Rays of moonlight slept peacefully amidst the breeze-swept curtains of the open window, casting a gentle glow across the library. The room shimmered with the ambiance of brisk and midnight blue. Leading away from the window, winding rows of mahogany bookcases guarded the marble floor. What secrets, what wisdom hid inside those seamlessly filled shelves, those stacks of old and wizened tomes?
Just one, was the answer. It lay beyond the biblio-maze.
The window was their mistake, just one more among the countless, minute errors that had slowly manifested into this crucial moment. Which isn’t to insinuate they had been careless or sloppy. Indeed, a conspiratorial shadow-cult as mystic, manipulative, and omnipotent as the Order of the Elephant cannot exist without persistent, furtive, quasi-paranoid levels of discretion.
But as age tolls upon living creatures, so too had it steadily eroded the Order’s precarious camouflage. As Founder Madison once noted, humans are not angels; perfection eludes us. And so with a stray paper here, a slip of the tongue there, an unusual fund transfer here, an unauthorized photograph leaked to an unauthorized chatroom seen by an unauthorized user there, et-cetera, et-cetera, time had marched soullessly onward, enacting its constant, unwavering pressure. As Gibraltar must one day crumble to the wind, so too had subtle, near-insignificant errors gradually overburdened the ancient Elephant’s spine.
Chester would be the agile, thieving straw that broke it.
His footsteps were like falling autumn leaves on the polished marble floor. Unlike the leaves, Chester’s drifting glide among the shadowed corners had long eschewed any degree of crinkling, instead leaving reticent stillness in its wake. So invisible, so wraith-like was his presence that he could have been said to transcend being. As he crept serenely through the tall, watchful library shelves toward the back of the room where the locked glass cabinet lay, the atmosphere barely noticed his stealthy nonexistence. Chester’s perfect form. It would crack the cabinet. It would steal the egg.
Egg number 38—Fabergé’s lost Royal Danish.
At over nine inches tall, Royal Danish was easily one of the largest, grandest Faberge eggs. As Chester’s anti-presence approached the library’s glass cabinet, he was struck with the grandeur of the priceless piece. A flawless ivory shell embroidered with the purest gold trim and turquoise accents, it was an expertly-jeweled monument to oceanic royal purity. At its base, proud heraldic lions supported the egg, emblazoned with gleaming precious stones that dotted the egg from its base all the way up to the crown, which bore the intricate armorial bearings of the Danish Royal Family. It also contained the symbol of a more ancient Order. The egg had been “stolen” to protect it from Stalin’s brutal grasp. The world had grown complacent, assuming the egg was lost forever.
But Chester knew that “lost” was just another word for things that had been silently stowed away by the Order. Likewise that “thievery” was just another word for “artistry.”
He removed his tools and set to work. Within seconds, the locks clicked and Chester opened the cabinet door with a faint creak. He reached inside and took the egg. He marveled only briefly, for ‘twas not the Fabergé masterpiece itself which Chester sought.
Since the crafting of the first egg—commissioned by Tsar Alexander III for his darling wife on Easter, and adored to such a degree that Alexander continued to purchase yearly iterations—each egg had held inside of it a wondrous surprise. The first hen egg, for instance, contained—as would be expected—a simple jeweled hen. The Gatchina Palace egg contained a small replica of the namesake structure, and so on. As for the Royal Danish, historical documents had catalogued the egg’s surprise as miniature portraits of Denmark’s dowager princess’s parent’s.
But historical documents, like history itself, contained unusual gaps. There was a reason the Order of the Elephant had taken the egg. Now, Chester would know that reason. Lifting the egg’s top with precise care, he slowly—
“FREEZE!” The threatening voice shattered the silence, and Chester’s heart plummeted. Years of planning. Honed physical training. Relentless pursuit of the Order through ever-disappearing records, like grasping at inkblots dispersing through muddy water. But he had found them, their secret, their essence—traced their power to a singular source! He knew the Elephant better than they knew themselves! How could it be that…
That was it…
The window. He had assumed that it was their mistake. That was his mistake.