Intrepid Stories: Annabel Ashwick

The following piece of short fiction is about a character in something I’m working on right now. Benjamin Feehan has recommended that I do little character pieces like this to get warmed up for the new project, and the idea intrigued me enough to get after it.

All of my flash fiction work is an exercise in exploring some meaningful character trait, emotion, or situation. As such, these are examples of first drafts of my work. I read through these things once or twice, but I don’t hire an editor for these works. Ye’ be warned!

Annabel Ashwick hid behind a rock outcropping and watched as the jeep raced through the Saharan Desert at breakneck speed, kicking up a trail of dust behind it. The setting sun lit the dust-up like a giant desert bonfire.

Finally, Annabel thought. She had been waiting for the Occultis agent for over an hour, which wasn’t a long time to wait for someone to cross this portion of the Sahara, but it was an eternity to wait for an Occultis agent, for whom time and space meant very little if the prize was worth it. She had hoped the discovery of an ancient Templar vault would be enough to attract their immediate attention.

At this rate, Keegan would be left wondering what she’d been doing all day. He didn’t know she was an Exilium agent, fighting for equal rights among the Illuminati. In fact, he wasn’t even Illuminati –– the masquerade maintained his ignorance of the supernatural world. The irony of him being a private investigator entertained Annabel.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want him to know. If she worked for Occultis, she would have to ask permission to include him in their world. As an Exilium agent, she had the freedom to judge breaches of the masquerade for herself. Caution, not protocol, kept her from telling her husband. Keegan’s inquisitive nature would surely get the better of him, so she pretended to be a domesticated wife who had dinner prepared by the time he came home, for his own protection.

The way the Occultis agent skidded to a stop about two hundred meters to her right and rushed out of the jeep lead Annabel to assume he, or she, had somewhere to be as well. The agent’s features were shrouded by distance and dust, which the jeep kicked up during the sudden stop. All she could see was the dark long coat that was distinctly Western European, not the typical Middle Eastern garb.

Annabel crouched below the rocky outcropping so the agent didn’t see her as –– he, she decided –– ran into the caverns. When the agent couldn’t be seen anymore, Annabel stood and searched the horizon for more vehicles. It wouldn’t do for Templar reinforcements to ruin her perfectly laid plans.

She pulled her jacket’s collar up to guard against a chilly breeze that carried her brown hair away from her neck. There were no telltale dirt trails on the horizon, which suggested the agent had not brought any backup with him.

“Sucker,” Annabel said.

She followed the Occultis agent.

Annabel was surprised the agent made such good timing through the caverns. She was sure that Occultis hadn’t known about this vault. Even the Exilium High Council hadn’t known it existed. No, this was Annabel’s discovery. She just needed someone versed in Templar rituals to open it, like an Occultis agent.

The fact the agent moved right to it meant he was using magic, or a blood gift, to find its whereabouts. Annabel tapped the locket she wore around her neck and thanked God she remembered to activate it before tipping off Occultis about the vault’s location.

She once told Keegan that the locket was a gift from her mother, even though she had never actually met the woman. The supernatural world was a dangerous place, which reminded Annabel why she kept this life a secret from her husband. If he knew that her locket was an artificed device that made her virtually invisible to magic, he’d flip his lid, then demand to know everything about it…and magic.

Not that any Occultis agent could have caught Annabel if she was detected. Her unique blood gift made her…slippery.

Annabel peeked around a corner that lead to the vault. The wall still appeared to be made of rock, a simple illusion cast by the Templars, or their Freemason allies, the last time it was sealed, which, Annabel estimated, was a long time ago.

She arrived too late to hear the necessary incantations, but the agent had clearly already tossed stardust on the wall. The rocky surface shimmered as the illusion faded, revealing an ornate golden vault door.

Why ancient artificers preferred to use gold in their devices was a mystery to Annabel, but she had already made a small fortune selling the mundane parts to auction houses after Exilium artificers stripped the devices of anything supernatural. The gold was Annabel’s fee. What she couldn’t sell, she donated to museums to maintain her reputation as an archaeologist who cared about history, not profit. It was a reputation her husband knew nothing about. Annabel had intended to take a piece of the vault after it was opened.

The agent put his stardust pouch away, which struck Annabel as odd. There was much she didn’t understand about Templar rituals, but she was sure it required incantations and the remnants of creation, like most other magics.

She watched intently as the agent pulled a brown gauntlet out of his coat. It had steel strips, like the gloved portion of a suit of splint mail armor. The agent put the gauntlet on and flexed his fingers, testing the gloves dexterity. Then he grabbed a bar that was inlaid around the center of the door. Lightning sparked around the glove, and he turned the bar.

Annabel shook her head. She had tried to turn that bar with all her might, even cast a spell to enhance her strength during the attempt. It hadn’t moved at all. Of course, she had to do all of this with the rock wall illusion still intact, and without a magically artificed Templar gauntlet, which must have been at least eight hundred years old.

The door popped open just a crack, giving the agent room to pull the door open far enough to let him slip in. Annabel knew the door would close far easier, as these sorts of things had artificed pistons that closed automatically after a certain amount of time, sealing everything inside, but keeping what lay within safe from treasure hunters like Annabel. She estimated that the door would seal itself in less than a minute, after which nothing could open it for at least a day, not even that Templar gauntlet.

Turning from the door, and satisfied that the agent was far enough inside to be out of earshot, Annabel pulled a metal spike from her coat. A blue gem rested on the top of it, which matched the one that was set in her locket –– another secret she kept from Keegan. He didn’t even know the spike existed; Annabel didn’t know how to explain why her fictional family kept such a crude instrument as an heirloom.

Closing her eyes and chanting in Old Adamic, Annabel synced the two gems. Once the enchantment was finished, she looked down and smiled at how both gems gleamed in a similar fashion. It wasn’t really a family heirloom, but it represented the only kind of magic that she had mastered: anchoring.

Choosing a spot that would be hidden from the agent as he left the cavern, Annabel slammed the spike into the sandy ground with all her might. Her blood gift would get her inside the vault while the door was open, but once closed, she would need the spike to anchor her on the other side of door. Otherwise, the vault’s enchantments would stop even her gift from getting her out.

She turned back to the corner just in time to watch the agent walk out of the vault, nodding in apparent satisfaction that nothing had been touched. Annabel figured the agent would call a team of artificers to disable the vault so that a bunch of inquisitors jackasses could tag anything useful. Fortunately for Exilium, Annabel would be long gone with the vault’s secrets by that time.

The vault door slowly began to shut under its own power. It was time for Annabel to do her thing.

Magic was difficult for Annabel, who didn’t grow up in an Illuminati family to show her how to use it, but her gift, that was another story. Using blood gifts were emotional, not analytical. Annabel had mastered the emotion to use her gift over years of trying to escape the God-forsaken orphanage she was left in as a child.

Annabel held her hands out in front of her, looked through the vault’s shutting door at a spot inside, then pulled her hands apart. Space ripped asunder in front of her, creating a portal that immediately began closing as slowly as the vault’s door, but left plenty of time for Annabel to step through.

Though she could see through the portal, it wasn’t a perfect view. She could only see what was within its edges, not beyond them. So when she tripped over the chest on the vault’s floor, she wasn’t surprised but cursed just the same.

Unfortunately for Annabel, the agent heard her vulgarity and quickly turned, looking through the closing door and straight into Annabel’s eyes. He was close enough for Annabel to make out all of his features now, which were in the same state of shock as her own.

“Keegan?!” She said as the vault door sealed shut.


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