Gender: Male Age: 53 Location: Las Vegas, Nv
I walked the street, no one giving me a second look. They all thought I was a beggar or street scum that preyed on the unwary. I was wearing ragged looking clothes and was dirty and kind of unkempt. Even though I was eighteen I looked much younger. It was the front I put on for the people. I am James the street rat to many people or James the sneak. You see my mother… well, foster mother always said, “People only see what you allow them to.”
My mother… that is another story, she claimed me as a babe. My parents had died of some sickness that swept the city. The city guards were going to take me to an orphanage but mother claimed me, she told them I was hers. The guards didn’t care one way or another and turned me over.
As I grew up, I thought she was some cheap doss, (Prostitute). I was five and she had laughed until there were tears in her eyes, “James, I think we need to start teaching you how to open your eyes.”
That began my training; you see mother was a thief, a master thief, the best in the city. she was also completely unknown. She took precaution after precaution so that no one saw her face or realized she was the thief. Besides teaching me to see the world and the people around me, she taught many other things. Before I was eight I was an accomplished acrobat. By the time I was ten, I could read and write in four different languages. I could speak fluently in six. Before I was twelve, I was the best pickpocket in the city and I could open any lock. She also taught me how to fight, bare hands or with almost any weapon. She taught me herself and then paid visiting mercenaries.
I was a master of the blade when I turned fourteen; that was when things changed. War had come and with it, Mages. They said they had come to help the king but they almost never left the city. The merchants that were getting rich from the war had started setting traps for mother. Mom had laughed and waved off my warnings. When the mages got involved, it got harder for mom; harder not impossible.
Then it had finally happened, they caught her. The trap was one set by a mage, mom killed twenty men before a mage arrived and cast a spell that burnt her to ash. That was the birth of the Cat. Every week one of the mages or one of the rich merchants that hired them was robbed. They had nicknamed mom, ‘Cat’ and laughed at her and teased her the whole time they fought. Now, every time I robbed one of them I left a small metal Cat. The difference between mom and I was that I could somehow see the magic they used for their traps.
I stopped and sat next to a corner. I had spotted one of the kings spies; he was actually the head of the king’s spies. It was strange, the only one not after me was the king. I gave information to his spies sometimes, they had tried to pay me once and I had given him a tiny wooden Cat I had carved. The world of spies is one of discretion and misdirection. I slipped the tiny image in a pocket and drifted away. I would have loved to see his expression when he looked at it.
Now I watched as Lacaris looked around as if searching. I slipped a tiny mirror into my hand and flashed it across the street into his face. I put the mirror away and waited. Eventually he walked across the street and stopped next to me. He was looking into the shop window beside me as a tiny piece of paper dropped into my lap. “Priority, if you see her give all assistance.”
Of course I didn’t touch the paper or answer his whispered words. He turned away and walked down the street. A few seconds later, two mage spies drifted out of the crowded street and only glanced at me before following him. When they had passed, I stood and slipped into an alley. When I was a little ways in, I slipped into a hidden pocket and waited.
It was a few seconds later that the mage spy slipped into the alley following me. As he passed me, I moved behind him and caught him in a hold. When I walked away thirty seconds later he was dead with no visible trace. I walked with a purpose, if the mages were involved in this then I wanted a piece of whatever it was. In the next street, I stopped behind a street stall and unfolded the tiny paper. It was a picture, very detailed and there was a name written below, Elizabeth.
I frowned; they were looking for a little girl, the king’s daughter? I looked around and thought of the street slavers. I didn’t hesitate, I started walking fast. If she had been on the streets as long as I feared than she was in trouble. I knew this city better than anyone; the streets, alleys and many other hidden ways. It was a quarter hour later when I stepped out of a gap between buildings. This was the home of the street slaver’s and I had to be careful. I had my rusty knife that would probably break the first time I used it. Hidden on my body were six throwing spikes and that was it.
There were six men laughing and joking as they teased the little girl. I didn’t think about what I was going to do. As I walked forwards I heard one of the men telling her she was being sold to the mages. Two throwing spikes dropped into my hands and then they were gone. As two of the men fell with the spikes through the backs of their heads, I reached the girl and threw another spike that took a third man in the throat.
The three remaining men spread out pulling daggers. I grabbed the girl and pulled her behind me as I started backing up. The three were silent as they moved to surround me. A flick of my wrist sent another spike into one mans eye and then his brain. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement I recognized and grabbed the girl before throwing us to the side onto the ground.
There was a flash of light and then the wall behind where I had been standing exploded. I was back on my feet while the two men were distracted. A very special spike dropped into my hand and I threw it. The mage stood in the open as if nothing could touch him. This time he was wrong, the spike hit him in the chest as he was casting another spell. He looked down in amazement and then screamed as his staff exploded and fire came out of his mouth.
I moved forward quickly and pulled a dagger from the last man I had killed. As I moved back to the girl, the slavers struck. I rolled under one mans cut, slit the tendon behind his knee and came up behind him in time to take his dagger and cut his throat. I turned to the other as he rushed me. I slid sideways, stabbing under his arm and into his heart.
I looked around and knelt to wipe the daggers and my hands. The mage was only a pile of ash and the rest were all safely dead. I looked to the little girl; she looked like she was only six or seven. She was crouching against a wall looking wildly around. I stood and turned towards her, “Are you Elizabeth?”
She blinked and nodded. I smiled, “I’m here to take you home.”
I thought about the way out and knelt, “Elizabeth, I want you to stay behind me. If anyone attacks us, go to the wall I point to and stay there.”
She nodded and I stood. Keeping one blade reversed and the other down and out I walked slowly to one of the narrow alleys out. We hadn’t gotten far when a dozen men slipped out of the other openings into an intersection of the alley. I pointed to a wall for Elizabeth and went into a crouch. As I backed up covering her, they charged. I took the first two easily, one across the belly and I ducked under the others swing and came up in time to shove a dagger under his chin and up into his brain.
That was when the other appeared and attacked. She was dressed all in black and moved smoothly in the same fighting style I used. I stayed between the men and Elizabeth while the other fighter moved around the edges. I killed two more when they stumbled over their fallen comrades, one with a cut across his throat and the other with a thrust through the side of the neck.
When I moved away, I realized the woman had already taken out six of the others and she had used some throwing spikes to do it. The two men that were left panicked and tried to run. I killed one when he turned away with a thrust through his back and into his heart. The other man died with the woman’s dagger in his belly. I moved between Elizabeth and this stranger, “You fight well.”
She watched me calmly as if amused, “So do you.”
As I stepped back in front of Elizabeth I wiped one of the daggers and slid it under my belt. I reached back to Elizabeth, “Take my hand Elizabeth.”
She was hesitating and the woman nodded and seemed to wink. I risked a glance back and Elizabeth was reaching for my hand. When I looked back at the woman; she had knelt and was wiping her daggers clean. I started moving sideways and she glanced at me, “there’s another group between here and the palace.”
I nodded and just before I reached the alley she stood. I nodded one last time and slipped away, pulling Elizabeth behind me. After that I used smaller alleys and slip throughs, (a slip through is a narrow gap between buildings). I crossed the few streets quickly, when people looked at me they moved away fast. It took almost an hour to reach the spot I had been heading for. I stopped in the mouth of a narrow slip through and knelt.
I looked at Elizabeth, “There is a small gate just across the way. A man in a blue smock is beside it. Tell him, Lacaris said the kitchen needs a new helper.”
Elizabeth looked past me at the gate and then into my face, “Thank you.”
I smiled and caressed her face, “You’re welcome.”
She smiled, “Who should I tell father…”
I laughed softly and leaned close, “Tell you’re father it was the Cat.”
She pulled back in surprise and then laughed in delight. I turned her towards the gate and gave her a gentle push, “Go.”
She looked around and walked across the street quickly. I watched as she spoke to the man that appeared suddenly. When the gate finally closed behind her, I slipped away. Ten minutes later I had retrieved a change of clothing, cleaned the blood off and started home. The streets were alive with rumors of mages and fighting. I stopped at my favorite street vendor for sausage, bread, and cheese. I knew I was being followed as soon as I left him.
I followed a complex pattern of alleys, slip throughs and hidden passages until I came out in the small stone grotto that was home. I set my things on a table and walked into the other room. Dropping my rag like clothing in a basket I walked into a stone tub filled with hot water. I sighed as I relaxed, I marveled again at this place that was my home. How mom had found this place I’ll never know.
I finally sat up and washed myself thoroughly before stepping out and walking to the wall for a towel. After drying off, I slipped a robe on and went back into the other room to eat dinner. I thought about tonight, the streets were alive with people and the mages would be screaming for blood.
I smiled to myself; it was the perfect time for me to hit the Mage Primes’s mansion. I cleaned up and went back into the other room and lay down. I set a mental alarm and slept; when I woke it was dark. I reached up and unshuttered the tiny mage light beside my bed. I dressed quietly, first in the strangely light chain woven with dyed spider silk that I had made and then the black Spider silk pants. Then came the weapons, two long fighting knifes and then the throwing spikes, darts and a verity of other things.
I shuttered the mage light and slipped out. I could hear the taverns as I made my way though the city. A half hour later I was facing the outside wall of the mansion. Slipping on cat’s claws, I started up. I smiled at the open window and went past. I stopped one floor above and moved sideways to another window. I could see the web of magic that warded the window and smiled wider. I moved slightly to the side, grasped the frame and pulled.
The frame shifted and then opened like a door. I slipped into the room and looked around again. I quietly closed the window and pulled the hood out of my chain. It was made of soft spider silk with a gauze like veil that dropped over my face. I pulled the hood over my head and walked through the room. At the door leading into the hallway I listened for a minute and silently opened the door.
I could see the webs of magic woven back and forth down the hall. I only had to bypass two as I made my way to the study. I looked the door over carefully and pulled four wooden needles made of salt marsh vine. I carefully pushed each through the magic at each corner and moved the two on the open side across the door. A few seconds later I was standing in the room. I looked around and slowly made my way to the desk.
First was the large bowl of lose gems. I picked the three out that had magical energy in them and tossed them around the room. Next was the small stack of gold bars. All of the bars were normal except one that glowing with magic, that one I put under the desk. After the bars was the small stack of gold coins. After that, it was the books of magic and several scrolls. In the desk I found a couple of message scrolls and took them. I used the ink on the desk to write out “Cat” on the top of the desk and set a tiny metal cat next to it. I slipped out the way I had come; putting everything back like it was when I entered.
As I was making my way through the dark passages of the city I could feel another presence. I stopped at the last intersection before home and listened. I thought I knew who my follower was and smiled. When I entered the grotto, I unshuttered the mage light and crossed to the counter. I took a pitcher and went to the wall where a small fountain of water splashed quietly into a basin. The water was ice cold and I marveled again at this place my adopted mother had found. I filled the pitcher and crossed the room to the low table that held everything I needed for tea.
I set the pitcher down and took my heavy pack off and set it beside the table. I crossed my legs as I sat and poured some of the water from the pitcher into a black tea pot. The pot sat on a flat box looking object; it had what looked like a plate in the center and two gems at the front edge. I put the pot on the plate and touched the emerald at the edge. The plate glowed and I felt the heat as it warmed up and then got hotter.
I turned over two of the small cups and set them on saucers. I opened the pot and a metal tin that held my tea. It was very special and had cost me dear, both in time and expense. I put a single scoop in the pot and closed the lid. I looked to the opening into the grotto, “Well? Are you just going to stand in the dark?”
A moment later she walked out of the dark. She calmly walked to the other side of the table. I could see the humor in her eyes as she crossed her legs as she sat. I glanced down at the tea pot as it began to whistle and touched the ruby. I placed a cloth over each cup and poured the tea into the cups carefully, watching each as the tea seeped through the cloth and into the cup.
When I set the cup in front of her, she lifted it to smell it. Her eyes went wide and she smiled before taking a sip. I held my cup and savored the aroma for a minute before taking a sip myself. I sighed when I set the cup down, “How can I help you oh shadow in the night.”
She grinned, “What did you get from Primes?”
I laughed, “A little of this, a little of that.”
She looked at my pack and I could see her curiosity. I grunted when I grabbed it and lifted. I opened the top and pulled out the books and the message scrolls. I watched her eyes as they fastened onto the scrolls and widened. I opened the first and glanced at it. Like all mage writing it was written in all four languages my mother had taught me to read. I looked at the girl across from me, “You serve the king?”
She hesitated and then shrugged, “Sort of.”
I slid the document across the table and watched her as I opened the other message. She was frowning as she tried to work out what the message said. I looked down and read the second message quickly. I cursed to myself and looked up at the girl. She was still frowning at the message and I sighed, “That one says they are authorized to use any means necessary to make the king agree to their terms. Including kidnapping or killing any of the royal family.”
She looked at me with her eyes narrowed, “You can read their writing?”
I nodded as I bent over to set the pack down. While I was bent over, the opening at my neck widened and the chain holding the one thing my mother had taken from my real father came into view. The girl gasped and rose quickly, “Where did you get that?”
I followed her gaze and tucked the ring away, “It was my father’s.”
She bit her lip looking at me and then turned to the door. I stopped her as she took a step, “What’s your name?”
She looked back and I could see her humor was back, “You can call me Shadow.”
With that she slipped into the darkness and I stood and grabbed the other message scroll she had left. I carried it to a shallow basin and touched a black metal rod to it and watched as it burst into flame. I dropped it into the basin and watched as it was consumed.
Moving to the wardrobe I grabbed clothing that looked like it belonged to a young merchant apprentice. I took them to the pack and slipped them inside, shoving the mage books in as well. Picking the pack up, I walked to the mage light and shuttered it before walking out. I stopped at the first narrow intersection and pushed a brick back into the wall before continuing on. Behind me the wall seemed to close, becoming just another dead end.
It took another half hour to cross the city to the small slip through I needed. I stopped and listened as I had done several times before reaching out to push a certain brick in. Part of the wall next to the brick moved and suddenly there was a doorway with a set of stairs leading down. I slipped down the stairs. At the bottom was a door on the right. I turned away and faced the other wall before pressing another brick and a section of wall opened into a room.
I sat the pack down and closed the door before crossing to a small bed and lying down. It was only moments before I was asleep. I dreamed of shadows slipping through the night looking for me and a beautiful woman that laughed softly.
When I woke, I knew it was morning and slid out of bed. I moved to a small mage light and unshuttered it. I grabbed my pack and started putting the gold bars on a table. I pulled several things from a niche in the wall, a mage burner used for smelting and the three large molds I used as well as the stamps. It took almost four hours before I stopped and sat back to look at my handy work. I had several stacks of new gold coins; these had a crown on one side and a sleeping cat on the other.
I put a couple of dozen in my hidden money belt and decided to do some visiting. I slipped the merchant clothes over my blacks and left. In the bazaar, I found the wood runner stall and slipped inside. The oldster that ran the stall looked up. For some reason he was one person that always seemed to see through whatever I wore. The old man grinned, “Welcome wily cat.”
I grinned back, “Well met old man.”
He laughed, “Still causing trouble?”
I shrugged as I moved deeper into the stall, “is there something better to do?”
He grinned and I began sorting through several things I needed or wanted. When I came to a bin of bark I glanced at the old man, “You had someone come in from the deep woods?”
He nodded and I carefully looked at the pieces of bark before selecting two large slabs and then another slightly smaller piece. I carried them to his make shift counter and he wrapped the first two and then the third. I put everything in the cloth bag he offered.
Back on the streets, I made my way carefully to the busy part of the city listening to the clamor and gossip as I moved. I was almost to the fancy coffee shop when I saw Lacaris. I looked in the window next to me and froze. As I stood looking into the window Lacaris drifted closer. I touched an older woman next to me, “excuse me? What is this place?”
She looked like a rich merchant wife but strangely, instead of yelling at me, she laughed. “It’s a mage shop.”
I looked at her in surprise and she smiled kindly, “Not all mages are men. This place is run by a small group of female mages.”
She drifted off on her business and Lacaris stepped up next to me, “they are rivals of the other mages here.”
I nodded as I looked inside the window at a tiny jet black cat. I felt Lacaris slip something into my hand, “a gift from an admirer.”
Lacaris turned and walked away as I turned to the door and walked into the shop. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow drift across the door behind me. I knew Lacaris had a shadow following him and grinned as a young woman looked up at the bell over the door. She smiled at me, “How can I help you young merchant?”
For some reason this woman drew me like no other. I looked at the window display, “The cat? How much?”
She laughed, “Oh, that’s not for sell.”
I looked back at her, “Why not?”
She walked closer looking at me carefully, “You’re not exactly what you seem are you?”
I felt a tingle of magic and saw threads being changed and a throwing spike dropped into my hand. She started and looked down at my hand. When she looked back into my face it was with surprise, “So.”
She smiled and took another step that brought her next to me. She reached into the display and carefully lifted the cat and turned to me. “It isn’t for sell because I have been waiting for its owner.”
She quietly held the small cat out to me and looked into my eyes. It took everything I had to put the spike away and raise my hand, “The spell?”
She shrugged, “one of discovery.”
I finally looked down at the cat, “Why?”
She smiled, “I knew you would come for it. I… We, wanted you to know we are not like these others.”
I looked up into her eyes, “Why does that matter?”
She blushed, “We don’t… don’t want to be robbed.”
I smiled as I turned towards the door. I looked over my shoulder, “I only take from those that have taken from me.”
My hand flicked towards her and her hand came up to catch the gold piece. After I had slipped into the street and started walking, I noticed the shadow as he moved quietly behind me. In the next alley I turned and started walking fast. Before my shadow entered, I moved into a hidden niche and watched as he suddenly ran by my hiding spot. I walked back to the street and continued on to the coffee shop.
I slipped down the alley beside it and gently tapped on the back door. The woman that answered the door was huge. As soon as she saw me, she grinned and pulled me into a hug that I struggle to get out of. When she finally released me, I took a deep breath, “momma, one of these days you’ll squeeze me to death.”
She shook her head as she stepped back and let me enter her kitchen. I opened my bag and pulled out the two large pieces of bark, “I brought this for you.”
Momma took the wrapped bark, her other hand running through my hair. “You’re not eating enough little chick. Your mother will be turning in her grave.”
I shrugged and momma gently pushed me towards the far corner of her kitchen. I laughed and made my way to the comfortable chair beside the fireplace and sat. I pulled out one of the mage books and started reading. Most people would never have thought that reading something like a spell book would relax you but it did me. It was a few hours later that the owner of the shop pushed the door open and stepped into the kitchen. I heard the door and glanced up like I always did. He grinned at me, “Found your way back did you.”
It was a game between us and I shrugged, “I followed the screaming of protesting coffee drinkers.”
He frowned, “Momma makes the best coffee in the city.”
I grinned, “I know. They were protesting the price.”
Momma laughed and I watched him fight to keep a straight face. Finally he couldn’t hold it and started laughing. I grinned and stood up to shake his hand. He glanced at the book I was holding and sighed, “Still playing with that rubbish?”
I laughed, “It’s a new one.”
He grinned and looked at momma, “Duke Tonis asked where you got the citering bark.”
Momma grinned, “A street urchin.”
He grinned back and ruffled my hair before leaving. Momma sighed as she looked at me, “When are you going to quite your shenanigans James?”
I sobered up as I returned her look, “When they have paid for what they did to mom.”
Momma looked into my face and crossed the kitchen to hug me. She pushed me back, “Your mother would not want you to keep doing this.”
I looked away and she shook me, “James, you are the best at what your mother taught, but she didn’t tell you everything.”
I looked at her in surprise and she looked away, “Patrice wasn’t just some thief, even as good as she was. She did it for more than herself, which was why she wouldn’t let them take her.”
I looked at her waiting, if there was one person that knew about my mom it was momma Seriff. Momma finally sighed, “Find the girl that has been keeping to the shadows, she knows the truth about your mother.”
I looked at momma Seriff in surprise, “You know about Shadow?”
Momma laughed, “Is that what she calls herself?”
I grinned and put my hand in my pocket. I felt not only the tiny cat but what Lacaris had slipped me. I pulled both out of my pocket and momma smiled when she saw the cat, “I saw that in that new mage store.”
I nodded thinking of the beautiful young woman and momma suddenly caressed my face, “Be careful my young alley cat. That one is a mage with bright potential.”
I looked up at her grinning, “But women like it when I purr.”
Momma laughed and pushed me towards the door. I looked at what Lacaris had given me, it was a tiny flower carved out of wood. I could see the magical energy that seemed to be absorbed into the tiny flower. When I smelled it, a scent of lavender filled the air. I smiled and calmly walked towards an old tavern I knew. I paused every now and then and listened to the street gossip. Some told of Primes and the break in, some told of two men asking questions in the dark. Those I listened to carefully, they told of cruelty and even sudden death.
I slipped through the back door of the inn and up behind a woman that was old enough to be my grandmother. I kissed the back of her neck and laughed as I danced back, avoiding her wooden spoon. She glared at me and I held up the piece of citering bark. She shook her head, “very well urchin, this time I’ll forgive you.”
I grinned and cautiously moved closer to give the bark to her. She took the bark with one hand and swatted my hip with her spoon before I could move away. I laughed as I jumped back, “Peace lovely Juniper.”
She grumped and turned back to the stove but I saw her smile as she turned. I moved to the small table in the corner and after a while she crossed the room and put a large plate in front of me. I ate slowly, watching and listening to the serving girls as they went in and out of the kitchen. When I was done the plate was whisked away before I could even wipe the gravy off. I was getting ready to leave when Juniper stopped beside the table and put her hand on my shoulder, “Watch yourself urchin. There are two men watching the tavern.”
I looked up at her, “The ones seeking the Cat?”
She nodded and I rose, “I’ll be careful.”
Her hand tightened on my shoulder, “Your mother was careful too. Be quicker and don’t hesitate.”
I smiled and I kissed her cheek, “Dinner was good.”
I slipped out the back door and started following the alley. I could feel one of the men as he moved to follow. An ordinary person would never know he was there; he was using a spell to hide his presence. Unfortunately for him, I could see the magic he used. In the darkness I moved down a slip through and after a few steps I jumped up and swung up onto a thick timber.
In the darkness I pulled out a thin wire and rope that was in a hole in the wall. I was motionless as I felt him slip in to follow me. He stopped under me as he realized I was no longer moving. I dropped the weighted loop of wire and dropped off the other side of the wooden beam. The loop dropped over his neck and tightened before he could grab it. When my weight came down on the rope, the wire sliced through his neck, cutting all the way to the bone.
I let him fall and moved back up the slip through and into a hidden niche. I waited patiently as the other man quietly searched for his partner. When he stepped into the opening to the slip through, he paused. By the way he moved forward, I could tell he was carrying a weapon. He passed me and stopped at the body of his partner.
I moved out of my hidden niche and stepped behind him. As he started to turn, I struck. My knife slid in under his ear and up into his brain. I twisted the knife and stepped back to let his body fall. I looked down at the two bodies and shook my head. I knelt and pulled the second message scroll out of my pack. I placed it on the second man’s chest and put a metal cat on it to hold it down.
I walked quietly into the night and made my way back to my new hide out. I opened the door and stood a moment thinking before crossing the room and dumping all the gold coins inside my pack. I closed the door on the way out and in the alley I closed the entrance. Silently I made my way across the city. I was almost to the grotto when I felt them, one in front and another behind. A throwing spike dropped into one hand and a knife slipped into the other.
I paused, it was the girl. Shadow stepped out of the night in front of me, “It’s me.”
I turned sideways, “And the other?”
She smiled as she looked past me, “My father, Peter.”
I waited and after a moment a large man stepped closer. I nodded and moved past Shadow and touched a brick. The entrance to the grotto opened slowly and I walked in and went to the mage light. I unshuttered it and went into the other room and dropped the pack beside the large wooden wardrobe.
I started stripping weapons and clothing as Shadow and her father moved into the room. They were quiet as I crossed the room and walked into the wash tub. I heard Shadow sigh as I submerged and started washing grim and blood off. It only took a minute and then I was getting out and moving to put clean blacks on.
The man cleared his throat and I smiled to myself. I had thought he would be the first. I touched the side of the wardrobe and pulled. I heard Shadow shift behind me as the wardrobe slid sideways to show an open doorway. I picked up the pack and glanced at the girl. “Tell me o shadow in the night, what do you know about my mother?”
I heard them both as they followed me into the room. I opened my pack and took the mage books out and put them in a large bookcase filled with other spell books. I turned to see them both staring at all my books. I looked back at all the books and then at them, “What?”
Peter moved forward to stand next to me looking at all the books, “I don’t think I have ever seen this many books of magic in one place.”
I nodded, understanding what he meant. Even mages seldom had more then a couple of dozen and I had half a thousand. I shook myself and moved to a stack of chests along the back wall and poured the gold coins from the pack into a chest. Shadow and her father were looking around. I knew what they saw; this was my treasure room, my library and my work shop.
I crossed to my workbench and took the large cloth bag of gems out of the pack and poured them into a large wooden box. I finally looked at Shadow, “My mother?”
She looked at her father and back to me, “She wasn’t your real mother. Her name was Patrice Sin’clair and she was my aunt.”
I looked at her and then at Peter. He sighed and looked down, “Patrice was my sister.”
Shadow stepped closer and opened the neck of my shirt. She lifted the chain holding my fathers ring and her father moved closer. He finally nodded and she let it fall back to my chest. He turned away, “Your real mother was Gabriel Sin’clair and your father was Peter Allen Mac’garth. You were born, James William Sin’clair-Mac’garth.”
I watched as he slowly stepped away and walked to the wall holding my work, shelves of birds and flowers made out of gems and precious metal. He turned to look at me, “The clan Sin’clair is charged with protecting royalty in many kingdoms. Your father’s clan, clan Mac’garth is another matter. They watch the mages and hold them in check. Patrice did not pass on that you were still alive.”
He looked at Shadow, “We need to get back.”
When he looked at me it was with a frown, “We’ll talk again.”
I watched as they walked away and finally shook myself, at least I knew. I looked around and smiled as an idea came to me. I walked to one of the shelves and lifted down one of my displays. I carefully slipped a velvet cover over it and picked up my now empty pack. I left the mage light unshuttered and slipped back into the night.
It wasn’t long before I was behind the new mage shop. I slipped my cat claws on and quietly started climbing. At the second floor, I stopped at the hall window and carefully disarmed the trap and alarm they had put there. I slipped in but didn’t step on the floor; I could see threads of spell under the carpet. The hall was narrow so I put my feet against one wall and my hands against the other. Applying pressure I closed the window and moved up the wall and carefully made my way down the hall. Halfway down the hall I reached the stairs and quietly dropped onto the railing. I worked my way down to the shop below and looked at the spells that crossed the shop. I grinned when I saw the small table beside the stairs.
I stepped down onto a safe spot on the floor and moved the small table. Since it was wood, it didn’t set off any alarms. I pulled my pack off and took the velvet bag out before putting the pack back on. I worked the velvet off my display. It was made of glass and bell shaped with one side that opened. Inside was a small stemmed red rose. The stem of the rose was Jade. The leaves were emeralds. The open petals of the rose were rubies with dew drops of diamond.
Above the rose was a hovering hummingbird. The body was sapphire and emerald with a ruby throat. The wings were bright as they blurred, they were made with diamonds as were the eyes. The long beak was made of silver. When I opened the glass display, the scent of a royal rose filled the room. I put the note I had made in front of the display and set a golden cat on it.
I moved quietly to the door, bypassing a trap and an alarm. I opened the lock on the door and slipped out before turning and tossing a penny straight into an alarm spell. I crossed the street and slipped into the shadows watching through the window. It was only a moment before four woman came down the stairs. I saw three older women stop at the stairs and the fourth and youngest move to my display.
It was a long minute before she picked up the note and slowly turned to look out the window. I don’t know why but I stepped forward and her eyes snapped to me. I smiled when our eyes met and slowly stepped back into the shadows. I turned and drifted into the night carefully making my way home.
My dreams were filled with the young mage’s face. I woke up and quickly washed and slipped out into the day. The marketplace was filled with talk about the two assassins found. The scroll had been read by someone and everyone was talking about it. In the wood runners stall, I bought the last four slabs of citering bark, a large bundle of vanilla beans and about twenty cinnamon sticks.
I was dressed like a street urchin again and was careful as I walked the streets. I tapped on momma’s back door and her helper opened it. She was a young girl I had found a year ago and brought to momma. She was only eight and every time I saw her I just had to smile. She only worked in the kitchen when there wasn’t to many customers, the rest of the time the owner had her cleaning tables. I smiled and caressed her face as I slipped past, “Morning imp.”
She giggled and followed me into the kitchen where momma looked up from the sweet rolls she was making. Momma smiled as she went back to work, “We heard about your handy work last night.”
I handed my bag to Kaira and crossed to the chair to sit. I looked at momma as Kaira finally opened the bag and squealed, “Momma!”
Momma smiled as she rushed to her and opened the bag. The next thing I knew little Kaira was in my lap hugging me. I looked at momma when I had settled her down, “Which handy work did you hear about?”
Momma glared, but Kaira whispered, “Some city guards said they found two assassins that the mages sent after you.”
After a moment she snuggled closer, “I don’t like mages.”
I looked down at her, “Not all mages are bad.”
Kaira looked at me and I could see her confusion. I also knew momma was watching and listening. I sighed, “Imp, the mages that I… have problems with, are those that had something to do with my mother’s death. It isn’t all because they killed her. It was the way they held her and played with her. As if she was a thing and not a person. In fact, I met a lady mage yesterday that was quit pleasant.”
She looked at momma and I could still see that she was confused, “Imp, think of it this way. Remember when I found you? You screamed and fought like a wild alley cat. All you saw was that I looked like a street rat.”
Kaira looked at me for a moment and then kissed my cheek before jumping off my lap, “I’ll think about it.”
I watched as she went through the door into the front of the shop. Momma set a cup down in front of me, “I heard about a late night visit to that mage shop.”
I smiled and sipped at the cup of tea. I finally looked up into momma’s sparkling eyes, “I brought them a gift.”
Momma laughed as she went back to the stove, “Them or her?”
I blushed and looked away, “She is beautiful, momma.”
There was silence as momma took the sweet rolls out front. When she returned; she pulled a stool over in front of me, “Her name is Cassandra Valencia, she is twenty and very adept for her age.”
Momma watched my face and reached out to caress my face, “There is a crowd at her shop. Everyone is talking about a new item that isn’t for sell.”
I smiled and momma nodded, “I also heard tell of a name, Mac’garth.”
I sat back in surprise, “How do you hear these things?”
Momma chuckled, “Little birds.”
I smiled, “Shadow paid me a visit with her father. He told me about my mother and some about my father. He told me my full name, James William Sin’clair-Mac’garth.”
Momma sat back on the stool, “James, listen close. Never say that name anywhere it could be overheard. Many of the mages would kill you if they had the slightest hint. The only ones that wouldn’t are the women with your lovely mage. They follow the code that only allows mages to interfere when asked.”
I grinned at momma, “Want to play Babba?”
Momma’s eyes went wide as she gasped. She stood quickly and opened the door, “George!”
The owner of the shop stepped into the doorway and glanced at me and then looked at momma Seriff. Momma touched his shoulder and whispered in his ear. I watched as he stiffened and looked at me. “Go ahead.”
Momma turned and grabbed my hand, pulling me out of the chair and through the door into the front of the shop. I protested but she just ignored it as she pulled me out the front door and across the street to a tailors shop. In the shop, she marched right up to the little man that was the tailor and nodded, “It’s time Philip; he needs his suit.”
The little man only grinned as he turned to a cabinet and pulled out a fine set of clothes. He laughed as momma undressed me while I protested. When I was dressed, momma grabbed my hand again and pulled me out into the street. I think it was setting in about what I had done half in jest and I started feeling very nervous.
Everyone on the street laughed as we passed. When we reached the mages shop, there were probably fifteen women in and around the front of the shop. Momma slowed but didn’t stop. She stepped into the shop and stopped. I took a breath but before I could say anything she was pulling me towards an older woman that reminded me of the young mage. I finally saw her; she was talking to a woman that was dressed very expensively.
Everyone had gone quiet as momma pulled me across the store. The older woman was smiling as momma stopped in front of her. “Let me guess, you want to apprentice him.”
Momma started to open her mouth and Cassandra spoke up, “Grandmother?”
The mage turned her head just as I did. Cassandra made gestures with her hand and I couldn’t help it; I laughed, “Your accent is very bad and you need to keep the middle finger bent just a little.”
All the women in the shop laughed as she blushed. I looked at momma to see her frowning at me. I shrugged, “It wasn’t too bad, I’m sure most of the ladies here could help her.”
Momma shook her head and looked back at the older mage, “No, as much as I would like to apprentice him to just about anyone, that isn’t why I am here. I am my godson’s Babba.”
The older mage started and looked at me, “Isn’t he a little young?”
Momma shrugged, “He is past his eighteenth summer.”
The older mage smiled softly as she shook her head, “I’m sorry, Cassandra is pledge to marry only another mage.”
Momma nodded and looked around the shop, her eyes narrowed. Finely she pointed to a woman, “Mistress Hainess would you close the door please.”
The whispers stopped as another fine lady turned and closed the door behind her. Momma touched my shoulder, “Tell them your name.”
I looked up at her in surprise, “You told me not to…”
Momma shook me, “Everyone in this room can be trusted. Tell them.”
I looked at her for another minute and looked at Cassandra, “I am James William Sin’clair-Mac’arth.”
The room was silent as Cassandra walked to me and looked into my eyes and turned to the table beside the older mage. She opened the glass case and the scent of royal roses filled the room as she turned back to face me. “You made this?”
I nodded and her eyes almost sparkled as the room murmured around us. She looked at the older mage who looked up at momma, “Who trained him?”
Momma laughed, “His adopted mother, me, a tailor, there were smiths and cooks. The question would be better asked, who didn’t teach him. If it’s about the magic, he does that in private and I think he taught himself.”
The old mage looked at me and then at the display. When she looked back she held out her hand to Cassandra. Cassandra looked at me for a long time before nodding and putting her hand in her grandmothers. The old mage held Cassandra’s hand out to momma and momma gently took it. Momma looked at the old mage, “You know we can not post a notice.”
She nodded and stood looking around the shop, she looked at Cassandra. “Are you sure?”
Cassandra nodded, “I’m sure grandmother.”
Momma put Cassandra’s hand in mine. When I felt the softness of her hand, my heart started beating faster. Momma caressed my face, “Go be seen urchin.”
I grinned and looked at Cassandra. She squeezed my hand and led me to the door. In the street there were even more people around the shop waiting to enter. When we were free of the crowd, Cassandra squeezed my hand, “Your gift was very impressive and you can call me Gem.”
I smiled as I looked at her face, “If you liked that, you will really like the big one I made.”
Cassandra laughed, “How big?”
I shrugged, “The display? Six by four, the plants and animals are smaller though.”
We walked through the city, stopping at shops for me to show Cassandra something or let her meet someone. We were in a busy marketplace when I saw Lacaris and then the two men that were following him. I stiffened as he saw me and started walking straight for me. I didn’t think; I pushed Cassandra behind me as a throwing spike dropped into my hand.
The two men following Lacaris were known strong arm men for Mage Grimias. They had been responsible for many deaths of innocent street people. The first spike was passing Lacaris as the second dropped into my hand and I threw it. Lacaris spun to the rear as I turned and grabbed Cassandra, “Stay with me.”
I started walking fast, pulling Cassandra behind me. Lacaris caught up a minute later as I turned into an alley. I spun to face him, anger showing on my face, “Do you know what you just did? You just marked me and my fiancée. I don’t care if you want to let the mage’s spy’s follow you, but those two were linked to Mage Grimias and they were killers.”
He stopped in surprise, “I’m sorry but the prince is missing. He was taken from the palace.”
I looked at him for another minute and then looked at Cassandra. I couldn’t let her return to the shop, not until I dealt with Mage Grimias. “I’m sorry Cassandra. If you return to the shop now it will put you and your family in danger. Stay with me and I will get you back as soon as I can.”
I took her hand and started walking. Leaving Lacaris behind, I slipped across a street and into a shop. I dropped two gold pieces on the counter as a large man I knew well approached. I quickly grabbed salt encrusted throwing spikes and two daggers before turning and leaving. I pulled Cassandra behind me as I once more headed towards the slavers section of the city.
I was pretty sure this was a trap and crossed intersections carefully. When I reached the small square where Elizabeth had been, I knew I had been right. I stood inside the slip through and looked into the square. The prince was secured to a plank that leaned against the far wall. The square was criss crossed with strands of magic. The outer edge of the magic circled the square. I put my head next to Cassandra and whispered, “No matter what you hear or see, do not enter the square.”
I knelt and picked up a piece of wooden spar. I slipped my hand in a pocket and came out with salt in my palm. I rubbed the spar with the salt and knelt. I slid the spar across the outer magic of the trap. I looked at Cassandra one last time. I stood and walked calmly into the square. The edge of the square roared with fire and two mages appeared at one opening of an alley. There were a dozen men around the edge of the square as well.
The two mage’s stepped forward laughing, one was mage Primias and the other was a nasty piece of work called Mage Olufson. Mage Primias was the one who spoke up as I calmly stepped closer to the prince, “Don’t worry about him. After we finish with you, we will send what’s left of him back to his father.”
I smiled as two throwing spikes dropped into my hands and my hands flicked out. Mage Primias’s head snapped back, one of the spikes sticking out of his eye. One of the men that had been confidently walking towards me stumbled and fell. Even as mage Primias’s staff exploded and he burst into flames, my hands flicked again and then again and four more men died suddenly. Finely, the two daggers I had bought appeared and I crossed the blades and brought them up in front of my face in time to catch a ball of sparkling fire.
I looked into Olufson’s pale face as I slowly moved the blades back and forth over each other, before flicking one of the blades at the mage. His hand came up in warding and the ball of fire splashed as it struck his shield. Instead of fading away, it spread and in a few seconds, covered his shield completely. As his staff exploded, I was turning to face the last seven men. Suddenly they began dieing as throwing spikes flashed through the air. I glanced back at one of the openings, “About time you decided to join me.”
Shadow shrugged as she and her father entered the square, “You’re the one with the mage sight.”
I looked at her hard, waving to Cassandra as I stepped closer to the prince, “What do you know about my sight?”
I put my hand on the prince’s chest to keep him from moving as I checked the plank he was tied to. Shadow stood on the other side of the prince and cut the ropes, “Well, from the way you have been able to avoid the mage traps and all the magic books you have…”
Cassandra stopped beside me, “Magic books?”
I grinned and finally looked at Shadow, “I’ll need your boot knife.”
I looked around and walked the few feet to pick up and a small board. I returned and took the small knife Shadow handed me. I absently carved six splinters, “Cassandra, this is a relative of mine. Her name is Shadow. The man is her father, his name is Peter.”
When I had the splinters in the shape I wanted, I handed the knife back and absently set five of the splinters on a piece of cloth Cassandra offered. The one I held, I focused on and slowly rubbed it back and forth between the palms of my hand. Cassandra cleared her throat, “You should be using a cloth of silver for that.”
I grinned and set the glowing splinter on the cloth and picked up another. When I was finally done with all six, I looked at Shadow. I took one splinter and carefully reached behind the prince. “When I get the last one in place pull him to the side quickly.”
I took a breath when I placed the last one and nodded to Shadow. She yanked the prince sideways, pulling him away from the plank and I moved Cassandra back. On the plank were six silver disks with a wooden splinter crossing one edge. After a moment there was an explosion and six long silver spikes replaced the disks. Cassandra looked at me, “You knew the splinters wouldn’t last.”
I nodded and stepped closer to help the young prince back to his feet. I looked at Shadow and her father, “You do know they will be waiting between here and the palace.”
Shadow nodded and I sighed and held one of my hands out to Cassandra and took the prince’s with the other, “Follow me then.”
Shadow’s father stayed behind and I knew he was going to try to divert attention from us. It took me ten minutes before I pushed open the back door of Philip’s shop and led everyone in. Philip took one look and went to the window to look out while I pulled a shirt off a rack and handed it to the prince, “Put this on.”
Two minutes later I was crossing the street and entering the alley next to momma’s shop. I didn’t knock, I just opened the door and stepped in, “Momma, there’s trouble.”
Momma lowered the big kitchen knife she had picked up when the door opened. “What is it alley cat…”
She saw the prince beside Cassandra, “What did you do!”
I glanced back and saw the prince. I looked at momma, “Mage Primias took him, but that is the least of my problems. Mage Grimias knows about me and Cassandra. He’ll be sending people here.”
Momma frowned and turned towards the door into the shop, “George!”
It was less then a second before the door was pushed open. Momma didn’t wait for him to speak, “We need to send Kaira with James.”
George only nodded and reached back into the other room and pulled a struggling Kaira into the kitchen. I looked at momma, “Momma?”
She shook her head, “I will not hide. Take Kaira and protect her.”
I looked at her for a moment longer and held out a hand to Kaira, “Hurry Imp.”
Kaira ran across the kitchen and I could see fear on her face. I looked at the prince, his face was white. I nodded to Kaira, “This is my sister your highness, she needs your protection.”
I could see both Shadow and Cassandra as they looked at Kaira. The prince seemed to have straightened and reached out to take Kaira’s hand. I closed the door and turned away from the street and moving down the alley. A short time later I led them into the opening to the grotto and sent them past me. I pressed a brick and quickly caught up and unshuttered the mage light.
While the prince and Cassandra were looking around, Kaira pulled her hand out of the prince’s. She walked towards the table, “I’ll make tea.”
I smiled; Kaira had been here many times. I took Cassandra’s hand and led her into the other room. I had left the door open into my workroom and led her in there. Cassandra gasped and moved forward into the room on her own. I stepped out and opened the wardrobe before changing into blacks and putting weapons back on. When I stepped back in Cassandra turned from the displays, “These are amazing.”
I smiled and nodded to the books. Cassandra looked but looked back at me. “It would take me forever to read all those.”
I laughed, “I’ve read almost all of them. Mom used to get them for me.”
I took Cassandra’s hand and led her back to the other room. Kaira was presiding at the table with Prince John and Shadow sitting beside each other. I let Cassandra sit and looked at Shadow, “Alright Shadow time for you to decide. The mages won’t stop until they have been forced to. You can take the prince home or I can bring his sister and possibly his mother here.”
She looked at me carefully, “I thought you said they would be waiting around the palace.”
I nodded, “They probably are. I wasn’t planning to use any of those ways in though.”
She grinned, “This place seems safe enough, only one way in or out.”
I shook my head, “I closed the alley entrance. There are still two other ways in.”
I pointed one other way out and told her where it came out. She looked at me closely, “And the other way?
I laughed, “Well, the other way exits into the palace.”
Shadow laughed, “I knew it!”
I smiled and looked at the prince and then at Shadow, “Well cousin?”
Shadow nodded, “Ask the king.”
I nodded and looked at Cassandra, “Your music boxes are very good. Would you like to see my version?”
She smiled and nodded. I pushed a hanging drape away from one of the walls and entered another room, only to return a moment later. I pulled a covered display case that was six feet wide, four feet deep and five feet tall behind me. I moved it to a little way in front of the table. I looked at everyone, “Close your eyes and listen.”
I waited a moment and then pulled the cover off and then touched a diamond on the top of the case. The whole front of the case seemed to fade and the room was filled with bird song. The fragrant smell of flowers filled the room and everyone opened their eyes. I watched Cassandra’s face as she saw the display. Everyone was stunned silent.
I looked at the display; it had been over six months since I had finished it. It was a forest scene with a small brook going from one side to the other. There were a dozen trees of different sizes; the trunks were either silver or gold. The smaller branches were jade with leaves of Emerald. There were bushes and spots of grass or moss, all made out of green gems of different shades. The trees and bushes moved as if from a breeze.
In the trees or bushes were all kinds of birds. Fire birds made of Ruby, Blue birds of Sapphire, Snow birds made of Alabaster and many many more. The birds all moved, flying from tree to tree as they sang. On the ground were a dozen rabbits of silver, four deer of gold, a red amethyst fox, two otters made from pearl and a small black onyx cat. The animals walked around on the ground; except for the otters, they splashed and play up and down the small creek. There were two dozen different types of flowers. Flowers that grew on the ground, flowers that bushed out and flowers that were on vines and climbed. They were all different colors and shapes, each with its own scent. Cassandra finally looked up at me with an expression of awe. I caressed her face, “Enjoy, I’ll return in a bit.”
I walked into the room with my bath and continued right on past. The wall looked like it had a small niche but once in it, it turned and a narrow opening was in front of you. I moved down the passage in the darkness, my right hand running along the wall. I was counting raised bumps that told how far I had come. Finally I reached the end of the passage and moved to the other side. A ladder was carved into the rock, it went up about ten or twelve feet.
At the top of the ladder I stepped off and slowly made my way the five feet to a wooden panel. I slid a small piece of wood out of the way and looked into a lower passage in the palace. I listened and closed the view port and touched the side of the panel. There was a slight click and the panel moved out into the hallway. I closed the panel behind me and moved the dozen feet to a servant’s staircase.
On the third floor I hesitated again and listened. I moved swiftly down the hall to a door near the end. I opened the door and stepped in, closing the door behind me. There were three people in the room; a maid, a guard who was reaching for his sword and Elizabeth. I knelt with my arms out, “Princess?”
Elizabeth’s eyes were wide as she looked at me and then she laughed, “Cat! I knew you would come.”
I grinned as she ran into my arms and gave me a hug. She stepped back, “Did you get my present?”
I laughed and pulled the tiny wooden flower out. “It was very thoughtful of you.”
I put the flower away, looking at the others in the room before looking at Elizabeth, “I need to talk to your father. Can you take me to him so that I can talk to him in private?”
Elizabeth nodded and I stood taking her hand as the guard moved closer, “The king doesn’t want her to leave her room.”
I smiled, “I’m sure you know why. The problem is that the mages will be moving openly now and I need to make sure the princess is safe.”
He looked at me for a long time while Elizabeth fidgeted. He finely nodded, “The king and Queen think highly of you, so okay.”
I turned to the door and put my hand on the wood and listened before opening the door. I stepped into the hall and Elizabeth led me to the stairs and down a floor with the guard following along behind. As we approached a set of double doors, I felt the swirl of magic behind us.
I released Elizabeth’s hand and spun around, pushing the guard to the side. A black cloaked mage stood a dozen feet away. I was thinking that I was really getting tired of them doing this and that maybe Shadow and her father had something when they mentioned my father and what his clan did. The mage took one step, “Move out of the way Sin’clair and I will let you live.”
I suddenly felt better and laughed, “You’re half right. You should leave before you make me do something you will regret.”
The mage gestured with his staff and a sparkling globe appeared and flew towards me. I held up my hand and felt the force of magic slow and then stop. The globe hung between the mage and myself. I started walking towards him and reached out with my other hand and made a sweeping gesture, moving the forces of magic into place.
The mage’s staff vanished and he gasped. I gesture at the glowing spell hanging in the air, pulling the strands of magic apart and it faded and disappeared. I made a grabbing gesture at the mage, pulling the magic around me and forcing them to do as I wanted. The mage stiffened unable to move or speak as I slowly walked around him. When I was back in front of him, I looked into his eyes, “I warned you.”
A long spike like a sliver of wood appeared in my hand and I shoved it up under his chin and into his brain. No flames consumed him as I pulled the strands of magic apart. As I turned, his staff dropped out of thin air and landed on his body. In the doorway stood the king and his wife, Elizabeth was holding her fathers hand. Peter stood in front of them, “You’re a mage!”
I walked towards the King, “No. I’m something else.”
I stopped beside him, still looking at the King, “Well met your majesty.”
He smiled, “Well, now I know how you got past all their traps.”
I laughed, “Actually I didn’t use magic. That would be cheating.”
I looked at Peter, “Shadow is with the prince.”
I looked back at the King, “The mages that are involved with this won’t bother with kidnapping any more. They have lost too many followers. I can safely take Elizabeth and your wife someplace safe until I deal with them.”
Peter cleared his throat, “You’re going to deal with them?”
I looked at him, “You told me, my father was supposed to keep them in check.”
The king cleared his throat and looked at Peter. Peter nodded and the King looked at his wife, “Go with him Mary.”
I held out my hand for Elizabeth, “You’re not afraid of the dark are you?”
Elizabeth took my hands as I began to walk, “um, only a little.”
I smiled down at her as her mother fell in behind us, “Well in that case, I will let you use some friends of mine.”
I led them down a set of stairs and along the hall to the panel I had entered through. I looked at Elizabeth, “can you keep a secret?”
Elizabeth nodded and I touched the center of a small carved flower. The panel opened and her mother gasped. I led them into the small space and had the queen pull the wooden handle that closed the panel. The space instantly went black. Elizabeth was squeezing my hand tightly. I knelt and moved Elizabeth closer, “Just past the edge here is a ladder down. It goes down about twelve feet to another passageway. Your majesty, if you would wait for me to return?”
I felt her shift, “Please hurry, I don’t like the dark much.”
I shifted Elizabeth onto my back and slipped onto the ladder. When I got to the bottom, I knelt and helped Elizabeth off. I pulled a tiny box from inside my shirt and put it in Elizabeth’s hand. I moved her thumb to open one end and a dozen tiny fireflies appeared. Elizabeth giggled while I stood, “I’ll be right back.”
I climbed the ladder and stopped at the top, “Majesty?”
I heard her moving towards me and held out my hand. I helped her onto the ladder and listened as she slowly made her way down. When I heard her moving off the ladder I quickly slipped down. At the bottom, I found mother and daughter both watching the fireflies. I reached out and took Elizabeth’s hand, “Elizabeth, take your mom’s hand.”
I led them down the passageway with fireflies flickering around us. When I reached the end of the passageway, I knelt and had Elizabeth open the box. All the fireflies flew right into the box and she closed it. I led then into the grotto and across the bathing room. As soon as the queen reached the other room she stopped in surprise. Elizabeth clapped, “that’s really pretty.”
Shadow jumped up, “I didn’t hear you come in.”
I grinned as I walked to the display and pressed the diamond on top. The front of the case became clear and then we were looking through glass. Cassandra stood and stepped closer, “That was the most impressive thing I have ever seen.”
I grinned, “I could show you something more impressive. It wouldn’t be as flashy as this display though.”
Cassandra laughed and kissed my cheek, “Nothing could be more impressive.”
Kaira laughed, “Wait until he shows you the four seasons.”
I looked at Kaira and grinned, “Don’t give it away imp.”
Kaira laughed again, “That’s was where he found me.”
I smiled and turned to Shadow. She was standing by the queen as she held her son. “Cousin?”
Shadow looked at me and I smiled, “Can you stay and protect them?”
She nodded and I looked at Elizabeth, “Elizabeth? Why don’t you look in my workroom? Kaira can show you where.”
I looked at Kaira, “Stay with them imp and try to stay out of trouble.”
She grinned, “Where’s the fun in that?”
I heard the queen and my cousin snicker as I grabbed the air where Kaira had stood. Kaira had skipped back next to Elizabeth. I grinned and held hands with Cassandra, “Would you walk with me?”
She smiled and nodded. I led Cassandra out, stopping to open and then close the entrance. I took the back way; through alleys and slip throughs. When I stopped we were a short way from momma’s kitchen door. I waited, listening to the sounds around us. I laughed and stepped out into the alley, “Archie, your wife isn’t going to like you back in the alleys.”
A tall skinny man stepped out of the shadows across the alley. He was grinning, “Is that you street rat? Momma said you might show up.”
I held my hand out to Cassandra and she stepped forward. Archie looked at her in surprise, “You have a girl urchin?”
I grinned and looked at Cassandra, “Cassandra, this is a friend. His name is Archie.”
I looked at Archie, “how many others are around?”
Archie shrugged, “A few, here and there. Duke Tonis has several guards in the shop.”
I nodded and turned to led Cassandra to the kitchen door. I knocked and opened the door to find a woman mercenary pulling out a short sword. I grinned, “Not you too. I thought you were contracted to guard Baroness Marish.”
She grinned as she replaced the sword and stepped back so we could enter, “The Baroness sent me here.”
I looked at momma by stove, “Kaira is safe at home. I have someone there with her.”
Momma chucked, “protecting her or guarding her?”
I grinned and Cassandra giggled. I turned to Cassandra, “This woman with momma is Teresa.”
Cassandra nodded to her and I looked at momma, “It’s time for me to be what I am supposed to be.”
I thought about the magic that surrounded me and gestured down my body, pulling and twisting it a bit. My black clothes shimmered and turned from black to shinning white, all except a small black cat high on my chest. I held my hand out, pulling strands of magic together and shaping them into a softly glowing dove that flew from my hand as soon as I finished. The door into the dinning room opened and George poked his head in, “momma, the duchess asked if you made any scones.”
George looked at me and grinned, “Back again?”
I smiled and looked from him to momma as I took Cassandra’s hand, “How would you like to move your shop? I promise your customers will follow, for the view if for no other reason.”
George looked at momma who was looking at me strangely, “Your home kitten?”
I grinned, “You haven’t called me that in a long time. Yes, my old home.”
Momma looked at George and nodded. I pulled Cassandra behind me as I followed George into the other room. Both, Duke Tonis and his wife were there. The Duke was sitting at one table with another noble and his wife was sitting at another table with three other ladies. There were six guards spread around the room watching.
I waved at the Duke; I had known him since I was little. “I was going to show Momma Seriff and George a new place for their shop. Want to tag along? I can promise a nice surprise when we get there.”
He grinned, “It isn’t in one of your alley’s is it James?”
I smiled and shook my head as I led Cassandra towards the door. Almost as soon as I stepped through the door I saw and felt magic as it began weaving a web. I reached out and changed the pattern before pulling on two strands of magic that hid the mages. I recognized both and knew they weren’t bad like some of the others.
While they glared, I made a throwing gesture and their staffs disappeared. I released Cassandra’s hand and started walking across the street towards them, “This is something you weren’t expecting.”
I used my finger to draw a glowing glyph and tossed it skywards. Both mages followed the glyph with their eyes. When they looked back, their eyes were wide and I was close to both of them. “When I was a small boy and had started doing magic, I thought I wanted to be a mage. My mother was not happy about the broken broomstick I had decided to use as my staff, but she understood. She asked me a question; she asked if the magic came through the staff or just into me. She asked if I cast my magic through the staff or just on its own.”
I looked back and forth between them, “did you know the first spell a magic user does is almost always destructive? Mine wasn’t; I had been watching a squirrel and shaped a rock into its likeness and then animated it.”
I looked at the mages again, “I was only a small boy and wanted a companion.”
I pulled the small black onyx cat from my pocket and held it in the palm of my hand. I looked at the mage’s, “Beautiful isn’t it?”
While they watched, I breathed on it and I wove magic into the small figurine. The cat’s head came up and looked around before it stood and stretched. It turned and walked up my arm to my shoulder and lay against my neck. I sighed and held out my hand, pulling in strands of magic. A mage staff appeared in my hand. I looked at the staff, “Did you know that a mage who practices a lot of destructive magic goes through several staff’s in his lifetime?”
I glanced at the mage to my left. He was staring intently at the staff; it was his. I looked back at the staff, “You see, destructive magic makes the center of the staff brittle and spreads discord with each spell.”
I held the staff out to the mage and he hesitantly took it. I pulled in the strands of magic again and this time the other staff appeared in my hand. I let my hand move over the wood, “The staff of a mage that practices creative magic is different. It tends to get stronger; there are even reports of it taking on a life of its own to help the mage.”
I held the staff out to the other mage and looked at them, “The two of you have never harmed me or mine. In fact, from all I have heard you are good men. Go back to what you were doing and stay out of this.”
They looked at each other and finally nodded before turning away. As they walked up the street, I saw Cassandra’s grandmother and the other two mage women. I turned and walked back to Cassandra and momma. Momma was looking up at the glowing glyph and Cassandra laughed, “We might as well post our bans.”
I grinned and faced the street. I used my finger like I had with the glyph and elegantly wrote out our proposed engagement. I signed my name and looked at a smiling Cassandra. For the first time I saw her staff as she summoned it and then stepped up next to me, her staff was a pearly white and glowed faintly as she pointed it and let her name appear beside mine.
When I took her hand, the onyx cat woke and walked to the edge of my shoulder. Without waiting it leaped and landed on Cassandra’s shoulder. I could almost hear it purr as it lay down. Cassandra looked up from the cat and grinned, “My own cat to carry around.”
I grinned back and looked at her grandmother as they arrived, “Grandmother, we were going to visit my old home. Would you join us?”
She smiled as she glanced up at my glyph and the bans I had just signed with Cassandra, “I would be delighted.”
I took Cassandra’s hand and started leading the way. It wasn’t far and was still on the main street of the city. At first it looked like a blank wall, in truth it was the end of a large stone warehouse. I released Cassandra’s hand and placed my hand on the wall. There was a shimmer and suddenly two tall wooden doors appeared. I looked at everyone and smiled, “This was my home, welcome.”
I touched one of the wooden doors and pushed on strings of magic, both doors slowly opened. Inside was a foggy haze on each side with a clear aisle winding into the building. I laughed and took Cassandra’s hand again. I started pulling her with me and she only hesitated a moment before going with me. I led them to the center of the building where a large clear cobble stone area was, with another path leading towards the back.
I pointed to the four stone pillars, (They were only three feet high). The first pillar that had been to the right as we came in started glowing and the fog lifted. That whole corner of the warehouse seemed to come alive. It was as if spring had returned and filled that part of the warehouse. There were trees and bushes, grass and a tiny creek. Bird song filled the air and the fragrance of a spring day rose around us. As the ground became visible they saw the small deer and rabbits as well as squirrels and other small creatures.
A small red squirrel came scampering out and up my leg, I smiled, “This is Trickster. He was the first thing I ever made, my first spell. He was my companion for a long time.”
When he rubbed my face, I nodded to Cassandra and he quickly jumped across to her arm. I gestured and another pillar towards the back started glowing and the area that was in fog started clearing. As it cleared, everyone with me could see the small meadow and a lynx walked towards me out of the brush. Again they heard birds, saw animals and smelled the summer flowers in bloom. I knelt and embraced the lynx as it came to me and butted my chest. I looked at Cassandra, “This is Sir Lynx.”
Cassandra laughed, “Well met Sir Lynx.”
I stood and gestured to the other pillar towards the back and it began to glow. As the fog cleared, they saw a forest alive with the colors of fall. The trees were alive with birds of every color while the animals on the ground moved around through the leaves. A troupe of six otters played in a small stream. When the scene was completely clear they came to the edge of the display and chattered at us. Momma Seriff laughed, “They already sound like customers.”
Everyone laughed with her and I turned to the last pillar. As it glowed and the fog lifted everyone was quiet. It was winter; snow covered the ground and the branches of evergreen trees. We could almost feel the cold of the snow. The birds that moved around were brightly colored and called softly to one another. There were white rabbits and a pack of four small wolves. At the front was a large black cat. I laughed, “That’s where you went.”
I looked at Cassandra, “That is Christopher, my cat.”
Cassandra grinned as Trickster ran down her leg and past Christopher. I looked around at everyone, “This was my home.”
I looked at George, “do you think a shop right here would work?”
George looked around, “It would be bigger than our shop. Where are we going to put momma’s stoves?”
I laughed and pulled several strings of magic and momma’s stoves appeared in the center of the clearing. A gesture and the weaving of magic, brought stones into being and they wove together making a chimney that climbed up to the ceiling. I laughed at momma’s expression, “This way you get to visit with everyone too.”
More magic brought stone tables into being with wooden chairs around each. I looked around and made low shelves for momma and brought everything from their shop. I grinned at momma, “I believe the Duchess wanted some scones and a nice pot of tea would be in order.”
Momma gave me a dirty look and then moved towards the stove. I felt the stirring of magic and turned to start walking back to the street, “Stay here, I’ll be back.”
I walked into the street in front of the warehouse and waited. It wasn’t long before twelve mages turned a far corner and walked closer. The people on the street always know when there is danger and today was no exception. The street emptied quickly, all except the mages and me. I felt a stirring of magic behind me that was different and turned to see two mages I didn’t know, one older and one younger. They had a look that sang in my blood.
I turned back to the mages in front of me and reached for the strands of magic that their staffs were pulling in. With a twist and a shove the staffs disappeared, all but one. I looked at him, “Do you really think your staff can save you?”
He glared and gesture while cursing. A huge ball of flame appeared and rushed towards me. I pulled a couple of strings of magic together and it stopped moving. I looked past it at the mages and they shifted uncomfortably. “Using magic in this manner is very easy to counter.”
I gestured to a large stone carving on the roof across from the warehouse. It was of a hawk and made from red stone. I pulled the strings of magic around the fire ball and it started for the stone. I concentrated and wove several strings together that made the ball change into a glowing sphere. When it struck the stone, it seemed to just sink in and then the red hawk began to glow.
When the glow faded, it mantled its wings and screamed. The mages blanched as I kept looking at them, “You have broken your sworn word. You have betrayed the king and the people of this country. I give you two days to reach the border before I start hunting you. Don’t even bother going home.”
The looked at each other, all except the one still holding his staff. He continued to stare as he murmured another spell. I pulled in a strand of magic as the two mages from behind me stopped off to one side. I made a loop and tossed it as the mage facing me started to gesture. He squeaked as a shimmering appeared around him. The spell he cast hit the shimmering and shattered into sparks that began zooming around him.
Every time one of the sparks hit the shimmering sphere two would bounce back. He gestured with his staff and it suddenly exploded and all the sparks stopped moving. Suddenly they all headed for his flame covered body. Wherever they hit a black spot appeared and he screamed louder. Finally the shimmering faded and disappeared as the blackened body of the mage dropped to the ground. I looked at the other mages, “Why are you still here?”
They looked at each other again and then turned to start running. I looked up at the large Red Hawk that was still mantling and held out my arm. It dropped from the roof and opened large wings to glide to my arm. I turned carefully to face the two new mages, “Welcome, can I help you?”
The older mage was leaning on his staff, “That was very impressive.”
The younger mage was grinning at me. I bowed my head and gestured to the doorway into the warehouse. They both followed as I led the way inside. I could hear their murmured words but not clearly. As we came into new tea shop, Gem stood and walked to me with a big grin on her face. “We just had a visit from a colorful dragon.”
I grinned and then laughed as I looked at George, “he is called George and unlike you, is very shy.”
George started and then laughed with everyone else. I looked at a rafter high overhead and lifted my arm. I looked at the Red Hawk, “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable up there?”
He tilted his head as if thinking about my words. He finally crouched and sprang away and started flying up to land on one of the larger beams. Gem watched the big hawk fly and then looked at me with eyebrows raised. I grinned, “Did momma teach you that or do all women learn it?”
Gem grinned as everyone laughed again. I turned to the two strangers; they were both turning their heads every which way while grinning. I cleared my throat, “I didn’t introduce myself. James…”
I looked at the older mage as he absently flicked his wrist and sent his staff away. He bowed to Gem’s grandmother, “Mistress.”
She waved her fingers and he grinned before looking back at me, “My name is Samuel George Mac’garth and I am your uncle.”
I looked at the other mage and he bowed, “Terry Joseph Mac’garth your cousin.”
I smiled and bowed before Gem slipped her arm in mine, “The mages we felt?”
I shrugged, “One I was forced to kill but the others all ran away.”
I felt at peace here like I always had. I sighed and looked around as the two new mages sat at the table with Gem’s grandmother. Momma Seriff was busy at one of the stoves and everyone else was relaxing at various tables. I sighed and looked at Gem, “I have to go.”
She looked at me, “The mage Grimias?”
I nodded, “He’s the last.”
She bit her lip, “Until the next time.”
I smiled, “I am staying here. I am not going to hide what I am anymore. I am not a mage, I’m a wizard. There may be a next time but if they know what I am and that this place is under my protection they may stay away and find someplace else.”
I looked into to her eyes and smiled, “want to help me with a spell?”
She grinned, “You need help?”
I nodded, “I want to bring everyone from the grotto here. I can open a portal and hold that end open but I need someone to hold this end and keep it open.”
She pursed her lips as her staff appeared. I focused my thoughts on the grotto and my kitchen. I twisted and pulled several strings of magic as they seemed to struggle against what I was doing. A glowing square formed in front of us and slowly it cleared. Shadow and a frightened Kaira both stood in front of the queen with daggers drawn. I tightened my hold, “Bring them through Shadow and hurry.”
She only hesitated before pushing Kaira towards me. Kaira shimmered and disappeared before she was suddenly stepping forward. Gem held her hand out, “Move behind us Kaira.”
Shadow pushed first John and then Elizabeth through. She hesitated and the queen hurried past her. Shadow didn’t wait and was following on the queen’s heels. Through the portal I could see my display still sitting there and smiled before pulling another set of strings of magic. The display shifted and slid through the portal. I looked at Gem to see her straining a little, “On three. One, two three!”
I released the portal at the same time as Gem and put my arm around her. She sighed and shivered, “I don’t know how you have the strength.”
I gave her a squeeze and turned to see everyone. The Queen had gone to the table with the Duchess and John and Elizabeth were being pulled towards Sir Lynx and Christopher by Kaira. I grinned, “Sir Lynx is Kaira’s favorite.”
Gem smiled and reached out to push the diamond on my display and the area around the display was filled with bird song and the smell of flowers. I looked at George and the others with a smile, “My latest piece.”
Momma came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Gem’s grandmother and the other mages gathered around the display. I kissed Gem’s cheek and whispered, “Have someone put it in a good place. If you follow the path to the back you’ll find where I am putting my shop. Above it is living quarters.”
Gem looked at me with questions in her eyes. I caressed her cheek, “I have one more mage to see.”
She nodded and then sighed, “Be careful.”
I smiled and let my arm slip from around her. I was walking out before anyone even realized it. In the street outside, I turned and started walking towards the richer section of the city. Mage Grimias would be expecting me. I wasn’t worried about being seen and walked through the city calmly. I knew when I felt someone behind me and only glanced back before continuing. Shadow slipped up beside me, “Didn’t think anyone noticed did you?”
I smiled, “It doesn’t matter if they noticed.”
She kept looking at me and smiled almost to herself. “You are awful confident.”
I grinned at her and kept going, “He knows I’m coming so why sneak?”
When I reached the street Mage Grimias lived on, I stopped. The whole street was crisscrossed with spell traps. I glanced at Shadow, “You might want to stay here. He placed a few traps in the street.”
She grinned, “how about if I just follow in your footsteps?”
I nodded and turned to start a drunken path down the street. It ended at the courtyard into his manor. I looked at Shadow, “Now the fun starts.”
I concentrated and then reached out to pull the strands of magic apart. I twisted and pushed and twirled them until they surrounded the manor but didn’t enter. The front door burst open as the wide eyed Mage stormed out throwing a ball of fire and lightning. I pulled and gestured at the strings of magic that made up the ball and it shimmered and then turned into a large white cat that dropped to the ground.
Shadow’s throwing spike spun through the air only to burst into flames before reaching the mage. He gestured to Shadow and a shadowy figure sped towards her. I pulled the strings apart and a small amber Chipmunk dropped to the ground and followed the cat towards me. The Mage glared and started another spell only to frown with a look of both surprise and strain.
When the huge ball of flame began to form, lightning shot out to strike anything close. I shook my head and reached out to start reweaving the strands of magic. Mage Grimias was showing more signs of strain and couldn’t seem to release the magic. Finally it broke free and burst into a shower of sparks. Out of the sparks flew a dozen snow birds that left a trail of tiny snow flakes behind.
Mage Grimias dropped to his knees as his staff shattered into dust. I sighed and walked forward. I reached inside him and change the strands of magic I found. When I stopped in front of him, he looked up weakly, “You haven’t won.”
I shook my head, “The others are gone. I will know if anymore come. As for you, your days of magic are over.”
I looked around and began to weave strings of magic and when I finished I tied them to him. He jerked as if burned and then jerked to his feet and started running. Shadow watched him go, “What did you do?”
I smiled and knelt to pick up the cat and chipmunk, “He will not stop running until he reaches the border. Any time he tries magic it will feel as if he is burning and the harder he tries the worse it gets. If another mage tries to help him, my glyph will appear. If he continues they will both be sucked dry before flames consume them.”
Shadow nodded, “good.”
I stood and turned to the street with a sigh, “One last thing.”
I reached out as Shadow watched me. The strings of magic I pulled apart didn’t resist and came apart easily. I finally nodded to Shadow, “Time to go home, you can tell his majesty it’s over.”
She slipped away before I had gone a block. The flock of snow birds followed me as I walked through the streets drawing a crowd. I stopped outside the warehouse that would once more be my home. The snow birds swept down and through the door. I used my finger and carefully moved the strings of power. Over the wide doorway glyphs appeared.
I walked through the door and down the path knowing I was walking home.
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