Of thieves and wizards
Climbing a tower to steal from a wizard is not something to be undertaken lightly. I was still bolstering my courage when I saw her approaching, so I let her go first. She didn’t know it or have a choice because she hadn’t realized I was there. She had walked right past my hiding place without noticing me. So I watched her as she ascended, moving from stone to stone. I had been tempted to introduce myself. She was a striking woman even with the camouflage paint smeared on her face. I had noticed her earlier. She had been in the Pregnant Pony, the same tavern I had used. She was turning away advances, so I didn’t bother making the effort. Now I knew the reason. We had both been waiting for the same thing, to assault the wizard’s tower, and steal the Blood Orb.
She climbed well, and it wasn’t long before she disappeared into the shadows. Sometime later I saw her slip over the crenellation at the top. That was when I started my climb.
Why, you ask? Why attempt the robbery when another thief was ahead of me? First reason is because the Blood Orb is worth the trouble. It is not a large stone, barely as big as a sparrow’s egg, but it is perfectly round. More impressive still is the colour; it is blood red, the only stone of its kind, and a powerful magical talisman as well. Finally, there is the truth my teacher shared with me as I sat by his knee; treasure only goes to those who try.
The climb wasn’t difficult. There were a lot of holds for hands and toes where the stones jutted out. I have noticed this before on wizard made strongholds. A good stone mason would have shaped his raw materials to accommodate the roundness of the building, but mages never bother. No pride in mundane tasks I supposed. Whatever the reason, it worked in my favour. I had to swing somewhat around the perimeter as I worked my way up, in order to find a route suitable to my fingers.
The other thief had gone almost straight up. She must have smaller hands and feet, or maybe she was magically enabled. I had considered doing a climbing enhancement myself, but the cost of the spell wasn’t worth it considering what I had already spent on preparation. Anyway, my more circular route brought me close to a window, and just as I was passing I heard a commotion and voices. Information is important, so I took time to look.
It wasn’t much of an opening, square and not as big across as my forearm. It allowed me to spy on what was happening because the room was now bright with torch light. The girl was pinned up against a wall, probably by magic. I couldn’t see any other cause. The wizard was rising from a bed where I assumed he had been sleeping. Not a difficult conclusion considering the night shirt he was wearing.
“. . . come to steal my Orb,” he was saying. “When are fools like you going to learn that my magic is too strong for pitiful attempts like this? I am the mighty Corban Dow, possessor of the Blood Orb, wizard of the fourth order, and you my dear are a thief. I could summons the City Guard and have you imprisoned, but that would not serve the purpose of dissuading others of your ilk, so I have come up with an alternative.”
Corban Dow slipped his feet into slippers and shuffled over to a workbench in the middle of the room. I wished he would hurry up and do whatever he was going to do because my fingers were getting tired. He opened the top of a wooden box covered in magical symbols and removed the Blood Orb. It was everything I remembered it to be, spectacular and powerful. I could feel the pull of the magic as soon as it escaped the box.
Holding the Orb in his outstretched hand, the wizard pointed at his prisoner and intoned a spell. I could see crimson energy spew out from the Orb and encircle the unfortunate girl. The spell’s effect was immediately obvious. Her weapons floated away on strands of crimson and came to rest in a chest that popped open. Her clothes followed the weapons. I enjoyed the sight of her naked body until it started to change. Fur grew quickly, covering her entirety in moments, and then she transformed …lost size …became …a mouse, a cute mouse, but still a mouse.
“You will remain in that form until I feel you have learned your lesson, and then I will change you back and allow you to leave. Well I will change most of you back. I believe I will leave your face as it is now. It will help to punctuate the lesson I want you and your kind to learn. Messing with me is ill advised. If I had a cat—”
I couldn’t hang on the window sill any longer, so I continued my climb. Sure, I could have descended and forgotten the Orb. I could have left Miss Mousy to the wizard’s machinations without too many sleepless nights, but she wasn’t my reason for continuing the climb. Revenge was.
When I reached the top, working the strain out of my hands took some effort, but I used the time to make a modification to one of my own enchantments. I had refined my spells to work with the intonation of a single word, but if I was no longer a person—well one gets the idea. Eventually I made my way inside and crept down from the roof to the level of the windowed room.
The hallway was unlit, and no light showed through the space under the door. I felt the doorjamb around where the hinges were. There was a silky wet feel to the wood. Miss Mousy must have treated the hinges, but I dripped my own lubricant through the crack and set two of my spells before I eased the door open. The hinges made no noise. I crept in and was slammed up against the wall. He was a light sleeper. Torches flared and I could see the wizard sitting up on his bed.
“Another visitor, aren’t I blessed tonight. I suppose you are another thief here to steal the Orb.”
I tried to answer but no sound came out, my mouth moved, that was all. From what I had seen at the window, I was pretty sure this was a counter-measure spell. It works against your attempted movements. The more you struggle the stronger you are held, so I relaxed and tried speaking again.
“I said I’m hungry. I was looking for food.” He must have relaxed the spell somewhat, or it was losing strength because it was easier for me to speak.
“You bypassed the kitchen, and the other three floors, and climbed to the top of my tower to look for food. That is ridiculous. You are after the Orb. Admit it.”
“I didn’t see the other floors. I climbed the outside of the tower, and I have never heard of, the Orb.”
“You climbed the outside. That is a dangerous way to enter. Why would you do that?”
“I saw …it looked …I was desperate.”
He studied me for a few moments. “You saw what?”
“I saw that the stones were laid poorly. It didn’t look that difficult.”
“And you saw someone else doing it. Correct?”
I looked around the room, but didn’t answer. He laughed, a sinister cackle suggesting he had gleamed the truth despite my efforts at subterfuge.
“You saw someone else climbing the tower and you are trying to give her a chance to escape. You are noble, and foolish. Your friend has already met her fate.” He motioned to the table where I could see Miss Mousy scurrying around under a glass bell jar.
I tried to look surprised and terrified. The last part wasn’t difficult.
“Now it is your turn.”
“Wait … wait … what are you going to do? I just wanted food.”
“When I finish your transformation you can eat. Of course, I don’t keep food scraps up here, but there is always the mouse. She should look tasty to you in your new form.”
He had gone to the work bench to retrieve the Blood Orb while he gloated. Pointing it my way he intoned a spell. I watched my weapons and clothes pulled away and deposited in the chest. Everything had a crimson cast to it as I spoke my first spell. I felt the transformation start. I couldn’t see what was occurring, but I knew feathers were growing all over my body, or at least I hoped they were. My perspective changed as I grew smaller. I closed my eyes. No longer pinned against the wall, I dropped towards the floor. My wings flew out, and I hooted to activate my other spells.
The candles went out; my lubricant ignited, blowing the door open with a magnificent explosion; I snapped my eyes open and sprang into the air. I scratched the wizard’s hand with one claw, captured the Orb as he dropped it, swooped, knocked over the bell jar, grabbed Miss Mousy, and escaped out the window.
A blast of energy singed my tail feathers, forcing me into a clumsy dive around the tower. Once out of a direct line of sight from the window, I managed to gain some altitude using the heated air from a few chimneys. With my tail feathers singed I admit it was a less than graceful flight, but I never thought it would be anything else. I have never been an owl before. Thankfully, it was a quick trip.
We were out of the city and at my hideout in the woods in a few moments. Landing was awkward with one foot holding the Orb and the other holding Miss Mousy. In fact I ended up plowing a furrow with my beak. I spat out the dirt and intoned the enchantment to change back. It worked for both of us, and there I was with dirt in my mouth, a naked woman on one arm, a burnt behind, and the Blood Orb in hand. I spat out more dirt.
“I have to hide the Orb before he thinks to look for its energy,” I told Miss Mousy as I struggled up and into the cabin. When my magically prepared box snapped shut with the Orb inside, I breathed a sigh of relief. Step one complete.
“Thank you, he was going to keep me in mouse form for … until … a long time. You saved me.”
She was standing in the doorway, looking fine, but also visibly shaken and exhilarated. I felt aroused as well. Danger does that.
“I thought about leaving you until I came back. If you hadn’t been in the jar on the table I would have. We were lucky.”
She was walking towards me as I spoke, then we were standing together, then she was in my arms, and then —.
* * *
Her name was Ally. She was a thief. She was smart, quick, and talented. She could do marvelous things with her hands, and over the next two weeks she taught me some of the finer points while I was preparing to return to the tower.
“Why are you going back?” she asked when I told her I was almost ready. “He is still a capable wizard even without the Orb. It is an unnecessary risk to your person.”
“He is evil. He destroyed the man who trained me, killed him and his family. They were my friends. He must pay the piper.”
“So you think a half trained wizard can kill the one who destroyed his teacher.”
“I did okay when I stole the Orb.”
“You were lucky. Let’s sell the Orb and get away from here before he finds us. I know someone we can trust who will buy it.”
“He killed my master and his family. I swore to get revenge.”
“You’re a fool,” she informed me. “We all need money to survive. I do … and so do you. How do you expect to pay for the rest of your training?”
“I’ll find a Wizard who needs an apprentice.”
She laughed, went quiet for a few moments, and then she sprawled back on the bed. “I am in need of a Wizard’s apprentice.” She stretched her body across the bed.
I felt faint for a moment, and then I was okay. When I awoke the next morning she was gone, and so was the Orb.
It took me most of the day to sneak into the city and find the agent she used. I had hoped she would use the one I knew, but I was not that lucky. My fence sent me to another, who sent me on to another, and another. As I said, it took all day. This city is full of thieves and fences. Finally I found him.
His shop was closed and shuttered. That didn’t stop me. I am a thief and a wizard after all, but it did slow me down a bit, which was unfortunate for the fence. He was dead by the time I got inside. Ally was back up against a wall. The wizard was in the centre of the room when I barged in. He had already changed Ally’s face.
“Don’t kill her. You have the Orb. We won’t bother you again. Just let her go. There is no reason to kill her,” I pleaded after he slammed me against the wall. “We won’t tell anyone that we outsmarted you.”
He thought about it, as I hoped he would. “I was going to leave her with a mouse’s face, but you are right. It won’t warn others away if you are alive to tell your tale. I should kill you now, but your resourcefulness makes me leery. You probably have a spell set to counter the effect of whatever I throw at you.” He turned to Ally, “which is too bad for you little mouse, because you will die in his stead.”
The Blood Orb brightened in his hand as he lifted it and pointed at Ally. He spoke the same killing spell he had used on my master. Thank the gods for that. The enchantment I had worked on the Orb for the last two weeks changed his magic as I had planned. His essence was sucked into the stone, which must have been painful. He screamed a lot.
As soon as he was gone we were released.
“You saved my life again,” Ally said attempting a seductive smile.
“Yes. Too bad about his other spell though.”
The smile disappeared as she reached up to touch her face. The fur and whiskers were easy for her talented hands to feel. She screamed and crumpled to the floor.
“Good bye, Miss Mousy,” I said as I slipped out the door.