Stacks and stacks of irrelevant paperwork littered Haun’s desk. Nothing helped carry his investigation forward. None of the pieces fit. He wondered how long the Sun King would give him to produce results. The Emperor was a man of action not words. When he spoke, things happened. There was no discussion, no debate, no time for reflection or interpretation.
If you couldn’t get things done, couldn’t put things into motion, you were easily replaced.
Haun could feel the hand of time hovering over him like an executioner’s axe. He rubbed at his neck nervously, heedless of the eyes he knew were watching him.
Since his visit to the throne room, Haun imagined invisible assassins hiding in plain sight in every corner of the palace. He broke out in a sweat when he remembered the sight of the golden-sashed Grand Master appearing out of nowhere. It unnerved him. How many Shadows infested the throne room itself? The light of the sun flowed through them as if they weren’t even there.
More disquieting was when his assigned Shadow finally put in an appearance on the day of Borta Dolan’s death. The man materialized out of nothingness right in front of Haun’s desk, staring the Grand High Warden down. Haun felt on the verge of a heart attack that day.
In hindsight he was thankful for the grace the Sun King was affording him. It was a great privilege to see a Shadow and live to draw another breath. He’d done it several times now.
Haun learned that the spook had appeared in his office less than an hour after the Dolan family’s unfortunate loss. The Shadow had never said a word and offered nothing but a slight nod before disappearing again. Later on, once he put all the clues together, Haun came to interpret the nod to mean the job was done. A deputy Warden had burst into his office some time later with news of the murder, forcing Haun to issue orders for an investigation he knew would yield no evidence.
Haun felt sure the Shadow had been standing there taking in the whole episode.
Over the course of the next several days, Haun used the traditional investigative methods at his disposal in addition to sending out the Shadow with orders to sniff out the roots of rumor. Neither his investigators nor the sable-garbed sneak found any evidence of the rumor’s origins. The gossip within the Houses said the Dolan family was planning an uprising. In fact, such word had even become common knowledge on the streets, and so citizens were quietly choosing sides in the coming conflict. Many feared another gang war was about to erupt across the city, a gang war that would be in truth cover for open conflict between the Great Houses.
Haun gripped a report from a Quester regarding a building fire in the northwestern ghetto. An entire building had gone up in flames, killing over two hundred citizens and displacing even more families. Preliminary engineering reports indicated three of the five remaining buildings on the block might have to be condemned because of the damage. Usually, Haun would be unconcerned over such things once peace was reimposed and maintained. Reconstruction and housing were concerns for Public Works and Social Welfare.
But not this time. Eyewitnesses stated the fire was the result of a riot. Two factions of House servants had faced off against one another in a ground-level pub. Butlers and porters from merchants associated with House Dolan were set upon by servant from a rival House. Before long, menials from other factions were choosing sides, throwing themselves into the fray. Fists were thrown, chairs were broken, and tables smashed against the building’s exposed fuel plumbing. One unfortunate spray onto an open flame and the building exploded.
The war between Houses had claimed its first casualties.
“Two weeks of investigation,” Haun vented aloud as he crumpled the report in his fist, “two weeks of probing and what do have to show for it? Nothing.”
Haun mopped sweat from his brow as he railed. The black clad Shadow, his unwanted partner, stood in unconcerned silence—offering nothing, saying nothing, initiating nothing—as usual.
“The least you could do is offer some help,” Haun told the Shadow without thinking.
For the first time in their short relationship, Haun saw emotion reflected in the Shadow’s eyes. Narrowed with anger, anger at Him. Haun blanched in fear as the assassin spoke for the first time.
“An unsheathed knife is useless. A javelin must be cast to find a target.”
“What does that mean?” Haun shook his head in confusion.
“An unopened gift has no value. A letter cannot speak until it is sent.”
Haun was a coward, but a crafty one. He clamped down on his fretting and focused on the Shadow. “You’re telling me something,” he said, tapping his nose with his forefinger. “What’s your name, my cryptic friend?”
“So, Eyses, I think I get what your little riddles are saying.” Haun leaned back in his chair. “I’m not using you properly. An arrow is pointless until shot, you might say.”
“An arrow’s point is neither dull or sharp until it takes flight,”
Haun glimpsed a hint of eagerness in the assassin’s eyes, something just short of a smile. “You’re saying I need to release you, is that it? I’ve sent you into the Great Houses to spy more than once. Hasn’t that been release enough?”
“A horse is not free until given its head.”
“Ah,” Haun fathomed, “you want freedom of movement. Make your own decisions where to snoop next. If you can get me results more quickly, then done. Go wherever you need to go with my blessing.”
“A tiger without claws becomes the prey for the wolf.”
Haun nodded. “Defend yourself as necessary. Kill if necessary, but don’t get caught.”
“A Shadow leaves no imprint.” Eyses gave a short bow and evaporated away.