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Chapter 1: A Strange Stellar Configuration

Junon set down his tools and swept his brow with an aching hand. Lifting up the necklace he had just finished crafting, he took a close look at the engravings on it, recalling to his tired mind every detail of his customer’s request. The silver jewel was a custom order from a nameless woman, an obvious stranger to Ilfallo Port on account of her foreign accent. She had refused to identify herself, saying only that she would await news of the work’s completion at the inn by the docks in Deep Sea Port. She had insisted not to be kept waiting under any circumstances. The craftsmanship of the piece was as exquisite as any of the elf’s works, conformed to his client’s requests in every way, and was well worth the dear price she had committed to pay, yet despite all this, the whole matter left a bitter taste in his mouth. He was anxious to put it all behind him.

As he looked out of the window, Junon saw only darkness. He had worked long past sunset, and the pangs of hunger reminded him he had not eaten since midday. He awoke his apprentice, and told him to go and announce to the mysterious client that her necklace was ready. While the young lad grabbed a lantern and ran out, Junon climbed the stairs to his private quarters, poured himself some wine, and took some bread and cheese from a cupboard. He sat by the fireplace and started to eat, but his brow was still creased with worry. Something about the jewel his customer had commissioned was not quite right, yet he could not figure out what was wrong with it. The lady had been insistent on various specific details: a pattern of points and lines to be etched on the pendant, following exact measurements and proportions, and the inlay of an emerald not quite in the centre of it. To all appearances, the pattern was meaningless, and not entirely pleasing to the eye, and yet it kept haunting his mind…

Junon stoked the fire and looked out of the window, expecting to see his apprentice on the street below, but his eye caught no motion in the dark. His gaze trailed upward, to the cloudless sky. Tonight was a moonless night, about which old legends spoke of ominous portents and vile things stirring beneath the earth. Yet another ill omen to torture his weary mind… As the fresh breeze of the early autumn night blew on his face, he let his eyes wander among the constellations, images of heroes, gods and creatures drawn upon the firmament by a divine artist, in the time before all time. As he was reading the stories of old on the celestial vault, it gradually occurred to him that there was something peculiar about the configuration of the constellations. He was not well versed in astrology, but what little he knew pointed out to a vague strangeness about the nocturnal sky, as if some stars had been misplaced.  A heavy sigh escaped Junon’s throat. He needed more rest than he had thought, yet he had to stay awake until he had received his client’s payment. He poured himself some more wine, and let himself fall on his armchair by the fireplace.

He would have stayed sitting there longer but for the doubts which tormented his mind.  He examined the sky again, and the doubts slowly became a conviction. The constellations had changed. He stood up from his armchair and returned to his shop downstairs. On one of the many bookshelves was a star chart, which he had purchased long ago, but had never put up for sale. He unfolded the scroll, and his finger traced the strange stellar configuration he had noticed. It corresponded to no constellation he knew, yet it had a vaguely familiar quality to it. He traced it again, this time with a piece of charcoal. While the pattern was new to the sky, it was not new to the elfish craftsman. This new certainty gave way to yet more doubts: where had he seen this constellation, if it had not been in the sky before? His head spun as his thoughts scrambled for an answer, and then he gasped, a sudden realisation having imposed itself upon his mind. He took the necklace he had crafted for the mysterious woman, and scrutinised it closely…

And then he was startled by the sound of the door opening, and his apprentice entering with the foreign client. Junon greeted her as courteously as he could muster in spite of his exhaustion. She was a tall and slender elfish lady, of presumably noble bearing if her rich garb and commanding pose were to be trusted. Her face was concealed under the ample hood of a silken cloak, but one could clearly see her thin lips, coloured with raspberry. Her scarlet and purple robes flowed softly about her as she walked gracefully into the candlelit shop. She spoke in a voice made all the more suave by the exotic inflections of her accent, and said: “My dear Master Junon, I assume your work is done? Let me see the fruit of your labour.” The craftsman took the pendant from the table where he had left it, next to the star chart, and handed it to her. “I followed all your instructions, milady, answered the jeweller. Now, where is the gold you promised?” Her laughter was as singing crystal. She reached within the folds of her cloak, and revealed a leather purse, heavy with coin. She took Junon’s hand in hers, the softness of her skin sending a shiver down his spine, and her lips parted as she started voicing a reply, but the star chart suddenly caught her attention. The subtle lines of a faint, disdainful pout slashed across her alabaster cheeks for a brief instant before she recovered her smile.  She switched from the common merchants’ cant to the elfish tongue, and said: “I see you have an interest in astrology? How refreshing to see a lettered commoner for a change. Tell me, what do you know of the stars?” Junon did not know how to answer, but trusting the lady as little as he did, he decided that the least he said, the better he would fare. “I am a simple amateur, milady. A man of my station cannot afford a high education.” He did not know how well his answer was received, but he could feel the lady’s stare piercing him from beneath the silken hood. After a slight pause, she nodded slowly. “Of course not, she said. I shall leave now, and trouble you no more. Farewell, Master Junon. Oh, before I take my leave, let me give you a piece of advice: be careful not to stare at the stars for too long, for the fates they dictate are sometimes best left… undiscovered.”

The young apprentice escorted the woman to the door before going back to sleep, and the jeweller breathed a deep sigh of relief. He was at first confused by the cryptic warning she had given, but he brushed it aside quickly. All that mattered to Junon now was that he could finally move on to other business. He glanced at the star chart and the charcoal lines he had hastily traced on it, wondering if his nameless client had understood something of the mystery of the new constellation. He forced the thought away from his mind, too exhausted to dwell on it, and retired to his quarters. He quickly finished his wine, and before slipping under the bed sheets, closed the shutters of his bedroom’s window too fast to see the shadows which now swept across the stars, high above the city…

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