Tales of a Wizard’s Thief (Complete)

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My name is Sinclair and I was born on the street. I do not remember my mother and never knew my father. I was raised mostly by various thieves. By ten I was one of the best pickpockets and could pick any lock. By fourteen I was one of the best thieves in the city.

I had an edge over the others because I could see the signs magic left. Oh, I was not a mage or wizard but seeing the signs of magic let me avoid traps that caught others. I was eighteen when I met the mage Silver.

I was feeling a little bored and it had started to rain. The mage shop was quaint with glazed glass windows. I slipped the lock easily and stepped in avoiding a magic trap on the floor. I looked around before crossing to look through a doorway. All the items in the shop were showy with gems. I was not working and did not really need money.

What drew me through the doorway was a study with a few bookshelves. A comfortable chair in one corner almost seemed to call me. I crossed to look at the books in one of the cases and pulled one down. I looked around before moving to the chair and sitting. I relaxed and leaned back before opening the book.

I ignored the tiny figures that roamed around and began reading. It was several hours before I stopped and reluctantly closed the book. I was tempted to take it with me but I did not really want to damage it in the rain. I stood and put it back before petting the small black onyx dragon on the shelf and turning towards the door.

I slipped out of the shop and even took the time to lock the door behind me. I went back three days later after stealing a rich merchant’s money chest. I entered the shop as easily as before and headed back to the study. After I was seated in the chair an amber griffin landed on the arm. I caressed it before opening the book and going back to reading.

An hour later I looked up to see the mage leaning on a staff across the room. I was caught and was not going to temp fate by trying anything. The mage looked ancient but strangely he had a sense of strength about him. He smiled, “That was a very good book.”

I glanced at it in my hands, “It has been so far.”

He gestured around the room, “All the gems and other expensive things and you ignored them to sit and read a book.”

I shrugged, “I was not interested in stealing anything.”

He smiled, “And yet you are a well known thief.”

I looked at him closely, “You know who I am?”

He straightened, “Of course. I would have come to introduce myself before but I was… occupied.”

I grinned, “Some new fantastic spell?”

He laughed, “More like a bit of boring alchemy.”

I closed the book and stood to put it back on the shelf, “You know my name…”

He bowed and gestured to the second doorway into the study, “You can call me Silver.”

We went through a comfortable looking living area and into a small kitchen. He gestured to a small table and I sat as he went to the stove and poured hot water into two cups. He sat across from me and the cup of tea seemed to slid across the table on its own. I sipped it and smiled before looking at the mage, “so I take it you are not upset that I was reading one of your books.”

He shook his head, “I do not mind. Tell me, how would I go about using your services?”

I looked at him carefully, “Why would a mage need something stolen?”

He smiled, “More like returned.”

I nodded, “Tell me who, where and what and I will look at it to see how much to charge you.”

He smiled again and started talking. I listened while I sipped my tea and finally gestured for him to stop and stood, “Give me a day or two.”

I walked out thinking about the duke he wanted me to steal his charmed amulet from. I knew it would not be hard since I had already been in his manor. I crossed the city using shadows and hidden ways.

I stood outside the walls of the duke’s manor and just looked at all the light. I finally grinned and moved to the wall as I slipped on the tight kid gloves. This was going to be one of the hard parts because the wall top was covered with broken glass.

I pulled myself up and ignored the glass as I looked onto the grounds on the other side of the walls. I lifted higher as I turned my hands to put all my weight on the palms on the very edge of the wall. I slowly rotated my body over the wall and went to one hand before placing my other on the other edge of the wall top.

I shifted my weight to that hand and moved my other over. I slowly lowered my body to the wall and climbed down. I crouched in the shadow of the wall before moving across to the wall of the manor. I moved along the wall to an inner corner and placed my back in the corner before starting to climb using pressure from my feet and hands.
When I reached the roof I paused while guards walked by below me. I reached up and swung out before pulling myself up onto the roof. I moved slowly and carefully to the far end of the roof before lying down and looking over. I scooted out almost to my waist as I reached down to the roof vent.

It took a couple of moments to work the vent loose and then I wiggled back as I pulled the vent up onto the roof. I set it down on the roof before turning around and lowering myself down and into the vent opening. The attic was hot and pitch black so I carefully lit a black taper. The black candle gave off a dim black or dark blue light but it was enough for me to see by.

I carefully moved through the attic until I came to the hatch that led down into the house. I listened before setting the candle down and opening the hatch. I blew out the candle and slipped it into its pouch before hanging from the edge of the hatch and pulling it almost closed. When I dropped to the hall it made a slight noise.

The normal house noise hid it, not to mention the sounds of the party downstairs. I went to the end of the hall and the narrow steep servants stairs. On the second floor I used a tiny mirror to check the hall before stepping out. I walked down to the room beside the duke’s and picked the lock before slipping in.

I hesitated before crossing to the huge old fireplace. I squatted and moved into it before reaching out to feel the back wall. I grinned when it felt cool and looked up the chimney. I carefully stood and pulled out cat claws and put them on. I reached over my head in the tight space and began the slow process of pulling myself up.

It was a little while before the chimney widened and I moved my feet until I could lower them into the other chimney. I moved down slowly and finally carefully squatted in the duke’s fireplace. This was his study and a single glace at the door told me I was right. A mage trap wove around and through the door.

I moved out of the fireplace and across to the window. I looked at the mage trap there before grinning and disarming it with a couple of thin silver pen knives. I opened the window and let in the night air and some moonlight. I went to the desk and the glass cabinet behind it. It took moments to pick the simple lock.

I pulled out a small amulet and slipped it into a small silk bag. I pulled out all the other jewelry and then turned to the desk and went through it. Beside a large bag of gold coins, I picked a lock on the bottom drawer and took the single silver dagger that was inside. I crossed to the window and watched the guards below before climbing out.

I retrieved my two knives before dropping to the ground below. I moved to the wall quickly and started up. I froze at the top as I heard guards returning and glanced back to see them walking past. After they were gone I carefully moved up and over the wall like I had entered. I dropped to the lane outside and moved across into shadow.

I crossed the city unseen and slipped into the tiny room that was mine. I checked all my tells before pushing on a side wall and stepping into a narrow set of stairs. I closed the panel behind me before going down to the large stone room that had been a basement at one time. The sound of running water in one corner reminded me of how dirty and suet covered I was.

I stripped and put the clothes into a bag to take out later and walked to the large stone basin in the corner. I washed and then dried before walking to my bed and laying back. When I woke up it was the middle of the day. I dressed and slipped the silk bag with the amulet into my shirt. I put a couple of gold coins in my pouch and left.

The streets were alive with rumors of the theft. I stopped at a food cart for a couple of sausage rolls and slowly made my way towards the Mage shop. Several large men stood around watching the shop and as I walked towards the front door one moved to stop me. I stopped and looked from him to the two other men that moved to surround me, “How may I help you?”

The one that had moved in front of me stepped closer, “No one enters that shop unless we search them.”

I smiled peacefully and kneed him in the groin as I hit the one on my right with a knife hand strike to the throat. I shifted my weight and kicked sideways into the knee of the third man and pulled my dagger as I yanked the head of the man I had kneed up.

I put the edge of my dagger against his throat, “if you and your friends are still in the city when I come out, I will find you. When I do, I will skin you before I gut you and cut off your manhood.”

I let him go and slipped my dagger back in its sheath before walking into the shop. The mage looked up from a ring, “Ah, Sinclair.”

I smiled, “Mage Silver.”

I crossed and pulled the silk bag with the amulet out and set it in front of him, “Would you mind if I finished the book I started?”

He smiled, “Not at all.”

I went into his library study and crossed to pull the book out. When I sat the small onyx dragon flew to land on my shoulder as the griffin climbed up into my lap. I looked at them amused and opened the book. When I closed the book hours later the griffin looked up. He looked at the other doorway and then stood and leaped into the air.

The dragon nudged my neck and looked at the doorway. I glanced at it and at the doorway the small griffin had gone through. I stood and put the book back in the bookcase and looked at several others tempted to read another one. I finally turned and walked into the living area and then into the kitchen.

Silver turned from the stove and smiled as he poured two cups of tea. He pulled a tray of meat pies from his oven and they floated off and two stopped in front of me. He sat across from me and sipped his tea, “You worked fast.”

I smiled as I broke open the meat pies to cool, “I had an opportunity and things seemed to work out.”

He smiled and pulled a small pouch from his tunic, “Five gold pieces…”

I waved it away, “It is on the house. I managed to… acquire some gold while I was there.”

Silver nodded and tucked it away, “perhaps something else. My ornaments seemed to like you.”

I glanced at the dragon still on my shoulder, “They seem to have attached themselves to me.”

Chapter One

Book of alchemy

I slipped through the crowded streets and shook my head. I always hated the crowds during festival time. The tiny dragon dropped onto my shoulder and one clawed foot pointed towards a tavern. I pushed my way through the crowd and into a crowded common room of the tavern. One look showed me a table with only one man sitting at it.

I crossed the room and sat on the other side of the table, “Alright Silver, why meet here?”

He smiled and pushed a large tankard across the table, “Because I have a guest.”

I lifted an eyebrow, “So?”

Silver sighed, “She likes to listen in on my private conversations.”

I grinned, “And you do not want her to hear this one?”

His face reddened, “No. I need something Earl Tradia… acquired from Sultan Ghadishah.”

I sipped some of the bitter ale and looked around before snatching a bowl off a tray a passing bar maid held. I poured some of the ale into the bowl and the dragon dropped off my shoulder and walked to the bowl. I grinned as Silver shook his head, “What does this something look like and where would he keep it?”

He looked around, “Either in his library or his strong room. It is a small red journal.”

Silver looked around and leaned over the table, “The pages are made of human skin.”

I looked at him carefully, “Why would you want this book?”

He sighed, “The stupid… because Sultan Ghadishah killed my old master to get what is written in the book.”

I thought about it and frowned, “I do not like touching something that is for dark magic.”

Silver snorted, “It is not for dark magic. My master took it from a necromancer. It contains alchemy secrets given by shades.”

I sighed, “Why does Earl Tradia have it?”

He shrugged, “He probably heard what it was made of and wants the terrible secrets inside.”

I looked at Silver and narrowed my eyes, “I thought you said…”

He waved away the waitress, “And what was the first thing you thought it was?”

I sat back and finally nodded, “fine.”

I glanced at the dragon as it burped a small flame, “I will see you after I get it.”

I slipped a hand under the dragon and shook my head before slipping it inside my shirt. I pushed my way through the crowded streets until I could slip into shadows. I took the dragon out and looked at it, “Are you okay?”

It crawled up onto my shoulder and I turned to make my way into the richer section of the city. There were still people here but mostly inside the large estates. The one I stopped in front of was dark and seemed to have an aura that stank of evil. I slowly walked around the estate and shook my head. There was a curtain trap around the estate walls.

The servant gate was not only free of traps but unlocked. I slipped through and glanced at the path before shaking my head. The grounds were completely covered in magical traps but the path from the servants gate to the servants entry was clear. The entire outer wall of the manor was covered in magic but the servant entry was unlocked, I opened the door and walked in.

In the entry were collars and I grinned before pocketing one. I checked the kitchen and quietly slipped passed a cook. In the hall I walked down to a set of double doors ignoring screams from the hall. I carefully checked for traps and used salt crystals to bypass a demon summoning trap.

I picked the lock and walked into the room. I glanced at the bookshelves filled with books and scrolls I did not even want to get close too. Dragon nudge me towards the desk and I looked close to see a small red book. I checked the room carefully before crossing it. I did not touch the desk since it almost stank of blood and evil.

I reached for the book and a huge glowing face appeared over the desk. I hesitated and then pulled the collar out and showed it to the leering demon. I picked up the book and turned towards the door. I stopped when I saw the six tiny cages of glittering dragons. I looked at the one on my shoulder as it seemed to growl.

I pulled a silk bag out of my shirt and knelt. I glanced back at the demon and started pulling different colored dragons out and stuffing them into the bag. I stood and walked to the door and checked it before opening it. I checked the door frame before stepping through. I closed the door quietly and walked back to the kitchen.

I slipped past the cook and hung the collar up before going out the servants door and walking to the gate. I almost expected something to happen when I walked out but nothing did. I poured a line of salt across the gate threshold to prevent demons from following before moving into the shadows.
I dusted myself with salt before beginning to make my way across the boisterous city. I used a secondary hiding place to sleep that night and was up early. I walked into the mage shop and smiled at the richly dressed woman looking at something on a shelf. I crossed and stepped into the study and went to the bookshelves and Dragon leaped to another.

I picked a book and went to sit in a chair before opening it. I looked up as the woman stepped into the room. She was looking at me as she cocked her head, “Make yourself at home.”

I smiled and held up the book, “Thank you I have.”

She cleared her throat, “May I help you?”

I glanced at Dragon as it leaped and flew to me and looked back at the woman, “No thanks.”

She shifted around, “Do you know Mage Silver?”

I sat back, “Are you always this inquisitive in other peoples business?”

She grinned, “Yes.”

I flicked a tiny dagger from my sleeve and threw it to strike the door frame beside her head, “My business is mine. Those that interfere do so at their own peril.”

Her face went white, “I am a mage.”

I smiled as I opened the book, “Than you should know better.”

A minute later she was gone and I heard Silver chuckle. I looked at the other door and he grinned, “Well done. Maybe my daughter learned something.”

I stood and put the book away before crossing to follow him. He gestured to the kitchen table and I set both the silk bag and the red book on it. He looked from the book to the bag and then at me with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged, “They were in tiny cages and I had to get them out. I was wondering if they were safe.”

He sighed and opened the bag and looked in before smiling and folding it back. He nodded to me, “They are flying jeweled drakes.”

I looked at the six tiny drakes half the size of my little dragon. They came out and looked around before leaping into the air. Dragon followed them with her eyes as I tapped the red book. Silver picked it up and murmured something that made me shiver. He smiled and pulled out a fat purse and handed it to me, “Thank you.”

I nodded and turned to leave only to have the six drakes suddenly land on me and cling to me. I sighed as Dragon started purring, “Okay but you watch them.”
Chapter Two

Stealing from a thief

I looked up from my meal and glanced from Silver to his daughter. Dragon lifted her head too but the drakes continued to rip and tear at the rare chunks of meat on the plate. Silver shook his head as he sat, “I never thought of feeding them instead of…”

His daughter frowned but absently reached out to pet a drake. He looked at his daughter and sighed, “I need something. My daughter had an… assignation with a mage name Poulo. While she was… recovering, he took a flask of liquid fire from my workroom.”

I looked at his blushing daughter, “How do you know he took it?”

Silver sighed, “My watcher saw him and he refuses to speak with me or my daughter.”

I thought about breaking into a mage’s home or workroom and sighed as I looked at Silver, “A day and night with your daughter.”

He raised an eyebrow as she opened her mouth. I smiled, “If she could do it for a strange mage she can be my paramour for a day and night.”

Silver looked at his daughter and sat back, “Your choice.”

She looked at me and narrowed her eyes, “Fine.”

I nodded and looked at Silver, “Describe the flask.”

Silver smiled but did not look at his daughter, “Silver with an engraved sunburst. Two hands tall, a hand wide and two fingers thick. It will be warm to the touch and I need to caution you not the open it.”

I nodded and stood as I picked up Dragon, “call your children Dragon, we have work.”

I started towards the door as the drakes leaped into the air to follow. I made a side trip to a small room I leased and then headed towards what was called Wizard’s Walk. It was an area with fancy gardens and towers. I slipped into the bushes near a garish tower and watched the strands of magic as they glowed and shifted.

Dragon took flight as the drakes settled in a tree. It was past midnight before I moved towards the tower. I avoided the strands of magic on and above the ground as I got closer. I stopped next to the stone wall and studied the glow it gave off. I pulled out a ball of string and tossed the end into the air in time for Dragon to catch it.

She flew up past the line of windows and then over a thick roof beam before tucking her wings and dropping. I caught her and took the end of the string before putting her on my shoulder. I tied the string to a strong cord that I had made special. I pulled the cord up and over the beam. When the end was back in my hand I removed the string and made a loop.

I slipped a foot into the loop and began pulling myself up. When I reached the window I stopped, I held myself in place and use one hand to toss a light gauze onto a window sill. The gauze was made from spider silk so the mage spells would ignore it. I lightly stepped onto the gauze and carefully checked the room.

I finally stepped down and crossed to the door. I checked it before opening it and stepping out, magic strands of spells went everywhere. Only one door was free of magic and I silently crossed to it. I checked the door carefully and cracked it open to see a tall rangy mage working at a bench. I slipped in quietly and moved towards him.

I stopped behind him and listened to his angry muttering before blowing dust from a small pouch onto his neck. He barely noticed and a moment later was silent and stiff as the paralytic powder took effect. I turned and looked around before moving to what looked like a heavily warded bench.

I saw the flask right away as well as several other bottles and vials warded as strongly. I grinned as I pulled out a silk bag and another small pouch. This one held what could only be called insect dust. It was extreme fine and I sprinkled it over the flask and the rest of the bench. The ward spells seemed to slid down onto the bench a moment later and I began collecting.

I turned and stopped as I saw the small cage, inside was Silver’s amber griffin, it was crouching and looked pitiful. I checked and it was not warded so I opened the cage and slipped him into my shirt. I walked out and went back to the window and my waiting cord. This time I slipped my foot in the loop and easily let my weight carry me to the ground.

I pulled the cord over the beam and coiled it before walking away. The drakes landed on me and clung to me as I slipped back into the shadows. I went home and let Dragon and the drakes fly to their beds as I pulled the amber griffin out. I set him on my bed as I undressed and climbed in. I was up early and dressed nice before leaving with the silk bag and my companions.

I slipped the lock on the mage shop easily and walked in. I avoided his alarms and traps as I moved through the shop and into the back. I set the bag on the kitchen table and shooed the drakes off as I looked around. I started making breakfast and a few minutes later the mage walked in blinking with his daughter clutching his sleeve.

He looked at me and then at the bag on the table before smiling and crossing to sit. His daughter hesitated and then went to sit with him as he began pulling out bottles, vials and finally his flask. He sighed and nodded as he looked at me. His daughter looked a little wide eyed but stood and crossed to me.

She kissed me softly, “We can use my bed.”

I smiled, “First my lovely paramour, you need to dress. We are going to go shopping and then enjoy a picnic in the King’s garden. This afternoon we are taking a nice carriage ride outside the city and this evening we will have dinner in the Black Knight Inn. Tonight we sleep in my apartment.”

Her mouth had dropped open and Silver chuckled. I nodded to the amber griffin on a shelf, “I freed your griffin too.”

Silver glanced at the small griffin and then grinned, “That is not mine.”

I looked at him and then at the griffin. Silver chuckled, “It seems to like you if it has not gone back to its master.”

I sighed and murmured, “One more.”

Chapter Three

False Note

I woke with Dragon rubbing my face and turned to look at Jasmine sleeping beside me. I never expected Silver’s daughter to become a permanent part of my life but she had. I nodded to Dragon and she leaped into the air. I slipped out of bed and crossed to the table against the wall. I looked at the tiny scroll a small jeweled hawk had delivered.

There was no sign of magic on the scroll so I unrolled it.

Sinclair, I need you to steal a scroll for me. It will be found in the royal library in the guarded section. It is in a sealed case with several traps to guard it. It will have three wax seals that must not be broken. There will be a royal ribbon around it and you must remove this with out untying it. This scroll was to be removed and sold but it must never be read so I ask for your help.

I burned the note and looked at Jasmine and sighed before moving to get dressed. She had been here several times and had awaken with me gone a few of those times. I slipped out and moved through the quiet early morning streets. I glanced up a couple of times to see Dragon, Griffin or the drakes flitting from cover to cover.

The royal library was very large and only open during the day. It was simple to pick the lock and slip in. I quietly moved along the bookshelves and stopped to glance around the last one. I smiled when I saw the old watchman sitting in a chair and leaning against the wall. I silently moved to the door beside him and checked it before using a small oil bulb.

I squirted a tiny bit of lamp oil on the hinges and picked the lock. I looked at the sleeping guard once more before slowly opening the door. The room was large with three high windows. Tall bookshelves lined each wall and glass cases dotted the center of the room. One look and I walked to the only glass case with wavy strands of magic in and around it.

I slowly walked around the case before pulling out a small wrapped skin. I opened it and pulled out a tiny vial and a small wooden dowel. I opened the vial and poured a tiny bit of the clear liquid onto the case before careful standing the dowel up in the liquid. While I waited I moved to the wall with the windows and climbed up and opened one.

I climbed down as Dragon flew in and settled on my shoulder. I stopped climbing when I saw an interesting book and absently slipped it into my shirt. I went back to the case and pulled out a small metal rod. On one end was a tiny metal bulb and on the other was a diamond. I carefully used the diamond end to scratch a large circle around the wooden dowel.

I held the dowel and used the other end of the rod to tap around the scratch. I lifted the piece of glass out with the dowel and set it down on the floor. I looked inside the case carefully before reaching in. I turned the scroll to look at it before pulling my hand out. Out of a small kit I pulled another small rod with a tiny blade on one end.

I put everything else away before reaching into the case with the new rod. I turned the scroll over and carefully sliced the ribbon on the back side. I was extremely careful not to cut the scroll and used the rod to slip the cut ribbon off. I lifted the scroll out and put everything I had brought away except the dowel.

I slipped the scroll into my shirt and climbed up to the window. Dragon cocked her head and I looked at her. She shook her head as she looked at me and I frowned. I looked at the window carefully and saw very faint almost hair thin strands of magic. I pulled the scroll and held it out, “Wait for me to come out.”

Dragon leaped and her hind legs snatched the scroll as she flew through the window. I climbed down and moved to the door. I peeked out to see the guard missing. I slipped out and moved to the opposite side of the library than the door I had come in at. I had a bad feeling and pulled the other book out and slipped it onto a shelf, I also put my thieves kit on the shelf.

I moved to a door and slipped out, I had gone barely a dozen feet before men appeared. A smug looking mage walked behind them, “I told you he would do it.”

I glanced at him and then at the city guards, “Do what?”

They snarled and reached for me only to draw back as I drew my dagger, “Tell me my crime.”

The mage started to gesture and I grinned and threw salt in his face. He screamed as he was bathed in flames and several guards threw him down and rolled him on the ground. I looked at the guards, “What have I done?”

A sergeant cleared his throat, “we were told you were going to steal a scroll.”

I shook my head and sheathed my dagger before stripping. I turned around and shook out my clothes, “No scroll, no book, nothing.”

The guards looked at each other and then at the moaning mage. The sergeant cleared his throat, “What were you doing in the library?”

I blushed and looked around, “Promise not to tell?”

He frowned and I shrugged, “I was looking in the old texts for the original manuscript for mad king Terence.”

The guards all laughed, the manuscript I mentioned was supposed to tell where he hid a treasure. I blushed, “It was worth a try.”

The sergeant shook his head, “Get dressed and go home.”

I dressed quickly and started walking, the guards turned to the mage as I turned the corner. Dragon dropped from the roof and I caught the scroll as she landed on my shoulder. I glanced up at Griffin and the drakes, “I want the jeweled hawk that brought the note to me.”

They disappeared and I tucked the scroll into my shirt. When I walked into Silver’s kitchen he looked up and Jasmine turned. She smiled, “out working?”

I raised an eyebrow and she blushed, “Sorry.”

I sat across from Silver and slid the scroll across, “I got a note this morning saying you wanted this.”

He frowned and looked at the scroll before turning it with a finger to see the seals. He hissed, “That was supposed to be destroyed!”

I shrugged and he looked at me, “I did not send a note.”

I nodded and pulled Jasmine onto my lap, “I thought as much when the city guards and that mage that stole from you appeared.”

Silver frowned and tucked the scroll inside his robe, “what are you going to do?”

I smiled, “Go to the library for my kit and another book and then find whoever set me up.”

I kissed Jasmine and stood, “see you tomorrow?”

Silver nodded and I left thinking about the other mage. I walked into the library and made my way to the shelf with the book and my tools. I slipped both into my shirt before going to one of the reading chairs. I sat and opened the book and began reading. It was not long before the guard sergeant and a commander appeared.

I looked at them and closed the book, “Yes?”

The commander cleared his throat, “An important scroll was stolen.”

I held up the book, “I am only here to read this.”

They looked at each other and the sergeant reached for the book. When he saw the title he snorted and the commander shook his head. I took the book as they walked off murmuring angrily. After I slipped out of the library Dragon chased the jeweled hawk down to me.

I caught it and lifted it to look into its face, “Silver did not send you. You will lead my friends to your master, do you understand?”
It crouched and hunched its head in fright. I sighed and glanced at Dragon on my shoulder before looking at the small hawk, “You show my friends the mage and I will give you sanctuary.”

It looked at me and then at Dragon before giving a choppy nod. I opened my hand and it straightened before leaping into the air and spreading its rainbow colored wings. The drakes and Griffin appeared to fly around it and I sighed, “I think we know where it will lead us.”

Dragon gave a nod before dropping off me and flying after the others. I headed towards the Wizard’s Walk and mage Poulo’s tower. I thought about ways in and smiled, when I reached the tower Dragon and the others were waiting. Dragon dropped to my shoulder and rubbed her head against my cheek and I smiled, “keep watch outside.”

I walked around the tower to the servants entrance and smiled when I did not see any magic signs. I picked the simple lock and slipped inside. I checked everything before moving across a kitchen with the cook busily making a meal. I slipped up the narrow servants stairs and stopped when I reached the mage’s quarters at the top.

I silently opened the door and stepped into the room. I crossed to the work room and saw the smug mage from earlier. I tossed salt through the doorway and into the thin spider web of magic. It burst into flames as I walked through it. The mage spun and began a spell and I tossed more salt. He exploded in rainbow sparks and ribbons of colored light.

He screamed and fell to the floor and started rolling around. I walked closer and stomped down to crush his throat. I sprinkled salt all over his body and waited until he stilled. I squatted and poured salt into his mouth before pulling a candle out. I lit it and slowing melted the wax to seal his mouth and nose.

I stood and looked around before walking out, it was simple to slip by the cook and leave.

Chapter Four

Making a point

I glanced up as Jasmine walked into the kitchen and smiled as the small jeweled hawk flew to her shoulder and landed, “how is the new workroom?”

She caressed the hawk and grinned, “once I have everything I need, it will be perfect.”

I had found a narrow house not to far from Silver’s shop and bought it for Jasmine. Silver seemed more than grateful when I helped her move. I stood and kissed her, “Your father wanted me to meet him.”

She smiled, “I have a project. Tell father thank you for the supplies he sent.”

I nodded and started for the door as drakes filled the room to follow. Dragon and Griffin joined them when I walked out the front door and they disappeared into the foggy morning sky. When I walked into Silver’s shop a man was talking to him and turned to look at me.

He frowned as I stood waiting before looking at Silver, “You have three days.”

He turned and brushed past me on his way out. I knew him and looked at Silver as I raised an eyebrow. He shook his head, “they want me to pay for protection.”

I opened my mouth but he waved, “I need you to retrieve something for me. Merchant Martinez bought a floating illusionary display to advertise his wares. He was supposed to pay me the second half of the purchase price. He has ignored that and so far refuses to honor the deal.”

I shook my head, “You want me to steal the display back?”

Silver smiled, “inside the display is a small silver locket. Close the locket and the spell ends.”

I nodded, “sounds easy enough.”

I grinned, “payment?”

Silver smiled, “what would you like?”

I looked toward the curtained doorway, “To read your copy of the Gods Lost Treasure?”

He was silent, “hunting for their treasure can be very dangerous Sinclair.”

I smiled and he nodded, “very well but I did warn you.”

I turned and left thinking about the arm breaker that had been in Silver’s shop. The gang that ran this part of the city had always ignored the magic users. It did not take me long to find Martinez’s large shop. The display was above the door floating in the air. A large man was beside the door sitting in a chair.

I looked up and grinned before walking down to the alley next to the shop. I used the drain to climb up to a ledge between the first and second floor. I was facing out and side stepped back to the street. I carefully turned the corner on the ledge and moved along it slowly. Quick movements draw attention so I moved slowly.

When I was above the door, the display was almost in front of me. I slowly turned sideways and knelt before carefully reaching out. My hand pushed through and into the display and I felt around for a moment before I found the locket. I glanced down at the large man before closing the locket.

I stood and carefully and slowly moved back the way I had come. I had just turned the corner when I heard someone shout. I moved a couple more steps before quietly dropping to the alley below. I walked to the other end of the alley as Dragon settled onto my shoulder and the others flew around above us.

I was thinking about the gang that was trying to force Silver to pay protection. The small shop I stopped at did not have a sign or advertise. The narrow faced man that turned after hastily closing a cabinet grinned. He glanced at Dragon on my shoulder, “Looking to sell the mage pet?”

I shook my head as I stopped at the counter, “What has changed in Gregor’s gang?”

He glanced at the door as he licked his lips, “I really can not…”

I leaned forward over the counter, “You know me. They are touching something I am… concerned with.”

He sighed, “okay, I owe you. The gang is expanding, Gregor and Doles are merging with Doles in command.”

I shook my head, “Thanks.”

I walked out of the shop and a man leaning against a wall nearby straightened, “You owe us dues thief.”

My hand sliced sideways as he drew closer and he staggered before dropping to his knees. He was holding his spurting throat as blood fountained out of it. I continued walking and ignored the man and everyone in the street as I put the dagger away. The tavern I walked to was half full even though it was early in the day.

The drakes and Griffin followed me in. I looked around as the room went quiet and started for a table against the back wall. The drakes, Griffin and Dragon found perches before a weasel faced man stepped in front of me and held out his hand, “No one…”

I cut his throat and continued without stopping. The room came alive as everyone stood. I stopped at the table and shook my head at the tall fit looked man standing on the other side, “you want to challenge me Doles?”

The room went quiet as everyone stopped moving. The man smiled arrogantly, “You do not scare me Sinclair.”

I smiled and gestured to the small open area, “Than step up and take a shot.”

He licked his lips and looked at a couple of men. I shifted to glanced at them before looking at him, “You are interfering in my business and trying to shake me down. Now unless you want me to kill your pitiful gang of sneak thieves and bullies, step out and face me.”

He sneered before moving sideways, “It is about time someone killed you thief.”

I turned so that the men he had looked towards were in front of me. I side stepped as he came around the table and he frowned as I backed up. I shifted and then stood waiting as he pulled a dagger and suddenly rushed me. At the last second I dropped and lifted my feet. I caught him in the belly and my legs were smashed back.

I kicked out and came to my feet as a man screamed and Doles crashed to the floor. I pulled a slim throwing knife as I came to my feet and threw it to kill the man Dragon had attacked. Doles came to his feet and charged me. My left hand grabbed his knife hand and twisted as I side stepped and turned.

He spun with me and screamed as my left foot shot out and broke his right knee. He went to the floor as I twisted his wrist and turned towards him to slice across his throat. The room went silent as I stepped away from his spasming body. I looked at the man with my throwing dagger in his throat and then around the room, “Anyone else want to interfere in my business?”

They shook their heads and I looked around, “Leave the magic users alone.”

I crossed to pull my knife out and stood as Dragon landed on my shoulder. I walked out and they quickly moved aside. Griffin and the drakes swarmed around me as I left and then took to the sky. I glanced at Dragon, “Thanks.”

She rubbed her head against my cheek before sitting up.

Chapter Five

Dragon tomb

I quietly slipped out of the merchant’s house and held onto the ledge while closing and locking the window. I moved sideways before climbing up the wall to the roof. I reached out and up to grip the edge before swinging away from the wall. I lifted up and moved onto the roof slowly because of the extra weight I was carrying.

Dragon dropped onto my shoulder as I stood and started towards the other side of the building. Griffin came out of the night and landed on my other shoulder and I stopped. I looked at the small creature and then at Dragon, “what now?”

She sighed and nodded towards the narrow board across to the next house. I moved on and crossed before turning to pull the board after me. I looked at Griffin as it held out a tiny message roll. I took it and nodded as I slipped it into a pocket, “Thank you.”

I crossed the roof and knelt as Dragon and Griffin leaped into the air. I lifted the now heavy pack off and picked up the end of the rope. I tied it and lowered the pack down to the ground before dropping the rest of the rope. I grabbed the edge of the roof and dropped over the side before swinging under the eve and reaching for the stone drain.

Once I reached the ground I coiled the rope and added it to the pack before putting the pack on. A small drake dropped to cling to the front of my shirt and looked towards the street. I nodded and gave it a caress before it leaped away. I turned and headed down the alley and across to a small gate.

The small garden was well kept and I moved through it carefully. I used a narrow side gate beside the building to let myself out onto the street. I checked before stepping out and starting to walk. It was not long before I slipped in the back door to my house. I glanced at the closed door into Jasmine’s workroom as I headed through the kitchen.

I went down into the basement to a corner where several large cedar chests sat. I took the pack off and opened it and one of the chests before pouring the gold and silver coins into the chest. I went back up to the study and sat in the stuffed chair Jasmine had gotten for me. I dropped the almost empty pack beside the chair as I pulled the note out.

Dragon, Griffin and the drakes flew into the room through a half open window and swirled around before finding perches. Dragon landed on my shoulder as I unrolled and unfolded the message.

I need a favor again. The Dukes council has opened the Dragon Mage’s tomb. They wish to use the treasure he was buried with. They have yet to enter and I need you to retrieve anything that looks like it might be for a workroom. There is also a tall red staff that you absolutely must get.
I will be in your debt and will accept any bill you wish to present.

I glanced at Griffin on the bookshelf, “Did he give this to you?”

He nodded and I relaxed before looking at Dragon, “I guess we are going back out.”

She rubbed my cheek before looking toward the hall doorway. I nodded, “I know, I need to leave a message for Jasmine.”

I stood and lifted the pack and went into the kitchen. I used the thin charcoal stick and a scrap of parchment to write a note, I left it on the table before leaving. Griffin and the drakes appeared around the side of the house and Dragon began to hum softly. I smiled as I looked at her, “Feeling good tonight?”

She nodded and I smiled, those that haunted the streets knew me and stayed away. The noble and mage tombs were just outside the city walls on a large hill. The gate guards did not even come out to see who was leaving. There was a half moon above us that seemed to glow brighter as we moved away from the city and the lanterns in it.

I moved through the small and large stone tombs and went towards the crest of the hill. The tombs here were larger, almost mansions. A huge tower rose from the very crest. It had a full sized dragon wrapped around it. I stopped beside the two sleeping guards and looked to the left at the huge dragon’s head.

The black eyes almost seemed to flicker as they looked back. I smiled and bowed, “I mean no disrespect my lord. One of your kind wishes to make sure what you have will not be used to harm others.”

I waited a moment before looking at the large stone doors pried open. I moved closer and knelt to pull a tiny mage lantern. I carefully began checking for traps, Dragon nudged my cheek and pointed towards one of the carven stone tiles. It was only a couple of steps inside but I could see how one corner was raised.

I nodded and kept looking, one of the things I was wondering about was why they had buried the wizard with everything in his workroom. I finally stood and stepped inside on a tile carved into a dragon. Those were the only ones that appeared safe. The entry brightened and I looked around at walls draped with black curtains.

I moved to the stairs and knelt to look at the lower steps. Right away I noticed a pattern, like scales on the tail of the dragon. I shifted and stood before stepping on the first step. The drakes flew in suddenly and then Griffin. The drakes clung to the curtains as Griffin wheeled and dropped to land on my other shoulder.

He patted my face and pointed back towards the door. I glanced back and murmured, “Someone is coming?”

He nodded and I moved swiftly but carefully up the stairs, weaving from side to side. The workroom was on the next landing and I stared around before stepping off the path of carven tiles. A roar and scream split the night and my drakes were suddenly flying around me as flames exploded from below.

I barely even glanced back before I crossed to a stone worktable. I set Dragon and Griffin on the table before taking my pack off. I started with metal vials and small bottles. When the bench was cleared my pack was full and bulging. I glanced up at the drakes, “go up and look for another way out.”

They had all crowded onto the large candelabra hanging from the center of the ceiling. They dropped and flew up the stairs as I picked up Dragon and Griffin. I let them climb onto my shoulders before heading towards the stairs. Smoke and heat were starting to fill the stairs as I carefully stepped on a scale and started up.

I stopped on the landing to look around and Dragon turned my head so I would see the drakes. They were crowded around a narrow oval window and I nodded and lifted Griffin, “check outside.”

It leaped and headed towards the window as I turned back to studying the large comfortable room. There was a central fireplace with a fire still burning in it, two large cushioned chairs were by it. There were beautiful pictures on the walls and sparkling statues sprinkled around the room. To the side was a raised stone bed with the robed wizard laying on it.

I crossed the room and stood beside the bed. The red almost crystal looking staff was beside him. I sighed at the magic I saw and slowly reached for the hand of the wizard. As soon as I touched it there was a tingling, I closed my eyes to see the wizard looking at me.

I bowed, “Lord, the nobles are planning to enter your tomb. They wish to use anything you might have left. I cleaned the items off your worktable but I was told they must not get your staff. I wish not to disturb you but they are foolish men and the Mage that sent me…”

The wizard waved his hand and seemed to look around before looking at me once more, “Take the ring on my finger and the staff. Those that have waited with me will go with you.”

He faded away and I opened my eyes, I glanced at the cold lifeless hand in mine before carefully working the bright ruby ring off. I hesitated before lifting the impossibly light staff. I slipped the ring into an inner pocket before turning towards the window. I crossed the room and turned as I heard movement.

Two large cats were following me, one Emerald and one Sapphire. I smiled, “Your master said you would go with me.”

I turned to the window and the drakes dove out and down. Outside the window was like a curving tunnel that curved around the outside of the tower as it dropped. I knew right away that this was inside the dragon around the tower. I took the pack off and slipped into the tunnel with it and the staff against my chest.

Dragon dove down and spread her wings and I waited and looked at the two cats before wiggling and starting down. As the cats leaped into the window and the tunnel, the fire went out. I slipped further down as I felt the stones begin to shift. I started moving faster, wiggling and sliding. It seemed like a long time before I reached the end.

Smoke was thick everywhere so I did not hesitate and dropped out of the tunnel. I turned to see I had just come out of the huge dragon’s mouth. The cats dropped out as the dragon moved and began to turn. I moved away quickly and felt Dragon drop onto my shoulder and turn my head.

I headed in the direction she wanted me to go as the huge dragon behind me roared. I felt flames and moved faster. I bumped into another tomb and used a hand to move to a corner. I turned as the smoke began to clear. The tower was gone and in its place was the stone dragon. It mantled huge wings before leaping into the air with another roar.

All around in the tombs were running people. I glanced down as the Emerald cat patted my leg. It nodded and pointed towards a small path down the ridge. I nodded back and started walking as Griffin and the drakes found me and began escorting me towards the gate. The two cats trotted beside me as I walked up to the gate but all the rest slipped up and over the wall.

The guards took one look and the sergeant moved out to stop me. I smiled, “Can I help you Sergeant?”

He gestured back towards the ridge, “Were you inside?”

I snorted and gestured to the cats, “My lover is a mage and wanted me to gather certain… items from the graveyard. Those stupid nobles disturbed the old wizards tomb.”

I looked towards the ridge, “Would you believe they ignored common sense. Everyone knows wizards and mages always trap their burial places.”

I looked at the sergeant to see him nodding and sighed, “I only managed to get half the moss I needed but I am not staying to look for more.”

He grinned as the other guards chuckled. He nodded through the gate and I started walking, using the red staff as a walking stick. People were in the streets talking and I carefully made my way to Silver’s. I slipped in the back door and was not surprised to see him at his kitchen table. I was surprised to see Jasmine across from him.

He was frowning as I crossed to the table, “You were careless.”

I snorted as the two large cats leaped up onto the table, “I was not the one to trigger the traps. Those stupid nobles could not even wait until it was light out.”
I smiled at Jasmine before glancing at Silver and pulling the wizard’s ring out, “The wizard said to take his ring and the staff.”

Silver stirred and looked at Jasmine. When he reached for the ring the Sapphire cat’s paw reached out to slap it. I looked at the cat but they both were looking at Jasmine. I cleared my throat, “You want her to have the ring and staff?”

They nodded and I looked at Silver. He actually laughed as he looked at his surprised daughter, “well, I do already have a staff.”

She smiled and looked at me as I held the ring out to her. She hesitated before taking it with a smile, “giving me a ring like this is permanent.”

I grinned as she slipped it onto a finger. It shimmered and then shrank to fit her finger. I held out the staff and she accepted it. As her hand closed around the staff her eyes widened and she gasped. I looked at her sharply and she shuddered before laughing and looking into my face, “He sent a message, he said you are a bold but very respectful thief.”

I grinned as Silver laughed, “To bad I did not find his library.”

Jasmine smiled and caressed the staff, “It is all in here.”

Chapter Six

Miniatures for a young lady

It had been a long tense night. I had spent most of it in the Wizard’s Walk but I had finally found what I was looking for. Jasmine said she was going to be busy on a complex project so I was on my own for a few days. I glanced at the two cats as they slipped out of the shadows. They had the trick of being able to remain unseen when they wanted.

They also seemed to love eating porridge. I held the door open for them as the drakes flew through. Dragon hummed as she rubbed against my neck and we walked into the tavern. Only a few people were up as I crossed to my table against the back wall. Young Teresa came in and smiled before turning to tell her mother I was here.

I sat as the cats jumped onto the table and the drakes landed. Griffin slipped through a window and across the room to land on the table in front of me. He folded his wings and nodded to the Emerald cat before sitting. I smiled and reached out to take the tiny message scroll from under his right paw.

I opened it as Teresa brought three large bowls of porridge. She slipped them off the tray and onto the table before pulling a small wrapped piece of beef out of her apron. She held it out and Dragon jumped off my shoulder and landed on her arm to take it. I shook my head as I looked at the message, “You spoil them Teresa.”

She grinned as she sat and started petting each of them. I sat back and slipped the message into my shirt. Her mother appeared with my mug of hot spiced cider. She set it on the table with the two thick slices of toast covered with melted cheese. I smiled and slipped her two silver pieces which was a lot more than the meal.

She smiled as she left and I sipped my tea and started eating. When I was almost done the front door opened. Silver walked in looking tired and a little strained. He glanced around before crossing to sit. Teresa blushed and stood to collect the now empty bowls. I smiled at Silver, “It looks like you had a night worse than mine.”

The cats were laid out purring with all the drakes draped over them. Griffin was cleaning his claws and Dragon was curled up around my warm cup of cider. Silver smiled, “I do not know why you insist on feeding them.”

I looked at my friends and smiled, “They may not need it but they do enjoy it.”

I looked at him, “So what do you need?”

He sighed and turned to accept a cup of hot cider from Teresa. After she left he took a sip and sighed before glancing around, “In Duke Thomas’s treasure room is a shield. On the back by the buckle is three large rubies. I need you to switch the rubies and bring the ones from the shield to me.”
I lifted Dragon to my shoulder before drinking the cider down as I thought. I looked at Silver, “what do the rubies look like?”

He smiled as he slipped a small pouch across to me, “Like these.”

I opened the pouch and then closed it, “You want me to replace the other rubies with these?”

He nodded, “yes, these have simple warding spells on them.”

I finally nodded, “I will not be able to get in until tonight.”

Silver smiled, “Tonight will be fine.”

I grinned, “what is my payment?”

He grinned, “Well, you have been reading that book on the essence of transhifting objects I could perhaps enspell something for you.”

I thought about it and grinned, “A rope, one that can lengthen at least three times its length and then shorten.”

Silver nodded, “done.”

I nodded and stood, “Jasmine has a project so I am on my own for a coupe of days. I will bring the stones to your shop once I have them.”

He nodded and stood, “tomorrow morning.”

I glanced at the table, “come on you.”

I started walking and a moment later the drakes and Griffin flew through the door when I opened it. I knew the cats would find their own way and left. I woke to Dragon patting my cheek and the others all draped over me. I moved them before getting up and washing. I dressed carefully before leaving.

I stopped to eat before heading towards the richer side of the city. Duke Thomas’s estate was one of the larger and better protected ones. It had high walls around it and guards walking around. I stopped in the shadows to look along the wall. There were street lamps every thirty paces and a guard that patrolled as well as city guards that walked the streets.

I glanced down at one of the cats rubbing on my leg. It looked towards one corner and I stepped back into the alley. There was several loud and belligerent nobles arguing with two guards. I watched as more guards arrived and finally slipped back and walked quickly. I headed down the alley and turned to head away before finally turning towards the estate.

I crossed at a corner and ignored the light from the street lamp as I jumped and climbed up the wall. At the top I laid flat and carefully looked around but all the inner guards were together up where the nobles were gathered. I dropped over and crouched when I landed. Dragon landed on my shoulder and patted my cheek before pointing.

I smiled when I saw the open window and nodded before standing and walking towards it. Griffin was sitting on the window sill when I reached it. He moved as I jumped and caught the frame before pulling myself in. I found myself in the duke’s study and glanced around before moving towards the door.

Treasure rooms are either on an upper floor or in a basement. The duke was more open about things so after I peeked out the door I headed towards the stairs. I went up and followed the torches. At one end of the third floor was a bright lantern with a guard standing beside a narrow set of stairs.

From the position I knew they went up into the top of the tower. I moved back into the stairs and went up to the small narrow door at the very top of the stairs. I checked and then opened the door before climbing a few more steps. I pulled the tiny dark lantern I carried and looked around at the huge attic.

I smiled as I started towards the end with the tower. A tiny sparkle caught my eye and Dragon slapped my cheek. I glanced at her as she suddenly dropped off my shoulder. She flew to the side where an old moth eaten velvet cloth draped over a cage. I followed and knelt to pull the cloth away. In the cage staring back at me was a set of miniatures.

A set is like chest pieces. They are small with, four tiny wolves and four lions, they are the pawns. Two rainbow eagles, two drakes, two griffins and two dragons. I shook my head, I could not believe they had been brought up here and abandoned. I slipped my pack off and opened the cage, “Inside and be quiet.”

They swarmed out of the cage and into my small pack. I closed the pack and put it on before lifting Dragon back to my shoulder, “Stupid nobles.”

I silently made my way to the end of the attic. Through the vents I could see the top of the tower. I unlatched the vent and pushed it open before carefully slipping out. I had to be careful because the roof had slates that had been on for a long time and were very slick. I moved down slowly until I was against the tower wall.

I put cat claws on and started to climb and move sideways. The closest window was ten feet up and five feet over and took me a couple of minutes to reach. One look and I knew I would have to go higher. The window was more of a narrow slit than a window. I climbed another ten feet before reaching up and out.

I grasped the roof beam and swung away from the wall. I pulled myself up and careful climbed onto the tower roof. The drakes were already working on the vents at the tower peak. I climbs up the steep roof and nodded to the drakes that had pulled several vent slats out. I crawled through the hole and looked down as I moved onto a thick beam.

I hung from the beam before dropping into a crouch. Chests were lining the walls and treasure was everywhere. There were several shields and I moved to the closest. I found the one I wanted on the third try and went to work. I used small jeweler tools to remove the rubies and replace them with the ones I had been given.

When I was done I used a chest to stand on and leap for the beam. I went out the way I had come in. I placed a grapple hook in the frame of the vent and whispered to the drakes. Dragon dropped off my shoulder as I used the rope tied to the grapple and climbed down off the tower and onto the roof of the manor.

A minute later Dragon and the drakes dropped the grapple. I knew Dragon and the drakes were now replacing the vents as I carefully climbed the manor roof to the open vent. I waited until Dragon flew across and took her perch before closing the vent and locking it. I used my dark lantern to make my way back to the stairs.

It was simple to climb down the stairs to the first floor and get back to the study. One look out the open window and I knew the distraction from the nobles was over. I squatted and watched the guards for several minutes before I had the pattern down. I slipped out and moved to a thick flower bush and knelt.

A minute later a guard walked past less than five feet away. Once he was past I moved again, this time kneeling beside a wide tall fountain. After another guard went by I headed straight to the wall and started up. I lay along the top and watched the street as two city guards walked by followed a few moments later by a duke’s guard.

I dropped off the wall as soon as they went around the corner. As soon as I landed I was walking across the street and into the shadows of an alley. I took my time and used the shadows to leave that part of the city. I walked into the Grinning Cat and glanced around before crossing to my table.

There were a few late night revelers that murmured as my friends swirled around before landing on the table. I saw a sleepy Teresa stand up from her pile of blankets by the fire and grinned as I had an idea. I took my pack off as she walked to the table, “you got stuck attending the fire tonight?”

She smiled and absently reached out to pet Griffin, “yeah.”

I opened my pack, “You can come out now.”

Teresa’s eyes went wide as the set of miniatures emerged, “you got more?”

I grinned, “Actually, I was thinking they might need a young lady like you to care for them.”
She looked at me stunned and then at the tiny creatures, “for real?”

I reached out to caress her face, “For real. They have been neglected for a long time and need a lot of attention and love.”

She nodded and sat, “I will take real good care of them.”

She started touching and caressing each of the tiny creatures with an angel’s smile on her face. I smiled and stood, “See you for breakfast?”

Teresa nodded absently and I scooped up Dragon before heading towards the door, “I think I will ask Jasmine if she can make a few more of those miniatures to give to the street kids.”

Chapter Seven

Saving phoenixes

When I walked in the back door I knew someone else was here. I looked around as Dragon shifted and leaped into the air. Griffin and the drakes screamed from the study and I moved quickly. Two guards were fending off the creatures when I ran in. I waved Griffin and the drakes back and walked towards the two men, “Why are you in my house?”

They were flush faced and one turned to snarl, “We go where…”

I kicked straight into his groin and spun to grab the other mans hand as he reached for me. I twisted and turned before kicking into his knee. I stepped and knelt as I pulled my dagger and grabbed the first mans hair. He screamed as my dagger touched his throat and I stopped, “I will ask once more. Why are you in my house!”

He swallowed, “The wizard Silver requested you in the King’s court.”

I barely glanced at the other man as he moaned and held his broken hand and knee, “Why?”

The guard swallowed, “The King needs his help and he needed something from you.”

I stood and put my dagger away, “Where is my companion?”

He looked at the other man, “We had her taken to the King.”

I gestured, “You come into my house again without being invited and I will kill you.”

I looked at Dragon on the shelf, “Where is Sapphire and Emerald?”

She tilted her head before looking towards the study room door. I frowned as she leaped and flew to my shoulder and walked out. She pointed me to Jasmines work room and I hesitated before opening the door. The two cats slipped out looking pissed and I shook my head, “Jasmine left you in there so you would be safe?”

They nodded and I sighed, “Well, it looks like Silver is in trouble and we get to save him, stay close.”

I turned and started for the door trying to think of what Silver might have done. When I walked up to the King’s court four guards barred my way. I smiled, “I am expected, either move or die.”

They looked at each other before one nodded and they stepped aside. When I walked through the door Griffin and the drakes swirled in and Sapphire and Emerald walked beside me. Dragon was almost growling as I walked and started checking everything around me. The wide hall was empty except for six guards, the King, Silver and Jasmine who looked angry.

Jasmine smiled when she saw me and I saw her small hawk hiding in her hair. I walked towards Silver, “What did you do now old mage?”

He smiled as the king snorted. The guards shifted as I ignored them and stopped to caress Jasmines cheek and whisper, “You okay?”

She nodded and I turned to look at her father. Silver sighed, “The King has a serious problem. Someone sent a Phoenix into his chambers.”

I glanced at the King, “So?”

He raised an eyebrow as Silver snorted, “They cursed it.”

I waited and he sighed again, “I need something from the room before I can help.”

I looked at the king, “For this you sent guards to my home to kidnap my companion and attack me?”

I looked at Silver as the king’s face reddened, “Why should I help?”

He smiled, “you will need a Phoenix to enter where the book you received led you.”

I kept looking at him before sighing, “What is the curse on the Phoenix?”

Silver looked at the king, “It will attack the king and burst into flames.”

I waited and Silver shrugged, “if it is killed it will burst into flame and turn to ash before being reborn to keep trying.”

I nodded, “And what is in the room you need?”

He grinned, “A feather from the Phoenix.”

I laughed, “You want me to steal a feather from a Phoenix?”

He nodded and I turned to look down the empty court as I thought. I glanced at the two cats, “Why don’t you two go ask the Phoenix if I can borrow a feather?”

They looked away and I sighed, “My business, my chore.”

I looked at Dragon, “Take your friends up to look around the chamber.”

She nodded before leaping into the air. Griffin and drakes appeared from where they had been watching and followed her out a high window. I looked at Silver, “This time I want something else.”

He glanced at the king, “What?”

I smiled as I looked at Jasmine, “I would like to picnic with Jasmine in the King’s private garden.”

Jasmine’s eyes brightened as Silver looked at the king before nodding, “Done.”

I turned and headed towards the King’s entrance, “Do you know who sent the Phoenix yet?”

Silver did not answer and I stopped to look back. He sighed, “The mage Gelsipie I think.”

I sighed, “This just keeps getting better.”

Mage Gelsipie was not a real name it was something a shadow mage used to spread terror so he could use it to gather power. I turned and walked through the kings archway and down the hall ignoring the several guards that followed. One nodded to a set of stairs which I ignored and passed. I slipped into the kitchen a few minutes later and they all turned to stare.

I smiled politely, “Lovely cooks, could you tell me if you have had any strange visitors or deliveries?”

The head cook, a large older woman stepped forward, “A strange man wearing a dress left a package of rotten meat.”

I grinned, “Did you get rid of it?”

She snorted, “Of course, I tossed it to the king’s hounds.”

I nodded as I slowly walked around the kitchen ignoring the cooks and the guards. I found the small hidden glyphs beside the outer door frame. Magic from it spider webbed up the wall and I turned, “May I borrow some salt?”

The cook frowned but nodded to one of her kitchen helpers. She handed me a small bowl of salt from beside the stove and I used my finger to shift through it before taking a large pinch. I used the salt to rub out the glyphs and opened the door. Another set was on the outside and I used more salt to destroy those too.

I walked back in and through the kitchen. I went to the stairs leading up and followed them up and then walked down the hall to stop before a set of doors next to the king’s chambers. I opened the door into the queen’s study and looked around before crossing to the door out onto her balcony. I glanced to the left at the king’s balcony and the open door.

It was easy to go over the rail and move along the wide ledge to the king’s balcony. I carefully looked on each side of the open door and used more salt to remove the glyphs that spider webbed each wall. I stepped into the large chamber and Dragon dropped onto my shoulder. The phoenix was on the bed canopy and spread its wings nervously.

I ignored it and glanced at Griffin and the drakes spread around the room. Each was beside a glowing spider web of magic. I looked at the guards standing in the chamber’s open door before moving to each set of glyphs and rubbing it out. After the last one I walked to the bed and looked up at the colorful bird, “hello, need help?”

It mantled before shifting sideways as it peered down at me. There was not any attached magic on or in it besides its own. I held my arm up until my hand was in front of her feet. She hesitated before stepping forward onto my hand. I lowered it and smiled as I caressed her head, “Thank you, now do you have an old feather I might have?”

I looked at the guard, “Would one of you send for mage Silver?”

The phoenix lifted and held her right wing out and I saw a small bent feather underneath. I gave it a gentle tug and it fell out. I held the feather up to Dragon, “Take this to Silver.”

She rubbed her head against my neck before extending one foot and taking the quill gently. She leaped and flew towards the open door and the guard left standing there moved. I turned and walked to a large comfortable chair before slowly sitting and placing the bird on the arm.

I caressed her head again, “Now why would a lovely bird like you let someone trap you in here?”

She bobbed and turned to look at a low bookcase. I stood and crossed the room. I knelt and started looking carefully before something in a book caught my eye. It was the tip of a quill sticking out of a book. I took the book and went back to the chair to sit. I caressed the phoenix before opening the book.

The feather marked a page but first I looked the feather over, it was from a phoenix. I glanced at the door as Silver walked in and then looked at the bird, “Is this your feather?”

She bobbed her head and I set the feather on the arm beside her. I looked at the pages as Silver stopped in front of me, “The curse is gone.”

I glanced at him and then at the phoenix, “I do not think so.”

The book was a family history for the king and one page had several people in a small drawing. I held the page up so the phoenix could see the picture, “this picture has two phoenixes. Was one you?”

It bobbed its head and I smiled, “and the other was your mate.”

Again it bobbed its head and I nodded, “you are here to get your mate back.”

Silver sucked in a breath as she bobbed again. I looked at Silver, “The mage that sent you keeps him?”

Again it bobbed and I smiled, “so my job begins old man.”

Silver snorted, “to bad you do not even know who or where to look.”

I looked at the phoenix, “but I do.”

I looked at the book again before standing, “would you keep her company?”

Silver smiled as he sat, “of course.”

I closed and handed the book to him before heading towards the door. Dragon dropped onto my shoulder as Griffin and the drakes took wing. I caught Griffin as he tried to land, “We go to the mages retreat. To the tower of exile.”

Griffin nodded and turned to leap into the air and led the drakes up and out the first open window. No one knew why the tower was called that, it just was. I knew why now and walked through the Keep and then out into the city. I stopped in a small shop before heading towards the mages retreat.

There were a few mages wandering around like usual and they ignored me except for a few glances at Dragon on my shoulder. The tower of exile was a tall blocky looking building. I walked around it until I found Griffin by the servants door. He nodded to the door as I approached and I followed the magic in and around the door.

I grinned when I saw the flaw and went to work removing the hinge pins. I worked the door out of the frame and quietly walked in. The large kitchen was clean and organized with an air of waiting. I walked to the stairs and nodded to one of the drakes sitting on the railing. I carefully looked at the spells on the stairs before looking for ones on the rail.

I finally put the drake on my other shoulder before climbing onto the rail. I went up and hesitated on the second floor before continuing up. On the last floor I checked the floor before slipping off the rail. I set the drake back on the rail before wandering into the room. It was filled with suits of armor and elegant chairs and tables.

Portraits of finely dressed men and women hung on the walls. I walked to the only door with a web of magic where another drake sat beside it. I looked at the magic carefully before pulling out the package I had bought. I opened it and removed the two slim salt encrusted pen knives. I placed the tips against the door and began to carefully pull the spells apart.

It took a couple of minutes before I was done. I checked the door frame before picking the lock and opening the door. I stepped into the room and glanced around. In one corner was another phoenix with a tiny chain around its foot. I looked at the wide desk in a dark corner and at the other door into the room.

I knelt to check the floor before starting across to the phoenix. It ruffled its feathers as I came close and knelt. I looked at the tiny lock around its foot before picking it. I glanced at the bird, “You can go to your mate now.”

I stood and turned to walk to the desk and sat down. The phoenix leaped into the air and headed towards the open window. As soon as it left there was a loud scream and a few seconds later the other door opened. I looked at the tall man that looked much like the king and smiled, “so you are the mage Gelsipie.”

The mage started to gesture and I shook my head, “That would be a very bad mistake.”

He hesitated before walking towards the desk, “And why is that?”

I grinned, “Because I have salt in my pockets and a mirror ready to use.”

He looked at me as his eyes narrowed, “You interfered in my business.”

I leaned forward, bayan escort gaziantep “Just because you were sent here does not mean you can not return. You are the king’s brother, do you really think he does not care? You would take his life because he does not have magic? Or because he has what you can never have?”

The mage glared, “If he cared he would not just leave me here.”

I smiled and stood, “He was not the one to put you here, it was your mother. As for staying, there are no bars on the windows or doors.”

I walked to the door and turned to look at him, “you have been free to come or go since you gained control of your magic, that was why you were brought here, to keep you and others safe.”

I glanced at Dragon as she shifted on my shoulder and looked back at the mage, “you do know your brother has a lady that still yearns for you?”

He looked at me startled and I smiled, “If I were you, I would go home and start the life you were meant to have.”

I turned and walked out, I still had to use the rail to go down the stairs but no magic followed.

Chapter Eight

Returning Griffins

I was relaxing at my table in the Grinning Cat as Dragon stretched out with a full belly. Griffin and the drakes were stuffed and laying on top of each other. I was watching Teresa with several young street children. Her miniatures had the group mesmerized as she told the proud owners of several new miniatures how to handle them.

I sighed and glanced at the door as Jasmine walked in with Silver. The other patrons in the room continued to talk or watch the tiny magical creatures as they crossed to my table. I took Jasmine’s hand as she sat beside me and Silver chuckled, “that is the tenth set you bought and just gave away.”

I looked at the children, “It was worth it.”

I turned at the soft song that started above the fireplace and smiled at the pair of phoenixes. I looked at Silver, “I thought you were working on some fancy spell?”

He frowned, “It did not work.”

I waited and he shrugged, “I need a few more things.”

I smiled and glanced at the children. Jasmine put her head on my shoulder, “wishful thinking?”

I smiled and turned my head to look at her, “yes.”

She grinned, “I can help with that.”

Silver cleared his throat and I looked at him, “do not tell me you want me to find your spell ingredients.”

He smiled, “No. I do need you to ste… acquire something though.”

I grinned as Jasmine snorted, “what?”

Silver glanced around and leaned towards me, “do you know merchant Cartier?”

I looked at him and frowned, “everyone in the city knows merchant Cartier.”

He nodded and glanced around, “he recently brought back several artifacts from the east. One is a large carved box about six feet long and four feet wide.”

I shook my head, “I do not steal bodies.”

He smiled as Jasmine snorted, “it is not a body. He has not found a way to open the chest which is a good thing for him. Inside the box is another box roughly two feet by two feet.”

I shook my head, “six by four by two and it only has a box two by two in it? That does not sound right.”

Jasmine grinned, “Because it is not. The rest of the box is filled with spirit gems.”

I grinned, “that sounds promising.”

Silver waved his hand, “the gems are not important, the other box is.”

He looked around and leaned forward, “It has two real griffin eggs in it.”

I looked at him, “dead?”

He shook his head and I sighed, “what are you going to do with them?”

Jasmine sighed, “Griffins were hunted until they were all killed.”

Silver nodded and smiled, “I am going to make them smaller so they will not be a threat.”

I sat back, “how much smaller?”

He looked under the table at the two cats sleeping there, “as small as your cats.”

I glanced down at Sapphire and Emerald and smiled, “and what are you going to pay me?”

Silver frowned and sat back, “what do you want?”

I shrugged and then grinned, “a bag that is bigger inside than outside.”

Jasmine laughed and bumped me, “let me guess, before you do the job.”

Silver looked at her and she grinned, “the gems?”

He blinked and then grinned, “I do have an old case you could use.”

I thought about it and finally nodded, “I will need the case before it gets dark.”

I looked at Jasmine, “Now about helping me…”

I shifted the large pack with mostly just the case before nodding to Dragon. She, Griffin and the drakes flew into the darkness as I carefully walked across the narrow plank. I had started on a new warehouse and moved to an old abandoned one and now I was crossing to merchant Cartier’s.

He had men walking around the warehouse constantly so I was using the rooftops. I silently moved towards the back, ignoring the many clear skylights. I knew a canny man like Cartier would not leave a tempting artifact out in the warehouse. I stopped and knelt beside the only vent house and began working.

Several minutes later I was setting the vent screen on the roof. I pulled the pack off before pulling the light rope ladder out. I unrolled it down the shaft and secured the two clawed hooks to each side of the vent house. I pulled out the short rope that was fastened to the pack and lowered the pack after hooking it to my belt.

I slipped into the narrow vent and silently climbed down into darkness. It was a long way down before I stepped off the ladder at the bottom of the vent. There was a slight glow from the inner vent slats. I knelt and looked through each before pulling a small tool out. It took a little longer but I finally pushed the vent screen out and quietly laid it on the floor.

There was a iron money chest to one side and the large carved chest in the middle of the room. I opened my pack and pulled out the case. I picked the lock on the money chest and opened it. I sorted through the stacks of coins and took all the gold. I finally turned to the long chest like box, Silver had explained how to safely open it.

The feeling I got when I slipped the lid to the side and carefully set it down was eerie. It was like there was someone there watching me. I looked at the thousands of the large fist sized spirit gems to see ghostly images of griffins looking back at me. I hesitated before starting to remove the gems and set them in the case.

I was almost surprised when all they all fit. I pulled the large silk bag I was carrying out and lifted the smaller box. I slipped it into the bag and tied the top before putting the case back in my pack. I put my pack back in the vent shaft and then the silk bag. I replaced the lid on the chest before moving into the vent.

I pulled the screen closed and began the task of replacing the bolts that held it. Next I tied the short rope to my belt and secured the bag and pack. The climb up was slower because I had to make sure the pack and bag did not bang around. On the roof I closed and secured the vent screen before silently making my way towards the board I had left.

I set the box down and pushed the board across before picking up the box and crossing. I pulled the board back and picked up the box again. I slowly made my way to the new warehouse that was empty. It was easy to lower the box down into the dark warehouse and follow it. I slipped out a side door and moved through the shadows as I made my way home.

Dragon dropped onto my shoulder before I had gone a block. The others swirled around me before flying ahead. I came in my back door and set the small box on the kitchen table before removing the pack. I woke to Jasmine shaking me and opened my eyes. She smiled and pulled on me and I moved Dragon and Griffin off my chest.

I climbed out of bed, “you are up early.”

She grinned and led me into the kitchen, “did you know the spirit gems hold the spirits of griffins?”

I nodded as I crossed to the stove and hopefully hot water, “yes.”

I made tea and went to sit at the table, “I saw them last night.”

She kept looking into the bag before looking at me and I finally sighed, “What?”

She nodded to the box for her father, “now that I have felt real griffins I could used the spirit gems to… create real griffins like the ones my father wants.”

I smiled, “you want the gems.”

She nodded and I sipped my hot tea. She slipped into my lap, “Please? It would make bringing the griffins back easier.”

I held her on my lap, “and what are you going to give me?”

Jasmine wiggled and kissed me and I sighed, “okay but make sure they hatch out of the city.”

She slipped off my lap and grinned as she grabbed the bag and headed towards her workroom. I watched her and then called after her, “I want the bag back!”

I finished my tea and took the box before heading for Silver’s shop. I went in through the kitchen and glanced towards the hall before setting the box on the table. I glanced at Dragon, Griffin and the drakes as they swooped in from the open window. Dragon scolded me as she landed on my shoulder and folded her wings.

I grinned and scratched under her chin before going to start water for tea. I was sitting in the study reading with Dragon, Griffin and the drakes draped over me when Silver walked in. The merchant Cartier was with him and snorted, “how can he read with them all over him?”

I looked up and smiled as I caressed the drake draped on my left forearm and wrist. Silver crossed to sit in the other chair, “I told you your storeroom was not safe.”

I looked at him as Cartier sighed, “fine but did he have to take all the gems?”

I closed the book I had been reading and looked at Silver, “It better be good.”

He nodded, “Cartier came to me as soon as he came back. He told me what he had found and I knew what was inside.”

Silver looked at Cartier, “the gems were worthless.”

Cartier snorted, “I could have sold them.”

I smiled, “I had to surrender them to a higher power.”

They looked at me and then Silver grinned, “my daughter.”

I nodded and sighed and he laughed. I shrugged, “the spirits inside the gems were griffin. She is going to make bodies and return the spirits.”

Silver sat up as Cartier looked at him, “what is she going to use to…”

I raised an eyebrow and he waved, “never mind.”

He looked at Cartier, “ask him.”

I looked at Cartier and he shrugged, “there was a map that came with the boxes. The legend says there is a vault here in the city below the broken mage tower.”

I held out my hand, “the map?”

He pulled it out of his shirt and handed it to me. I unrolled it and Dragon moved to lean against my head as she looked with me. I traced the hallway in the tower, “these ways are collapsed with a lot of rubble.”

Dragon made a purring chirp and the drake on my arm lifted its head to look before moving onto my hand and reaching a paw out to touch a spot on the map. I looked at what they were showing me to see a air shaft for the lower floors, “maybe.”

I looked at Silver, “I take it you want me to retrieve whatever is in the vault?”

He nodded and I looked at Cartier, “I know Silver but not you. If I do this I get half and my choice of any treasure.”

He looked at Silver before nodding. I stood and the drakes and Griffin took wing, “meet me at the tower.”

I returned the book to the shelf before heading towards the door. I glanced at my shoulder, “go to Jasmine. If she is not working on spells tell her I need her.”

Dragon waited for me to open the kitchen door before leaping into the air. I was thinking about what I would need as I walked and almost everything was in my pack except the pry bar. I glanced at Griffin and the drakes as I got home, “go to the broken mage tower and wait for me.”

They cried out as they spiraled up and flew towards the Wizard’s Walk. I walked in and Jasmine turned from the stove with Dragon on her arm, “she wants me to do something?”

I smiled and headed towards the stairs into the basement, “I wanted you to go treasure hunting with me.”

When I returned with the pack I had to wait. Jasmine came down from our room dressed in comfortable pants and shirt and her jeweled hawk in her hair. I smiled before turning, “We need to make one stop.”

Dragon rode her shoulder as we walked. I stopped at a stone cutters lot and bargained with the mason for a pry bar. We walked through the Wizard’s Walk holding hands. When we reached the broken tower Silver and the merchant Cartier were waiting. I glanced at Dragon as she hopped to my shoulder and pointed.

I looked and shook my head, “where have you two been?”

The two cats sat together with their tails around the front of their feet. I looked at Jasmine as she giggled and grinned. I smiled and looked at Silver, “ready?”

He nodded and I headed into the tower ruins, “I will send a message if I get through.”

I stopped by Griffin and looked at the large blocks of stone before setting the pry bar aside and removed the pack. Jasmine sat to one side and the cats went to lean against her feet as I began to move the stone blocks. When I finally had the way cleared I pulled the rope from my pack and tied it off.

I moved to the old splintered vent that covered the air shaft and carefully worked it out. I looked in and down before tossing the other end of the rope. I went to my pack and then to Jasmine to put the rope seat on her. I gave her a kiss, “remember how to hook onto the rope?”

She grinned and nodded and I bent to grab the two cats. I stuffed them into the pack as they grumbled and put the pack on. I turned to drop the pry bar and knelt beside the shaft, “Okay Dragon, time to explore.”

She was waiting and chirped. Griffin and the drakes swirled around and dove down through the hole as she leaped and dropped down. I moved to the hole and turned to climb down using the rope. I only had to go about forty feet before I reached the bottom. I pulled the tiny mage lantern from the pack as the cats wiggled out.

The room I was in was dusty with chunks of stone and rubble across the floor. Dragon chirped from a doorway and I smiled before turning to look up the shaft, “you can come down.”
It was several minutes before Jasmine slowly dropped out of the air shaft in the ceiling and landed beside me. I knew she had used magic and shook my head, “cheater.”

She grinned and stuck her tongue out. I thought of the map as she unhooked herself and picked up the pack. I fastened the pry bar to the outside of the pack and moved to the doorway and absently scooped up Dragon as I stopped and lifted the lantern. I frowned as I looked down the hall to see broken signs of magic.

Jasmine started around me and I caught her, “not yet.”

I knelt and reached out to put a finger beside a strand of magic. I started following it and she gasped, “that is a forbidden spell!”

I smiled but did not stop what I was doing, “you can report the mage later.”

She giggled and squatted, “what are you doing?”

I had moved to the side a little and followed the spell strand up the wall to a hole, “looking for the trigger.”

I grinned and turned to my pack and pulled out a small case. Inside was several salt encrusted silver pen knives. I pulled one out and carefully worked it into the spell strand knot by the hole before twisting a strand around it. I pushed the tip into the hole and sighed, “one down.”

Jasmine laughed, “and a hundred to go.”

I glared at her before moving down the hall a few feet. There were not a hundred, only ten. After I finished the last one I stood and moved to the door at the end of the hall. Griffin spread his wings on the stone banister of the stairs and I nodded, “thanks.”

I looked back at Jasmine following me carefully, “the stairs down are trapped. We will need to use the banister.”

She grinned, “I always wanted to do that.”

I smiled and moved to the stairs and looked over into darkness, “the drakes okay?”

Dragon chirped and patted my face so I nodded and started to move onto the banister. Griffin turned and opened his wings as he jumped. He glided down as I carefully began sliding. At the bottom a drake was waiting and flapped its wings so I would see it. I looked around the floor before looking up, “slide down but do not move off the banister.”

I turned and frowned at the two cats sitting across the room by a broken stone door, “how did you get down here?”

The Emerald cat turned and I followed its look to see another air shaft. I grumbled as Jasmine stopped behind me. I helped her down before walking across to the door. I looked through the door to see sparkling gems and gold in the faint light from somewhere.

I looked at the thick door again before sighing, “send one of the drakes back up to let Silver know we reached the vault.”

I slipped the pack off and untied the pry bar. I looked at the thick door before striking it. I worked steadily and broke chunks and pieces off until the door finally broke completely and collapsed. I knew better than to go through and caught Jasmine, “not yet.”

She looked at me and I sighed and knelt, “look at the floor.”

She knelt beside me and shook her head, “whoever he was, he was very paranoid.”

I smiled sweetly, “didn’t you know? Mages are all paranoid.”

She laughed and bumped my shoulder and I sighed. I looked around at what I could see. The drakes were in the central pile of gold coins squirming around with nothing happening. I started to pull chunks of the door out into the other room to clear the doorway. Jasmine hissed and I looked at her before looking into the room.

On shelves around the edge sparkling eyes looked back. They were not doing anything but watching so I went back to work. When I finally had the way clear I moved into the doorway and knelt to trace the first spell strand. Jasmine touched me and I followed her look to see the eyes on the shelves belonged to a dozen drakes that had moved to the edge.

I hesitated before standing, “come here.”

They lifted their wings and shifted as they looked from my drakes to me. I sighed, “I can not take you out if you do not come.”

One leaped and flew towards me and a moment later the air was full of drakes. I caught the first and rubbed its chin, “have you been locked up here?”

It pressed against my hand as all the drakes clung to me and pressed tight. I sighed as I looked at Jasmine and she smiled, “softy.”

I carefully opened my shirt and began stuffing drakes in until I had them all and my shirt was bulging. I knelt again as I fastened my shirt and Jasmine shifted before gesturing and murmured a spell. There was a bloom and the room was as bright as day. She sighed, “better.”

She bent and whispered and the spell strand began to glow. She finally gestured, “its degraded and almost dead.”

I looked at her and shook my head, “I just do not want to be dead so please wait.”
I used another silver pen knife and worked the triggered strand loose. I was surprised when it seemed to collapse and all the magic strands in the room vanished. I stood and moved in slowly, looking at the books around the room on stone shelves, “look at all the books.”

Jasmine snorted as she followed, “you and books.”

I grinned, “whoever the mage was he did to because they are in his vault.”

I pulled Dragon down to hold her as I moved around the room. She pushed on my hand and I followed her look to see the two cats by a section of wall that did not have shelves, “now that is strange.”

Jasmine was examining a small jeweled statue, “what is?”

I moved to the cats, “all the walls have shelves except here.”

She stood and moved to follow and I started to carefully check the wall. I pointed to old scraps in the stone floor, “from the angle I would say it opens.”

I turned to my drakes wallowing in the gold, “alright you, enough playing, we have work to do.”

They shifted and moved around before leaping into the air and flying closer. One landed on a low shelf to one side and reached down to pat the support. I looked at it before reaching out to turn the support, “thank you.”

The wall clicked and I moved to the other side to push and it turned on its center. Jasmine made another light spell and sent it in. There was magic in the room, lots of magic. I held her shoulder before stepping in front of her. I looked at racks and shelves that seemed to go back into darkness. Wrapped in cocoons of magic were eggs.

I looked at Jasmine and she whispered, “griffin eggs.”

I sighed and then smiled, “could the spirit gems hold the spirits of these griffins?”

She started and then grinned as she moved to a rack. She did something before grinning at me, “yes.”

Chapter Nine

Passing on Relics

I was in the Grinning Cat after a long night. Dragon, Griffin and all the drakes were laid out on the table. Teresa was petting the drakes as her miniatures laid on and around Dragon. I smiled as I finished the bowl of oatmeal she had brought, “how are your children?”

She grinned and rubbed the full tummy of one of her dragons, “well, they love all the attention.”

I smiled and glanced at the door as Jasmine walked in. She was pregnant and showing now. Silver followed her and shook his head when they sat, “you still have all of them?”

I smiled and caressed one of the drakes, “everyone needs someone.”

He picked a drake up and turned it around before setting it back on the table where it curled up against Griffin. I smiled and let Teresa take my empty bowl along with all the others. Silver watched her leave before looking at me, “I need a favor.”

I sighed and looked at Jasmine, “why can’t he just come for a visit?”

She smiled, “because you have your own library now.”

I grinned and looked at Silver, “what now?”

He leaned forward, “I just found a scroll that describes a hidden room in the mage hall. Inside is the ancient mage Emperor’s crown, staff and scepter.”

I shook my head, “and what are you going to do with them? We already have a few thousand miniature griffins flying around outside the city. The king and council made you promise not to do anything else to disrupt the kingdom.”

He grinned and looked at Jasmine, “well, I was not the only one responsible for that.”

I looked at her and grinned as I reached out to feel our child, “but she is limited in what she can do until the baby comes.”

She laughed and leaned against me to give me a kiss. Silver smiled and finally nodded, “I contacted the Imperial council and they want the items for the heir.”

I looked from him to Jasmine, “the heir is only a child.”

He snorted, “for when he comes of age.”

I sat back, “why not get it yourself?”
He looked at the fireplace, “the mage hall is warded and those of the mage council here would never let the artifacts go.”

I kept looking at him and he finally sighed, “the emperor is old. The artifacts can help the child survive the change.”

I looked at Jasmine and she touched my hand, “you must wear gloves. The heir is coming here with the emperor.”

I sighed, “my price?”

Silver smiled, “I did a little research and found the entrance you have been looking for.”

I looked at him and then at Jasmine before nodding. Silver grinned, “look in the bookcases along the eastern wall.”

I caressed Dragon’s full belly, “time for bed.”

She lifted her head and looked at me pitifully and I sighed before starting to pull drakes closer. I tucked them into my shirt and lifted Griffin to one shoulder and held Dragon on my arm. I glanced at the cats by the fireplace and the phoenixes on the mantle, “time to go home.”

I stood as Jasmine rose and slipped her hand through my arm. I woke to the hint of a touch and turned my head to see Jasmine in the doorway. She smiled, “it is dark out.”

I nodded and started nudging tiny drakes and then Griffin and Dragon before sitting up and moving the two cats off my feet. Jasmine giggled as I finally moved off the bed and stopped to caress both phoenixes. First was a bath and then I dressed in dark clothing. I slipped my almost empty pack on before stopping in the kitchen to give Jasmine a kiss.

The streets were quiet with men and women hurrying home. I used shadows to cross to the edge of the Wizard’s Walk. The mage hall was granite stone carved by magic to look impressive, instead it just looked gaudy. I moved through the shadows and around to a small side door that was seldom if ever used.

I glanced at Dragon and Griffin, “find another way in and take the children with you.”

They leaped into the air and vanished into the dark sky. I looked at the door very carefully and smiled before checking to see if it was even locked. I grinned when it swung open and I stepped into the dim darkness. I closed the door behind me and looked around the small entry before crossing to the other door.

This one was spell warded and I knelt to pull out two tiny silver pen knives that had been infused with salt. I carefully began to move the spell strands until they were on the wall beside the door, they were still active but very old. I used a small bulb of oil in the hinges and waited a few minutes before picking the lock and slowly opening the door.
The huge room beyond was filled with comfortable chairs and couches with ever burning iron fire pits. I let my eyes shift and look around and found several mages towards the front by a large open pit with a roaring fire. Dragon dropped out of the shadows and onto my shoulder before patting my cheek and turning my head.

I saw Griffin and several drakes across the room in the tall bookcase. Few real books were on the shelve and those that were had a thick coat of dust. I used the shadows and slowly drifted around and across until I was at the eastern wall. I knelt to look at the floor and slowly moved until I found the old scratches.

I glanced back at the mages still talking and carefully began checking the bookcase. I found the release almost immediately but left it as I moved to check the other side. That was where I found the old spell strands. They were twisted and knotted so I used the silver pen knives to unravel the knots.

It was awhile before I had worked the knots free. I began working to move the twisted strands to the side and onto the solid shelf. I finished and looked back as the mages stood and stretched before heading towards the front door. I waited until long after they left before moving to the release switch.

There was a soft click and I pulled on the bookcase. It pivoted smoothly until there was a passage into the room. I looked carefully as Griffin walked down a shelf and peeked around the corner. He looked at me and chirped softly and I grinned before moving through the bookcase. I looked to the left and down the long room.

I lifted Griffin to my other shoulder, “nice and slow.”

A few drakes flew in but turned to land on the open bookcase shelves. I walked the entire length of the narrow room before coming to an open doorway. I checked it carefully before looking in and around as I pulled out a tiny mage dark lantern Jasmine had made for me. The room was like a large study with a fire pit in the center and bookcases around the walls.

The shelves held objects and cases and not books and I stepped in, “you can tell the others to come but leave one to watch.”

Dragon chirped and made a rumbling sound. A moment later the drakes were flying in. I crossed the room, “first we take what we came for and then we see what else there is.”

I lifted the crown and a tingle went through the gloves I was wearing. I pulled a small silk bag and slipped it in. Another silk bag and I slipped the scepter in. I put both in my pack before lifting the staff from the back of the shelf. I rolled it in a silk sheet and tied it before turned at Dragon’s pat.

I frowned when I saw the cats rubbing against a glass case next to the floor. Inside a ruby cat was rubbing back. I crossed to them, “no funny stuff.”

I looked at the case before removing four clamps and sliding the top aside. I reached in and lifted the cat out before putting it beside the other two, “do not get lost.”

Griffin patted my cheek as one of the drakes chirped across the room. I stood and looked before walking to it. It was watching another small glass case with a white dragon looking at me. I looked at Dragon, “well?”

She nodded and I freed the other dragon, “we need items or Jasmine will beat me if I bring more mouths home.”

Griffin leaped up and landed on the shelf above the dragon. He pulled a neckless to the edge of the shelf and I grinned, “that would make her feel better.”

I took several dozen items before my pack was full. I sent Griffin and the drakes out as I lifted the other dragon to my shoulder and grabbed the silk wrapped staff. When I came into the mage hall I closed the secret door. I carefully checked the hall before crossing to the back door. I went out the way I had come in.

I slipped into the shadows as the drakes and Griffin took to the sky. I glanced back to watch the cats following calming as if they were just out for a walk. I shook my head as the white dragon chirped. I was not surprised to find Silver in the kitchen when I got home. He stood quickly as I held the door for the drakes and Griffin and then the cats.

Jasmine was frowning at the white dragon and then at the ruby cat when it walked in, “More?”

I smiled sweetly, “I brought you presents?”

She snorted and then smiled, “okay.”

I ignored Silver as I set the staff on the table and set my pack down, “show your friend around Dragon.”

I searched through the pack and pulled out the necklace. Jasmine’s eyes lit up as I grinned and held it out. I pulled out the crown and scepter and Silver sighed, “excellent.”

I nodded and set the items on the table before I started bringing out the rest of the items I had taken. There were jeweled rings, fancy cloak pins, necklaces and book ends and several stone inlayed wooden boxes. They all had some type of spell imbued in them. Jasmine and Silver both watched and tried not to touch.

I ended up selling most to Silver and giving a few to Jasmine. Finally Silver stood and stretched, “meet me at the Grinning Cat with the relics at the ninth hour.”

I lifted an eyebrow and Jasmine squeezed my hand, “a non mage must hold and pass on the relics to the new emperor.”
I woke to Dragon patting my face and opened my eyes. I smiled when I saw the white dragon doing the same to Jasmine beside me. I shifted and nodded to Dragon before starting the process of moving the drakes and then the cats so I could get out of bed. The phoenixes cooed as I turned to help Jasmine out.

I helped her bathe which she always liked and then we got dressed. When I opened the door into the Grinning Cat the atmosphere was almost tense. Griffin, the drakes and the phoenixes flew through and Jasmine laughed as the three cat walked in front of her and into the common room.

I ignored the nobles in the room and smiled at a frightened Teresa, “oatmeal. I found a couple of strays that are hungry.”

She looked at one of the tables where Silver sat with an old man and a young boy. A woman hovered behind the boy and guards leaned against the walls. I snorted, “ignore them and bring your friends to meet the new dragon I found.”

She smiled and then turned to go into the kitchen. I started across the room and a guard moved out in front of me, “we need to search you.”

I looked at him calmly, “if the emperor does not want what I bring, I am sure I can sell it to someone else.”

I turned as Jasmine reached for my arm, “Sinclair.”

I looked at her and she sighed and turned to the guard, “move or I will turn you into something slimy.”

His face shifted and he glanced around. The old man shook his head, “let them through.”

The guard looked relieved as he moved back and away. Jasmine pulled on me and we walked to the table. I leaned the silk wrapped staff against the table and set the silk bags with the crown and scepter on the table. The boy leaned forward to look at Dragon and the white dragon on my shoulders and then at Jasmine’s tiny hawk as it peeked out of her hair.

He grinned, “can I touch them?”

Teresa carried a large tray to the table nervously with several bowls of oatmeal and her set of miniatures. The next thing everyone knew the drakes cried out from their perches and swarmed the table. Teresa laughed and started moving them back as she set the bowls on the table, “slow down greedy things.”

Griffin landed on her arm and she moved to set him beside a bowl. Dragon and the white dragon quickly left my shoulders and I shook my head as the emperor started chuckling. Teresa moved several of hers across the table to the boy, “you can touch these, I already fed them.”

He smiled and began petting them as the rest of her set moved closer to get their share of attention. The emperor grinned, “you take these everywhere?”

I shrugged as I pushed a bowl towards Jasmine, “mostly. They have the knack of not being seen unless they want to.”

I bumped Jasmine, “eat.”

She glared, “you know I do not really like oatmeal.”

I smiled, “want me to fix it?”

She grinned and nodded so I pulled out a small pouch. I sprinkled dark powder over her bowl and pushed Dragon away, “not for you.”

I added golden liquid from a tiny flask and cream from another. Jasmine pulled the bowl to her, “thank you.”

Silver shook his head, “I do not know where you found those spices, I can not find them.”

I grinned as I took a bite and gave a tiny bite to the ruby cat when it crawled onto my lap, “you are only a mage Silver. Pay me enough and I will find some for you.”

Jasmine stopped eating and frowned, “no you don’t, it is mine.”

The emperor laughed and finally turned, “the relics?”

I looked at him as the room became still and reached for the staff. I carefully unwrapped one end and ignored him to hold it out to the boy. There were hisses but the emperor nodded, “take it James.”

The boy reached for it and froze as his hand touched. He blinked and his eyes flickered, “I promise.”

The emperor nodded and I let the staff go. It flickered and shrank to fit the boy’s size. I opened the next bag and used it to hold the scepter as I held it out. James had leaned the small staff beside him and reached out to take the handle of the scepter. He stopped as it and he began to glow.

A moment later he nodded and smiled, “I promise.”

He pulled the scepter across the table and tucked a much smaller one into his belt. I hesitated this time and opened the last bag before holding it out to the old emperor. He smiled, “wise.”

I shrugged as he turned the bag inside out to hold the crown and turned to slowly set it on his grandson’s head. James glowed and straightened as if listening before nodding, “I swear.”

The emperor sighed and relax, “it is done.”

I glanced at him before nudging the white dragon, “want to go with the boy?”

It looked across the table and tilted its head as James held his breath. The dragon finally looked at me and nodded. I smiled, “treat him well your highness.”

His grin lit the room as the white dragon walked across and into his arms. I smiled as Jasmine hugged my arm.

Chapter Ten

Bringing home the gods

I was on the far side of the oldest part of the graveyard. The ridge had steepened into a stone cliff with mostly graves of the poor below it. What I was looking for used to be a carved relief in the cliff for a tomb. I looked at the pile of stones against the cliff that had fallen from above. A tiny shadow between large rocks was what had told me the tomb was here.

I sighed and started lifting and moving rocks. I had thought to enter in the morning but that was not going to happen. I started stacking the stones into a makeshift wall around the tomb. It was several hours before I had cleared the rocks away and stood looking at the tomb entrance. I carefully looked at the door, long ago they were made to never be reopened… supposedly.

I smiled at the tiny hidden hole, people are human and the person that built this tomb had left a lock incase they needed to reopen the tomb. These type of locks were common with some of the old tombs and I had come prepared. I opened my pack and pulled out a long thin brass rod. I slipped it into the door crack where the hole was.

I slowly pushed until the rod stopped and took a breath before pressing harder. There was a sound of a stone grinding as the rod pushed deeper and then it stopped. I moved to the other side of the stone door and pushed and slowly it began to turn and pivot until the way was clear. I knew better than to enter and sat back to wait.

After awhile I lit a twist of straw and tossed it in. It flicked and a moment later continued to burn brightly. I glanced at Dragon, “slowly.”

I stepped into the sloping hall and moved forward slowly as I lifted the mage lantern. It was not long before the hallway turned and spiraling stairs began descending down into the dark depths. The three cats slipped past me and moved down ahead of us. At the bottom of the stairs was a large entrance hall with stone lanterns on each wall.

I glanced at Dragon, “call the children and have them bring the phoenixes.”

She looked back and gave a shifting whistle. Several moments later the drakes flew in followed by Griffin and the pair of phoenixes. As they settled around the room the phoenixes landed on the far end above what looked like a stone fireplace. The fireplace burst into flames and then each torch started to burn until the room was brightly lit.

I smiled as I checked the room carefully before walking towards the fireplace. I knelt to look through the flames and into what looked like a tunnel. I knew what I had to do and sat back to pull off my pack, “everyone in.”

Dragon crawled over my shoulder and looked as the drakes flew to me and crawled in and then Griffin. She looked into my face before slipping into the pack. I held the pack and took a breath before crawling through the flames and into the tunnel. Once through I stopped and opened the pack, “okay, we are through.”

That was the second test, the fire did not have magic attached to it so crawling into what I knew was real fire had been really hard. Dragon came out followed by the others and I smiled, “move to the side so I can use the lantern.”

I pulled the lantern out and opened it before starting to crawl. I only had to go a dozen paces before there was a room, I checked before moving out and standing. Dragon flew up to my shoulder as I lifted the lantern to look around the room. Every wall was filled with carvings and murals.

It was a couple of minutes before I headed across the room towards a mural of people working in a field. It was the only one that did not have a god or goddess or a temple. I examined it closely before touching a woman holding sheaths of grain up to the sky. I felt it before pushing and it sank into the wall as there was a click.

I stepped back as the section of wall swivelled to show another passageway that seemed to turn and angle up. I nodded to one of the drakes, “fly in but do not land and then return.”

It leaped into the air to fly into the narrow twisting tunnel. I waited and a minute later it was back and landed on my shoulder beside Dragon. It murmured and chirped and Dragon touched my cheek before nodding and pointing in. I crouched and held the pack as I started up the tunnel. It emptied out into a small room after going up fifty feet.

The room almost seemed to absorb light as I used the lantern to look around. There was nothing on the floor or walls, not even cracks. I looked up at a round hole in one corner and glanced at Dragon and then Griffin when he landed on my other shoulder, “I need to know if there is some way to anchor a rope.”

They nodded and leaped before flying up the hole. I glanced around as the drakes crooned back and forth to each other on the floor. Dragon appeared and dropped to my shoulder before patting my cheek. I opened my pack and attached a small but thick hook to one end of the rope Silver had made and enchanted for me.

Dragon called out as she grabbed the hook and jumped into the air. The drakes came to grab at the rope every few feet as it unrolled out of my pack. It was a couple of minutes before it stopped and a minute before Dragon returned. I shouldered the pack and attached the lantern to my belt before testing the rope.

I started climbing into the pitch black hole and it seemed like a life time before I felt the rope against one wall and then the lip of an opening. I slowly lifted myself and opened the lantern to see I was in a hallway with stone statues of gods. The hook was around one and hooked around the rope.

I carefully undid it and put it away before looking at the god statue, “sorry great lord.”
I blinked when the statue seemed to smile and nod. I looked around carefully before starting down the hallway with Griffin and the drakes flying ahead. I bowed to each statue as I went past them until I came to the doorway into a large room. On the opposite wall were three narrow slit windows that seemed to glow as they gave light to the whole room.

In each corner was a statue with piles of gold and treasure in front of it. I slowly crossed to look out and realized the windows were high in the cliff. I moved to one corner and looked at the statue and blinked when I saw the face removed. Dragon turned my head and I glanced in the direction she pointed me.

I realized all the statues in the room were the same, only they appeared to be dressed as common workers. I carefully began to sort through the ancient gold coins and found items that almost glowed with magic. There were rings and cups of silver or crowns and elegant necklaces. I handled those items carefully and used silk bags I had brought in my pack.

I moved to the center slit window and sent Griffin out before using the rope to lower the silk bags. After that I turned to look at all the gold and grinned and filled the last of my bags and lowered them. I filled my pack and struggled to squeeze it through the slit before lowering it. I pulled the rope up after Griffin untied it and turned to head back through the hallway.

This time I put two thick sticks together that had been in the pack and slipped the rope around it before putting it across the hole. I dropped the rope down the hole and sent the drakes and Dragon down before lowering myself. Going out was a lot easier than coming in and once I was back in the entrance hall I called to the phoenixes.

After slipping out I counted everyone and then pushed the door closed. Now was the hard part, moving all the gold and treasure. I had brought a small hand cart and loaded the gold first and then the silk bags with the magical items. I backed up to see the narrow slits that were almost hidden before pulling the cart after me.

I was thinking the whole time I pulled the cart back to my house. I put all the gold in my basement and the magic relics on the kitchen table. Jasmine was not home and would not be for a couple of days. She was visiting her mother at a small cottage outside the city. I went to wash before filling a pouch with gold coins.

The Dwarf looked up from a game he was playing with himself when I walked into his shop. I crossed and sat and he frowned, “bold.”

I nodded and counted twenty gold coins one by one before setting them on the table. I looked at him as he stared at the gold, “I need ten fountains made with pedestals. The basins need to be four paces across and the top of the pedestal must remain above the water and be one pace across.”

He looked at me and I waited until he nodded, “where and what stone?”

I smiled and leaned forward, “you know who I am Delf. I want them on the street around my home. I want solid granite, ten living god statues will stand on the pedestals.”

He sat back, “god statues? I do not…”

I held up a hand, “I will bring them.”

He nodded and looked at the coins before holding out his hand, “deal.”

I nodded and left as I thought. I went to Silver and found him talking to himself in his study. I grinned, “I have a question mage.”

He looked at me before sitting back, “yes?”

I crossed to sit beside him, “the god statues I found are in a dark hallway. I was thinking of moving them outside.”

He sat up, “you found the treasure?”

I smiled, “yes.”

He looked towards the window before looking at me, “as long as you show respect and take precautions to keep them from damage it should be okay.”

I nodded, “it was strange because the treasure was not even where they could see it. It was in a room with four faceless statues dressed like common workers.”

Silver nodded, “it was not meant for the gods even though they called it their treasure.”

I nodded since I remember reading that, “I will have to cut a hole in the cliff and set up a hoist.”

He smiled, “was there any magical items?”

I smiled as I leaned back, “several. I left them on my kitchen table so Jasmine could look them over when she returns.”

He grinned, “home coming gifts.”

I went home but did not stay and found a heavy hammer and steel bar. I grabbed a cloak and left and stopped to buy three large chests that barely fit in the cart before heading back to the cliff by the graveyard. I laid back with Dragon, Griffin and the drakes clinging to me. The Phoenixes perched above me and murmured softly to each other.

Even the three cats appeared and crawled on to lay down. My dreams were filled with stone statues walking around talking to each other. I woke with the sun and stretched before opening the door and going in. It took a lot less time to reach the hall with the gods and I walked down the hallway, “today I am breaking you out.”

I could almost hear their whispered approval as I entered the large room and crossed to the center window. I started using the hammer and the steel bar to break the wall and make the window larger. It was hard work but I did not stop and finally a huge chunk fell leaving a large hole in the wall.

I used the rope through one of the other windows and around to the huge hole I had made. I climbed down and tied the rope to the three chests before climbing up before pulling them up. I filled each of the chests before starting to lower the first. I grinned when I saw Silver and Jasmine making their way towards the cliff.

It was not long before all three chests were down and I was pulling Jasmine and then Silver up. I slipped my hand into Jasmine’s as we walked towards the hall, “where is the baby?”

She smiled, “mom is staying with us and watching her.”

I was quiet as they looked at and bowed to each statue. Silver murmured and I felt the air move around us before one of the statues lifted and began floating. One by one Jasmine and Silver moved the statues out and down to the ground. Jasmine created a stone chest and I began filling it and filling it and filling it until the large room was bare.

She moved the chest out and down and I lowered her and then Silver. I looked around before gesturing Dragon, Griffin and the drakes out. I climbed down and went in to bring the Phoenixes out after finding the three cats with them. It was a precession as we returned to the city and headed home.

I pulled the cart with Jasmine walking beside me and Silver beside her. The cats were on the chests in the cart with the Phoenixes. Floating along behind the cart was the stone chest and the statues. Above, around and through the statues flew Dragon, Griffin and the drakes.

Chapter Eleven

To scold a noble

I was tickling my daughter as she laughed and her grandmother kept shaking her head, “she should not have magic as strong as it is.”

I grinned and lifted Melody and held her on my hip, “why?”

Gloria sighed, “because you are… are not a mage.”

I accepted the nipple toy Dragon brought and gave it to my daughter, “have you considered that I can see magic or at least the signs it leaves?”

She blinked and then smiled, “no. I will have to study that.”

I nodded to the other door, “my library might have something.”

Gloria looked and stood, “I will look.”

I waited until she was gone before shaking my head and leaving with my companions flying out ahead of me. The Grinning Cat was busy when I walked in but Teresa waved to a lone table by the kitchen door. I crossed the room and sat as Griffin and the drakes landed on the table with the set of miniatures.

Dragon was on my shoulder… well hanging down to pat and play with my daughter. I turned to sit her on the edge of the table as she sucked and grabbed at my hands. I felt the tingling of her magic but Jasmine’s wards shifted and dispelled the magic. Silver sat across from me as Teresa slipped a mug of cider onto the table with a large bowl of stew.

I smiled as Griffin and the drakes crowded around the bowl and looked at Silver, “Gloria is still staying with us.”

He nodded and gestured to bring his granddaughter floating to him, “I thought she would be. Jasmine still visiting the mage hall?”

I nodded and watched as he played with Melody and finally shook my head, “so…”

He glanced at me, “I need you to bring me the Sword of Fate.”

I looked at my daughter, “I do not know. They say that anyone that holds it is destined to kill a king.”

He snorted, “nonsense.”

I shrugged, “maybe but I happen to like the man.”
He looked at the table before looking at me again, “okay, what about the Siren’s Harp?”

I shook my head, “what are you planning?”

He smiled, “trying to determine how the greater spells of magic were created.”

I looked at Melody before nodding, “I will not steal it but I will get you into the room.”

Silver smiled and turned back to play with my daughter. When I walked into the house Gloria turned from the counter, “where did you go?”

I crossed to put my sleeping daughter in the small crib before looking at her grandmother, “I see where Jasmine gets her habit of sticking her nose in other peoples business.”

She started to gesture and I shook my head, “I would not do that.”

She tilted her head, “why?”

I smiled as I crossed to the stove and poured hot water for tea, “the god statues around the house do no like it when magic is used on me.”

Gloria blinked before grumbling and I made a second cup of tea before pushing it towards her, “my business is mine.”

I sipped my tea and glanced at all the drakes draped over my daughter with Dragon and Griffin watching from the sides. I shook my head before heading down into the basement. I checked my pack and added a few things before carrying it upstairs. I smiled at Jasmine sitting at the table with her mother, “all done plotting?”

She grinned, “actually I was consulting.”

She glanced at the crib and then at me, “several mages wish to examine you.”

I laughed as I bent to kiss her and look at her mother, “you are the only one that gets to examine me.”

She sighed and then shivered before grinning, “going out?”

I nodded, “helping a friend.”

Gloria snorted as Jasmine grinned, “do not get caught.”

I smiled as I headed towards the door, “that is always my thought.”

I met Silver in front of his shop and turned to start walking, “Duke Mesker is very serious about people sneaking in.”
I glanced at him and smiled, “except like all nobles he has a lot of servants.”

He nodded and glanced around, “where are your companions?”

I grinned, “occupied with my daughter.”

He smiled, “yes they like the thoughts of young children.”

It was awhile before I stopped him as I looked out of an alley at a small side gate. I waited for several minutes before leading him across. I pushed the gate open as I reached up to silence the bell and held it until Silver was in. I closed the gate and turned to lead him to the servants door.

After that it was through a side door and up the narrow stairs before going down a hall. I looked at him as I stopped to examine the magic traces on the study door, “do not do anything.”

He nodded as I looked at the signs of magic before pulling two small thin silver pin knives. One went to the upped right doorframe where I touched the point to the spell strand and pulled it left. I pushed the point into the door and knelt to pull the bottom right strand over too. Once I had both pinned to the door I used lock picks and opened the door.

I checked the room carefully before nodding for Silver to cross to a glass dome in one corner. I listened at the door as he whispered a spell before removing the glass. After that he looked for a long time before doing anything else. I tried to ignore the drifting strands of magic from the harp as Silver constantly pulled them back.

It was several hours before he replaced the glass and crossed the room. I listened and opened the door before looking out. I gestured and let him out before closing the door and carefully removing one of the silver pen knives and sliding the strand of magic back into place. I knelt to repeat it with the other one and then put both knives away.

I led him back the way we had come but stopped at the narrow stairs to stare at the spell strands that crisscrossed them now. I frowned, either the duke knew we were here or this was something he did at night after the servants were gone or in bed. I glanced back as I thought and pulled Silver after me as I went back the other way.

I was wishing I had Dragon and the others as I looked down the main staircase. I listened as Silver shifted and finally reached back to pull him after me as I went down. I moved to the left once we reached the bottom and started for the door into the kitchen. I stopped at the spell web on the door and glanced at Silver.

I shook my head before smiling and heading towards another door that went into a small smelly room. I ignored Silver as he sniffed and pulled him around the edge of the room and to the short narrow door. I opened it and stepped out into the stable manure yard. I waited and closed the door after Silver before crossing to a gate.

I checked it before opening it and gesturing to Silver. We were in a narrow walkway between two walls and I went down to the other gate before listening and then opening it. I peeked out and pulled Silver out and closed the gate. I pulled him across the cobbled street and into an alley.

He let out a deep breath, “what was that horrid room?”

I grinned as I started walking and he fell in beside me, “that is where the jake holes empty into.”

I left him at his shop and slipped in the back door at home. I crossed to Jasmine by the sink and put my arms around her. She sniffed, “you need to bathe.”

I kissed the back of her neck, “I miss you too.”

She turned and grinned, “go wash.”

I kissed her and headed up to the bathing room. When I slipped into the water it was a few minutes before Dragon appeared and landed on the edge of the tub. I smiled, “I could have used your help tonight.”

She laid along the edge and sighed as I reached out to rub her face, “thanks for watching Melody.”

When I was done and dressed in clean clothing I went back downstairs. Jasmine was singing a lullaby while rocking our daughter. I looked at duke Mesker sitting on the other side of the table sipping tea. I went to make a cup and sat as Jasmine turned to the table, “the duke was telling me you were visiting him tonight.”

I smiled, “really?”

He smiled, “tell me why you did not take the harp?”

I grinned, “because you are a fair and honest person. Silver only wanted to look at the harp to see how the spells were done and I knew you would not have allowed him to do that.”

He nodded, “true. How did you get past my spell wards and traps?”

I reached out to touch the ring on his finger, “all spells leave traces and strands of magic, I can see those strands.”

The duke looked at his ring before nodding, “that makes sense.”

He sipped his tea, “I am not sure what to do about this.”

I grinned, “did you think I did not see the other spell that watched the room? That I did not know you would see?”

I glanced at the three cats as they walked in before looking at him, “you collect magic items, how many creatures do you have?”

He sat back, “a few.”

I nodded, “and you keep them locked away and under glass.”

He looked at the cats and nodded as I leaned forward, “go to the Grinning Cat and watch the serving girl.”

I took Jasmine’s hand, “my companions watch over my daughter now but they are very good company and have protected me many times. You are to good to keep treating the mage creatures badly.”

He smiled, “so you let my seeing spell watch you just to scold me?”

I sighed, “did you look at the statues around the house?”

He grinned, “I even tossed a couple of coppers in one basin.”

I nodded, “I collect the money that people leave and use it to help children that are homeless.”

He sipped the tea and then stood, “tell Silver to ask next time.”

I walked him out and came back to see Gloria frowning from the workroom door, “spying?”

She shook her head, “Silver…”

I smiled, “and you are not?”

I crossed to lift my daughter and turned to head for the stairs, “mages are all like that in one way or another.”

When Jasmine and I walked into the Grinning Cat the next day it was crowded and there were mage creatures everywhere. I moved back to Teresa’s table and found duke Mesker already there. He grinned as we sat, “your protégée is amazing. She said you also bring and give other miniatures to children.”

Jasmine grinned as she shooed the drakes and Griffen off Melody, “and you decided to bring all your little friend to play?”

He laughed as he looked around, “I have always thought mage creatures were the truly powerful magical creations.”

Chapter Twelve

Stealing the beggars chest

I juggled the toys as a pregnant Jasmine held Melody and tried to pick up the picnic basket. I shook my head and hooked the handle with a foot before lifting it. Jasmine grinned as she took it and turned to start walking, “so why did father want to look at all the animals?”

I walked with her as I kept looking around the commons, “he said something about them changing because they eat I think.”

She laughed, “I think he is getting in over his head.”

The boy and girl ahead of us laughed and shifted and I moved to block Jasmine and stopped her, “pick another mark.”

The two stopped smiling and the boy frowned, “I do not…”

I smiled, “does the name Sinclair mean anything?”

He glanced around as the girls hissed, “he is…”

The boy hissed and I shook my head, “to late. Come to my home in one mark or I will have to hunt you down and I do not think you want that.”

They looked at each other and stepped aside. Jasmine looked at me with a smile as she absently changed our daughter’s summoning spell, “and should I ask what you plan to do with two thieves?”

I tossed a toy close to Melody and her magic swirled and brought it to her fist before she tried to suck on it. I grinned, “do you really want to know?”

She shook her head as she caught another spell our daughter tried to do to summon Dragon and the others, “I guess not.”

I grinned, “actually I was planning a large theft.”

She looked at me, “we do not need the money.”

I grinned, “festival is coming.”

She shifted Melody and whispered a spell that made the picnic basket float after us. I knew she was curious and smiled before whistling. Melody did her giggling laugh and Jasmine sighed, “what are you going to do?”

I grinned again, “they are going to steal the beggars chest and pour it into the god fountains during festival.”

Jasmine laughed and shook her head, “and what happens to the beggars expecting their pieces of copper?”

I smiled smugly, “I happen to know that a certain baron in charge this year was planning to take most of the money. He is already pledged to provide two coppers for every beggar.”

She looked at me, “so if you steal the chest…”

I laughed as we walked between fountains and statues at the front of our home, “he has to pay the coppers out of his own pocket. More to the point, if the chest is taken he has to pay a matching fee to the King’s orphans.”

She laughed as we walked into the house and her mother turned from speaking to the three cats, “about time you got home.”

I smiled sweetly, “if you wanted to go with us all you had to do was ask. Instead you have been trying to get the cats to spy on Silver.”

She sniffed and Jasmine shook her head, “mother.”

I carried the toys and picnic blanket into the kitchen and set everything on the table. I grinned as I looked at the cats that followed, “would one of you go tell Dragon and the others we are back and I need them?”

The ruby cat nodded and headed for the door that opened on its own. I shook my head and looked at the others, “I wish you would tell me how you did that.”

They sat smugly and I headed into my study, “we need to plan a theft.”

I sat at the small writing desk and used a parchment and drew merchants square. I looked up when Dragon landed on my shoulder and looked around, “everyone else back?”

She nodded and I reached up to rub her cheek, “Melody is taking a nap so you are here buttering me up?”

She chirped and I grinned before looking at the door where the two young thieves stood, “good you are here.”

Jasmine handed them small plates of sweetbread and glasses of cider before pushing them into the room, “I am taking mother out so she does not spy.”

I grinned and watched her leave before looking at the two nervous children, “ready for a large heist?”
They looked at each other before coming to the desk and looking at the parchment. The square was crowded, just the way we wanted. I moved through the people smoothly and bumped a man and sliced the seems on his purse. Coins spilled out and people shifted and looked as he stopped and tried to pick them up.

I stopped beside the stand and ten seconds later the lock on the iron band was open. I moved around as the boy and girl appeared carrying a chest hidden chest under a gauze. Dragon, Griffin and the drakes cried out as they danced in the air above and several people tripped over something unseen and fell on the outside of the square.

The new chest lifted at the other end of the chest on the stand and I grabbed an end handle and pulled. The heavy chest slid out from under the band and the new chest slid in. The boy caught the other end of the heavy chest and flicked the gauze like cloth over it. The girl paused and seemed to drop a few coppers into the chest.

Her other hand closed the lock on the iron band. She walked away as the boy and I left holding the chest that seemed to have vanished between us. After we were out of the square we walked calmly through the streets and back to my house. I grinned when the large crowd of children appeared and we set the chest on the edge of a fountain basin.

I nodded to the boy who looked around before bending as he pulled the gauze away and started picking the lock. A minute later he lifted the lid and grinned as his sister appeared. I gestured and they grabbed handfuls and started walking and dropping coins into the fountains. The children laughed as they lined up to grab coins to give to the gods.

I looked up at one of the windows to see Gloria watching and waved. She shook her head and disappeared and I went back to watching the children. The guard that stopped beside me looked and smiled before tossing a few coins from his purse, “well done.”

I smiled, “anyone see?”

He shook his head, “they are taking it away for counting in a few hours.”

I looked around, “Duke Mesker asked to witness the chest opening in front of the king?”

He grinned, “now it is half the court.”

I smiled in satisfaction, “now the greedy bastard can pay for everything out of his own pocket.”

The guard grinned, “the captain said he would pay your fee to the orphanage like you asked.”

I nodded and laughed as several children started splashing water and playing. The baron was furious when the new chest was opened to see it was empty. He tried to blame the city guards but duke Mesker cleared his throat and reminded him he had refused to pay for a guard to watch the chest.

He had tried putting off paying the beggars but the king would not have it. I stood on the edge of the square with Jasmine and my daughter as beggars filed in and across to receive their coppers. I did not say anything and neither did anyone else when most switched shirts to return a second and third time.

Parties were going on all through the city and bright lights glowed from manors and estates. I glanced at Daniel and Tami before walking out of the shadows in the alley. Dragon was sitting on the wooden gate into the baron’s small estate and dropped to my shoulder as I opened it. I looked back and the two thieves crossed to join me.

We crossed to the manor that was dark since the baron was out at another noble’s party. I glanced up and looked at the girl. She turned and started climbing the rough stone blocks and the boy followed and then me. On the second floor the girl climbed onto a balcony and we followed. I caught the boy as he moved to the window and touched his shirt.

He frowned and then nodded as he pulled out the wire frame glasses and put them on. They did not alter his vison but they did let him see the strands magic left. He hissed when he looked at the window and I grinned. I moved to the window and pulled the tiny silver pin knives from a silver case in a pocket.

I made sure they watched as I pulled the pins along the window and stuck them in the frame. The boy nodded and I let him slip a very thin bar through between the windows and lift the locking latch. He opened the window and slipped in before gesturing to us. I let the girl go first and followed as he crossed to the far door.

The manor was dark and had that long unused feel as we silently made our way down to the lower floor. At the end of the dark hall was a door with three bars and six locks. I watched as he looked and then pulled a small case with silver pins knives like I had used before. He dragged the magic strands to the doorframe where he pinned them.

The girl moved forward to pick the six locks and they quietly lifted the three locking bars. The boy picked the lock on the door and opened it to peek in. He opened it wider and pulled out a tiny mage lantern and lifted one side. He grinned and we walked in and across to the chest against one wall.

He looked it over before kneeling to pick the lock. When he started to open it I caught his hand, “traps.”

He looked and I knelt to traced the edge of the lid. The girl hissed and I touched a small hole in the iron band across the top. I pulled a small round pin and slipped it into the hole before nodding to the boy. He cautiously opened the chest and gasped at the gold and silver. I pulled out canvas bags, “fill them.”

Five minutes later my pack was much heavier and the chest was closed and locked. I waited and watched at the door as they replaced the bars and then the six locks. The boy carefully move the magic strands back into place. Upstairs we closed and locked the window and moved the spell strands back into place.

We lowered the pack using cord and then slipped out. I led the way through the streets and stopped at the mage hall. The front doors were wide open as mages enjoyed a party and I walked in with the two following me timidly. I waved at the few mages I knew and stopped at a low table. I took the pack off before I started dividing the money.

When I was done I helped them put their share back in the bags. After they slipped out I straightened and a dozen mages laughed. Several stepped forward including Edmond and I started counting and handing the coins to them. I left with a huge chest that just floated behind me as I walked through semi crowded streets.

I banged on the thick doors to the king’s orphanage and an older woman opened the door, “there is no party…”

I pushed her out of the way as I walked in, “there is now.”

The children turned from what they had been doing as I stopped and turned to the chest. I pointed to a tiny girl, “come here.”

She was trembling as she stood and walked to me. I opened the chest and looked inside, “I need someone for a lovely young lady.”

A small bright silver flying cat leaped and flew out and I caught it. I turned to the wide eyed girl and held it out, “you must always care for it and it can never be taken away.”

She nodded and I set it in her hands before looking around and pointing to an older boy, “come here.”

Chapter Thirteen

Necromancer’s Onk

I looked up from the book I was reading while my daughter slept on my lap. Silver, Gloria and Jasmine walked in looking dark and angry. I closed the book and glanced at Melody before looking that them and whispering, “what?”

Jasmine smiled, “I do not understand why she always falls asleep when you read to her.”

Silver snorted and sat in another chair as Gloria paced, “another couple was killed in the King’s garden with magic and their essence taken.”

I looked at my daughter and softly caressed her face as I thought. This was the twelfth time the killer had struck. I looked Silver, “could the Necromancer’s Onk find him?”

They jerked and Silver sat up, “maybe if we use it on the two…”

Gloria snorted, “and where are you going to find a Necromancer to wield it?”

I moved the drakes and Griffin off my daughter and stood, “I can not tell you that.”

I turned and handed Melody to Jasmine, “tell the guards to keep the bodies together.”

I walked out and went downstairs as my mind whirled. I had met Whisper many years ago and promised never to tell anyone about him. I put a few tools into my pack before leaving. I glanced at Dragon when she landed on my shoulder and smiled, “thanks for coming.”

She rubbed against my cheek and I turned to head through the city. The shop I went to had an orange glow that seemed to warm the heart. We were just inside the wall from the graveyard. I looked at the large orb in the window before going in and waiting just inside the door.

It was several moments before the whispers came, “Sinclair… it… is… not… me…”

I smiled, “I did not think it was.”

“Why… have… you… come…”

I sighed, “because I need help catching the one that is killing people.”

“I… wish… to… be… left… alone…”

I shook my head, “so you would let another bring darkness? He is a Necromancer just like you. You may have forsaken the dark arts but he has not. Not only has he killed with his magic he stole their souls.”
The pale man I remembered stepped out of nowhere to stand in front of me, “so… you… would… have… them… know… me…”

I shook my head, “no. I am going to steal the Necromancer’s Onk. The spirits may not be in the bodies but with the Onk you could question the dead and track the killer.”

He turned to look into the shadows, “the Onk is very powerful.”

I smiled because he had not whispered, “and can only be used by a necromancer once.”

He waved as he nodded, “once would be enough.”

I looked at him closely, “enough for what?”

He turned to look at me as if weighting me before nodding, “to let my spirit go to its peaceful rest.”

I narrowed my eyes, “peaceful rest?”

He smiled and a pale bony hand came out to touch one of mine, “I am very old Sinclair. The power that consumes me refuses to let me die so that my spirit may rest.”

I swallowed and bowed, “if the Onk can not, I will find a way.”

He nodded and I turned, “I will return after…”

“I will be with those that have died.”

I glanced back before leaving and moving quickly through the shadows. I paused in the darkness of an alley as I stared across at a large manor ablaze in light. There were no walls, only rusty iron bars with sharpened points. I finally moved and went straight across to what had been a carriage gate decades ago.

I checked the locking bar and lifted it as I slid it back and then struggled to lift the heavy gate leaf and open it. I went through once it was open enough and headed around the carriage house and stables. I checked before opening the servant door and stepping into the manor. I could hear voices and chants as I glanced around the corner and into the kitchen.

The kitchen was empty except for an oil lamp burning on the center table. I moved through and listened at the other door before feeling along the back wall. The servants stairs were hidden behind a panel and I climbed them silently to the third floor. I opened the panel and peeked out and looked down the hall.

I moved down and to the center room that would be over the front of the manor. I picked the lock and slipped into the room and opened the tiny mage lantern. Everything was draped in black except the snow white bed in the center of the room. I moved slowly and silently to the bed and went to my stomach to look under it.

I crawled under and felt the seem on the small trap door I knew was here. I had to use a small knife to pry one edge up and then I was working around the other edges. I lifted the trap door and peeked into the huge room below blazing with light. I looked at each of the hooded and cowled people before reaching down.

The tiny Onk was icy cold and seemed to reach straight into my heart. It was only a foot long, ebony black with darkness seeping off it. It floated in the air with nothing holding it and I slowly brought it up through the trap door. I lowered the trap door before twisting to pull a silk bag. I put the Onk in the bag and closed it before crawling out from under the bed.

I slipped out and headed back to the servants stairs. When I opened the door in the kitchen I could hear the chants still going on. I moved to the outer door and left, I hesitated before closing the heavy gate and then heading towards an alley. Each time I entered shadows the chill seemed darker and an icy coldness reached for me.

There was a small crowd of guards and mages in a brightly lit area of the garden when I reached it. Whisper slipped out of the shadows and started walking beside me. He was the only one that had ever been able to do that. I glanced at him before I started pushing people out of our way. I glanced at Silver talking to the guard commander as I stopped beside the bodies.

I held out the silk bag and Whisper took it as he began a slow walk around the bodies. I glanced around as everyone whispered or murmured, “please kept it quiet.”

Whisper ignored them and me as he finally knelt and put his hand on the dead woman. He growled as he looked at me, “the one that did this raped her as he fed.”

The mages straightened as I looked around and Silver stepped up, “it means it was not a necromancer that killed them.”

I snorted, “necromancers do not kill.”

The mages looked at me and I shrugged, “they talk to and commune with the dead. They try to have as little to do with the living as they can.”

I looked at Whisper, “can you raise them to find out who it was?”

He looked at the silk bag with the Onk, “yes.”

I had a bad feeling as he pulled it out and felt the chill again. His whispered chant almost seemed loud enough to hear. It was like an echo and I saw the darker threads spin from the Onk and reach for the bodies as well as out into the night. I spun at the feel of more magic and saw the spell strand grab onto the other spell before beginning to leach.

I started running and shoving people as Whisper began to scream. I tossed a handful of salt up and into the strands and they burst into flames that went both ways. I continued to run towards the shadows the spell strand had come out of. Dozens and then more strands stabbed towards me.

I tossed more salt as I stopped and pulled a dagger. Bolts of light exploded above us and jagged lightning flashed past to slam into a glowing sphere of magic in front of me. I growled and threw the dagger and the dark mage laughed and gestured. His laugh vanished as sparks spun off the flying dagger and it spun and slammed into his chest.

It was like he explode in a huge pillar of fire that roared a hundred feet into the night. Streaks of light wailed as they were torn away and faded. I moved closer as I pulled another dagger and Silver appeared to pull me back, “no.”

I looked at him as he watched the pillar of fire, “he…”

He looked at me, “is dying the worst way a mage can.”

I looked back before turning to head back to Whisper. When I saw him on the ground I ran and knelt, “Whisper?”

He smiled weakly, “finally I can rest.”

He closed his eyes and breathed out and a thick black strand of magic emerged before fading. I felt the pulse in his throat and sighed as I lowered his body to the ground.

Chapter Fourteen

Finding a companion

I rocked Ash in her cradle and watched Melody trying to color on the slat I had bought her. I cleared my throat when she started to use magic and she stopped and looked at me, “but…”

I shook my head, “what is your mother’s rule?”

She sighed, “no magic without her.”

I smiled, “and what happens if you do?”

She pouted and I shook my head. She had gone from simple babbling to speech in weeks. I glanced at Dragon as she lifted her head over the side of the cradle, “no playing with Dragon and the others.”

Melody sighed and reached for a piece of colored chalk. I looked at the door when Silver and Jasmine walked in and smiled, “finished your spells already?”

They nodded and Jasmine gestured, “and you have been letting Melody…”

She stepped closer, “what is she drawing?”

I checked Ash as she shifted in her sleep, “I asked her to draw a horse.”

Silver shook his head, “a mistake Sinclair.”

I looked at him as Jasmine crossed to our daughter, “did she do any magic?”

I hesitated, “she started to but stopped.”

Melody smiled up at her mother before turning and reaching for the slat with magic surging up inside her. I stood, “NO!”

Melody froze and looked at me with wide eyes as Jasmine turned and dispelled the magic in her, “you need to know what you want the magic to do sweetie.”

I looked at Silver as he cleared his throat, “she is getting much stronger.”

I nodded as Jasmine comforted her. She looked at me and then at her father, “we need a companion.”

He nodded and I cleared my throat, “Companion?”

Silver gestured and I left the room with him, “I have already been checking and there are no available companions in the city.”

I looked at him, “what is a companion?”

He sighed, “a companion is a creature that will bond with and help a young mage control her magic.”

I turned to look out the kitchen window, “but there are none in the city.”

He shook his head and I glanced at the three cats as they strolled in. I smiled, “would the three of you know where or how I might find a companion?”

They sat and looked at each other before the Ruby cat nodded. I stood, “can you lead me?”

They turned for the door and I started following, “tell Jasmine I am hunting for a companion.”

The three led me through the city and into the narrower streets. They stopped at one that seemed darker and I glanced at them before heading to the door and knocking. It was a minute before I heard something and then the door slowly creaked open. It almost looked like ancient crone looking back at me, “yes?”

I smiled, “my name is…”

She gestured, “I know your name Sinclair.”

I blinked and glanced back at the three cats sitting in the street watching us and back at her. I took a breath, “my daughter is a mage and she is young. She needs a companion but we have been told there are none in the city.”

She looked at me carefully, “and you think one is here.”

I gestured to the cats, “they think there is or that you can direct me to one.”

She shifted and slowly leaned to look around me before smiling, “so you belong to them.”

I grinned, “something like that.”

She nodded and looked into my eyes, “in the noble quarter is an unseen manor. It is warded and has many traps to keep people out. In the tower is a chest guarded by a gargoyle. Inside the chest is a companion bound in sleep. There is also a vial of what looks like frozen fire. Take both and bring me the vial.”

She nodded and shuffled back as the door began to close. I turned to look at the cats before shaking my head and heading down the street. I was thinking of how to find an unseen manor. I had been in the noble quarter many times but nothing came to me. I was walking down a wide cobbled street with two city guards in front of me when I hesitated.

Scraps and pieces of magic in and around the noble quarter were common. I looked back at an earl’s estate and ahead to a baron’s. I looked back and forth several times before the strands of magic on the wall between struck me. I moved to the wall and pulled a couple of silver pen knives.

I scraped one along the wall and pulled a strand of magic with it. I worked the knife into a crack and left it before moving the other way to pull a second strand of magic back. I carefully climbed up and peeked over to see another estate. I looked at the top of the wall and the grounds before moving over.

I stood after I dropped to the ground and looked before carefully beginning to walk a drunken line towards the distant manor. The lawn was over grown and probably had not been cut in decades. It took me awhile to reach the manor and spider webs of spell strands spread from each door.

Each of the windows was crisscrossed with strands but I looked at the thickly tall grass almost hiding a basement half window. I moved closer to check it before pulling out a glass cutter. I did not like cutting the glass but knew the wood was so swollen and rotten that I would not be able to open the window.

I cut the whole pane out before tapping it and pulling it out. I set it beside the window before looking in through the open hole. I wiggled in and twisted to drop to the floor before walking across the dusty floor. I checked the door carefully before using a dagger between the jam to lift the locking bar.

The basement hall was wide and as dusty as the room. I could see several charms and spell strands as I started for the stairs. I was able to move over or around the strands by using the ceiling beams. When I reached to stairs they were in as much disuse as the rest of the place. I looked up and started to take a step before freezing with my foot on the step.

I looked at the stair step before pulling my foot away. I knelt to look at the step and hissed as I saw the way the step angled. It could just be the boards warping but with all the magic I did not think so. I checked the next and the one after that. I looked at the walls and the ceiling before finding the tiny holes.

I started up the stairs skipping the ones that were trapped. The first floor looked as abandoned as the basement and I shook my head. I thought of the way the manor was built and continued up the stairs. I would have to check each floor for the stairs into the tower. The halls held not only spell strands but trip wires and pressure traps.

It was the third floor were I found the way into the tower. The inner stairs went up and down but my goal was at the top, at least I thought it was. I was wrong, that large circular room held a fire pit and a chair and that was it. I moved back down carefully until I reached the door at the bottom.

I checked the spell strands on the door and used more silver pen knives to move them. I picked the lock before taking a breath and starting to open the door. I still remembered the old woman’s voice, “In the tower is a chest guarded by a gargoyle.”

I pushed the door open and looked into the dark room before pulling the small mage lantern and opening one side. I used it to look around the room until I saw the gargoyle. It seemed frozen but was staring straight at me. I smiled as I returned its look and pulled out a pouch of powder and a small mirror.

I shifted and it shifted, I took a step to the door thresh hold and it rushed across the room. I held the mirror up in front of my eyes and tossed the powder. The gargoyle froze inches from me as it stared into the mirror while the insect dust drifted onto it. I watched the floor and saw the spell strands in and around the gargoyle drop and fade away.

I moved the mirror to see just another gargoyle statue and moved around it and into the room. I moved across the room to the single large chest and knelt to check it carefully. It was not trapped or enspelled so I opened it and looked in. I saw the creature first, it looked like a large ferret. It had spell strands running through it and remained asleep.

I looked at several other things in the chest including a tiny jeweled dragon that sat frozen as it seemed to stare at me. I smiled, “want out?”

It shifted before nodding and I reached in to bring it out. I sat it on my shoulder before lifting the limp and sleeping companion and then looking through a few pieces of cloth to find the vial. I slipped it into my pouch before turning to leave. I was as careful leaving as I was coming in and it was not until I dropped to the street that I took a deep breath.

It was late as I made my way back to the old woman’s house. The three cats were laying on the doorstep and only lifted their heads when I knocked on the door. Again it was a minute before I heard the old women and the door creaked open. She looked at me before smiling, “so you were not killed.”

I held out the companion and pulled out the vial. She ignored the companion and took the vial before opening it and drinking. I blinked as she sighed and shimmered before growing younger until a beauty was looking back at me. She looked at the companion, “take it to your daughter and tell her she must give it a kiss to awaken it.”

I looked at the animal, “A kiss…”

She laughed and stepped back, “a touch will do but a kiss sounds better.”

She closed the door and I turned to see the cats stretching. I started back towards home with the three following. When I walking into the kitchen Jasmine was feeding Ash. I smiled and looked at the tiny jeweled dragon, “we are home and I think I will call you Jewel.”

She nodded as she looked around and I crossed to kiss Jasmine, “where is Melody?”

She looked at the small companion, “with mother in the study.”

I turned to walk into the room and saw my daughter reading in her grandmother’s lap with Dragon and the others clinging to her. She looked up and her eyes locked on the companion, “what is wrong with her?”

I looked down, “she was put to sleep by a spell and needs her very own little girl to kiss her and wake her up.”

Gloria opened her mouth before closing it. Melody moved everyone off her except Dragon and climbed off her grandmother and the chair, “I will kiss her.”

I knelt and held the companion out, “you have to hold her first.”

I set the limp animal in her arms and she bent to give it a kiss. It shifted and stretched before looking at Melody. Her face lit up and she smiled shyly, “hi.”

The animal climbed her arm to the opposite shoulder from Dragon and rubbed against my daughter’s cheek. She grinned at it and looked at me, “her name is Princess.”

I smiled as I stood, “that is a pretty name.”

Chapter Fifteen

Enslaving a duke

To say I was angry would be a mild understatement. Daniel and Tami along with several dozen other children had been rounded up off the streets. It was not on the king’s orders or any of his council. It was a duke that was also a merchant that traded with other city states and countries.

The king did not want to get involved with the matter because the duke was very powerful. I had slipped out of the house and for a change Dragon and the others came with me. I was not headed for his estate I was going to his warehouse just outside the city. One look at the warehouse and I was growling at the strands of magic protecting it.

I moved to a small door in a corner and used two silver pen knives to move the spell strands off and away from the door. Once the that was done I picked the lock before going to the corner drain pipe. I carefully moved spell strands before I started climbing. Once on the roof I moved up to the peak and leaned over to check the roof vent.

It was not protected so I worked it open and glanced in. I turned to hang before swinging in and onto a thick beam. I knelt to look down into the darkness of the warehouse. When I saw the hounds I glanced at Jewel and Dragon, “they need to be distracted.”

Dragon leaped after the tiny Jewel and I began moving in. I climbed down to another beam before checking the warehouse floor. I shook my head at the drakes playing with the hounds before climbing to the floor. There were two very large cages in the middle of the room with boys in one and girls in another.

I moved to the door and ignored Daniel’s hiss, “it is trapped.”

I pulled out a pouch and sprinkled a couple of pinches of insect dust on and over the lock plate. The spell strands slipped off and fell away before I picked the lock. I opened the door as Daniel started waking the other boys, “come out but wait until I have the other cage open.”

I moved around and to the other cage before removing the spells on the lock plate and picking it. I opened the door, “bring them out Tami.”

I led them towards the corner door and had them stop. I moved closer and used silver pen knives to slid the spell strands to the side and off the door. I opened it and gestured, “come on.”

Dragon appeared as the children poured out and I glanced into the warehouse, “lead them home.”

She took off as Jewel landed on my shoulder and the drakes flew out. I glanced at Griffin keeping watch, “take the message I gave you home.”

He leaped and flew up and over the warehouses, the message was for Jasmine and Silver to check the children for trace spells. I closed the door and removed the silver knives before walking to a thick wooden pillar. I climbed up and then out before coming down the drain pipe. I removed the silver knives from there and the outside of the door.

I walked away into the night and headed through the city towards the duke’s estate. I was not surprised when Daniel and Tami appeared, “time to get even.”

They grinned as we continued to move through the shadows. As we got closer to the estate I noticed more night people in the shadows. As we passed they fell in and began to follow. When I reached the estate I stopped to look at the wall. Like most nobles he used protections and like most nobles he ignored his own servants.

I walked across the street to the small servants gate. I checked it carefully before opening it and looking at the walk to the side door. On each side was spell strands but the path was clear. I glanced at the men and women and then at Daniel and Tami, “stay on the servant walk.”

I turned and walked across to the manor. If the noble had not been so stingy he would have known to use guards. I checked and opened the side door before stepping in. I moved through the hallway and turned away from the kitchen. It was not hard to find the study and when I walked in the duke turned with a mage.

The mage gestured and I tossed salt into the air as I continued to walk. Sparkling fire exploded and the mage jerked back. I reached him and threw more salt in his face. Daniel and Tami went after the duke and a loud growl from those following echoed in the room. The mage screamed as flames wrapped around him.

I grabbed his throat and slammed him into a wall before shoving rock salt into his mouth. I ignored the duke pleading and pulled out the silver collar I had been given. I put it on the mage, “speak one word of magic and I will kill you.”

I walked to where Tami and Daniel were kicking the duke and pulled them away. I gestured to the mage, “watch him and if he even whispers kill him.”

I bent and yanked the duke up before backing him to his chair and shoving him. I gestured to several people, “hold him.”

They grabbed him and I used a wooden piece to hold his mouth open. I pulled out a small thin bladed knife especially designed to seal wounds after making them. I pulled out pliers and reached into his mouth to pull his tongue out. I cut it out as he struggled and tried to scream. I cut his clothes off before yanking him up.

I glanced at the people, “take what you want.”

I shoved the duke and looked at the mage, “leave the city and never return. The collar you wear will stay on until you are one week away and then it will vanish. If you return I will know and come for you.”

I gestured to Daniel, “let him go.”

I started walking and reached the door when the mage began screaming. I glanced back as his flesh was slowly ripped away by invisible hands, “oh, if you try magic with the collar on it will rip the flesh from your bones.”

I shoved the duke with Daniel and Tami following. I pushed him out ahead of us as more people arrived and began taking everything in the house and estate. I pushed him through the streets that were strangely vacant of guards. I stopped at a dock where a tall bald man waited. I pushed the duke towards him, “here is your new slave. He needs to be branded and collared.”

The man smiled, “I normally do not accept slaves in this part of the world but I will make an exception.”

He grabbed the duke and pushed him towards two more large bald men, “put him in chains and brand him.”

I tossed a heavy purse and the first man caught it, “he is to be castrated and never returned.”

The man nodded as he weighted the purse, “actually I was thinking of selling him to swamp farmers in Flam.”

I nodded and turned to head back into the city, “come along you two, Jasmine wants to see you and make sure you are okay.”

Tami grinned as she skipped to fall into step with Daniel.

Chapter Sixteen

Wyvern’s egg and one little girl

I balanced carefully on the small ledge and kept moving. I was still thinking of the four mages Silver had brought into my kitchen. I was rocking Ash as Melody and Princess played with jacks across the room. I glanced at Silver and then at the king’s brother before looking at the others, “not today. Jasmine is out and will not be back until this afternoon.”

They smiled as Silver sat and accepted his granddaughter onto his lap, “we can watch them.”

I smiled, “yeah right. The last time Melody turned your beard blue, the walls pink and had the whole floor growing fur.”

He gave her a hug, “but we had fun and did not break anything.”

I looked at Ash in her cradle, “what do you need?”

Edmond or mage Gelsipie as he had been known cleared his throat, “we found a scroll. It described a hidden complex of rooms in the old palace keep.”

I shrugged, “that would not surprise me.”

Another spoke up, “but there is a Wyvern egg as well as treasure and artifacts.”

I looked at him and them Silver, “the egg would have hatched.”

He snorted, “we might not be able to enspell the egg but the room it is in would be different.”

He set Melody down as she wiggled, “and it is decades or even centuries before a wyvern egg hatches.”

I shrugged, “so get the egg yourself.”

Edmond shook his head, “we can not. Besides being hard to reach it has protections against a mage.”

It took them all to convince me and they had to stay and watch Melody and Ash while I went. I reached for the rune covered stone in the wall and pushed. There was a click as I moved away on the ledge and then the wall pushed out. I looked at the doorway that appeared before moving towards it.

I looked at the glowing strand strands as I pulled silver pen knives encrusted with salt. It took a couple of minutes to slide the strands to one side and then I carefully stepped through and into a small room. I knelt to look at the floor and then each wall and Jewel patted my ear and pointed to the ceiling.

I looked at the strands of magic before reaching for more silver knives. My way across the room was not a straight line, it was twisted and curved. When I reached the other doorway I knelt to look at it as I pulled a chemical lantern instead of my normal mage lantern. I looked at the spiral stairs before I slowly began moving down.

There were no traps on the stairs as they went down and down until I knew I was underground. The stairs ended in the corner of a large sparkling room. In the center was a large pile of gold coins with a huge egg on top. The whole room was almost a blanket of magic strands. Around the walls was more coins and chests with shelves above them.

I sat on the stairs, “would you look at this. There is no way into the room let alone to the egg.”

Jewel rubbed against my neck and then pointed to the right. I snort, “okay I could take that chest…”

I blinked and then grinned, “and move the strands out as I circle the room.”

I smiled and reached up to pet the tiny dragon, “thanks.”

I moved off the stair and used two silver pen knives to shift the strands further into the room. I pulled the heavy chest to me and lifted it before turning to start back up. When I finally reached the ledge I glanced down at Daniel and Tami. They had a strong ladder in place and grinned as two guards stood behind them.

I knelt and set the chest down before catching the rope Tami tossed, “do not open it. I have not checked it for traps.”

They nodded as I tied the chest and then lowered it with the rope, “we are going to need a lot of empty chests. One of you run to the chamberlain and let him know. Tell him we will need the king’s accounting clerk when we are done.”

Daniel nodded, “so does it look like we will make enough?”

I smiled, “aye.”

I went back down and stepped off the stair and into the space where the chest had been. I removed my pack before using knives to lift the spell strands up. I took the jew encrusted boxes and small chests from the shelves before carrying them up. It took a lot of trips and I lowered the strands on the walls as I moved further into the room.

I lifted the next section and moved the strands on the floor and treasure out into the room. It was hours before I had made a complete circle. Daniel and Tami were on the stairs by then to help carry everything up. I had used chalk to mark the safe passage in the upper room and doorways.

Everything was still being stacked outside beside the walls with more guards coming to watch and a few nobles. I sighed as I moved the floor strands back to the wall and carefully moved others deeper into the room to make a new path. I straightened and turned when I heard someone clear their throat.

I looked at the king and smiled, “it is not safe for you here.”

He looked around, “what is all this?”

Daniel grinned, “treasure.”

Tami nodded and he blinked, “but…”

I shrugged, “your brother and Silver found a scroll.”

He smiled, “and where is Edmond and Silver?”

I snorted, “probably being changed into a pony or having their beards dyed pink or…”

Tami giggled and he looked at her, “I do not understand.”

I shrugged, “I was watching my daughters so they had to replace me.”

He grinned and then laughed, “that would be interesting to see.”

I smiled smugly, “this is dangerous but I feel safer.”

He grinned again and I sighed, “you should wait outside just in case.”

He nodded and turned to climb the stairs and I nodded for Tami to follow to make sure he got out. Halfway around the room I was putting treasure from a pile into bags when the pile shifted and I froze. My eyes flicked to the strands on each side of the pile and then the head of a little girl lifted out of the treasure.

I hissed, “do not move.”

I watched the strands before looking at the animated doll that was very lifelike. I went back to filling the bags with treasure but removed what was around her first. I finally lifted her and set her on her feet and she smiled at me, “I am Sara.”

I smiled as I carried the bags to Daniel and Tami who was grinning, “come sit on the stairs Sara.”

After that I found a small horse the size of a large dog laying on its side. His name according to the jewel halter was Major. Several hours later I was staring at the center pile of gold coins and the egg. I was very tired and sat to rest as I thought of the egg. I finally started moving all the strands out until the pile and egg were free.

I worked quickly and Daniel came to help bag and remove the gold. It took both of us to carry the egg up and out. I glanced at the clerk counting the gold coins and putting them in new chests before starting to check the chests against the wall for traps. Besides the doll and small horse I took a few jeweled music boxes and a small chest of jewelry for Jasmine.

I left Daniel and Tami to watch the clerk and went home with a cart. I carried the chest and music boxes in the back door and stopped to stare at Silver and the other mages. They each had different colored beards and even their skin and robes had been changed. Jasmine cleared her throat, “Sinclair?”

I shook my head, “there were five of you.”

They looked down and I sighed as I looked at Jasmine, “how bad?”

She smirked, “your study has a fur floor again and all the pictures in the living room are alive.”

I shook my head and crossed to set the chest on the table and turned to the doll that had followed me with the horse, “Sara is the doll and Major is the horse.”

I looked at Silver, “your egg is in the cart but you better do something with it before it hatches.”

I kissed Jasmine and headed for the stairs, “leave five mages alone with one little girl and…”

Chapter Seventeen

Black temple

Jasmine and her mother had gone shopping with Melody. I had Ash in her carrier with Sara and Major following as I went to the Grinning Cat. I slipped in and glanced around at the half full inn and headed for the empty table by the kitchen door. I set the carrier on the table and smiled as Teresa came out of the kitchen and headed into the room.

She grinned and slowed long enough to pull her friends out of pockets and set them on the table. I turned and helped Sara up and then sat with a sigh. Jasmine had me watching both my daughters almost constantly since I had left them with their grandfather. I gave Jewel a caress before she glided to the table to sit with Teresa’s miniatures.

I shifted and accepted the warm mug of cider and the bowls of warm cereal as Teresa slipped it onto the table, “can I talk to you?”

I smiled and nodded before sipping my cider and she leaned against the end of the table, “my boyfriend was saying there was a new temple down by the river.”

I glanced at her because I had heard a few things and a lot of people had started coming to the house to leave offerings for the god statues, “tell him to stay away.”

She nodded, “I did but he is in the guard and patrols that area. He thinks something is wrong. The temple is paying the city clerks as well as the guard commander a lot to ignore or look the other way.”

I sat back, “has he been watching the ones coming or going?”

She nodded, “he says he has not seen anyone.”

I frowned as I sipped the cider and thought. I glanced at the carrier as Ash moved in her sleep and sighed, “I will check it out when Jasmine returns from her shopping.”

Teresa nodded and headed for the kitchen door. I finished my breakfast and ignored the miniatures and Jewel as they ate the other bowl of cereal. I glanced at the door when it opened and Griffin, Dragon and the drakes flew in. Jasmine followed with Melody and her mother before crossing the room.

Gloria shook her head when they reached the table, “just like a man to bring a child to a tavern.”

I ignored her as I helped Melody up onto the bench while Dragon and the others crowded around the bowl of cereal. Jasmine kissed my cheek before sitting on the other side of our daughter, “Dragon said we had to come here.”

Teresa returned with three more bowls of warm cereal and gave Melody a caress before heading into the room. I helped Melody, “I need to go take a look into something.”

Jasmine nodded as she moved the other two bowls apart and absently divided all the creatures, “I thought as much.”

I smiled, “I may be late.”

She nodded and turned to accept two cups of spiced cider and slid one to her mother, “no more pets.”

I grinned as I slipped a couple of silvers onto the table, “yes honey.”

She stuck her tongue out at me as I stood and headed for the door. Jewel landed before I closed the door and I headed towards a shop. It was off an alley in the poor section of the city. I ignored the two large men leaning against the wall beside the door and walked in. I smiled as I crossed to the counter as they followed me in, “Calvin.”

The small man frowned and then grinned, “Sinclair!”

I caught his hand and shook before glancing around, “how is business?”

He waved the two men away, “very good.”

I pulled out a gold piece, “I need information about the dark temple by the river.”

He frowned, “not much to tell.”

I waved the coin and he grinned, “okay. There is a secret way in the priests use.”

I waited and sighed, “and the followers?”

He snorted, “none as far as I know. There have been a few priests carrying in chests and there are a few reports of bodies or rugs.”

He shrugged, “those that saw were not sure which.”

I set the coin on the counter, “anyone get a good look at the priests?”

Calvin grinned, “no but they come and go from the rich section of the city.”

I nodded as I thought, “so a follower could be dressed like a priest and no one would know.”

He blinked and then nodded, “I did not think of that but they could.”

I turned and then stopped and looked back, “Any bodies turning up?”

He shook his head and I walked out. I walked down to the docks and sat beside an old man watching others unload a ship. He spit and glanced at me, “what you looking to steal lad?”

I smiled, “the dark temple?”

He grinned, “now that might be worth a man’s time.”

I grinned and tossed him a silver, “anyone find bodies in the water?”

He looked out at the water, “there are always bodies in the water.”

I waited and he nodded, “women mostly.”

I stood and walked towards the temple a few blocks away. When I walked past it I saw more than they wanted. There were hidden watchers at the front of the building. I moved on and went into the shop next door. A few quiet and discrete questions and I knew the shop owner had problems with the temple.

I left and walked back by the temple on my way into the city. I had a way in and it was not through the front or hidden side door. When I got home I went to get my pack and ignored Gloria as she watched my daughters. I set my mental alarm and laid down and woke to Jewel. I sat up and glanced at Jasmine before giving her a kiss and getting out of bed.

The drakes surprised me when they came out of my daughters room and followed. I took my pack and left quietly with the drakes vanishing into the night. Even though the temple looked dark and quiet there was a feeling of something happening. I went passed it and then the next shop before going down between the buildings.

I climbed a drain at the very back of the building and carefully and silently moved across the roof. I looked down between the shop and the temple to see a dark cloaked man. He was watching the entrance to the street as I shifted and then jumped. I landed on the roof and glanced down. The man did not stir so I moved over and around to a vent.

I looked and silently cursed, they had nailed the vent closed. I grinned when the drakes landed and one touched the vent frame. I quietly began working the whole vent frame out. I could hear chanting from inside as I slowly pulled it out. I looked in and down and was sickened by what I saw.

Against the river side wall was three bodies and a forth was on a alter. As she struggled and screamed through the gag men were cutting her slowly. I growled as I pulled my dagger and slipped into the building and onto a beam. I moved all the way to the front of the building before hanging from the beam and dropping.

No one even turned as I slipped up behind them. I moved into the small crowd and began stabbing up into the back of the neck. It was not a killing blow but it did hit the spine. I moved through them and I had done more than half before they realized something was wrong. I kept moving until the last three turned.

The drakes and Jewel were suddenly inside and flying around. I sliced open one man’s stomach, the second I cut his throat and the third I snapped a kick that broke his knee. I was left facing two dark cloaked priests with bloody knives. They were slashing at the drakes and ignoring everything else.

I struck one in the throat and buried my dagger in the other’s stomach before ripping it out. I moved towards the side door as it opened and two men walked in. I lunged and stabbed one in the chest and spun the other before grabbing his head and twisting. I moved back to the woman on the alter and removed the restraints.

I took the gag out and helped her down and to the door as she cried. I glanced back inside, “break the lamps and come out.”

The drakes swirled up and snatched at the hanging lamps before letting them fall. The men inside were crying out and begging as the floor burst into flame. I turned and helped the woman down the narrow way and kept hitting and banging on the shop. When we reached the street he was outside and looked at us.

I gestured, “there is a fire. You might want help keep your shop from burning.”

He jerked and then began yelling as he ran back inside. I helped the woman across the street and glanced at a guard when he arrived. He was young and I had the feeling he was expecting something, “she was being tortured and needs help.”

He ignored the flames leaping up out of the temple as he pulled his cloak off and wrapped the woman. Men and women filled the street and the screams from the building stopped. Several wagons appeared with large hand operated pumps and hoses were thrown into the river.

I slipped away as water was pumped onto the neighboring buildings to keep them from burning. I glanced up as Jewel flew down to land on my shoulder, “everyone okay?”

She chirped and rubbed against my neck as the drakes appeared. I counted them before continuing through the shadows until I reached home. I walked around and dropped coins in the god basins before going in. Jasmine glanced up from sipping tea with her mother. She sniffed, “what happened?”

I shrugged as I went to make a cup of tea, “I found a dark temple with priests torturing a woman.”

I glanced at Gloria when she hissed and Jasmine smiled, “they had an accident?”
I smiled sweetly, “their last one.”

Chapter Eighteen

Emperor’s birthday

The Grinning Cat was full with people coming to celebrate the emperor’s birthday. Daniel and Tami were with me at my table by the kitchen door. The table was covered with mage creatures laying on each other after eating a meal. I was watching Melody closely but her companion seemed to have her attention.

Ash was petting the Emerald cat who had crawled into her carrier. Tami leaned close and whispered, “Merchant Mcfercen announced that he was firing workers.”

I nodded, “and Merchant Gregorson has let it slip that he would hire any that left early.”

She grinned, “so…”

I smiled sweetly, “so I have a job tonight. I have a contract with Silver and a dozen other mages.”

She laughed, “something for the orphanage again?”

I grinned, “I was thinking of stuffed animated cats.”

She bumped my shoulder as I reached out and touched Melody, “no magic.”

She frowned before sighing, “okay.”

Her companion patted her arm as I glanced at Ash and quickly reached out to catch her hand and shake, “no!”

The crowd quieted as she pouted and I sighed, “where is your mother?”

She looked over my shoulder and I turned as Jasmine cleared her throat. I grinned, “about time. Ash keeps trying to pull in magic from the cat.”

She bent to kiss me before reaching out to touch Ash, “she will not hurt them.”

I snorted as I stood and stepped back, “I think the girls are giving me grey hair.”

Jasmine smiled and kissed me before turning to take my place, “get used to it.”

I looked at her and was tempted to stay. She smiled back at me, “go play.”

I grinned and bent to give her a quick kiss, “wait until I come home.”

I moved towards the door as Jewel and the drakes took to the air. It was nice to have them back as company. Outside the atmosphere was full of people celebrating and shouting. I moved into quieter streets as I headed towards the merchant’s factory. Merchant Mcfercen was firing workers because skilled workers were expensive.

He was bringing in surfs he had purchased. I thought it was time I helped relieve him of the burden that came with being wealthy. I slowed and stood in the shadows of an alley. The factory was dark but there was one light on in a window. I glanced around at the drakes, “want to go peek in the windows?”

They leaped into the air and spread out as they crossed the street. I reached up to caress Jewel, “lets try the back door.”

I moved out and walked down the street before crossing and walking down the alley. The door was in the dark but I saw the faint strands of magic. That made me frown as I looked at the strands. I removed my pack and pulled out a small pouch and the small mage lantern. I knelt and pulled out a couple of silver pen knives.

I opened the lantern and began to move or bypass the magic strands. Once my way was clear I picked the lock and opened the door. I closed the lantern and put my pack on and stepped into the factory. A drake landed on my shoulder and rubbed against my neck. It pointed towards the stairs and then up a ladder to a walk above us.

I smiled and nodded as I headed towards the ladder. The stairs had faint strands of magic but the ladder was clear. I climbed to the walk and silently made my way to above the office. I looked down before using the ladder against the warehouse wall. I was carefully as I silently moved to the front and laid down to wait and watch.

All around me the drakes settled and watched the office door. It was an hour before the merchant came out and turned to lock the door. He held a wand and touched it to the door before turning to touch the stair rail. He walked down and touched the rail at the bottom again before heading for the back door.

I smiled as I realized that was how he had magical traps. I waited a little while before turned and dropping to the landing in front of the door. I pulled the mage lantern again and used the knives to move the magic to one side. I picked the lock and opened the door to look in. I stepped in and looked around before realizing the inner wall was to close.

I began checking it and found the strands of magic on the hidden door. I shifted them to one side before looking for and finding the catch. I opened the door and shook my head at the magic strands on the floor, the merchant was very paranoid. Since I was here I guess he was right. I knelt and began moving the strands as I made my way across to a large chest.

It had three thick iron bands with locks and two locking hasps from the lid. I looked at the ends and grinned as I pulled a small wood knife. It was a knife enchanted to slice only wood and a gift from Jasmine. I made four long cuts before I pried the end out and looked inside. I began pulling bags of money out and putting them in my pack.

My pack was full and bulging when I was done. I moved it to the doorway before replacing the magic strands for the trap and closing the hidden door. I moved to the desk and found his ledger and took it as I searched his desk. I left and closed the door and reset the magic strands before tying a cord to my pack and lowering it to the floor.

I dropped the cord and turned to jump and climb onto the office roof. I walked to the back and climbed to ladder to the walk and retraced my steps. After I climbed down the other ladder I went to put my heavy pack on. I grinned as I walked to the front and opened the large doors. They were not trapped and the lock was on the inside and simple.

I looked around before whistling and men came out of the shadows. Wagons started coming as the men began loading crates of finished goods. After all the finished goods they began taking the materials and then the equipment and machines the merchant used. Finally they took any and all the furniture, tables and chairs and the few desks.

I left the doors wide open as I walked away and headed to another merchant. She was a nice old lady and for my order had brought in a few helpers. They had made dozens of life size cats and even a few that were twice the size of the others. I paid her several gold pieces from my pack and they helped me carry the bags of stuffed animals.

We went to the mage hall and found it full of mages having a party. I grinned as Silver shouted and the mages quieted. I pulled my pack off and began setting bags of money on a low table. I smiled as Jasmine appeared with Melody and Ash as well as a long line of orphans. I turned to help the ladies with the large bags of stuffed animals.

There were more than a dozen mages that knelt as they sorted through the stuffed animals and encouraged the children to pick one and enchant it. It was like our own birthday celebration and then we had another surprise as the king and queen appeared with dozens of nobles. They had brought stuffed animals too.

Guards led street children in to pick an animal for a mage to enchant. There was juice and sweets for all the children. Suddenly four formal Imperial guards appeared with workers following carrying long wide crates. One bowed and handed me a letter as the workers opened the crates that were full of animated stuffed creatures.

Jasmine leaned against me while the king looked over my shoulder. The letter was from the young emperor to be, “Mr Sinclair it has come to our attention that you are planning to provide magical creatures to children. Since your gift to me I have seen how much I enjoy my friend. Anyway the mage guild has provided us with enough presents for each city.”

I glanced at the crates before looking at the letter again, “Please find a child to care for the animals.”

I grinned and looked at Jasmine, “line the children up again.”

Chapter Nineteen

Mage glimmer

I was using a wash cloth to clean the drakes. The one in my hand was sprawled out on its back while I washed its belly. I looked at Ash as the stuffed cat shifted and the stuffed elephant lifted its head. My daughter would not go to sleep if the two were not with her. She was the reason I was washing the drakes.

Some of the street children outside had been playing in the basins around the god statues. She thought the drakes should play to, only she used her mother’s dirty wash water. Thankfully Melody and her companion had been out with her grandmother. I finished the drake and turned to set it on the table as the back door opened.

Silver walked in and smiled as I picked up the next drake, “busy I see.”

I looked at Ash and he hesitated, “sorry.”

I nodded and gestured to another chair as I began washing the small creature. I whispered as he sat, “she used the dirty wash water on them.”

He grinned and whispered back, “it could be worse.”

I gave him a dirty look, “do not curse me.”

He smiled and then sighed, “I need a favor.”

I shook my head, “wait until Jasmine is back.”

He touched my hand, “Duke Albert and his little group of merchant followers has returned.”

I looked from his hand to his face and he pulled his hand back, “he once thought Jasmine his and now he has a mage glimmer.”

I waited and he sighed, “it will intrance any mage into obeying. He has made a few comments that soon the city would be his, including my daughter.”

I sighed and finished the drake and set it aside before reaching into my shirt and touching a small amulet, “Jasmine return.”

I looked at him again, “what do you want me to do? Steal his mage glimmer?”

He nodded and pulled an amulet out of his pocket, “and replace it with this.”

I looked at the amulet while I turned the drake in my hand, “that is what the glimmer looks like?”

He nodded, “and he probably sleeps with it on.”

I snorted as I finished with the drake and set it on the table after a caress, “and has guards around the bed and outside the door with mage traps and wards everywhere.”

He grinned, “probably.”

I looked at the next drake as it landed in my hand and stretched out, “set the amulet on the table.”

I started washing the drake, “remember I told you about the unseen manor?”

Silver nodded and I grinned, “I was thinking of moving.”

He looked at me and then grinned, “so I can not find you.”

I kept grinning, “something like that.”

I sighed, “actually with the large grounds inside the walls it would be nicer and the girls would be able to play.”

I was just finishing when Jasmine walked in, “something wrong?”

She looked at our daughter in her cradle before looking at me. I went to dump the water and finished cleaning up. I gestured to her father, “have Silver tell you.”

I started for the door and Jewel and the drakes were suddenly filling the air. I had to ask around before I headed into the noble section of the city. One look at the huge estate and I knew he had already used the glimmer on mages. I slowly made my way around the estate before returning to the house.

Jasmine was sitting with her mother when I came in and Ash was playing with her two stuffed friends. I could hear Melody in the other room and Gloria smirked, “Silver is watching her.”

I snorted as I crossed and bent to give Jasmine a kiss. She caressed my face and sighed, “I am pregnant again.”

I shook my head as I headed for the basement, “for a mage you are very forgetful when it comes to that.”

Her laugh followed me, “I did not say I forgot anything.”

I grinned at that thought and checked and loaded my pack. When I came up I grinned at Silver’s purple beard as Jasmine murmured a spell to change it back, “you should make him keep it that color.”

Gloria snickered as Silver glared and I headed for the door, “do not wait up.”

I waited in the darkness of an alley as slowly the day turned into night. I had gone up onto a roof to look at and watch the estate and now I moved. As twilight began I left the alley and crossed to the wall before turning to follow it. I had to walk quickly and reached the large front gates when I knew the guard was furthest away.

I jumped and rolled over the wooden gates before I began walking towards the front entrance. Just before I reached it I turned in at the stables and ducked inside. I slipped into the shadows and listened to the grooms in the tack room. The guards walked past the stable entrance and I moved again.

This time I passed the tack room and went to the side door. I was careful when I opened it and then slipped out. I walked straight to the side door and checked it before opening it and stepping inside. I looked through the doorway to the right and into the busy kitchen before walking straight ahead.

I stepped back and into a hanging tapestry as servers hurried out of the kitchen and went to the dining hall. Once they were gone I followed as far as the rear servants hall. I went into it and down to the servants stairs before going up. On the second floor I peeked out and looked down the hall.

Strands of magic and mage traps stretched the entire length of the hall. I shook my head and shifted my pack to pull out the small silver pen knives. I took my time as I began shifting strands of magic and pinning them to one side or another. When I reached the large double doors of the study I started on the door.

I used picks to unlock the door and opened it to look in. I blinked at the treasure everywhere and shook my head. I opened the door a little wider and froze when I saw the gargoyle. I gestured as it crouched and rumbled before suddenly moving. Jewel hissed as she spread her wings and mantled on my shoulder and the drakes appeared from shadows.

I had not even known they were here but the gargoyle slid to a stop. I stared straight at Jewel and ignored the drakes as I hissed and gestured to them. I looked the gargoyle over carefully before reaching out and turning the creatures head. I growled when I saw the collar and shifted forward while Jewel kept its attention.

I pulled a small thin knife and slowed slipped it under the collar and cut up. The collar parted and fell and the gargoyle looked down before looking at me. I smiled and scratched his chin, “you can come home with us.”

It hesitated before nodding and I stood and stepped into the room. I started looking through everything and took the most expensive things and filled my pack. The study was fairly large and I began finding magical objects. I emptied a small chest and started filling it and when I was done I sat at the duke’s desk and waited.

I looked through his papers using a tiny mage lantern and blinked at what I found before taking them. When the manor finally became quiet I gave it another hour before I stood and walked to the door. I knelt and pet the gargoyle, “stay quiet and follow.”

It nodded and I picked up the small chest and opened the door. I stepped into the hall and looked out before leading the gargoyle down the hall. The drakes flew out of the shadows to follow. The master suite was at the other end of the hallway and I had to set the chest down and move strands of magic.

When I reached the suite I moved the strands of magic and disarmed the traps. I picked the lock and listened for several minutes. I slowly opened the door and looked inside. I saw the man asleep on the bed or pretending to be asleep. I gestured for the gargoyle to wait and slipped into the room.

I pulled as pouch out and silently crossed to the bed. I opened the pouch while holding my breath and carefully sprinkled a tiny bit of fine powder on the pillow beside the duke’s head. He shifted and started to moved before suddenly sagging. I waited before checking the amulet around his neck.

Somehow the strands were not right, they looked weak and incomplete. I started searching and under the pillow I found another. This time I knew I had found it, I took the one he was wearing and the one under the pillow before replacing it with the one Silver gave me. Just for good measure I took his money belt and his pouch of gold.

I left and closed and locked the door before picking up the chest and leading the gargoyle to the stairs. We went down and to the front door before I peeked out. I watched the guards and waited before finally opening the door and walking out. I went straight to the gate and pulled the locking bar back.

I pushed the gate open and walked into the night as I headed home. The drakes appeared and flew around me and a couple even landed on the gargoyle and chirped at it. When I walked into the kitchen Jasmine was still up and so was Gloria and Silver. She frowned at the gargoyle as I crossed to set the chest on the table.

I smiled as it looked around, “it had a slave collar on.”

She sighed and smiled as she caressed my face. I pulled out the silk pouch I had put the two amulets in. I tossed it to Silver, “one is fake and the other real.”

I pulled out the papers I had found, “you can take these to the king. He was using mages to forge trade documents.”
I looked at the three cats when they walked in and grinned, “you look clean.”

Gloria snorted, “Ash was not the only one giving out baths.”

I headed for the stairs, “night.”

Jasmine cleared her throat and I looked back, “yes?”

She gestured to my pack and I smiled sweetly, “future presents.”

I was up early and left Jasmine to sleep as I went to check Ash. The gargoyle followed me and I sighed when I found her playing in her room. The walls had branches growing out and the floor was covered in thick pink fur. Her eyes lit up when she saw the gargoyle and the next thing I knew she had laid it down so she could pet it.

It was midmorning and I was outside with Melody and Ash. They were playing with several of the neighbor children in and around the god basins. Somehow the gargoyle had a feeling of belonging and all the children seemed to love it. I glanced at the six guards and the noble walking towards me and stood.

I reached into my shirt to touch the amulet, “Jasmine.”

The guards spread out as they pulled short swords and the noble growled, “you are dead thief.”

I smiled, “doing this here is a mistake you will regret.”

He gestured and the guards attacked, I slid back as I pulled a dagger. Suddenly the guards were screaming and writhing as they were thrown across and into a building. Melody stomped up and glared at the shocked noble, “do not touch my daddy!”

It would have been funny if the guards were not still screaming. I knew what happened to them had not come from my daughter. The duke straightened and pulled his sword before the two Phoenixes struck. He screamed as he burst into flames and staggered to a basin and fell in. I shook my head when the gargoyle leaped in and bit his arm to make him drop his sword.

He tried to grab the edge of the basin but the three cats appeared and leaped to the rim and lashed out with claws. A large crowd was starting to gather as he continued to scream and struggle. The water should only have been a foot deep but the duke was floundering around as it grew deeper.

The guards had quieted after they passed out and the duke finally reached another side of the basin. I blinked when he climbed out and fell to the street. His legs looked like they had grown together and he had scarlet scales on the skin I could see. He writhed around as city guards shoved through the crowd.

One looked at me while the other used his foot to turn the duke over, “what happened?”

I shrugged, “he and his guards attacked me and the gods did not like it.”

Jasmine slipped up beside me as the guard looked at the statues. They actually looked smug and he smiled and then chuckled, “good for them.”

They began waking the guards and pulled them away after speaking with witnesses. The duke they called a cart for since his legs had lengthened and he had grown a fish tail. It was not long before a lot of mages went to speak to him about his use of a mage glimmer on them and then the king wanted him and…

Chapter Twenty

Returning time

I sat in the lawn chair watching as Melody chased Major who had stolen her apple. Ash had once more turned the gargoyle a vibrant pink which it did not seem to mind. I glanced at the drakes as they kept diving into a basin and swimming around. Griffin and Dragon were laid out on the edge of another basin.

The cats were somewhere, probably in the shade. The Phoenixes were crooning from the nest box I had made above the front door. They had two rainbow colored eggs which I had told Silver very firmly to leave alone. I sighed, “life is good.”

I frowned when I saw Silver walking towards me, “and then Silver brings rain clouds.”

Jasmine chuckled as she worked to shorten the hair on Ash’s two stuffed animals. Silver absently murmured and created another chair and sat, “it is hot out here. Why are you not inside where it is cooler?”

I reached into the large bowl of ice and water and pulled Jewel out, “because we are enjoyed the nice day.”

He frowned as he wiped his face and Melody ran up, “Grandfather come play in the water.”

Almost all the children in the neighborhood were in and out of the basins which seemed to stay full and deepen for them. He smiled, “and where is your companion?”

Jasmine snorted, “swimming in a basin.”

I grinned, “well it does look like an otter.”

Melody frowned, “does not.”

I smiled, “have you seen an otter?”

She shook her head and Jasmine growled, “Sinclair!”

I grinned, “ask your mother or one of your grandparents to show you one.”

She nodded and pulled on Silver, “come on grandfather.”

He stood with a sigh and glanced at me, “I need to talk to you.”

I grinned, “I am busy.”

Jasmine laughed as Silver was pulled to one of the basins where two other children were already swimming. It was a very nice day and I did not let Silver or Gloria when she arrived, spoil it. By the time dinner was over the girls were already tired and yawning. Jasmine was relaxing while I cleaned up and Gloria said she would put the girls to bed.

Silver straightened his robe as they left and looked at me, “I need a favor.”

I sighed as Jasmine giggled and stood to follow the girls and her mother, “what now?”

He watched Jasmine leave before looking at me again, “ten leagues outside the south gate is an old castle.”

I nodded since everyone knew about it and he took a breath, “no one has entered it for over five hundred years. The last was a powerful wizard and he left protections to protect it.”

I knew that because many had tried to sneak in and died or vanished, “so what do you want?”

He looked at the nest box for the Phoenixes that I had brought in, “there is a record that said he had a rookery full of Phoenixes.”

I shook my head, “and you think they would still be there?”

He smiled, “I took a trip out to the castle. He left protections against magic but I was able to determine that there was a very powerful time suspension spell inside.”

I smiled, “even if I were to somehow enter the castle and bypass this time suspension spell I would not let you take an egg from a Phoenix.”

He sighed, “Sinclair…”

I shook my head, “Phoenixes do not lay eggs often so they are rare and precious to them.”

He thought and looked at me, “what if the egg was not fertile and would not hatch?”

I looked at the two Phoenixes, “can you tell if an egg will not hatch?”

Silver snorted but the female Phoenix nodded. I sat back as I thought, “I get to keep anything else I find?”

He nodded and I stood, “I will check the castle and see what I can find.”

I went to help tuck my children in and read Melody a story before I went to bed. I was up early with Jasmine before giving her a kiss and going to get a few things. I had Jewel and the drakes stay when I left. It was noon when I reached the castle. The whole area around it was overgrown but I notice no birds would fly near it.

I could see hundreds of magic strands on the walls and in the air over it. I slowly walked around the castle and when I saw the stream flowing through it I thought I had a way in. I finished my walk around before wading into the water and slowly laying down. I crawled and floated as I pulled myself up the stream until I reached the thick bars.

I looked at the few strands of magic and smiled as I reached for a bar. Time and water had done my job already. I twisted and pulled it back and forth and it fell out. I worked on two others next to it and set the bars aside each time they came out. I shifted my pack off and pushed it through before turning onto my back and wiggling through after it.

I sat up once I was in and pulled the pack on before slowly turning. I had to move carefully, the strands of magic went from wall to wall and crisscrossed each other in the air. I was able to use the silver pen knives to shift the magic where it touched the walls. I took my time and slowly moved in.

I saw the tiny courtyard between the stables and the servants entrance. I could see birds frozen in mid air where they had touched a line of magic, some had decayed and fallen apart. I had to follow the wall around and move hundreds of threads of magic to reach the servants entrance. I opened the door and stared at what almost look like a fog of magic.

I was kneeling and it took awhile to see where the magic was anchored. There were points on each wall, floor and the ceiling. I sighed and began to move the points up one wall and across the floor to the other before bringing them up the other wall. It took an hour to move down the hall until I could look into the kitchen.

I shook my head but started moving the strands of magic. I stopped at the pantry and was able to determine the food was still good. I got a glass and filled it from my water bottle before leaving. I worked on the hallway until I had it clear to the stairs. Through the large arched doorway I looked into the great hall.

It was like the hallway, covered in a fog of magic. I knelt and kept looking as I realized something with brighter strands was glowing in the center of the hall. I shook my head, it would take at least a day to move enough strands to reach the glow. I moved to the end door and checked it before moving a few strands of magic.

If this was like other castles it would led out to another part of the castle. The guards armory, practice area, barracks and the rookery. I was careful opening the door and sighed at all the strands of magic. Again it was as if the area were covered in a fog of magic. I stood and thought before turning to move back to the great hall.

I looked at the brighter strands in the hall. I began shifting and moving points of contact. I had to go from wall to floor to wall as I slowly moved the strands. I glanced at the window when it began to grow dark and moved back to the hall. I went to the kitchen and started shifting strands to reach the stove.

Once I was finished I was able to start it and spread out my bedroll. The stove kept me warm as the night cooled. I smiled when I heard my daughter Melody whisper goodnight. I was up early and searched the pantry before eating. I used the knives when I returned to the great hall as the sun brought light to the high windows.

I could see through the fog of magic to a pedestal with what looked like an hour glass. I grinned and began to move to strands again. I was moving further away from the doorway and moving the strands up when I reached each the wall. The strands on the floor became thicker the closer I got to the pedestal.

Time seemed to slow and stretch as I moved back and forth and forward an inch at a time. The sun moved across the sky as I inched across the room until I was only a few inches from the pedestal. I froze when I heard footsteps from a suit of armor. I moved back to the door and stepped into the hall and looked back as a knight walked into the great hall.

It walked straight to the pedestal and shifted before reaching out to lift the hour glass and turn it over. I spun and began running as all the work I had done vanished and the strands of magic started sliding back into place. I reached the entrance door just ahead of the magic and moved out and to the stream and dove in.

I quickly crawled out through the bars and turned to look back in. The strands inside the wall stayed where I had put them. It was awhile before I moved back in and saw that all the strands outside the Keep had not gone back. When I checked the door and hall it was to see it full of magic like when I had first seen it.

I shook my head and went out the way I had come in. I moved around while looking at the castle wall and finally smiled. I moved to the wall and started climbing, at the top I had to hold on while using one hand to shift the strands of magic. It took me awhile to climb onto the wall and I had to rest by then.

From where I stood I could see the rotting remains of three men. I looked around and grinned as I realized the rookery was across from me. A thick wall went from the outer castle wall across to the rookery tower. It did not take long to cross to the tower and make my way onto the rookery roof.

From there I worked my way down and into the stands and nesting area. There were six mated pairs of phoenixes frozen on stands or nesting boxes. I slowly began moving and shifting strands until I reached the first bird. I moved carefully as I slipped the strand off it. It shifted and started to spread its wings and I shook my head, “do not move yet.”

It looked at me as it seemed to tense and I went back to moving the strands until I was sure it was free. I straightened, “okay you are free now.”

It shifted and made a pitiful chirping sound as it looked at another phoenix. I hesitated before giving it a caress, “I will free her.”

It took me until just before it began to grow dark. I had freed all of them but the hard part was coming. I had to carry each out to the castle wall and send them to the trees. I put all the eggs in my pack before climbing down and starting to walk. The phoenixes followed as I returned to the city and home.

I opened the door wide and turned to look at the phoenixes and they finally came in. Jasmine and Gloria were in the kitchen as I walked into my library, “Jasmine!”

I set my pack down as the phoenixes found places to land. I began pulling eggs out as Jasmine came in. I grinned, “I need something for them to use as nests.”

She looked at all the birds, “I have never seen this many together.”

I looked at the birds, “come show me which eggs are yours.”

Only half opened her wings to glide to me. They each touched eggs and I moved them aside. Jasmine returned a few moments later with six small chests floating behind her. Inside each was soft cloth and I gently placed the eggs in them. I moved things around in the room so the chests were on the upper shelves.

I looked at the phoenixes, “you and your eggs will be safe here.”

I opened a window and it was a little while before they settled and I took a single egg that had not been claimed. In the kitchen I sat with a sigh and Jasmine smiled as she made me dinner. Gloria kept biting her lip and I smiled sweetly, “yes?”

She snorted, “you did not get anything else?”

I shook my head, “I have never seen anything like what was in the Keep. The strands of magic outside were just those that had escaped and slipped out. Birds were caught and frozen in mid air, some were dead. From the wall I saw three men that had climbed up and been caught.”

I shook my head, “they were long dead. I think anything not inside the Keep only gets part of the spell.”

I looked towards the other room where we heard soft cooing which was answered by our two Phoenixes, “I think the only reason the phoenixes were safe was the amount of spell strands in the rookery.”

I looked at Jasmine, “the inside of the Keep had so many strands it was like a fog. I found an hour glass in the great hall and managed to move enough magic to get within a few inches. That was when a suit of armor came in and turned the hour glass over. The strands began returning to where they were and I barely made it out.”
I ate and then went to see the children before washing and going to bed. I was up early and kissed Jasmine before giving her the egg for her father. I called for Jewel and the drakes as I left and stopped at a weapon shop. I bought a light cross bow and a dozen bolts before heading out of the city.

When I reached the castle I pulled out salt and a long bladder from home, “stay away from the castle.”

I looked at Jewel and she nodded as the drakes chirped. I filled the bladder with water from the stream and added the salt before putting the bolts in. I leaned it against a tree as I looked at the castle. I made a small camp and turned a little later when I saw the wagon. Silver and Gloria were walking on each side and Jasmine and the children were on the seat.

I frowned as they headed towards me and caught Melody as she leaped off the wagon without warning. I swung her around and gave her a hug before setting her down and reaching for Ash. I helped Jasmine down, “why are you here?”

She was looking at the castle, “you are going back in?”

I turned to look and absently caught Griffin, “yes. I think if I can clear to the great room I might have a chance to stop the spell.”

Silver cleared his throat, “you do not…”

I shook my head, “people may be trapped in there. When the suit of armor comes I plan to shoot it with a bolt soaked in salt water.”

Gloria hissed, “that could cause any magic to fail and…”

I sighed, “I know what I am doing. Since the bolt is moving fast and not solid salt or brine soaked the effect will or should be local. What I want is for the spell on the suit to fail and unravel. That way it cannot renew the other spell.”

I looked at Jasmine, “if it works I should be able to unravel the other spell on the hourglass and cancel the spell.”

She nodded and glanced at her mother, “but I am going in with you.”

I opened my mouth as Gloria chuckled, “Silver could go.”

I looked at her carefully, “or you.”

She snorted before looking at a frowning Jasmine. She sighed and then smiled, “I think I will.”

She looked at Silver who was trying to keep the girls attention away from the castle, “you are going to babysit.”

I grinned, “I like the pink beard look.”

We put up a tent and let the girls play in the stream while I talked about what I was going to do. I glanced at the cats when they walked out of the stream and frowned, “were you inside?”

Jasmine laughed as they flirted their tails and sat together, “they are a rule unto themselves.”

I had thought about insect dust or spider webs but when I was inside I had not seen any insects. That told me the mage had been very careful when he created the spell. I took the crossbow and bladder and made a check of the stream. I went all the way to the servants entrance.

A couple of strands had slipped out and I moved them before clearing the door and opening it. I began moving strands and slowly moved into the hall. It was a little while before Jasmine and her mother came in. Jasmine smiled as I turned to see her mother wringing the water from her dress.

I went back to work moving the strands, “so what mischief did the girls get into?”

Jasmine chuckled, “Melody made Major larger and turned Sara’s hair a awful shade of purple. Ash grew a pink beard on the gargoyle I have not been able to remove yet.”

I grinned as I kept working, “I do not think the gargoyle minds.”

Gloria snorted and Jasmine laughed, “no it does not.”

They created light as it grew dark and I finally reached the doorway into the great hall. I tried to ignore the strands as I looked in to see the hourglass. It looked like it had been turned today so I had time. It was hours before I was close to the pedestal once more. All the spell strands seemed to come out of the hourglass.

It was dawn when I had finally cleared a portion of the pedestal and the hourglass. I hoped I had time and would not have to use the crossbow. I used a glass cutter and carefully made cuts. I pulled out a tiny leather bellows and tapped the hole to pop the glass out. I slipped the tiny tube in and began sucking the sand out of the top.

I had to pull the bellows out a couple of times to spray the sand into a silk pouch. Jasmine pulled me back before the last few grains fell through and into the bottom. Everything seemed to still before suddenly the spell strands faded and disappeared. I was quick to move back to the hour glass to cut a hole in the bottom and removed the sand.

I listened while working but did not hear anything or anyone. When I was finished we went to open the hall doors and started out into the bailey. Tiny bird skeletons litters the ground and even a couple of human remains. On the walls I saw a few more and finally crossed the bailey to the huge wheel beside the castle doors.

I turned it and it pulled the thick beam out of the door brackets. Once the beam was clear I had to force the doors open. I saw Silver watching and turned to go back inside to explore. I found the suit of armor just off the great hall and made sure it was not going anywhere. I think the best find was off the workroom. It was a large room filled with sleeping mage companions.

Chapter Twenty One

Breaking a tax collector

The late summer brought little relief from the heat. I did not mind but it had put Jasmine in bad mood. I had smiled when Melody pulled her into a basin and she actually sat and then began to relax as the water deepened. More of the children seemed to come to the basins each day and many times it was whole families.

She spent a lot of time in the basin now. Ash’s new companion Amara seemed to keep her attention so we had fewer worries. Jasmine and Gloria had found a few other mage children and provided companions to them. The eggs for the phoenixes had hatched and the tiny birds were the favorite of the children.

Covered nests had just appeared one morning. They were part of the stone wall for the house and looked like they had been built with the house. I fed the phoenixes every day and they paid me back with beautiful songs that delighted the people who tossed coins into the basins or brought them fruit.

At least two and sometimes three days a week we went to the Grinning Cat for breakfast. Teresa was pregnant and glowed as she served us. Her new husband was still in the guard but spent all his time off her helping and learning. The Grinning Cat was where I first heard about a new tax collector.

Instead of merchants and normal citizens he was going after thieves. I did not think anything of it since I was no longer active. I had even paid taxes on the treasure from the castle and the other places. Of course there were things you could not tax like the companions. Silver had been strangely quiet the few times he had come over.

I was watching the crowds of children playing around and in the basins with the phoenixes singing. Mage creatures and animated stuffed animals played with the children and were everywhere. The gargoyle was once more pink and was playing close by with a small group of young girls.

I turned to look at a small man walking towards my door. I cleared my throat, “can I help you?”

He barely glanced at me, “no, I am here to post a tax seizure notice.”

I stood as those around me shifted away, “seizure for what?”

He looked at me, “being a thief you do not pay taxes on what you steal. Those are past due and I am here to seize your property until it is.”

I smiled, “friend, you try to seize my home and you will have more trouble than you can handle.”
He snorted, “I am the king’s tax collector. If I need to I will have every guard in the city here to evict you.”

I stepped closer, “first I paid taxes. Second my home is protected by the king’s oath. Third you would have to prove I was a thief.”

I pulled a long dagger, “As for the city guard, they know better that try anything here. The king and emperor are in my debt. I would turn and walk away as fast as you can.”

He snorted and looked me up and down, “I will check your…”

I slashed and he gasped as the sharp blade of the dagger cut through his vest, “one.”

He opened his mouth and I sliced down and across to cut through his vest again, “two.”

He spun and began to run and I watched him before putting my dagger away. I glanced around, “Jasmine I have something I need to do.”

She stood in the water holding a struggling Melody and Ash and nodded. I started walking and Jewel flew to land on my shoulder with Dragon. Griffin and the drakes filled the air above and I looked back to see the gargoyle following. Somehow I knew the cats would be following and then I looked up at most of the phoenixes.

I grinned and then chuckled as I went to the alley with Calvin’s shop. The guards looked at me and then moved away when they saw all the creatures. I smiled as I opened the door and walked in. Calvin turned and frowned, “not again.”

I smiled, “I have always paid my debt and last time you got gold for a bit of talk.”

I stopped at the counter as all the creatures found someplace to sit. He sighed, “Yeah but now that damn tax collector is snooping around.”

I smiled, “speaking of the tax collector.”

His eyes narrowed, “you going to kill him?”

I pulled a gold coin, “how much does he take and keep?”

He grinned, “well his name is Depree and I heard a few of his… marks that said only half of what he took was filed with the tax clerk.”

I grinned, “and he has only been taxing thieves?”

He nodded and I glanced at his two men, “so where did he get the thieves names?”

He straightened, “I did not…”
He stopped talking before glaring, “I will find out.”

I tapped the coin on his counter, “where does he live?”

He grinned again, “the old merchant Milenbrot died and his estate was sold for back taxes.”

I shook my head, “Milenbrot was a scrooge but he always paid his taxes and what he owed.”

I tossed the coin, “I think I will have to pay the tax collector a visit.”

He laughed as we left and I headed towards the rich part of the city. I walked around the estate and the tax collector did not have guards or spells protecting it. The manor was small but the grounds were large. I decided to wait until it was night and headed back to my house. The crowd around the house and basins was quiet.

There were several guards with the tax collector. He looked smug as he strutted towards me with the guards following, “I told you I would have the guards come.”

I looked at the guards and smiled, “go ahead and see what happens.”

They did not look happy as he turned and gestured, “post the notice and start bringing everything out.”

The guards looked at each other and a sergeant cleared his throat, “I do not think we can do that.”

The tax collector’s eye narrowed, “you will do as I tell you.”

I laughed and crossed my arms, “did you even bother to check me out little man?”

He looked at me a snorted, “you are a thief.”

I grinned, “who has paid his taxes every year. Now if you had checked you might have found out a few things. The guard is not going to do anything to violate the peace of my house. I would go look up what happened to duke Albert before you return.”

He glared before turning and pushing through the guards. I looked at them as they reddened and turned to follow him. I crossed to the basins and grinned at Jasmine, “I will be out most of the night.”

She let Ash and Melody go and turned to climb into a basin, “do not get caught.”

I laughed as I turned to leave, “I was not planing on it.”

This time I went to the king’s Keep and ignored the guards when they tried to stop me. They moved out of the way quickly when the phoenixes cried out and the gargoyle moved forward with a growl. I avoided the courts and throne room as I headed to the private quarters. I climbed the stairs and stopped to knock on a thick door.

Edmond’s wife opened the door and frowned, “yes?”

I glanced past her to see snow and smiled, “I need to speak with your husband.”

She turned, “Edmond?”

He peeked out another door before stepping out, “Sinclair?”

I grinned at the pink robe he was wearing, “cute.”

He looked down and then grinned, “what do you need?”

I glanced at the guards that had followed, “I need a few minutes with your brother.”

He grinned and turned to the door he had come out of, “you are wanted.”

A moment later the king looked out, “no business today.”

I smiled, “you owe me.”

He sighed and stepped out, “what do you want?”

I grinned at the shorts he was wearing, “let me guess. You are all playing in the snow.”

He reddened and I laughed before shaking my head. I smiled, “you have a tax collector named Depree. He wants to seize my house. You know I have paid your taxes. He will not listen or even check.”

He sighed, “Depree is very good and has brought in a lot of…”

I growled, “he is a liar and a thief. He only turns in half of what he steals or extorts. Now you owe me.”

He nodded, “I will tell him to leave you alone.”

I shook my head, “sack him. He has stolen from you.”

He opened his mouth and I smiled, “tell you what. I will prove it and when I do I get his estate and all the money he stole.”

He frowned, “Sinclair…”
Edmond grinned, “and what are you going to do with the money and estate?”

I winked, “turn it into a public garden fair and pay the mage guild to enchant a few statues and large stuffed beasts to play with the children.”

The king grinned and then laughed before yelling, “one of you guards tell the chamberlain to fire Depree!”

He waved and I turned and left before my friends decided they liked snow. I changed my mind about breaking in at night and turned to head for the estate. When I reached it a small crowd was lingering around. I recognized a few thieves and grinned as I walked to them, “you want to get even?”

They looked at each other before moving closer to listen. When I was done they were grinning. I walked to the large front gate and climbed over before removing the locking bar. I started up the carriage drive and to the front door. I grinned as Dragon, Griffin, Jewel and all the drakes appeared and flew into a couple of open windows.

I picked the lock on the front door and pushed it open. I found his study which had four locks on the door. Inside were a half dozen iron bound chests with several locks on each. I picked and removed the locks before pulling the chests to the front door. I returned to the study and started searching the desk.

Like most clerks or bureaucrats he had kept an accurate record of everything, even what he had stolen. I took the ledger and went searching for his bedroom. Of course he had a chest of mens jewelry which I set aside. I walked through the house before carrying the chest down to the front door.

A wagon was coming through the open gates and the crowd of thieves followed it. I gestured to the open door and started putting the chests in the wagon. I grinned when I saw several off duty guards following everyone else into the house. I handed the ledger to the driver, “remember you make sure the king gets this.”

He nodded, “and the clerk counts what is in the chests.”

I grinned, “yes. What he does not take goes to the mage guild.”

He grinned, “you are really going to make this a fair?”

I lifted the jewelry chest, “and hopefully get food vendors to come.”

He laughed as he got the horses moving. I made one stopped on the way home and left without the chest. When I entered the street in front of my home a small army faced my wife and all the neighbors. I smiled as I walked towards the tax collector who pointed at me, “arrest him.”

I grinned at the nervous guards and looked at the guard commander, “sir I think if you were to send a runner to the king’s chamberlain you will find this man is no longer a tax collector. I think the duke in charge of his majesties taxes will be looking for him for stealing the king’s taxes.”

I looked at Depree as his eyes widened, “you were fired. The estate you stole has been confiscated and given to me. I believe I saw a large crowd of people going into the estate and carrying furniture out.”

He surged towards me with his hands out and suddenly he was screaming as the gargoyle snatched him off his feet. It was flapping its wings and dragging him across and through the crowd. When he was released it was to fall over and into a basin. I shook my head as he began to scream louder.

Phoenixes were hovering over the water and flames covered the surface which looked like it was boiling. When the phoenixes left he lunged for the side only to be attacked and bitten by the cats as they appeared from somewhere. Then Dragon, Jewel, Griffin and the drakes were scratching and biting.

He fell out of the basin and I noticed the feathers growing on his arms and hands. I grinned as he turned an ugly purple and what little hair vanished. Major was suddenly in front of him and turned to kick back with both feet. I winched as his scream went up to new heights and he fell.

That was the wrong place to be as the animals attacked again, only there were a lot more than I could count. I looked at the guards who were just staring and cleared my throat. The commander reddened, “we are not going in there.”

I grinned as Depree tried to crawl away only to have the crowd move. The gargoyle was back and snatched him off the ground and pulled him to another basin. He seemed to vanish under the shallow water before it spit him out. He was screaming as he flew through the air to land in another basin.

I shook my head as I headed for the door and called back to the guards, “after they are done take him to see the magister for stealing the king’s taxes.”

Chapter Twenty Two

Wizard’s walk

I finished changing Michael and turned to put him in his cradle as his brother started to cry. I sighed and lifted William out to check his diaper. Melody looked away from her new book, “they smell.”

I smiled, “so did you when you were their age.”

Princess was draped over one of her hands and reached out to pat her arm. She looked at her and went back to reading. Silver walked in the back door and smiled as he crossed to the table, “having fun?”

I growled as I finished replacing my son’s diaper, “It would have been nice to know she was going to have twins.”

He chuckled and gestured to the pot on the stove, “that takes all the fun out of it.”

I put William into his cradle and turned to check the bottles warming up, “I thought you and Edmond were working on the fair?”

He sighed, “we were and are. The stone statues are finished as well as the large stuffed animals. Edmond and I are taking a break, we are having problems with the spells for the plant creatures.”

I turned when the two bottles floated out of my hand and to the cradles. They started feeding the twins and I sighed and sat, “so why come here?”

Silver smiled and I looked at Melody to see her listening. I reached out to give one ear a tug, “you better finish before your mother returns.”

She grinned and turned back to the simple picture book. I looked at Silver and he smiled, “I was thinking about something I read once.”

I kept watching the babies and he sighed, “do you know why it is called the Wizard’s Walk?”

I glanced at him before turning back to the cradles, “because wizards live there?”

He smiled, “actually more live in the city or outside the walls.”

I shrugged, “than I have no idea.”

Melody looked from me to her grandfather before he touched her book. She sighed, “can I make the pictures move?”
I smiled, “what does Princess think?”

She grumbled, “she said no.”

I caressed her cheek, “your mother said she would help you learn those spells when she returns.”

I looked at Silver, “so why is it called Wizard’s Walk?”

I smiled as he continued to watch his grandchildren, “there is a line of power or a source of magic beneath the walk. There was something else but I can not seem to find out what it is.”

He looked at me, “I will watch…”

I grinned, “I have strict orders not to leave Melody alone with you.”

She giggled while he frowned but I reached into my shirt to touch the amulet, “Jasmine?”

It was several moments before she answered, “I have only been gone a couple of hours.”

I smiled, “your father is here and wants to watch the children.”

“No… wait, what does… is he alone?”

I looked at Silver, “yes.”

There was silence for a minute before she sighed, “okay but if we have fur on the walls and floors or different colored walls he better fix it.”

I grinned at Silver, “you heard her.”

He sniffed as Melody giggled and I stood, “I will look into the walk.”

I went to get my pack and as soon as I headed for the door Jewel appeared with the drakes. She landed on my shoulder while the drakes flew above us in the chilly air. They almost seemed to dance as they played a game only they knew. I did not bother going to the walk and headed to the library.

Of course the guard frowned when I came to the guarded section. I ignored him as I started searching through the books and scrolls on the shelves. I found what I was looking for under the original city maps. I unrolled it very carefully and looked at where the Wizard’s Walk would be. What I saw was ruins with a name Banster.

I blinked because Banster had been an ancient god of magic and mystery. I bent to look at the map carefully before standing to look at the shelves. I rolled the map up and placed it back on the shelf before beginning to search for something else. This time it was an ancient book on temples and gods.

I went through it slowly because the language was in script and hard to read. I thought of the map as I put the book away and left. The drakes came down and chirped as I walked out of the building. I smiled, “the Wizard’s Walk.”

They caroled as they headed back into the sky and Jewel purred and rubbed against my neck. I smiled and hummed while walking and glanced at the two pickpockets that began following. I sighed and shook my head before making a few hand gestures that sent them away. A lot of the area was already looking like winter.

I walked to Edmond’s old tower and around to the servants door. I picked the lock and waited since I had touched a spell strand. Edmond appeared in front of me in an illusion, “who dares enter…”

He blinked as I smiled, “did I catch you at a bad time?”

He smiled and shook his head, “I was only reading. Why are you at my tower?”

I glanced around, “do you know who Banster is?”

He nodded and I grinned, “do you know why it is called the Wizard’s Walk?”

He leaned forward, “No.”

I gestured, “when they built the city an ancient temple to Banster was where the walk is now. It was in ruins with mounds of earth against the sides and on top. Since it was lower than the level of the city they just filled in the earth and built over it.”

He shook his head, “they would have looted the temple.”

I grinned, “according the text of Banster they often had secret rooms and hidden cells. They also had crypts and hidden vaults under the temple for their relics.”

He grinned and then sighed, “I have to go shopping with my wife.”

I laughed and waved, “wait until you have children.”

He laughed and gestured and his image vanished. I walked in and glanced around as the drakes flew in. I knew something others did not, this tower had been built over one of the wings in the old temple. It also had a basement that he had never used. I grinned and crossed to a bare wall and knelt to examine the floor before touching very old faint scratches.

Jewel chirped as she looked past my face and patted it and pointed. I followed her tiny claws to see a stone relief carved into the wall. I moved closer and grinned as I pushed one of the eyes in and there was a grating click. I moved back and began pushing on one side and a section of the wall swivelled and opened.

I looked into the darkness and Jewel chirped. Two drakes flew past and in as I stood, “no one has been in the basement in a long time.”

I pulled a mage lantern from the kitchen wall and stepped into the opening. Just a couple of paces in there was a set of stairs that went down. It had seven steps before there was another landing with stairs going down back in the other direction. It did that several times until we were thirty paces under the tower.

I held up the lantern and the two drakes chirped from old shelves. The basement was empty with a few crates and that was it. What drew my attention was three of the walls made from old cut stones. The mortar was ancient and crumbling with age. I checked each wall before moving to the third and newer wall.

The stones were brick and the mortar was not as old. I grinned as I realized they had used a room from the old temple to make the basement. I set the lantern on a crate and started looking at the wall carefully. I pulled my dagger and began chipping away the mortar between bricks. One by one I started pulling bricks out of the wall.

Just a few and I saw the collapsed area on the other side. I continued to remove bricks until I had a small doorway. I took the lantern and went through with all the drakes following. I looked at the rocks and dirt that had collapsed through the roof and sighed. Jewel patted my cheek and pointed to one of the drakes.

It was on a large rock and peering into a hole. I frowned and moved closer and held the lantern to look into the hole. The drake jumped and flew in and I blinked before grinning as I looked around before setting the lantern on a rock. I started moving rocks above the hole and then beside it.

It was awhile before I had small opening to go through. The other drakes had joined the first and when I took the lantern to go through I saw them. I hesitated because they seemed to glow faintly. I shook my head as I lifted the lantern to look at an intersection of wide halls a couple of dozen paces away.

No one had been here in over a millennium. I walked to the intersection and looked both ways into the darkness. I thought of the map and the text before turning right towards the wide central area that held the alter. When I walked into the large central room with the alter in the center I hesitated before crossing to the alter.

I walked around it slowly before kneeling to look at and feel two groves. They came from under the alter and went to one side between several large stones in the floor. I looked at the alter again and reached out to pull the carved images on each corner down. They grated but nothing else happened.

I grinned and moved around to push and the alter slowly moved until the stairs down were exposed. I lifted the lantern and grinned as Jewel chirped. I shook my head, “not this time. There might be traps.”

It was a little strange because I did not see any strands of magic but it was almost like there was a slight fog. It came from below and I started down the stairs slowly. The further I went the more magic I saw. At least it did not blind me to everything else. The halls below slowly began to brighten from mage lamps up and down the hall.

The drakes flew down and landed on the floor and began walking. They were glowing even brighter and so was Jewel as she chirped. I started checking the floor beside one wall as I walked slowly down it. It was not long before I found a hidden door and pushed against one side. It turned and I was looking into a small room with a stone shelf.

It was along the back and a dozen gold and jewel studded figurines lined it. I smiled and glanced at Jewel as she leaped to glide to the shelf. She walked down it and looked at each before flying back to me. I went back and forth across the hall and up and down and found a dozen rooms like the first.

I also found two dozen hidden crypts with treasure stacked around urns. I checked the urns and it was the burned ashes of those that had died. It was the end of one hall that I found a trapped door. That made me very cautions and I slipped the ancient strands of magic and carefully undid the knots.

The net of magic strands fell apart and I began looking for a way to open the doors. Unlike the others that just took knowing where to push this one had a hidden lock. I frowned when I saw the tiny hole and turned to pull the long brass rod from my pack. Like with the gods tomb I pushed it into the hole and pressed.

There was the feel of something giving and I slowly pulled the rod out. I pushed on one side and the wide door grated as it began to turn. Unlike the halls that were filled with magic, the room beyond was almost solid with it. I tried to catch Jewel as she leaped forward and flew in and spun to gesture to the drakes, “Stay!”

I turned to look into the room and tried to look through the magic. The room was dark but I could feel something inside the room. I could not see any strands and took a step before jerking back as a stone sword sliced down. A stone statue stepped out from the side as I set the lantern down and moved back.

It bent to duck and move through the door and I leaped forward and snapped a kick out. I struck the head as it stepped forward and there was a loud crack before the head broke off. The body collapsed as I hit the floor and rolled. I came to my feet and moved back to the door cautiously.

I had to step on the broken statue as I moved into the room. As soon as my foot touched the floor the whole room brightened like it was mid day. Four more statues began moving towards me and I backed out. I looked around before bending to grab the stone sword. I moved to the side and lifted it.

It was several moments before one of the statues ducked as it stepped through the doorway. I brought the sword down on the neck and there was a jarring impact of stone on stone. The head broke and the statue collapsed. One after another the statues tried to come out and one after another I broke the heads off.

After the last one I hesitated before climbing over the statues. I stood squinting through the thick fog of magic before moving to a man sized bronze statue Jewel was sitting on. It almost looked like she was a sun because of the way she glowed. I glanced back at a chirp from a drake and sighed before gesturing, “okay but do not blame me if you turn into a lantern.”

On each side of the statue were chests filled with jewelry that glowed with magic. I looked at the statue carefully as I reached out and picked up Jewel. I put her on my shoulder as I kept looking and had the impression it was looking back at me.

I shook my head and looked around before heading for the door, “time to find a few wagons and have the dwarf make another basin.”

Chapter Twenty Three

Dark gods

I glanced out the open door to watch the summer rain with dozens of rainbows. My sons were actually walking and getting into everything. Ash was learning better control now that her companion was constantly with her and helping. Melody spent most of each day at the mage hall getting lessons.

Jasmine slipped up beside me and put her arm around my waist, “feeling melenchanty?”

I smiled, “a little. It feels like I have been cooped up for months.”

She grinned and gave me a push towards the door, “go steal something, that will make you feel better.”

I laughed but walked out and headed to the Grinning Cat. Teresa had her baby in a cradle by the kitchen door with all her miniatures crowded on the baby. I caressed Jewel when she rubbed against my neck and sat at my table. Teresa grinned when she walked by and slipped a mug of cider onto the table, “playing hooky?”

I grinned and took a sip before relaxing. When Teresa returned she gave Jewel a caress, “so what mischief have you been up to?”

I smiled and raised an eyebrow and she grinned, “practicing.”

I glanced at the baby, “have you been to the garden fair?”

She laughed and turned to sit beside me, “it was wonderful. We even saw a lot of the nobles with their children.”

I glanced at the door when it opened and frowned at the small man that entered. He looked around and crossed to another table to whisper to a dark cloaked man. It was summer and even with the rain people did not wear long dark cloaks. I nodded to the table, “do you know them?”

Teresa looked and shook her head, “they have come in a few times. They asked a few questions about the king and…”

She frowned, “the first time they asked if we had a temple called… Cesh?”

I hissed, “Krish?”

She smiled, “Yes.”

I growled, “do not let them give you anything and do not accept food or drink from them. Clean and check the table and bench where they sit after they leave.”

She looked at them as they stood together and started to leave. I hesitated before standing, “be careful of what you say around them.”

I turned to follow them out, Krish was a collection of several dark gods. They cherished making people suffer. I glanced up as the drakes dropped down from the rooftops. I reached up to Jewel, “let the children know to follow at a long distance.”

She looked up and gave a warbling chirp. The drakes spread out as they flew back up close to the rooftops. We were headed for the stockyards and I had to fall back further. When they began looking around I moved into a doorway. The cloaked man turned to look back the way they came and I saw him drop something that spun off strands of magic.

They walked into what looked like a warehouse and I waited and watched. I glanced at Jewel, “go tell the others to watch around the whole building.”

She nodded and leaped into the air. I moved out of the doorway and down to the strands of magic. It was still raining but I could still see the almost sickly yellow tint of the strands. I slipped out a silver pen knife as I knelt and started moving the strands. Once I had them on the wall beside the doorway I left them and moved away.

I put the knife away as I went to a waterspout and easily climbed up to the roof. Jewel landed on my shoulder as I was moving to one of the skylights. I stood back as I peered down and in and slowly looked and searched the dark shadows. I shifted when I saw the statues and Jewel rubbed against my neck.

I watched as a dozen men knelt in front of the statues while bowing their heads. I almost broke in because they had a man on what looked like a bed of nails. He was bloody from hundreds of cuts on his body but I could see he was not moving or breathing. I watched until they began to leave and then moved to look down in the street.

I needed to slip into the warehouse and settled to wait since the black cloaked man had remained inside. Slowly the day ended and night came and the rain stopped. I climbed down and moved into the shadows close to the door. I waited and finally the man emerged, he frowned when he looked at the spot where he had left the trap.

I slipped up and he turned and one hand began to move as I struck with a sap. It hit him on the temple and he dropped. I checked him before stripping the cloak off and put it on. I checked the man before lifting him and turning to enter the warehouse, “Jewel stay out here with the drakes and keep watch.”

She leaped into the air as I opened the door. The moment I stepped in I felt the pain and searing agony but ignored it as I carried the man to the bed of nails. I set him down and reached out to move the dead man. I looked at the bed of nails before lifting the man I had carried in. I set him on the nails before I began moving it towards the statues.

The pain increased until it felt as if I was being flayed. Finally I stopped and looked around as I limped away and came back with a couple of empty crates. I tilted the back of the bed so the dark gods statues could see the man. The pain vanished and the man stiffed before he began to scream.

I went looking in the shadows before finding old sacks. The man was writhing around in agony is his flesh was torn off and burned. There were four statues with a single chest filled with gold offerings and I shuddered at what might happen. I moved into the darkness behind them and slipped up behind one.

I quickly pulled the sack down over it until only the bottom half of the statue was left uncovered. I moved back and shook my hands and looked at them. They were red and stinging as if I had burned them. The man on the bed was only spasming as his blood ran freely. I moved to the other end and moved up to pull another sack down over another statue.

I was gritting my teeth in pain as I backed away. I did not wait and moved to the next statue and yanked the sack down over it. I was almost screaming and felt blood trickling down my chest and arms. I growled as I moved behind the last statue and pulled the sack over it. The pain vanished and I moved back and sagged to the floor.

It was several minutes before I could move, I checked the man but he was dead. I had been thinking and left. I had to wake the stable boy at an inn and slipped him a gold piece to use their wagon and team of horses. I also bought four old horse blankets and a sledge hammer before harnessing the horses and leaving.

I returned to the warehouse and looked at Jewel when she landed, “go to Silver. I am going north out of the city to the Salmaman river and need him.”

She rubbed my neck before leaping into the air. I glanced up where I knew the drakes were hiding in the shadows, “watch for those that were here.”

I slipped into the warehouse and opened the large door. I wrapped and tied a horse blanket around each statue before I began moving it towards the wagon. I had to be careful not to touch the statue with bare hands, once had been enough to burn my hand. It took awhile to get all four into the wagon.

When I was done I moved the offering chest into a dark corner and then went back outside. I began to slowly move the trap the dead man had set until it was inside and larger. I put it in front of where the statues had been before I closed the doors and left. The drakes dropped and one or another kept landing on me and pressing against me as I led the horses.

I went to the river where it was wide and shallow but where the water flowed rapidly. I carefully took the statues out of the wagon and sat to wait for the sun. The pain of the burns and the cuts stung and itched. I removed the cloak and made a fire before putting it in. I watched it burn and pet the drakes as they clung to me.

The sun was coming up when Jewel swooped down and landed on my shoulder. I glanced at Dragon and then Griffin when they arrived with Silver behind them. He was frowning as I struggled to my feet, “what happened?”

I gestured to the wrapped statues, “Kirsh.”

He hissed and reached out to turn me and shake his head. He looked at the statues, “what are you going to do?”

I turned towards the river, “once the sun is up I am going to drag them into the river and use a hammer to smash them.”

He hesitated, “that might be very dangerous.”

I nodded, “that was why I needed you.”

He sighed as he looked at the river before looking at me, “take them to the fast moving water and after each strike back away. Try not to rip or tear the coverings. Once the statues has been broken beyond repair or recognition the dark entities will have to flee.”

I nodded and glanced at the sun before moving to the first. I hesitated and gritted my teeth before I began to drag it into the water. I thought about Silver’s words as I felt the burning and slices. I finally dropped the statue and walked out of the water to get the sledge hammer. I walked back into the water and walked to the statue.

I looked at where the head would be and lifted the heavy hammer before I swung with all my might. I felt the head break and stepped back as the water around the statue began to boil. I watched as it continued for several minutes. The cooler river water swept the hot boiling water away and I moved back to take another swing.

It took a dozen before things stopped happening and I was able to smash the rest of the statue. When I removed the horse blanket and sack nothing happened. I wadded out and blinked when I saw Jasmine waiting beside Silver. She shook her head and reached out to strip me before applying a salve that seemed to be laced with magic strands.

It soothed the burns and made the cuts feel better. Silver held up a short piece of rope, “pull the rest into the river using rope.”

I nodded and dressed before taking the rope and moving to the next statue. I made a loop and put it around the head before pulling it tight. I pulled the statue into the water like the first and took my time smashing it. The other two were just as easy, I even pulled the remains of the heads out and broke them into tiny pieces.

Jasmine and Silver walked back to the city with me. Even though I was tired I had more business. I sent them home as I returned the horses and wagon. I went back to the warehouse and walked in to find all the disciples writhing around in the trap. I left them and went to the chest and looked in.

Magic strands swirled through the gold coins that had images of the dark gods. There was also several tiny gold figurines laces with magic. The chest was clear so I closed the lid before I began pulling it across the floor. The men screamed as I left but they deserved everything they got. I used the short rope to pull the chest after me down the street.

I went to a man I knew, he was a blacksmith that specialized in making daggers and knives. I grinned as he looked at me with raised eyebrows, “want to make a little extra money?”

He looked around before gesturing into his shop, “I do not do business anymore.”

I pulled the chest to one side, “not even to melt down cursed treasure?”

He blinked, “cursed?”

I opened the chest, “see the figurines and the image on the coins?”

He leaned over to look in and frowned, “I do not recognize…”

I closed the lid, “if you did I would have to think real hard about killing you. Those were images of the Krish gods.”

He sucked in his breath, “where…”

He shook his head, “never mind. How are you going to melt them without being cursed?”

I grinned, “silk gloves.”

He nodded before turning to his forge, “what kind of mold do you want?”

I shrugged, “what do you have?”

He grinned and then laughed, “I have been making those tiny figurines for the garden fair.”

I grinned, “can you use the mold and not make them hollow?”

He nodded and I went to get the silk gloves while he set up a pot to melt the gold in.

Chapter Twenty Four

Stealing a baby

I grinned as we walked back from the mage hall. Melody and the other children taking classes had put on a demonstration. I frowned when we reached the house and saw the guards. A lieutenant moved towards us with a set look, “Sinclair you are under arrest.”

I blinked as I handed my son William to Gloria, “for?”

The other guards surrounded us and the lieutenant glaring at me, “taking the king’s son.”

I looked at Jasmine before looking at him, “someone took the prince?”

He frowned and looked at the others before looking at me, “where have you been?”

I gestured to Melody who was hugging Princess, “my daughter had a class demonstration at the mage hall.”

He looked at her and then growled but I shifted and gestured to Jasmine and the house, “go to the house and I will go find out what happened.”

She nodded and gestured and the guards stumbled out of the way. I watched them before turning and starting to walk. The lieutenant yelled and ran to catch me and I caught one hand and twisted before yanking. I grabbed his throat, “I am going to see the king. Get in my way and I will not be gentle.”

I shoved him away and started walking away from them. The Keep was full of nobles and guards when I reached it and shoved through. I pushed guards and attendants out of my way as I headed to the king’s private rooms. The door was wide open with people in the halls and doorway.

I shoved through them, “go away now.”

I grabbed a guard, “clear this hall.”

He blinked as he looked at me and I slapped his face before he jerked as if waking, “what?”

I pushed him towards the people, “clear this hall.”

I turned and moved into the room and started pushing people towards the door, “get out.”

I finally reached the king and his crying wife. Edmond and his wife were beside them looking grim. I touched Edmond’s shoulder, “you are leaking magic and it is affecting people.”

He looked at me before giving himself a shake. I touched the king, “what happened?”

He looked at me blankly before growling, “someone stole my son.”

I sighed and shook his shoulder, “more information less emotion. Where was he? Who was with him? How did they take him? Did they leave anything?”

He looked at me and then at Edmond, “he was in his nursery and his nanny was with him.”

I waited and sighed again, “where were his guards? What happened to them?”

He looked at the door where several guards stood, “they were killed like the nanny.”

I glanced at Edmond, “I need to see the room.”

He nodded and gestured to a guard, “take him and give him whatever he wants.”

I followed a guard out and next door where I saw blood on the hall floor. I stopped the guard from opening the door as I looked at the strands of magic in and around the blood. I squatted down to look at them and Jewel dropped to the floor and moved to the edge of the blood.

She seemed to sniff and then sneezed and I reached out to pick her up, “do not touch the blood.”

I looked at the guard, “send a runner to the mage hall. We need Silver and the mage guild master.”

He nodded and turned to gesture to another guard. I stood and moved around the blood with the strands of magic running through it. I opened the door and blinked when I saw the bodies. I looked at the guards before carefully stepping into the room. I knelt beside the first body and used a slim silver pen knife to move the clothing.

I looked at the wound in the guard’s chest and shook my head. It was not from a dagger, it was star shaped. I checked the other guard and then crossed the room to the nanny who was crumpled in a rocker. Unlike the guards who each had one blow to the heart the nanny had over a dozen. Most were in the pelvis and then there was one last jagged rip across her throat.

The spell strands glowed a sickly yellow and almost seemed angry. I stood and moved to the crib and saw a few tangle strands of magic. I turned to look out the window as I tried to remember one of the many books I had read. I turned when I heard someone out in the hall and crossed to the doorway.

I nodded to Silver and the white bearded mage with him. I pointed to the blood, “it has trace strands of magic but they are fading.”
Silver looked at the blood but the guild master knelt and narrowed his eyes, “a paralysis spell and not one I recognize.”

I gestured, “come in but do not step in the blood.”

I returned to the nanny and looked at the guild master, “this was more than removing someone protecting the prince.”

He nodded and bent to see her eyes, “she knew and felt everything they did.”

I looked at Silver, “I remember reading a story from your library. It told of a stolen prince that started a war.”

He frowned, “and…”

I looked out the window, “and the baby was sacrificed by a cult called Sept of Pontif. The notes said the sept was killed to the last man.”

The guild master sighed, “that is not true. The Sept of Pontif has survived many purges.”

I glanced at the bodies, “can you remove the spells on the blood, bodies and in the crib?”

They nodded and I started for the door. I was walking quickly, if this sept did as they had in the story I only had until midnight. I walked into the shop and ignored the guards as they moved towards me. Calvin was looking at something a thin pock mark man held. I growled and snatched a guard’s hand and twisted before yanking him around and letting go.

He crashed into a counter as I continued towards Calvin and the thief who was looking for a way out. I ignored him I reached for Calvin, “no playing. You owe me and I need information. The prince was taken and a sept called Pontif took him. I want to know where it is and I want to know now.”

He stammered and the thief cleared his throat, “I know.”

I let Calvin go as I turned to the thief, “where?”

He grinned, “how much?”

I looked at him calmly, “for those that do not know me I hate blood suckers. My name thief, is Sinclair and the price will depend on if the information you provide is true. If it is not it will be your blood, if it is I will make it worth your time.”

He swallowed and nodded, “I think it is good information. The sept has a place beyond the walls in the graveyard tombs.”

I looked at him as he pulled a parchment and turned to the counter next to Calvin. He drew with a slim slate stick and I watched until he turned and held it out. I took it and nodded before looking at Calvin, “you know what cults and dark priests do. You know what they bring to those in the streets. I trusted you to tell me when they get here.”

I looked at his guard before looking at him again, “this is the third time you failed. I have paid you well for information and given you first pick of what I steal. If there is a next time I will find another fence a cut your throat.”

I spun and shoved the guard back and into the counter, “get in my way again and you are dead.”

When I walked out and started down the street Jewel chirped and I glanced up to see all the drakes. I smiled and turned to watch the street. Once I got to the graveyard I checked the hand drawn map before moving towards the tombs and small chapels. I was watching around me as I walked and saw the men pretending to be mourners.

The problem was the tombs were all very old and neglected. I counted ten and that was before I even came close to the ancient chapel. They tried to follow me discretely and close in but I did not stop and continued past. They slowed down and a couple followed at a distance as I went to a tomb that had a recent burial. I knelt at the door and bowed my head as if in prayer.

I saw those watching as they turned and left and grinned. Now I knew where they were and how to get to the chapel. I waited for a few minutes before I slipped into the maze of tombs and off the main paths. It took an hour to slip up to the back of the chapel. Like all graveyard chapels it only had one door and it was watched.

What people ignored was the large vents in the sides and back to get air into the building while a body was there to be viewed. I used a dagger to remove the tiny wedges holding the vent screen in the stone opening. I silently moved the screen and peeked in before touching Jewel. She glided to the ground and I knew the drakes were on the top of tombs watching.

I looked at the two men inside, they were kneeling over a bundle and chanting. I quietly wiggled through the opening and stood. I pulled my dagger and another from my sleeve as I stalked towards the two men. When I struck it was with both blades, I shoved them into the base of the skulls and through the spine.

The men dropped as their bodies spasmed. I knelt beside the bundle and turned back one corner to see the prince but strands of magic shifted and held him. I pulled a silver pen knife as I carefully unwrapped him. I shifted and moved the strands one by one and had to turn and roll the baby until all the strands were on the floor.

I wrapped him as he squirmed and moved back to the vent. Jewel chirped and I pushed the prince out before following. The next dozen minutes were tense as the drakes led me out and around through the maze of tombs. I worried the prince would begin to cry and bring the sept after us.
Finally we were clear and headed back into the city. I moved quickly and headed for the king’s Keep. I walked past a growing crowd and into Keep and had to shove people out of my way. I could hear arguing in the throne room and headed that way. The king was getting ready to start purges when the drakes screamed and attacked to get people to move.

The room murmured and opened a way and I crossed to the throne. The king stood and his red eyes fell on his squirming son in my arms. He moved forward and took him and hugged him while tears fell. I glanced at the chamberlain, “get these people out of here.”

He nodded as the king turned and headed for the door up into his private chambers. I followed and caught the commander of his guards, “the Sept of Pontif is in the graveyard tombs.”

His eyes narrowed before he nodded and reached out to catch one of his guards. I found the king with his wife and glanced at Edmond and his. Silver was still there with the mage guild master and I crossed to them, “when they calm down see if you can put a few protections in place.”

They nodded and I turned to head home and to my own children.

Chapter Twenty Five

Patron saint of thieves

I sighed and leaned back and away from the papers on the table. Jasmine smirked as she adjusted our sons clothing. I glared, “you had to make me agree to this. This is a lot of work and most is nonsense.”

She gave me a curtsy, “yes your grace.”

I growled as Melody and Ash giggled and Jewel patted my shoulder. I sighed and bent to finish the court papers from my new duchy. I looked up when Tami knocked and opened the door. She grinned, “morning your grace.”

Jasmine laughed as she pulled and pushed the children towards the front of the house and her waiting mother. I looked at Tami, “what do you want?”

Daniel had recently married a lovely merchant woman so Tami was on her own. She smiled as she crossed to look at what I was doing, “I have a job and thought you might want to help.”

I sat back, “why me?”

She grinned, “it is that crooked merchant ship captain.”

I smiled, “now you have my attention. He just sold plague clothes to one of the king’s shelters.”

She nodded, “and does not have a warehouse or office.”

I nodded, “he stays on one of his ships so he does not have to pay the custom tax.”

She leaned against the table, “I heard he only has a few deck hands on the ship he is living on.”

I glanced out the kitchen window, “you thinking of trying to steal his money while he is aboard and asleep?”

She grinned, “I got a pound of sleeping maggies and ground them into a fine powder.”

I grinned and looked at the papers on the table before pushing back and standing, “lets go take a look.”

I glanced at the drakes as they flew into the room and Tami grinned and caught one. The rest went out the kitchen window and up into the air. I walked around the house and nodded to all the neighbors as the children splashed and played in the basins. Just a couple of days before a strange summer storm had appeared to only rain on the statues and filled the basins.

Tami kept looking at me and petting the drake she held while walking. I sighed, “ask.”

She grinned, “when are you moving out to your duchy?”

I growled, “I like my house.”

She laughed and bumped my shoulder, “you know the city thieves have began to come by? They drop a coin in each basin before asking your blessing on whatever job they are planning.”

I looked at her and snorted, “that is silly.”

She smiled and lifted the drake to her shoulder, “but true. They are saying you are our patron saint.”

I shook my head and snorted again and she laughed. When we reached the docks I leaned against a building and looked out onto the pier. At the end was the ship with merchant Dickings. I grinned and glanced around before looking at Tami, “go to the left and out to the end of the other pier. Take the skiff to the back of the merchant’s ship.”

She looked at me with wide eyes and I grinned and nodded to his ship, “he is on deck with his guards and a few merchants. Slip in and sprinkle the sleeping maggie powder on his pillow and bed and leave.”

She grinned and turned to slip into a crowd of sailors and vanished. I did not see her until she was almost to the end of the other pier and the skiff. The drakes shadowed her and hid while she took the skiff and quietly rowed across to the back of the large ship. I watched the group on deck while she slipped in and then she was back and rowing away.

She grinned as she swagger towards me and I chuckled, “lets go eat and find someplace to wait.”

I sent one of the drakes home with a note for Jasmine and grinned when I got it back with another note that only said, “I am pregnant.”

Tami laughed and bumped my shoulder as I tucked the note away, “it will be another girl.”

I stuck my tongue out, “careful or you will be cursed to only have girls.”

She grinned and we walked back to the docks. Once it grew dark we slipped out onto the pier with the skiff. We sat and watched the ship with a lantern lighting the merchant’s room. Finally the lantern went out and we waited another half hour before rowing to the back of the ship. Tami stood and peeked in the window before silently slipping in.

She appeared a few moments later and whispered, “the chest is to heavy.”

I sighed, “find something to use as bags or pouches.”

She nodded and disappeared while I looked at the railing for the deck. She was back a couple of minutes later and handed out two silk bags. I set the bags in the bottom of the skiff and she was back a moment later with more. After a couple of dozen she climbed out and we rowed away and back to the other pier.

I helped her carry the bags away as we went to the Grinning Cat. She set the bags on the table and grinned, “want your share?”

I smiled as I opened a bag and looked at the silver coins, “what are you going to do with the rest. She laughed as she gestured to Teresa, “I have a few people coming.”

I looked at her before sitting to wait, “what people?”

She grinned and pet the drake as it landed on her and chirped. I looked at the hand and mine snapped out and grabbed her wrist. She hissed as I turned her hand and pulled it closer to look at it. I let it go and gestured, “let me see the other one.”

She held it out and I growled as I stood, “time to go visit doctor Malcom.”

He was a new doctor in the city but everyone said he was very good.”

Tami stood, “why?”

I began collecting the silk bags, “because the coins were coated with a poison.”

By the time we reached the doctor’s house her hands were blistered and she was shaking. He pulled her to a basin and used a clear alcohol to wash her hands and arms before stripping her and putting her in a bed. It was not long before she was constantly shaking and had a high fever. I set the pouches beside the bed and walked out.

I headed back to the dock and used the skiff to cross to the merchant’s ship. He was still asleep when I climbed in the window. I had covered my mouth and nose and looked in the chest the silver coins had been in. I began a careful search and looked above the bed when I found the jars labeled with plagues.

I unlocked his door and slipped out to search the ship. I only found two guards and both were asleep. I sprinkled sleeping maggie powder on both before returning to Dickings. I lit a lantern and tied his feet and then his hands before I pulled him out of bed. I used his wash basin and dunked his face several times before he woke.
I slapped his face as I squatted beside him, “what are you doing with poisons and plagues?”

He cursed me and I pulled my dagger and caught his hands. I put them flat on the floor and used the pommel to strike the fingers and break the bones. I stopped and let him go, “what are you doing with the plagues?”

He was crying and shook his head so I reached for his hands. He struggled, “the Ashgar paid me to start a plague here!”

I looked at him, “you would not unless you had the cure. Where is it?”

He shook his head and I flipped the dagger and brought it down and into his leg. He screamed and twisted, “under the bed!”

I yanked the dagger out and moved to the bed and checked it carefully. I saw the needle trap and glanced at him before picking the lock and bypassing it trap. I shifted and moved to one end of the bed before lifting it. The viper inside hissed as it coiled and I smiled before flipping my dagger and then throwing.

It pinned the serpent to the bottom and I held the bed up. Besides several vials of a clear liquid there were a half dozen small pouches. I opened one to see large cut rubies, another had large cut emeralds and I looked at the rest before taking them. I checked the cures and moved back to Dickings, “which is for the poison on the silver coins?”

He glared and I smiled and pulled another dagger and sliced open his shoulder. He screamed and jerked back before telling me what I wanted to know. I struck before he knew it was coming and twisted the blade before I yanked the dagger out of his heart. I walked out and to the hold before using an lamp oil and starting the ship on fire.

I went on deck and removed the mooring ropes before returning to the cabin and smashing the lantern. I grabbed the jars of powder and pulled the dagger out of the viper before leaving and using the skiff to cross to the other pier. I moved quickly as I trotted through the streets and back to doctor Malcom’s.

I looked at Tami and gave the small vial to the doctor. After he gave her what he considered a dose I continue to wait and put the small pouches of gems with the bags of silver. He finally shook me and sent me away. I was thinking of the Ashgar as I headed towards the nobles estates. They were a belligerent people to the south of the empire.

The emissary’s estate was not even guarded and the few magic strands only covered windows. The drakes flew around as Jewel chirped and pointed towards the servants entrance. I walked to the gate and checked the latch and pulled a dagger. In the faint light from the moon I saw a smear on the edge of the blade when I scraped the latch.

I used the blade to open the latch and pushed the gate open. I closed it silently before heading across to the side door. I checked it before picking the lock and opening the door. As I moved through the building I heard men snoring in the entrance hall. I climbed the servant stairs to the second floor and glanced down the hall at the two guards.

They were both sitting in chairs on each side of the master suite door but asleep. I walked down the hall and sprinkled the last of the sleeping maggie powder on each. I waited before checking the door and then picking the lock. I started to open the door and stopped at the tiny hint of something against the door.

I looked at Jewel as she dropped to the floor and went to squeeze through and into the room. A couple of moments and she peeked out and nodded. I pushed again and the door opened quietly and when I looked behind it I found the tiny bells against the wall. I grinned and looked towards the bed and the sleeping emissary.

A woman was asleep beside him but she had bruises and did not look to good. I moved to the bed and looked at the man before pulling out the jars of powder. I checked the bed before taking his dagger and reaching for the man’s jaw. I grabbed him and he jerked but I had his mouth open and began pouring the powder into his mouth.

I kept it up while he struggled and gagged and tried to yell. When the jar was empty I opened another and started pouring it. After the last one I slapped him and ignored the woman sitting up and clutching the blankets, “I hate cowards.”

I pulled his dagger and plunged it into his chest. I walked around the bed as he spasmed and pulled the women off. I wrapped the blanket around her and she kept looking at me as if I were going to kill her. I lifted her to my shoulder and went to open the window. I spilled the lamp oil on the bed before using a match to light it.

I carried the woman out with me the way I had come in. The sun was just beginning to rise when I reached the doctor. He took one look at the woman before directing me to another room and bed. I made sure he had the cures before going to check Tami. She smiled at me weakly when I sat beside the bed, “if it is not saint Sinclair.”

I growled, “I was not such good luck for you.”

She glanced at the door, “I do not know, the doctor looks real cute.”

I glanced back and grinned before I stood, “boil the bags and pouches before you try to touch your loot.”

She nodded, “twice.”

Chapter Twenty Six

Stealing for the king

It was late summer and I had just finished the new budget for the duchy. I think the people living and working on it were going to be very happy with what I had come up with. I was in the garden fair helping move the god statues. They seemed very satisfied with the new location since there were a lot more people and they were under the protection of roofs.

Even most of the phoenixes had moved to the large special nest boxes I had made. They were happy here and tended to sing which made the people stop to watch and listen. I had added more basins of water for people to wade in and cool off. Silver and Jasmine had also managed to create fountains that sprinkled water out and onto people or the animate plants.

Tami and doctor Malcom were walking around holding hands. I was sitting on a bench watching Jasmine in a basin with our sons. Melody and Ash were with Gloria and Silver a few basins away. They had a small crowd of other girls they were playing with. I glanced at the king when he sat, “playing hooky?”

He grinned and nodded to his wife and son crossing to an area where a few dozen animated stuffed animals played, “Edmond assured me you had placed safeguards to keep the children safe.”

I nodded, “beside all the stuffed animals watching there are the statues walking around and a few hundred mage creatures. The gargoyle also brought another dozen from somewhere and they all are extremely protective of the children.”

I gestured to one of the god statues which had became a lot more animated since being here, “plus the god statues who tend to be very good at protecting children.”

I looked at him, “harming a child here would be a very bad idea.”

He grinned and then chuckled and relaxed. It was a minute before he looked at me, “I wanted to speak to you.”

He was blushing and I raised an eyebrow, “about?”

He looked around before leaning closer, “beside your duchy is the lands of earl McBannon. He has two barons, Kestrel and Shannon. For the last few years he has claimed poverty and has not been able to pay my taxes. His books have been checked and support his story.”

I looked at him, “but you think he has altered the books.”

He sighed, “I just found out that the three of them with two mages have been buying and selling merchandise out of the kingdom in the imperial capital. From the few things I have heard they have been using what they heard at court.”

He looked at me, “they are once more taking a trip to the imperial capital.”

I snorted and then grinned, “you want me to remove their funds.”

He nodded, “and find any evidence he has lied to me about the taxes.”

I was looking at Tami who had caught one of the drakes and was petting it. I grinned, “if I find what you want what are you going to do?”

He snorted, “take their patients and put them in debtors prison.”

I smiled and looked at him, “if I do it I want payment.”

He sighed, “how much?”

I nodded to Tami and the doctor who was playing with a dozen children, “see the girl?”

He looked and nodded, “one of your apprentices?”

I looked at him, “if I succeed you give her the earl’s lands and his patient.”

He grinned and then laughed and stood, “deal.”

I watched him join his wife and stood and went to kneel beside the basin Jasmine was splashing around in, “I need to go.”

She grinned and splashed me, “you finished all your work remember?”

I caught Michael and turned him to crawl back to his mother, “this is for someone else.”

She sighed, “one of theses days someone will catch you.”

I grinned, “but not today and I plan to retire before they do.”

She smiled, “tomorrow is your day with the children.”

I laughed as I stood, “I will make sure I wear protection.”

I left and headed to see a man that had become the new fence for most of the thieves in the city. I glanced at Jewel when she landed on my shoulder, “not staying with the children?”

She rubbed against my neck and I reached up to give her a caress. I walked into the shop and a man glanced at me from behind a counter and gestured another away as he smiled, “I was wondering if I would ever meet you.”

I smiled and crossed to the counter and pulled out a gold coin and held it up. I set it on the counter, “what can you tell me about earl McBannon or barons Kestrel and Shannon?”

He frowned and looked up as he thought before grinning, “earl McBannon is headed to the imperial capital. The two barons are bullies and tend to hung around as if waiting for his scraps. The earl also has two mages that seem a little to cruel not to be dark.”

I nodded, “how is the earl traveling and from where?”

He glanced at the other man before sweeping the gold coin off the counter, “you thinking of robbing him?”

I looked at him and he blushed before gesturing me to the side as the other man closed the door, “he leased a warehouse for a month. He brought in three wagons that were very heavy and two fancy carriages.”

He looked back and leaned over the counter, “he has two dozen armed guards that are traveling with him. They leave the day after tomorrow.”

I nodded, “any idea what is in the wagons?”

He shook his head and I pulled out another gold coin, “thanks.”

He smiled as I started for the door. I headed to a apothecary and bought a few things before going home. I left after grabbing my pack and crossed the city which seemed a lot more crowded. I was very careful when I reached the warehouse and slowly made my way around it. The guards were outside the main doors with all the horses on a picket line.

I watched them before moving through the shadows as I moved closer. It was growing dark when I pulled a tiny leaf pouch. I untied it before holding it up and whispering, “drop this in the supper pot.”

Jewel grabbed the pouch and seemed to weight it before leaping into the air. I knelt and picked up a rock and tossed it away and to the side. When it struck the guards turned to look and Jewel dove and let the pouch go before flying away. I held still until the guards relaxed and moved back into the shadows.

Every few minutes two men would stand and begin to walk around the building. It was an hour after they had eaten before they each nodded off. I moved into their camp and checked them before moving them to the side. I picked the lock on the large warehouse doors and pulled them open.

I stopped when I saw the magic strands crisscrossing the floor and moving through the air. The strands blocked this end and the door and I began moving them aside and pushing them up a wall. When I finished and went to check the wagons and smiled at the magic strands on the wheels.

It took several minutes to move the strands and finish checking the wagons before going out to get the horses. I harnessed one wagon and took it out and down the street and into an alley before returning. When I was done I had all three wagons and tied them together before returning to the warehouse.

One glance in the carriages and I knew one belonged to the mages. I opened the door into the other and glanced at everything including a small chest hidden under the back seat. I lifted it out and checked it before disarming a poison needle trap. I picked the lock and opened the chest to see a thick ledger on top and fancy jewelry below it.

I opened the ledger and began reading before closing it and carrying everything out. I walked the three wagons through the streets in short relays until I reached the shop of the fence. The guard peeked out door and turned to speak to someone before the fence walked out. I set the small chest down and slipped the ledger into my shirt.

I climbed into the first wagon and pulled the tarp back and looked at the four large chests. I picked the lock on the first as the fence climbed up and I lifted the lid. I stared at the chest full of copper coins and frowned as I reached in and shifted some around. The fence snorted, “what the hell was he going to do with worthless coppers?”

I smiled, “he was being very smart.”

He looked at me and I grinned, “how many coppers do you think are in this chest?”

He shrugged, “thousands.”

I nodded, “and how many coppers make a silver or gold piece?”

The fence looked at the chest and I pointed to the others in the wagon, “three wagons with four large chests filled with coppers in each?”

He grinned and I shook my head, “what makes it more valuable in the imperial capital is the numbers. If he took them from there they will have a shortage and be worth more.”

He looked at me and I went to each chest and picked the lock. I had been right, three wagon, each with four large chests of copper coins. I jumped down and lifted the small chest, “you can have the wagons taken to the capital and spilt it with me.”

I handed him the small chest, “fence these and send my money to the garden fair.”

He grinned, “want me to pay the taxes too?”
I laughed as I walked away, “yes.”

I groaned as Ash jumped on me to wake me up and growled as I twisted and began tickling her. The cats moved off the bed and looked back as they walked out but the drakes and Jewel hopped and jumped around on the bed while watching. I looked at the door when Jasmine cleared her throat, “Melody is downstairs and the boys are in their walker.”

I smiled and moved out of bed, “not even going to let me wash and dress before abandoning the children?”

She smiled, “you have a quarter of a candle mark before I leave.”

I had Ash on my shoulders a bag in each hand and Melody directing the wagon that was the boys walker with Major pulling it. The garden fair vendors were just setting up as the stuffed animals came out of the manor. The plant creatures were slowly working their roots out of the soil as the animated statues began making their rounds.

I set up and let Melody and Ash play beside the basin of the statue of Banster. Who tended to watch over any and all children with a tender eye. I set up the boys play area pen and lifted them out of their walker and set them down. I glanced at the three cats when they appeared and jumped over and into the pen.

It was barely an hour before families began to arrive and the fair became busy. I was watching intently as magic spun off Banster and created a colorful illusion for several young mage children who watched and tried to copy him. I shook my head as they laughed and giggled and turned to watch the boys.

I shifted and frowned as William began to lift and float before moving to bend over and reach into the pen. I shook him and he giggled as he seemed to lift higher, “you should not be able to do this yet.”

A mage I did not know sat on the bench I had moved from, “charming children.”

I glanced at him before looking around, another mage stood a little distance away. I reached into my shirt and touched the amulet, “Jasmine.”

The mage shook his head, “I am afraid she will not hear you.”

I let my son go as the three cats stood and turned, “oh?”

He smiled and began to gesture, “we did not…”

The dagger I pulled sliced across his throat as I pulled another while coming to my feet. I threw it as the other mage gestured and an explosion of flames spread out in front of him before he staggered. He clutched the dagger in his chest as flames erupted from it. I turned to the other who was holding his throat and shoved the dagger I held through his eye.
He stiffened and began jerking as he fell. Statues and guards were running towards me as my sons screamed and cried and Melody and Ash turned with huge eyes. I looked at the cats in the pen, “protect the boys.”

I looked at the first statue to arrive, “call Silver and guard my children and get the bodies out of here.”

I started walking towards the entrance as all the phoenixes and animated mage creatures swirled into the air. Jewel and the drakes flew ahead of me. When I reached the entrance the king and queen were just arriving. I slowed and pulled the ledger out and gave it to him, “you will not need the prison.”

I continued to walk and headed across the city. I knew where earl McBannon would be just as I knew where he would have Jasmine. The men around the warehouse stared at me when I got there and one moved out to stop me. I shifted and sliced and he fell grasping his throat. I did not even slow, “get in my way and you are dead.”

The men looked at each other as I shoved the doors open and stepped into the warehouse. The earl and two barons were beside one of the carriages and I started walking, “where is my wife?”

The earl sneered, “busy. Where is my money?”

I reached him and snapped a kick out and into his groin. I grabbed his hair as he folded and yanked him up before I shoved the dagger I still held through his eye. I pulled it out and started for the closer of the two barons as their faces went white. They were fumbling to pull daggers as I stabbed one in the gut and yanked the blade up.

I turned and caught the other’s hand as his dagger came out of the sheath and twisted it before I shoved it into him. I jabbed into his throat and turned to kick the baron on the ground screaming. The warehouse went silent and I heard Jewel chirp from the mages carriages. I glanced back as I crossed to it and looked in.

I hissed when I saw Jasmine wrapped in strands of magic and struggling. I followed the strands to a huge crystal and looked at it carefully. I moved to the door and followed the magic strands before I began to move them. I heard fighting outside as I slowly cleared the door and opened it.

I ignored Jasmine and her silent scream as I began moving strands. It took several minutes to reach the huge crystal. I cleared all but the strands going from the crystal to my wife. I pulled a silk kerchief and used it to lift the crystal and slowly move it closer to Jasmine. She struggled and fought harder as it came closer.

He face was pale as I reached between strands to touch the ring I had given her. Her eyes snapped to me as her red crystal staff appeared in her hand. I smiled and slowly moved the crystal I held to the staff. Time seemed to freeze when they touched and then the crystal I held shattered and Jasmine flung herself on me.

I held her and slowly backed out of the carriage. I glanced at the door and blinked at all the people, most still held naked swords. The statue of Banster bowed and gestured and I shifted before I lifted Jasmine into my arms, “we need to get back to the garden fair before the children decide everyone needs pink beards.”

Jasmine giggled as she clung to me, “it is still your day to watch them.”

I smiled, “only if you are with me.”

She sighed, “you need to retire.”

The crowd parted and let us through and I started walking back through the city, “this was the last time.”

Several mages were with the children. Silver was in the play pen with the boys and Jasmine shook her head at his blue beard. Ash and Melody run to us out of the crowd of stuffed creatures. I glanced at the king and queen when they stood from where the girls had come from. He smiled before turning to Tami and her doctor, “I told you countess.”

Tami nodded as she held doctor Malcom’s hand and then frowned and looked at the king, “what did you call me?”

The end

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