The Art of Acquisition
There are thieves, and then there are Thieves.
Symphony was the latter, the masked legend who ran the thieves’ guild in my childhood. She moonlighted as Siyara Haven, polished noblewoman of a proud family, my aunt and mentor.
When the Haven family came to Velrya in generations past, we stole thievery itself from the city, prettied it up with a genteel veneer, and branded it our own. A Haven in Velrya was nigh untouchable.
“Which is why,” the villain drawled with a smirk in her voice, “you’ll be working your first solo job in Tesri Rethil.” She ignored my bemusement easily, perched on the edge of a dining table with her feet cushioned on a chair. Symphony was, when standing, my height, which wasn’t tall. She was hard, comprised of muscled planes and bony angles blanketed by a cascade of copper-blonde hair.
We would look a lot alike, if you added a few decades and a significant helping of dangerousness to my coltish figure.
As you’d expect from a legend, my aunt was accomplished in a variety of noble pursuits: swordplay; sorcery; sleight-of-hand… In other words, she was an ideal target for a resentful and envious sort of idolatry from my fourteen year-old self.
“No support from the guild, Aayara,” she outlined cheerfully. “No understanding with the constables.”
If she weren’t routinely obnoxious, I might have wondered if I had ended up on my dear mentor’s bad side recently.
“On the other hand,” one of hers reached into a bowl on the table before she lobbed an apple at me, perhaps for emphasis. I dodged it, and her expression wrinkled in pained exasperation as it thwacked into the floor.
That was too bad for her; I wasn’t going to get pelted by fruit for anyone’s approval.
“The city is relatively young, and there isn’t a rival guild operating in it. You’ll be free to work without negotiating for dispensation from the locals.” She muttered a “Thank the gods,” as a quiet aside, and I puzzled over what would have been so difficult about that.
“You’ll be reporting to me as you gather information and make plans; I’ll want to know how and when you’ll be going in. I won’t save you from bad decisions, but I’ll be judging your preparatory work whether or not you succeed.”
I was contemplating sending back the bruised apple in an expression of my gratitude when the absurdity of her statement hit me.
“Wait, you’re coming with me?” Tesri Rethil wasn’t too far from Velrya, true, but the thought of the close, personal attention of Symphony for the trip caused my self-preservation instincts to kick in.
“You do listen. Hm, startling.”
“What about the guild?”
“Silver can handle it until we get back.”
“Couldn’t Silver take me? Or Steel, even.” Even if I was her apprentice, taking the guild mistress from the city just to oversee my first solo heist seemed rather extreme. My uncle or cousin could probably be spared much more easily. Plus it would spare me, which was really the important thing.
“I’m afraid not.” Her head tilted upward and she quirked a grin at the ceiling. “We have a client. One who asked for me, specifically.
“We’ve worked out,” her words slowed, smug, “quite the beneficial deal.”
There was a moment of wide-eyed silence as my thoughts tripped over this revelation. She was giving me a Symphony heist for my first solo job? If I’d wanted proof that I was being taken seriously as her potential successor, I had it. Or maybe her client was awful and she was being vindictive.
“You’ll be after a dagger named Luck’s Touch. It’s owned by House Ta’thyriel, wealthy landowners of some political importance in the area. It’s said to be enchanted, so it will be guarded or secured somehow.
“How are your studies in sorcery progressing?”
I managed not to wince, but it was a shallow victory. Symphony had taught me how to actively connect with the Dominions that I could use, Deception and Sound. She’d also instructed me in the use of guild sign language to shape and catalyze spells. From there, she had left it to me to drive my improvement.
Despite starting out as what my aunt had described as a prodigy of Sound sorcery, I hadn’t devoted much time to the tedious experimentation and practice necessary to expand my skillset in that area. Sorcery instructors were rare, and tended to cluster in colleges. For Sound sorcery, I'd find no better instructor than Symphony, but she'd concentrated on other elements of my training in the time she'd had to spare for me. Once I'd been given a framework for casting, I'd been expected to make progress in my free time. After I’d actually had someone to practice with, though, it was simply no longer as entertaining to make do on my own.
“I can change and throw my voice,” I began.
“You could do that when you were seven. Try again.”
“…around corners now. That’s new.” An unimpressed face tilted down from studying the ceiling to eye me. I moved on.
“I can conjure sound to break brittle objects. I have to be touching whatever I target, though, or I can’t control the direction, and the intensity disperses too quickly.
“As for Deception, I can create small illusions now.”
“Can they move?”
“Stable ones won’t by themselves, but they’ll stay with what they’re fixed to, if I’m careful. Here, watch.” I flashed through a few of the guild hand signs. Image, knife, gold, hand, appear. I curled my left hand just in time for the seeming of a golden dagger to appear in my grip. I waggled my hand about, and the dagger moved with it. Then I clenched my fingers and the illusion shattered and faded.
“Work on using fewer signs. Eventually, you should only need a single gesture, but your goal right now should be to pare your casting down to three.”
Nag, nag. I wanted to roll my eyes. She wanted three gestures, huh? Well, I did have one trick I could show off…
Image, move, I signed. Then I held one finger up at chest-level, mentally marking it as my position, moved it forward to indicate her position, and twitched my finger around the left of that spot. There was an indistinct flicker of movement from Symphony’s side, and she startled like a cat. The impression faded before she’d turned her head, and I stood smugly.
“Hm,” she noted as she turned back to me. “Had any success using the Motion Dominion?” Satisfaction banished. That’s family for you. I avoided her gaze, and she took the hint.
“Well, it’s not ideal, but it will do for now. Come on,” she hopped off the table and headed for the doorway leading out into the hall. “Let’s get packed and get going. I’ll teach you silence shaping on the journey there. It’s a Core Sorcery trick, so you’ll pick it up quickly.”
“Wait.” She paused at my voice, but didn’t bother looking back at me.
“If I can’t get the dagger, are you planning to try for it afterward?” I didn’t want to be responsible for whatever deal Siyara was so smug about falling through. The difficulty of stealing an item after the target was alerted went up considerably, and though my aunt was famous for a reason, the insecurity of inexperience had me wondering if handing me the reins was wise.
Her hand waved in a shooing gesture, as if to banish that line of thought.
“Just get the dagger and try not to get caught. That’s all you need to worry about.” Right. Why worry about the deal falling through if I’d be at the city’s mercy by that point anyway? Besides, Symphony knew my skills. If she thought I was ready for this, I was ready.
I moved to follow her out the door, but it slammed in my face as my mentor walked ahead without me.
The Havens were rich in a utilitarian sense. Our estate, Sanctuary, was its own high-walled, secret-tunneled world of intimidation and paranoia.
The Ta’thyriels were of a different species. Their wealth was flavored heavily by shameless ostentation, inviting where we were forbidding. Manicured gardens, shaded pavilions, and intricately carved wood and stone begged admiration, and the Ta’thyriels were known to oblige with frequent and lavish parties.
It was the ideal scenario for infiltration. Infiltration, in theory at least, required at least one of two things. The first was a good cover, which required an investment of time and resources to establish. The second was, to put it bluntly, gall: a knowledge of social conventions and the willingness to ignore them to twist polite behavior to one’s favor.
At fourteen, I was widely informed that I completely lacked a working understanding of social conventions. As such, it was with impatience and a familiar sense of frustrated inadequacy that I found myself on a rooftop overlooking a crowd bedecked in lace and embroidery. Symphony had been grudgingly informed of my intention, as she’d requested.
I used the stately and unwisely-placed trees by the building as cover, and sketched the layout of what I could see of the estate properties from my vantage point while I listened to what I could hear of the discussions taking place below me. The crowd was youthful and loudly exuberant, but the conversations were in Isendri, which had a lilting cadence that was distracting when I tried to split my attention.
I identified the man playing host at this particular fête, a rangy youth with an amiable type of hauteur in his voice and expressive, nervous hand gestures. Nalorian Ta’thyriel was his name, and he flitted between guests with buzzing energy.
I’d fallen into a hazy zone of semi-focus as I drew with one ear out for anything of interest. I was knocked right out of it when I heard an unexpectedly familiar voice using a bratty tone I’d never before associated with it.
“Well, my family has enchanted items too, and we’ve never seen the need for such elaborate displays.” She shouldn’t be here. She said this was a solo job. I peered through the foliage in search of the source.
“Displays? Do you mean the Ta’thyriel Gallery? Are all the pieces enchanted then?” There. She looked nothing like my aunt, about twenty years younger in appearance, with the pale skin and white-blonde hair common among the locals, and was speaking with one of the guests.
There were perhaps fifty people mingling about the lawn, a mix of noble and gentile youths. It seemed they weren’t so familiar with one another that a new face caused much suspicion.
I watched her go back and forth with him a bit, reluctantly impressed at how long she must have been keeping this illusion stable as she fished for information. Eventually, Nalorian intervened, the smile on his face contradicted by the tenseness of his shoulders.
“My dear, I believe you are mistaking us. Our security is not merely for the enchanted items in our possession, but for our artifacts. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t know the difference; there are only a handful of artifact-level works in existence, after all.” His words and voice seemed perfectly friendly, but Symphony fluffed up like an angry kitten in her young gentry guise.
“If there are only a handful of these artifacts, then it’s lovely that you managed to procure more than one of them. What pieces do you have here?” Isendri was a much more layered language than our own native Velthryn. With it, Symphony managed all the polite forms of speech while still injecting skepticism in her comments. It was enough to give me a headache, though given the Ta’thyriel’s reaction, perhaps it wasn’t a problem held by me alone.
“The crown Goldfall, and the…legendary weapon, Luck’s Touch,” he replied with a stiff reluctance. “Though while they’re protected in the gallery with the rest of our collection, I’m afraid you won’t see our artifacts on one of our standard tours. They’re ritually guarded, you see. Our security for them is indeed a bit more,” he paused to drive the point home, “elaborate than for the rest.”
I couldn’t see Symphony’s expression, but her hand went up in a delicate gesture to cover her mouth. “My, that does sound inconvenient. To be in possession of two such important treasures and let not a soul actually see them…”
She continued to playfully nettle the young man’s pride until she received a flustered invitation for a “special” tour.
A vision struck me then, of a future in which Symphony taunted me with information she had that I needed. 'You need more training,' she’d tell me, and her lips would pull into that infuriating smirk, and…
The scenarios playing out in my imagination were supplanted by a sudden realization. This was originally a job she’d been hired for, and it would be just like her to steal the blasted dagger and then let me try for it none the wiser.
There was no question: I needed to go on this tour.
I didn’t even need to use signs to throw my voice from here.
“The gallery? Oh, let’s all go!” Interest sparked at that energetic interjection, and people started gravitating toward my aunt’s little group. Once the group determined that they were, actually, all going, they got on their way. I tucked my rough sketch of a map into my satchel, then shaped silence around my hands and feet and scrambled down the side of the building.
When I hit the ground, I inventoried my outfit. Trousers, tucked into leather boots to avoid catching fabrics when I climbed. A long-sleeved tunic. My satchel. Stashed within that were a few alchemical potions, my grappling hook, and my lockpicking set.
There wasn’t nearly enough frippery to pass among this group. I mentally replicated what I could from the ladies who’d been present and flashed my fingers through signs, over and over again. My head ached with the strain of so much Deception casting at once.
I looked down at myself once more. I was in a passable noblewoman’s outfit of the pale blues, creams, and browns that this city seemed to favor. It wouldn’t pass close inspection, as the cloth didn’t move like cloth, merely following the movements of my torso. I wasn’t sure how Siyara had pulled off such a detailed deception for so long, but it was beyond my current abilities. My hair contrasted starkly against the seeming of the cloth, and I grimaced. That would make me stand out. One more casting, then. My hands moved.
As my hair appeared to pale, I blinked rapidly in disorientation. What was I doing again? My eyes flicked to the retreating crowd of nobles. I started after them.
Right. Gallery. Dagger. It was necessary to be included, but unobtrusive. Symphony may interfere; she knew I’d be here today to gather intelligence. The sorceress could have changed her voice along with her appearance, but chose not to. She wanted me to know she was here.
I had responded in kind by using my own voice earlier: message received. Her motive remained in question. It seemed, however, that the schedule had been moved up.
I was catching up. I walked casually at the back of the group. They were entering the building as I got there, and the door started to close. I caught it and stepped inside.
The gallery was remarkably underwhelming, for all Nalorian’s boasting. All right, I’ll admit that assessment may have been unfair. It was well-lit, for a building with no windows, and certainly elegant. Tapestries decorated the walls in scenes that gradually depicted stories and histories. Grand weapons were held by cleverly carved statues of warriors. But it was open space and isolated displays, where I was young enough to dream of gleaming piles of hoarded treasure. This was the same dull refinement I might come across in Velrya.
I surveyed what I could from the entrance. There was a main path like a hallway that started straight from the entryway, then sloped leftward until it curved out of sight. To my left was a narrower path, with an alcove that led to a closed and guarded door. Behind me stood two other guards bearing short swords and crossbows, and before me a group of youths were starting to spread out into the main hall.
Nalorian took us left first, toward the alcove. The guard raised a brow, but opened the doors to allow us access. Within was yet another hall, running parallel to the main hall. We ambled down it, gossip and chatter echoing across lamp-lit walls. Soon we came to what appeared to be a cul-de-sac, with Isendri runes carved into the wall.
I recognized the characters, but they appeared to be written in some sort of cipher, leaving me unable to determine the details of the ritual. Embedded around the writing were stones I recognized as planar essence, material components that were used for rituals. Upon examination, some appeared the carmine color of planar essence from the Dominion of Blood, others from dominions I couldn’t place.
Nalorian drew an ornamental dagger from his side and used it to prick his left thumb with a wince. He drew his bleeding thumb along the inner edge of the carvings, and the handle of a doorway twisted out from the wall, to the appreciative murmurings of his audience.
The door was opened to reveal an egg-shaped chamber, with a high, rounded ceiling and broad pillars. Wood panels divided the room into segmented areas, each panel carved with Isendri cypher and embedded with more planar essence. I eyed the floor and noted that though the walls of the panels left a space open for entry, the wooden frames along the bottom of the structures completed the ritual circles.
Two of the rooms held artifacts, according to Nalorian. Both were perched on raised stands in the center of their otherwise empty rooms. One was an elegant golden circlet with the name Goldfall, which he claimed the Ta’thyriels had a hand in creating. The ritual containing it had more of the planar essence I’d identified as Blood before, and I looked across from it to the room with Luck’s Touch.
No Blood essence, but I did see Protection, and… was that Void? I felt my face blanch.
Luck’s Touch had a blade that gleamed silver. Long and narrow, it tapered to a point like a needle’s at the tip. Its guard and pommel were rounded, and other than half-hearted patterns on the hilt, the dagger was rather plain.
I waited for a moment when no eyes were on me, then ducked out of sight behind one of the pillars at the back edge of the room. I would wait until the group left to continue with their tour, then take my time to figure out how to remove the dagger safely from its confines. Even if they locked the doors behind them, rituals like this would need regular maintenance; the planar essences would need to be replaced. Once the doors opened again, I’d abscond with the dagger and leave an illusion in its place to buy time.
My noblewoman disguise had faded by the time the group cleared out, leaving…well a noblewoman in an ignoble outfit. I returned to the paneled room, biting my lip in thought as I approached the gap that I hesitated to label an entrance.
I wished I could read the details of the ritual, but I would have to make do with what I knew.
The Dominion of Protection, whose functions resemble its name, was said to make barriers. It was also said to make its users resistant or immune to harm, or to make objects unbreakable. I supposed it could be used to reinforce the paneling, but anyone who broke the walls would disrupt the ritual and be hit by energy backlash, so it seemed a poor investment.
I took the map from the satchel and balled it up, then lobbed it at the entrance, testing an idea. It bounced off an invisible barrier.
Well, that was one function accounted for.
Void, unlike Protection, was known for its detrimental properties. The basic function of Void is dispersing dominion energy. Of course, since everything in existence is some composition of dominion energy, this ends up being almost invariably destructive.
Before I’d need to worry about that, however, I’d have to get through the barrier. I could try to remove the planar essence stones, but as far as I was aware, there wasn’t a way to do that without violent backlash from a ritual. There were three ways to end a ritual safely that I knew of: to allow it to complete its objective, which wasn’t an option with ongoing rituals like these; to build conditions into the ritual that would allow for suspension or termination, such as the blood trigger at the door; and to allow the ritual to gradually run out of energy, which would happen if the planar essence stones weren’t maintained.
Given that there were no planar essence stones of Blood, I could rule out a key mechanism like the one on the doorway. Waiting out the energy drain wasn’t feasible either.
How else could I approach the problem?
My eyes drifted as I thought, and I focused on the absurdly grand ceiling. The absurdly grand…high…ceiling. I looked back at the planar essence and noted relatively few Protection stones.
I picked up the paper ball and lobbed it over the paneling. It bounced back again, hitting that invisible barrier. I tried once more, chucking it far above the height of the walls.
The ball fell into the room, bouncing lightly off the floor before rolling to a stop. Nothing exploded or caught fire.
I pulled out my grappling hook. Remembering that there were still people outside the room, I shaped silence around the hook. My throat started to hurt as the cost of using Sound took its toll. I’d spaced out my Sound castings more than I had my Deception spells, but it seemed not enough to avoid consequences. Ah well, it wasn’t like I’d need to speak to anyone for a while anyway.
It was easier to toss the grappling hook than the paper ball at the right height to get over the barrier, but my first attempt didn’t even end up with the hook on the stand the dagger rested on. As I dragged the hook back, I wondered if it would catch at the top of the barrier. I didn’t want to trigger whatever the Void element of the ritual was, but the idea of trying to scale an invisible, sorcerous wall was entertaining. When it seemed as if it might snag, however, it pushed slowly through instead. It seemed the barrier had some permeability at the edges.
Adjusting my aim was child’s play, though, compared to actually hooking the blasted dagger. I had to reapply the silencing on the hook more than once, and I couldn’t tell how much of the pain in my throat was due to losing my voice, and how much was due to pure rage putting me in a stranglehold.
When I finally, finally dragged the dagger up those last few inches over the barrier and it tilted off the edge to my side, I felt tears brimming over. Never before or since have I felt so happy to have pointed blades approaching my face.
I ducked out of the way, wiping my eyes and sniffling a bit. Finally, I could grab this thing and relax for a while. I would hide out until it was time to leave.
I wound the rope attached to my grappling hook back up and stowed it away in my satchel. Then I knelt down and picked up my prize.
“Ha…” As my fingers gripped the hilt and I stood, the abrupt chuckle nearly made me drop it.
“Ahaha…” My eyes nearly fell from their sockets as I jolted. That laughter, it sounded as though it had come from Luck’s Touch.
“Ahahaha!” I was, suddenly and inexplicably, exhausted. I felt awful in more ways than I could think to complain of. I reeled for several moments while the weapon lost itself to hysterics.
And then we were elsewhere, and my joints had gone stiff, and Nalorian was gaping at me with shock in his face, and that awful dagger was still laughing…
“Thought you could keep me there forever, didn’t you?!” Shock was pushed aside while horror and indignation warred for dominance in the Ta’thyriel’s expression.
“I’ll come and go as I please now. Ooh, and the stories I’ll tell! I can air your whole family’s dirty laundry!” The artifact's voice was high and male, boyish, with an edge to its taunting.
Nalorian reached for his own blade, only to find it missing. Things happened very rapidly after that.
Nalorian turned and bolted away. I finally started to get my bearings, feeling vaguely as though I’d been ambushed by meningitis. I was back at the gallery’s entrance, surrounded by puzzled partygoers and three approaching guards. A hand reached out to grab me from my vision’s periphery and my own hand flashed up to stab at it before I’d really processed the action.
The dagger bent around my attacker’s arm, leaving my hand to smack at the offending limb before I scuttled backward out of range unsteadily.
“Whoa, hey! Let’s not get violent, new girl!” There was a twinge in my throat, and I pushed through a truly awful number of other discomforts to dodge between a couple of women who’d been trying to box me in. I continued weaving under and around grasping hands as I tried to make my way to the door before the guards remembered it was the only exit.
Still, there was some distant part of my mind that found it unbelievable that this dagger had caused things to go downhill so quickly. It had teleported us, it wouldn’t stab people like a proper dagger, and it wouldn’t stop talking…
'How does a dagger do any of that?' The answer seemed clear, but the question of why it had waited until I had it in hand struck me. 'Is this thing using me to power its sorcery?'
“Oh! Yes, sorry about that. I can do quite a bit on my own, usually. That ritual’s kept me fatigued for YEARS, though. I needed a bit of a boost to recover.” I shoved a little guy into a larger guy to buy time to run around–here comes his hand, too close, lean–him and made a dash for the door.
'Great, it can read my mind.' I supposed reading minds might have been a huge tactical advantage in a tool, but I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about this thing’s usefulness.
“Well, sometimes. I have to try, I can’t just do it all the time. But you weren’t exactly contributing to the conversation, were you?”
I opened my mouth to give a smart-assed reply and managed a hissing croak. Then a foot tripped me and I went sprawling. My chin smacked painfully into the floor. I rolled, threw myself back upright, and dove through the door just as Nalorian’s voice yelled out, “The crown is gone! She has Goldfall!”
“No idea,” Luck’s Touch sang cheerfully.
Shock and confusion did nothing to slow down the dead run I was at, which was fortunate, since I heard the thudding footsteps of several others following me. I also heard a twang, and when a crossbow bolt narrowly missed me, I decided to sacrifice a bit of speed in exchange for a few feats of agility, dodging around artfully trimmed bushes and a fountain to make myself a more difficult target.
The footfalls were getting close enough to be alarming. I shifted Luck’s Touch to my left hand and reached into my satchel with my right, fumbling around until I snagged my potion bottles.
Three alchemical smoke clouds in convenient glass bottles. I threw one to the ground in front of me with all my fourteen year-old might. Shockingly, it didn’t break. I stomped on it with my boot heel as I caught up to it, and it shattered. Thick smoke exploded into the air, and I covered my nose and mouth with my left arm.
I heard coughing behind me and struggled to control my breathing, though my throat and chest burned with panic, exhaustion, and now smoke.
I aimed myself at where I remembered the nearest wall and ran. When the smoke thinned, I broke the next bottle against a statue, and thanked the gods I hadn’t plowed face-first into it.
I had nearly made it to the wall, so I thrust the dagger into my satchel and took out my grappling hook. A bit of unlooping, a toss, and a jerk at the right time got me set to climb. A crossbow bolt passing an inch to the left of my shoulder and lodging itself in the wall before me got me to turn right back around.
Nalorian stood a few feet away, a serious expression on his usually animated face. He reloaded as I grabbed Luck’s Touch back out from the satchel, not sure if I meant to bargain with it or die trying to deflect a bolt with an artifact.
“I don’t want to hurt a child, but I cannot allow you to take Goldfall. Return the circlet.”
My eyes flicked to Luck’s Touch. Yes, it was still a dagger.
I couldn’t ask what he was talking about, so I stared silently at him. He seemed to take that as some sort of defiant refusal, because the look in his eyes shifted and he pulled the trigger. I dove to one side, smashing the final vial into the ground with my body weight. Oh, and my hand. Best not to forget that. I knew I wouldn’t be able to.
Glass drove into my palm and smoke filled my vision. I made little whimpering noises as I rolled and scooted, trying to get a good distance away from where I’d started.
After a moment, the dagger’s voice pierced through the white noise of pain shrieking through my mind.
“…the wall. Run through the wall. Hey, new girl! C’mon, do it already. Run through the wall!” Stupid, overblown butter-knife. It was leading the Ta’thyriel right to me. I could hear him getting closer as I once again pushed myself to my feet.
Run through the wall? Well, it wasn’t like I’d be climbing it with my hand in that state. I stumbled back toward the wall, conscious of Nalorian making his way toward me. Worst case scenario, I ended up embarrassed as well as caught.
Grasping on to that thought, I summoned the willpower to run the last few steps back to the wall and vanished, just escaping the hand reaching for my shoulder. I found myself on the other side of the wall, just outside the Ta’thyriel estate.
Gasping and coughing, I made good my escape.
Symphony returned to our inn after I’d washed up, as I was plucking fragments of glass from my hand with a frown. She looked cheerful, and there was a bounce in her step as she entered the room.
“Symphony.” My voice was a hoarse wreck, barely audible, and would be for days, but my hands were too preoccupied for sign language.
“I acquired Luck’s Touch.”
She flashed her teeth at me. “Brilliant! I thought you might pull that off. I suppose you’ve earned a name of your own now.”
“No, that one’s taken. What do you think of Sand? No?” Sand. Glass. Ha. I worked another shard free from my palm.
“Luck’s Touch wasn’t what we were hired to steal, was it?” Events had fallen together in retrospect. The missing blade with the Ta'thyriel's blood on it. His insistence that I'd taken the other artifact. The attention I'd attracted with a target that screamed at the top of its nonexistent lungs. I'd been used like one of my alchemical smokescreens.
My aunt blinked. If I hadn’t known her for half my life, I’d say she looked innocent.
“Well, of course not. I told you the client requested me. How about Silk? I saw your fancy disguise earlier.”
“You knew from the start what kind of ‘artifact’ that chattering bird’s beak was, didn’t you.” I couldn’t even make it a question.
“Hey now, no need to be rude!” The subject of my complaint had teleported to the table beside me. If my hand had hurt less, I might have lowered my head into it.
A musing voice interrupted my self-pity, “I think I’m going to stick with Silk.”
And so, Silk became my name, until I stole a different one. But that, of course, is another story.