A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands. And I can make things disappear. But then I stole the wizard's locus magicalicus and nearly disappeared myself forever.
It was a late night in the Twilight, black-dark as the inside of a burglar's bag. The streets were deserted. A sooty fog crept up from the river, and the alleyways echoed with shadows. Around me I felt the city, echoing and empty, desolate and dead.
The cobblestones under my bare feet were slick with the evening's rain. No luck that day for my quick, pocket-pick hands, and I hadn't managed to filch my supper or a bit of copper to buy it with. I was hollow with hunger. I might have tried somewhere else, except that the Underlord had a word out on me, and his minions would beat the fluff out of me if they could. Keeping an eye out, I lurked in an alleyway.
At dusk, the shift had changed at the factories along the river, and the workers had trudged by, up the hill to their tenements, and I hadn't even bothered to try them. They never had any spare money. Now it was late. The rain started up again, not a hard rain, but a cold one, just enough to get into your bones and make you shiver. A good night for misery eels. I hunched into my lurking spot and thought about warm dinners.
Then I heard it. Step step tap. Step step tap. I edged back into my alley shadows to wait, and along he came. Old man, I thought. A bent, bearded, cloak-wearing old croakety croak leaning on a cane. Climbing the steep street toward me. Muttering to himself. His purse, I decided, would be paying for my dinner, though he didn't know it yet.
At my corner, he paused. Fog smoked around him. He lifted his head, and I saw the gleam of a keen-eyed glance beneath his wide-brimmed hat. Nobody here, I thought. Just us shadows. He lowered his head and went on. Step step tap. Step step tap.
I was a shadow, a breath of air, light-feather fingers and—quick hands—I ghosted up behind him, dipped into his cloak pocket, grabbed what I found within, and was gone. Away clean.
Or so I thought. The old man went on, not noticing a thing, and I slipped back into my alley and opened my hand to see what I'd got for my trouble. Maybe enough for a nice roast pork dinner, a few potatoes with pepper, some pie for afters.
Even in the shadows, the thing I'd stolen was darker than dark, and though it was small, a stone no bigger than a baby's fist, it was heavier than the heart of a man on his way to the gallows tree. It was a magical thing. The wizard's locus magicalicus. As I stared down at the wizardly stone, it started to glow. Soft at first, with the red warmth of coals in a winter hearth. Then, a sudden fierce flash of lightning and the alley was alive with dancing, flashing light, the shadows fleeing like frightened black cats.
I heard the wizard coming back. Step step tap. Step step tap. Quickly I fisted the stone and shoved it down deep into my pocket. Darkness fell again. As I turned, blinking the brights from my eyes to look, the old man came tip-tapping around my corner, and, reaching out with a big hand, grabbed me by the shoulder.
"Well, boy," he said. His voice was strong and gravelly.
I stood still. I know trouble when it grabs me.
The old man looked down at me with keen-glancing eyes. Silence for a long, dark moment. In my pocket, the stone weighed and warmed. Then he said, "You look hungry."
Well, yes. I was. Carefully, cautiously, I nodded.
"Then I will buy you some dinner," the old man said. "Roast pork, perhaps? Potatoes and pie?"
I swallowed. He hadn't realized I'd nicked his focus locus stone, had he? Would I go with him, then? Eat a good dinner against the cold and wet night? My head was telling me this was not a good idea. The old man was a wizard, clear as clear, and what kind of fool sits down to eat dinner with a wizard?
But my empty-since-yesterday stomach was telling me even louder that it wanted pork and peppered potatoes and pie. It told me to nod and I did. "Well then," the old man wizard said. "The chophouse on the corner is still open." He let me go and started step-tapping down the street, and I went with him. "I am Nevery," he said. "And your name?"
Telling wizards your name is generally not a good idea. I didn't answer. Just walked along beside him. Carefully, so Nevery couldn't see, I put my hand into my pocket. The locus stone fit smoothly into my palm, heavy and warm. With the stone in my hand, the night felt less cold and damp, my stomach less empty. The wizard seemed to be looking ahead to the chophouse on the corner, but I caught a glimpse of his keen-gleam eyes, watching me from under the brim of his hat.
The chophouse was lit by a coal fire in the hearth and was empty except for its keeper. "Dinner," the wizard ordered, and held up two fingers. The chophouse keeper nodded and went to fetch the food. We settled at a table, me with my back against the wall, Nevery blocking my way to the door.
"Well, boy," the wizard said, taking off his hat. In the brighter light I saw that his eyes were black and his hair, beard, and eyebrows silver gray. Beneath his dark gray cloak, he wore black trousers and a black frock coat with a velvet collar and an embroidered black waistcoat, all of it just a bit shabby, as if he'd once had more money than he did now. He leaned his gold-knobbed cane against the table. "A cold, wet night for travelers, is it not?"
A cold, wet night for anyone, I thought. I nodded.
He looked at me. I looked back....
Excerpted from The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Prineas. Excerpted by permission.
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