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There had been another.
Or so his doorman was trying to tell him, with an infuriating sluggishness. He watched the man's decrepit mouth fumble, almost comically, as the words he tried so hard to sugar-coat kept evading his narrowly-minded mental grasp. Finally the doorman’s blinded hunt ended, and he announced it blatantly, with an equal amount of apology and fear in his falling gaze.
“Sir, you've been robbed.”
There was a moment’s hesitation before he followed the news with a reticent hush and receding step.
The owner of the manor, Mr. Paladin Hadar Dahab, acknowledged his servant with a single prolonged, nearly thoughtful, hmm. As per usual, Mr. Paladin refused to disrupt ritual and handed his doorman the travel weary leather case, one that had been comfortably suited in his grip for the last half day. His placid face gave not even the slightest indication to the mountainous rage that had his heart trembling. The moment’s hesitation was his part to play now, and it was a solid minute before he had accommodated for the fury. His tone was colourless as he began another of his rituals, one that had been recently adopted by both him and his doorman.
“What did he take?”
“A signature pen this time, sir.”
Mr. Paladin nodded, accepting the inconsequential theft. The pen meant nothing. It was the vulnerability it symbolized that constantly brought him to his knees.
“Everything has been examined and recorded?”
The doorman nodded once, a stiff and formal confirmation, traditional in this situation.
Mr. Paladin pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling right on queue the intensifying pressure behind his right eye. He hated the unknown and inventible more than anything, and it seemed to him these days that his thief was both. There existed a tenacious relationship between him and this intruder.
“Looped, or faked, same as the last set."
The doorman helped Mr. Paladin shrug off his jacket before hanging it on the same venerable rack it spent the majority of its life on. He looked back once, almost with envy. If only shedding his rage were as simple.
“Show me where.”
The doorman nodded swiftly and stepped forward underneath the front door, leading Mr. Paladin through his own house.
Emerging into his grand hall was one of the very few things that brought Mr. Paladin relief. He was always moved by the colossal set of stairs that greeted him upon his returns home. The wide marble steps always polished to a gleam, complimented totally by gold trim that kept the smooth white rock contained.
He didn’t stop in his walking to look, but knowing the upward pathway existed, and was firmly rooted in place, helped dim the anger inside.
The two sets of shoes echoed throughout the manor as he was led deeper inside his apparently open home, the floor material never changing from its crystal appearance and sound. After the fourth robbery, at least the forth he was aware of, he’d had the masons install the loudest floor possible.
Little good it had done.
The air changed, and Mr. Paladin could have announced blindfolded that he was now walking through the vast archives of his library. It was the only other place he felt even remotely at peace. Truly at home when within the confines of paper walls. He inhaled once deeply, allowing the passing peacefulness to take control for a second. Then the air was once again humid and the comfort faded.
The walk concluded when his doorman halted before a single mahogany desk in one of his many offices, pointing to the scene with a slight tremor.
“It was a standard golden, sir. Used for the signing in 07.”
Mr. Paladin sighed with a heavy indignation. He knew his possessions better then anyone, and had long ago begun the long weary process of putting them all to memory. He would not lose to this thief because of a lacking effort.
“I know which pen it is,” he snapped annoyed.
The doorman bowed low, unwilling to let Mr. Paladin see his eyes.
With a gentle and practiced hand Mr. Paladin began his inspection of the desk, searching for anything and everything as he did time and time again.
He ran the palm of his hand along the serene wood, feeling for any irregularities. The first natural disruption was his world map; spread almost from corner to corner covering well over half the surface. On it he scanned the delicately hand drawn work for a calling card or signature. He found none.
He moved on, facing now a journal wearing its age like it did its cover. He blew off the dust, ignoring the doorman’s cough, and flipped meticulously through the pages, ever searching. With a dissatisfied exhale he moved over again. The eternally dark professor’s lamp stood towering over Eastern Europe, spilling its shadows across half the world. His exterior check found nothing, and with what once could have been a glimmer of hope, he flicked the switch. Light dashed out and onto the world, illuminating cities he knew personally would never see the light of day.
But other then the light lie, there was nothing amiss.
He fell back and sank heavily into the uncomfortable arms of his chair, the thief had yet to leave a clue and he knew there would be no mistakes. The person doing this was in many ways like him. He imagined his home the workplace of this other, and the thefts the work.
They would continue to be impeccable crimes because, like himself, the thief lived for little more then ruthless attention to detail and perfection in a warped world. The only progress he would see would be invitation.
Mr. Paladin thought about this as he let his head slump to the back of his chair, so he was now staring at the softly rippled ceiling above.
An invitation from his thief would need to be earned, and had perhaps already been sent. The worthless losses meant this was a game, and when Mr. Paladin put himself in the shoes of one such being, he realized he would soon initiate another stage of it all together.
The question of how troubled him though. What grand ploy was needed to bring in someone like him?
He straightened his neck and hunched over the desk once again, anticipation building subtlety in his lower chest. He followed the western coast of Africa with his eyes, passing Namibia, Angola, The Congo and Gabon, looking for his mark. He traveled west, coming to the coast of Salvador, Recife and Fortaleza, looking for some sign or misplaced border. He would not leave his home defenseless for a second longer then he had to, and he would follow every possible lead, no matter how unlikely.
His gaze bounded across the Atlantic Ocean and he found himself staring at North America with the same sense of hope his ancient ancestors had.
It was as his eyes brushed the words ‘Labrador Sea’ that he felt the small sense of hope and fear in his chest flower into something so much more dominate. The small irregularity in text had his diaphragm disobeying his brain, causing his breaths to come in anemic and shallow pulls.
He hated looking weak in front of his doorman, but there was no form of control to be found.
He cleared his throat once, and then again. Still the words were shaky.
“Bring me the diamond magnifier."
The doorman leapt to obey, leaving Mr. Paladin alone in his study, alone with his thoughts.
His thoughts raced faster then was understandable, leading him to places in his mind that evoked only fear.
But it was simply a dot on a map.
But it hadn’t been there before.
Certainly a spill of some kind.
It was his doorman.
He was ill?
He was playing a game in which he had yet to learn of his opponent.
Yet to learn the rules.
The fleeting sound of shoes on his crystal floor brought him out of his head, and by nature, he looked to his watch, surprised to see an entire 10 minutes had gone by.
The doorman reentered, and stretched out his hand, dropping the magnifier into Mr. Paladins open palm. The mans face was cardinal with effort, and his cheeks expanded and contracted quickly, marking his hurried run.
Like a bat out of hell Mr. Paladin dropped the expensive device onto the map, and shifted it so its monocular eye looked down upon the words ‘Labrador Sea’.
With a haste that hurt, he closed his left eye and hovered his right above the sight.
There, in the middle of the water, rest the anomaly island. Two devastating words and a question that Mr. paladin could almost feel physically.
He read a second time.
Then a third.
Could it truly be a game?
The answer ‘no’ came instantly to mind, but strangely went no further. Mr. Paladin couldn't sound the vocal word itself, finding his throat constricted at just the thought.
No, not fun. But… he had been bored a long time.
“Are you ill sir?”
The quavering voice startled Mr. Paladin, and forced his consciousness back into the study.
“Yes,” he answered truthfully, hoping the regal answer would coerce his doorman back into silence.
Without waiting to find out either way, he stood quickly, ignoring the instant lack of blood in his head.
In a absurdly confused tone his doorman mistook the answer for the further need of his services.
“What's next sir?”
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