Prologue: First Cause

Humbert breathed deep as he moved along the south hall and considered his next obstacle: the lock on the door of the duke's office. He'd practiced for many years on any number of different locks, and although he had a fine touch, there were certain styles that still gave him trouble.

As luck would have it, the duke employed a well renowned lock and one admittedly difficult for most thieves – but Humbert was not one of them. Wth a grin and deft hands, the thief slid the tension bar and rake into the keyhole, and shuffled the pins that held the lock secure. The lock gave with an audible click and Humbert cringed as he slipped through the open door.

Humbert stood silent as his eyes adjusted to the dark. He dared not spark a light. The duke was not to return for another day, which is why he could be no light in the office. At least there was little chance of being interrupted. It'd only take one guard paying attention...

Humbert's vision adjusted to the dark and he stepped behind the duke's desk. He worked on the drawer locks and pulled them open one at a time. In the first, he found a great deal of correspondence. He glanced at the names of the senders and wondered what sellable secrets the documents might hold. He thought the duke's enemies might pay a minor fortune to see them – he certainly had plenty of enemies! But the thief wasn't after intelligence. Still, he stuffed several envelopes in his shirt just in case... He preferred a quick score. Besides, the duke employed a good number spies and selling letters was a big risk. To Humbert, it sounded like a good way to get his throat slit and his body dumped in a shallow grave.

But if he couldn't find more immediate riches...

In the top right drawer, Humbert found what he was looking for: a heavy purse, thick with gold coin. He lifted the bag and thought there must be a couple hundred gold sols in it! It was more than enough to see him north in search of the ancient mystic Lasitus. Next to the coin was a musket of fine crafting with a pearl hilt. Humbert took the purse and the musket. He fiddled the lock on the last drawer and wondered if he wasn't being greedy. He already had enough – more than enough.

The lock clicked. The drawer slid open in a smooth, quiet motion. Among several pens and ink wells, Humbert found an elegant dagger with a jeweled hilt, and a second bag of coin: this one full of silver diems and lunes. With two fine weapons and two bags of coin, Humbert felt he had more than enough and ought not to press his luck searching for more. He gently pushed the drawers closed and prepared to leave.

As he passed by the corner of the desk, a fine wooden box caught his eye. He stopped. Immediately, Humbert thought it was a trap. For a long second, he stared at the detailed box. He was bold with victories already won. He ran a finger along the decorative carving. He could not resist.

Humbert held his breath as he lifted the lid. Inside the box was a fine chain of silver with a locket attached. The necklace had the weight of a few lunes. Thanks to fine crafting it'd be worth a good deal more. Without a second thought, Humbert slipped the necklace over his head and thought of the trinket as a lucky charm, and one last piece of plunder.

If Humbert only guessed at the reason the necklace had a special place on the duke's desk, if only he let the simple keepsake be, Duke Creigal berDuvante would have left the investigation of stolen coin and a few garish weapons to his lieutenants. He would not have troubled himself with its retrieval. But when he found the locket missing – Daphne's favorite – Creigal was consumed with a rage, and personally devoted himself to Humbert's capture.