FF Story Winner: A Storm of Shadows by Jonathan Ryan

I have been a member of the Fantasy Faction forum for getting on for five years now and one of the best things about the community has been the writing contest – it’s only 1500 words so come give it a goContest winners were posted on the website but that hasn’t happened for a while, so I’ve been asked to fill in. It’s an honour to do so, and here is another winner.

The theme for the competition when this story won was “Break the rules: start your story with a description of the weather”, and the winning story is “A Storm of Shadows” by Jonathan Ryan

Pale, broken moonlight danced across the brewing waters of Lunala Lake as the encroaching storm rumbled in the distance, banks of iron clouds toiling across the darkening sky, heralding the fury that followed in their wake.  The merchant city of Calathea was quiet in the distance, the sprawling metropolis settled in for the night, safely sheltered within the shadow of the Daggerline Mountains from the worst of the coming weather.

The small lake house several miles outside the city, however, would not find such comfort as thunder growled beyond the mountains.  But that suited the thief perfectly as she steered her small vessel through the choppy waters of the lake, easing the rudder towards the private dock built along the shoreline.  She cast the anchoring rope along the dock as she scrambled onto the slippery stone and tied the noose to steady the skiff, keeping a close eye on the lake house as she worked.

No light, no movement, no sign of any inhabitants.  But she remained wary.

Breathing deeply as the wind set her golden curls dancing to its tune, Rayne Emblyn checked her gear beneath her midnight cloak and dark fitted clothes.  Satisfied, she drew upon her well of magic and summoned her power.  The shadows pooled about her, caressing her, inviting her into their embrace and she gladly stepped into it.  She was a wraith, a living shadow as she strode purposefully down the dock to the shore and the dense undergrowth beyond.

The thief kept to the darkness the tangled canopy provided, invisible within her shadows as she surveyed the lake house.  All remained still, quiet.  She sent tendrils of liquid night ghosting towards the house, probing for any sign of magical wards.  Her emerald eyes narrowed in suspicion when she found none.  Surely, he couldn’t be that reckless.

But it’s possible he is that stupid, Rayne mused as she approached the back entrance and slipped inside the property, the lock of the carved oak door quickly giving way to her small pick tools.  

The lake house was a graveyard of couches and armchairs sheltered in dusty white sheets arranged around an exquisite marble fireplace. The floors were a richly coloured mahogany but smothered in a fine layer of dust and grime.  Her booted feet slid effortlessly across them as she prowled from room to room, her magic probing ahead of her seeking any sign of life.  Rayne marvelled at the beautiful artwork that adorned the walls, some artists she even recognised from her contacts among the merchant city slumbering across the lake.  A veritable fortune lay here, unguarded, everything of value kept in plain sight and left to gather dust.

Or so the ruse would have me believe, she thought wryly as the probing shadows uncovered what she sought.  Her magic guided her to the polished oak doors of a study.  Leather bound books and rolls of parchment littered the floor and shelves, but it was the back wall that drew her attention, as she spied her shadowy tendrils clawing at the wooden bookcase.

The thief drew back her magic and examined the books set neatly along the shelves, the shelves themselves and the floor beneath.  Nothing was immediately evident, no seams cut into the stone indicating a hidden door, no hinges or handles of any kind.  Drawing on her power, Rayne pressed her shadow wreathed hand upon the wood, sending a small wave of her magic through it and felt a faint thrumming emanating from behind it.  The thief smiled as she recognised the type of magic, a rune-lock door.

You are far more cautious than I gave you credit for, Mr. Lemaire.  But there is nowhere I cannot go.

Rayne dipped a little deeper into her well of power as she drew her magic back to her, bathing herself in the darkness of the flowing shadows.  She let the darkness course through her, envelope her like a second skin and pervade her entire being.  She was the darkness.  The thief could feel the seams in the wooden floor, the minuscule crevices between the stone walls, the spaces in the pages of the books.

This was her playground; her world and she was its god.

Once she was certain of her path, Rayne released the magic and herself along with it.  Her shadow-self dissipated and flowed through the channels her magic detected in the air, the wood and the stone as she passed through the rune-lock door into a hidden chamber beyond.  The shadows coalesced, reforming into her physical body.  She always felt so heavy afterwards, like her limbs were chained with weights after flying free.  But she was all too aware of the dangers of maintaining that form for too long.

She shook off her discomfort and surveyed the room, her gaze piercing the gloom with a spark of magic.  A small work desk and chair were set against the rear wall, with some small display cases adorning each side, laden with rare and exotic idols and artefacts.  What she sought would likely be locked within the desk.

Quickly, she approached the work desk, pried open the drawer and rummaged through piles of paper until she found the ledger.  Her excitement grew as she leafed through the pages, her verdant gaze roving over the well of information contained within.  This was what the High Circle had hired her for, this information that could turn the tide and wrest the city back from the control of the Lemaire family.

And hopefully gain my freedom from the Guild.

She pocketed the ledger in her cloak as she readied herself to leave, her escape route mapped out in vivid detail in her mind.  Rayne summoned the shadows to her again and ghosted through the air, wood and stone back to the study beyond.  She was about to reclaim her corporeal form when her magic detected movement in the hall.  Rayne quickly darted into the furthest corner of the room where she could meld with the shadows there and wait to observe the threat.

“I know you’re here, Rayne,” A tall, broad shouldered man entered the doorway, predatory onyx eyes scanning the shadowy gloom of the study.  His blood red hair was tied tightly back into a stylized tail, hanging down to the waist of his dark grey, fitted clothes that emphasised the contours of his well-muscled body.  His smile did not reach his eyes as he prowled in, “Come out, come out poppet.  You know I’ll find you in the end.”

Rayne shifted from one corner to another, feeling out the pathways and channels in the air and gloom for a way passed this man she hated more than anyone.  Mohle Tamorak was the lowest kind of thief.  He had no pride in his skill and would as soon slit your throat for a score than do some honest to gods thieving.  He would sell her out to the Master without a second thought.

And any chance of freedom will vanish.  I need to leave, but how?

She could feel the strain of maintaining her shadow form beginning to take its toll on her.  It would be dangerous to keep it going for much longer.  If she could create a distraction it might allow her the room to flit through the doorway.  Rayne began to feel her magic ebb away, but she dug deeper, drawing more than she ever had before, drawing enough to feel the edges of her limits.  But she needed it, anything less would mean the end of her.

Rayne cast her magic into the study and formed a shadow that resembled her as closely as possible.  She hoped Mohle would take the bait and move towards it and almost whooped in delight as he drew a wicked blade and rushed towards her shadow.  As quickly and quietly as she dared, Rayne maneuvered through the channels of air and shadow and darted through the open doorway.  Her shadow-self dissolved as she reclaimed her solid form and burst into a dead sprint through the lake house, Mohle’s scream of frustration following in her wake.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s