“Is it real?” I asked. There were things shifting within the deep green gemstone: shapes and reflections that I could not be sure came from the light glinting off the facets or my imagination.

“Does it matter?” Flint asked. He closed his gloved hand and the emerald light vanished. When he opened it again a tiny magenta flame danced in his palm, burning white hot at its core, and casting all manner of wicked shadows.

“Impressive,” I lied. I had seen heavier magics in the circuses of Zladiar, and in the chambers of Mester Holfi, but it wasn’t my place to downplay Flint’s meagre sorceries.

“No, it’s not,” he said, and once again made a creaking leather fist to snuff his illusion. “But it will be, some day. It’s only a matter of practice.”

In almost every other field I would have agreed with the sentiment. A person who did a thing for a long enough time and with enough determination would end up doing that thing better. But magic was unusual in that regard. Practice did not necessarily make perfect. The energies necessary to produce a glamer or prestidigitation came from places aethereal. Not everyone had access to those places, otherwise we would all be sorcerers to some extent. Again, I was not about to piss on Flint’s parade, so I just nodded. “You keep at it. That gem really was impressive.”

“Until I can make them tangible, they’re worthless,” he said.

The moon sat high on the inked canvas of night when we rose from where we had been hiding. The cobbled square was quiet and covered with silver light and the rearing horse of General Hadenblank’s monument threw a deep shadow that almost reached our spot. We had been hiding under a burlap blanket behind a stack of moldering sacks for hours. My legs screamed in protest as I wrung the needles from them.

A bell tolled in the distance—one of the Ghian monasteries signaling midnight mass. Flint nodded and pulled me into the square by the elbow. I felt strangely exposed in the moonlight, but the only eyes upon us were those of General Hadenblank and his bronze mare. Assuming we could trust the informant’s word the goldsmith’s shop would be unguarded for a fleeting while, and we would steal into that window of opportunity and make off with a few more months’ worth of survival in the form of gold chain. The trick was to only take enough to eat. Steal too much and it became a case for the city inquisitors, and that was the last thing we wanted. Ideally, we would take what would not be missed. Nothing unique. Raw nuggets if we could find them. Unfinished links, scraps, that sort of thing. Flint had done this before; it was how he had survived the winter and how he planned to finance his spring.

We pulled up short in front of the goldsmith. A single lit candle flickered in the window. “It’s just a ward, nothing to concern yourself with,” Flint said, and slipped a thin prybar out from the folds of his coat. He worked it into the grout that secured the window to its wooden frame. “Never attack the door, that’s always going to be the most protected point of entry. The windows might have anti-smashing wards magicked into them, but there’s ways around that. You can almost always spot a magicked window since it won’t have bars, see?” Thin peels of grout were curling away under Flint’s careful pressure. He worked his way up and around the frame while I kept watch. I was not sure how much time had passed, but Flint had been certain that the gap in the patrol would be plenty wide enough for us to slip in and out. “There!” he said and levered the bar between the frame and the glass. “Put your hands here, and here.” And with a tap and a heave the pane angled forward out of the frame. A wave of incense-laden air wafted out from the shop. We lowered the glass to the ground and slid it aside, then scrambled over the empty display case and into the shop proper.

The candle provided enough light to work by, and we moved with swift and quiet steps to the rear of the place. Flint pushed a curtain aside and ducked into the back behind the long service counter. Its empty glass face reflected candle and moonlight alike. “Come on,” he hissed. I followed.

He had once again summoned the flame glamer and was using it as a torch of sorts, swinging it back and forth over a workbench. “There, grab those.” He pointed to a pile of rough nuggets. I slipped them into one of the pouches I kept around my waist. Flint snagged handful of glimmering chain that hung from a spindle over the bench. “That should do, let’s away.”

We stepped back into the front of the shop and an explosion of light so blinding that it knocked me backwards scorched my eyes. I heard Flint cry out, and then rough hands were grasping my shoulders and hauling me forward.

“It looks like you were right,” said a papery voice. I blinked hot tears away, and my vision started to return. A wizened old woman was standing in the shop’s entrance, next to a taller young man. A pair of watchmen held me in place, and another two were attending to Flint. “Clever, removing the glass like that,” the woman said. “We might have use for such skilled entrepreneurs such as yourselves. But first you’ll need to be made compliant. Take them to the dungeons, gentlemen. And spare them no comfort.” She cackled with glee as the watchmen hauled us away.

2014.10.30 – 2023.06.21

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