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“What are you doing in my house, you thieves?” Lady Folling asked. Her frizzy dark hair hung to the side of her face, which, with the fear surfacing, mixed with her defiance, gave her a surprisingly vulnerable and youthful look, despite her middle age. It almost made Simon think they had made a mistake.

“We heard you were a painter and thought to appraise them ourselves,” Tandrel said, flashing a smile as he rested his arm on David’s shoulder and leaned on him. David glanced up at him grumpily.

“You mean steal them, no?”

“Don’t jump ahead, please.  Appraise them, see if they’re worth the effort, and then steal them, sell them, and make a nice profit. We have good connections, surprisingly. You’ll feel honored to get such a high price for them. Although, of course, you yourself won’t be getting the money. But that’s no problem for you, seeing as you’re nobility and all. Your selfless contribution to the world and our pockets through your art is quite amazing.”

Lady Folling clenched her fists, not meeting their eyes. The dimly lit estate covered her face in shadow. “My painting are the only things that keep me sane in this place. After all the abuse I’ve been through, you would dare take them from me?”

This had gotten too personal. He almost wished he could call off the mission. Tandrel, however, acted mercilessly. “Your abuse? As if you knew what that was. Besides, you can always paint more.”

With a cry of fury mixed with anguish, Lady Folling shot twin icicles from her hands, meant to impale them. Although they had expected something like this, it still seemed foreign to Simon that this woman, almost a girl, could do something like that. He jumped away barely in time. The icicles crashed harmlessly into a wooden wall, just a few feet from one of her paintings, a dark and haunting scene.

“Careful now, you don’t want to damage your work. I hear moisture is bad for preservation.”

“So is light,” she said quietly, breathing deeply for a moment. A ray of darkness shot out at them, sucking away any light near it. This they had not expected. Who was this woman? Someone more messed up than they had originally thought. Dodging that, they ran deeper into the house, splitting up. Folling followed Simon, for some reason, so he knew what he had to do, even if he felt lost in this house.

Sliding through corridors, never letting her get a good shot, he made his way to the main parlor, hopefully. He dodged under another blast of darkness, making sure her footsteps still echoed behind him and pushing down wooden chairs and tables behind him to slow her down.

For a moment he didn’t hear her and paused to look behind him. Mistake. She still chased him, but now floating above all the fallen furniture and coming at him faster than ever. He saw a large stairwell on his right going down to what looked like a big open room, maybe the parlor.

Running at full speed, he grabbed the ballast and used his momentum to swing him at a right angle and stumble down the stairs, using the railing to keep from falling. Windows lit the space, revealing two men talking on some sofas. They looked up to see Simon coming down. Immediately, one of them, who wore armor, got up.

“So there are thieves here!” He began to draw his sword when Lady Folling’s shrieks filled the air. Everyone paused as she floated down the stairs, flying after Simon. He jumped out of the way of another ray of darkness, sucking in the light from the windows for a moment. Then she realized she had company.

“Ynette, what have you done?” Lord Folling, the other man, asked, shaking his head. Her expression wilted from rage to defeat in less than a second.

The armored man also shook his head, sighing. “I’m afraid I will have to report this to the judges. I expect the Knights of the Dragon to personally look into this.”

Lady Folling turned white. She managed to gather some indignation. “And this thief?” she asked, gesturing at Simon, who lay on the floor supported by one arm.

“Have you stolen anything, boy?” the man in the armor asked woodenly. Simon shook his head. “He is but a trespasser. Get out.” Simon scrambled to his feet. “Yours is the real sin here, Lady Folling. The nobility are prohibited from using magic, and Dark magic doubly so. I hold little hope for you.”

Lady Folling looked wretched as Simon left. “You’ll pay for this, thief!”

He met up with the others soon after. “So it worked?” David asked. “Our tip off to the city guard got her caught in the act?”

Simon nodded. Her last words would haunt his dreams for quite some time. David continued, “So what do we get out of this, again?”

Tandrel smiled. “Some of those painting look pretty valuable. And she won’t need them where she’s going.”


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