For Desi, number two of a lot of Story Starters.
The translation read: peel open to find the truth, but only when ready for the consequences.
Gehlen fiddled with the scrap of paper he had found tucked in the corner of the mirror frame. He had plucked it off before he shrank the mirror to a size it could be easily managed. The mirror now rested in his jacket pocket, the size of a post card. The message was a code, of course, written in a dialect of goblin that few people could read. It wouldn’t fool the Order, but it would confound them.
The tall, thin man took a moment to make sure he was alone. One couldn’t be too careful, not in these times. The tavern he was holed up in was old and passed over by the rich and timid for the newer ones along the Main Street. Only a red-headed dwarf shared the common room with Gehlen.
Gehlen was a wizard. His power was called the Sight, though why that was had been lost in the forgotten sands of time. He reached inside and drew on the warmth of the fire of magic burning in him and drew apart the piece of paper. As he did so, the words dissolved and formed an entirely new sentence, this time in the language of the shadow elves. It was even harder to decipher because the glyphs were written in a singular order and rearranged themselves after each reading.
First mate compromised, now his eyes see for Order.
The breath went out of Gehlen in a quiet sigh of almost-despair. So much was rallied against them, and the enemy grew stronger every day. At times, it seemed an impossible task to make it so the Order couldn’t just bring those with the Sight before the mirror and exterminate them one by one.
He waited for more, but there was none. The situation was so dire, he was left to his own devices. That way the orders couldn’t be intercepted. No one knew what he was going to do because even he didn’t know what he was going to do.
What am I going to do?
The First Mate had been contacted and agreed to aid a single fugitive to get out of Merivia fast. He was given no more details than that, but of course he would suspect with all the propaganda the Order was putting out, who wouldn’t? Whether the Order had paid him or tortured him, it made no difference to Gehlen.
They will be watching the boat, Gehlen knew. To try to get on would be suicide, not just for myself, but for our cause. I have to find another boat.
He reached down and felt the purse of coin he carried. It was not much. He had mostly silver, and only two or three pieces of gold. The gold would be risky – anyone paying with gold was to be reported. Perhaps he could be away before the Order came looking for him.
Well, Gehlen told himself in the most enthusiastic manner he could, I’m not doing anything useful by sitting here.
He stood, put a copper on the table for his drink, and left by the back door. Pedestrians were sparse on the streets, and Gehlen drew his cloak tighter and lowered his face so the few would not be able to get a clear look. He took a circuitous route to the wharf and waited in the shadow of a narrow alley to make sure no one was tailing him.
When he was convinced that he was indeed alone, the wizard stepped out to view the boats. A dozen skiffs of local fishermen were dotted here and there among their giant cousins. Three were incorporated merchant vessels. A passenger would be suspect on any of these, and a stowaway would be keel-hauled. Two ships not flying colors were at the far end, probably in for repair.
Then his blue eyes lit on the most likely option. A small ship, double-masted, flying independent colors. It was difficult to tell in the twilight, but Gehlen thought he could make out a dolphin and a trident over a slash of gold. It was probably one of the small countries south, that traded with Merivia. It didn’t take long for the wizard to make up his mind, but he still needed a plan to get on.
Something presented itself in the next moment, catching him off guard. A train of men carrying frames of cloth, fruit, and other valuables marched around the corner, towards the southern ship. With a glance, Gehlen counted fourteen men and assessed they were no more than manual laborers. Gathering his wits, he quickly threw together something that wasn’t completely suicidal.
Again, Gehlen reached towards the warmth of his Sight and used the magic to disguise his face and cloak him in the appearance of a dock-worker. He fell in behind the last man and took hold of the back corner of the frame. The man in front of him looked back when his load lightened, but his eyes only saw a sunburned man with a beard and a dull gaze.
Gehlen sweated as the supply master of the ship inspected the goods and marked them off on his ledger. The master wore a fine jacket with the insignia of the Order pinned in plain view. Gehlen thought he spent longer than was necessary examining the boxes of fine china on Gehlen’s frame. Twice the supply master’s eyes flicked to Gehlen’s face, but they registered nothing but mild contempt.
Gehlen plodded up the gangplank and set down the boxes. Quick as a flash, he slipped behind before anyone noticed. While they were buys unloading the freight, he snuck down to the hold and hid behind the barrels of fresh water for the voyage.
If he was caught, he wasn’t sure he would be able to talk his way out of it, and the penalty for stowing away was harsh. He changed his hold on his Sight, his false face melting away to the sheen of general invisibility. One step at a time, he told himself. One step at a time, and at last we will reach the end of the journey.