hanging carpet lay crumpled on the floor- the hole’s former covering.
Inside what Courtney took to be the abandoned building next door, she found her comrades standing around the edges of a large, empty room. The only illumination was from a half-covered rear window, but it revealed nothing but an empty room, the middle of which Anders and the others were peering at carefully.
She was almost going to ask why, but suddenly she stopped herself and did the obvious thing- she switched to mage-sight.
The moment she did, it literally all became clear.
The room which looked so darkened and dusty under normal sight was actually ablaze with lines of yellow and orange magic everywhere. The majority of it was concentrated around a circle in the middle of the room about the diameter of a wagon wheel, which was what Anders and the others were examining. Moving closer, Courtney could see the very tight weaves of the circle’s structure, and recognized the sharp angles of Hathiri style weaves.
“A casting circle for a mind control spell.” Jorah said, before she could ask for confirmation. “This is where they did Biddleton.”
Anders nodded. “Vulfang, take Courtney up on the roof and do a survey of the marketplace. Find out who was supposed to catch that signal. Jorah, I need to know how many times this thing has been used. Can you do that?”
“I can try,” said the gentleman, slipping down into a crosslegged position next to the casting circle.
Vulfang clapped Courtney on the shoulder. “Let’s go, kid.”
Following the large man up a ladder at the back of the building, the two agents crept low across the roof, before they reached the edge, Vulfang stopped her. He pulled a hood up to hide his broad, shaved head that we gleaming in the midday sun, and motioned for her to do the same.
Instead, Courtney shook her head. A moment’s concentration later, she vanished from sight, her Armor of Saltea throwing a stealth weave over her whole body. If she moved there was a visible distortion, but as long as she was still she was effectively invisible.
Now Vulfang was the one to be impressed. “Must be nice.” He said, shaking his head, then the two of them dropped to their elbows and crept forward to the front edge of the building.
“Look for anyone showing a lot of interest in the building,” he told her. “After seeing all of us go in, they should be getting pretty antsy about now.”
Courtney started to indicate she would, then remembered that he couldn’t see her, and just settled down to work. There were a lot of people on the market street, but all seemed to be busy going about their business and showing little interest in anything to do with the bookstore. She started checking the other buildings as well, and while there were many open windows, almost none were occupied.
After a few minutes, Vulfang whispered “Check the bun seller.”
It took her a moment to find him, but sure enough, partway down the street was a bun seller’s stall, and she saw the turbaned head of a skinny man pop out from behind the edge of the stall and look at the store beneath them. As they watched, he casually walked out and past the store, pausing to try to get a look inside the window of the bookshop, and then continued in a look back to his own stall.
“Not very professional, is he?”
Vulfang smiled at her comment. “He’s just a little extra hired help. You keep watch, I’ll report this in.”
A few minutes later, he was creeping back up beside her again.
“You can leap around, right?”
“Yes,” Courtney said. “Like a rabbit.”
“Good. Here’s the plan- Anders is going to put the book in the window, and we’re going to see what he does. If he runs, you follow. If he sneaks off to use a mirror, we grab him.”
It made sense, and Courtney said as much.
So they lay there on the hot roof and waited. This is where her armor had a decidedly large disadvantage, Courtney decided. While the stealth weave was active, her armor was manifest around her in the physical world, but it had no system for cooling, and literally became a wrapper she was stuffed inside. It didn’t physically get hot, but it did keep her from cooling and so she suffered from a real chance of overheating if she exerted herself in the armor or was in a hot environment with it on for too long.
She wanted to pull back and release the armor, giving herself a chance to breath, but it could be needed at any moment, and she didn’t want to look weak in front of Vulfang. So instead she lay there, getting ever more uncomfortable in the midday sun.
Then, just as she was about to retreat and escape from her personal prison because she couldn’t stand it anymore- something happened.
Using mage-sight, she could look through physical barriers and see the pale green and yellow silhouettes of people. Behind the bun-seller stand she watched as he summoned a boy, gave the child something, and then sent the boy running down the street.
“You’re up. Keep in touch.” Vulfang told her, and Courtney pulled back from the edge, stood up, and began running across the rooftops in pursuit of the boy. The buildings that didn’t share a wall had only small alleys between them because of the dense need for space, so it didn’t take much for her to keep up with the boy.
She used mage-sight to track him as he sprinted among the awnings and between the sellers and their stalls until he ducked into a restaurant two blocks away. It also let her follow his progress as he made his way through the crowded tables to finally stop next to a man, give him something, and then leave.
Ignoring the boy now, she crouched on a rooftop across the street and waited.
After a few minutes, the man casually got up and walked to the back of the restaurant and out a rear doorway.
Sighing, Courtney took a look down at the market street below, did a quick estimate, and decided her odds. Then she took a couple steps back, and with a running start threw herself into the air over the street. Thanks to the magical enhancements of her armor, she soared over the sellers and bystanders to land with a hard crunch on the restaurant roof with room to spare.
Not having time to be be impressed with herself, she dashed forward to the back edge of the roof and looked down.
The man was alone in the back alley, and was unrolling a piece of paper on top of a wooden barrel. As she watched, he pulled out something and started to write quickly on the paper, scrawling down a message. The paper shone with a light orange tint, so Courtney wasn’t surprised at all with what happened when the man was done.
He pulled out a knife, cut the tip of his finger and dropped a little blood on the corner of the page. Instantly the paper came to brilliant orange life as the blood activated the spell and the paper was transformed into the shape of a messenger bird about the size and shape of a pigeon.
This was her time to act, and Courtney took it.
Vaulting over the edge, she dropped down from above and grabbed the bird, then, before the man could react to the invisible demon he faced, she backhanded him into the wall, rendering him unconscious in a cloud of yellow alley dirt.
“In you go,” she said to the bird as she grabbed the sack the man had been carrying and stuffed the magical messenger inside.
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