Archive for February, 2012

It’s hard to put aside the habits of a lifetime.

I’ve made a good living for myself largely by taking advantage of the habits of others, but even my own habits make themselves felt. I try to guard against them, to avoid being outwitted in my own trade; sometimes, though, it seems safe enough to indulge.

Not personally, not this time. But there was a certain nostalgic thrill in sending a group of juniors to raid one particular warehouse, where certain goods from one specific formerly-wealthy home had wound up. The prize was certainly unusual for us, but it had sentimental value for me, and besides, sometimes it does the junior thieves good to shake up their expectations a little.


The docks were always bustling; in times of strife, all the more so, whether it be from soldiers going about their business or common people seeking safer refuge – or some few enterprising souls moving into the niche the latter group left. In any case, there was more demand for ships than there were ships to meet that demand, and the mates of many a vessel were going frustrated.

So it might be excused that Second Mate Alek Cooper of the Bounding Stag looked on the ferret he found across from him, wearing the usual flowing robes of the desert clans and bearing a scimitar at his hip, and immediately said, “We’ve no room for passengers or cargo, I’m sorry,” and began to look to the next in line.


The inferno raced forward, and Kashti faced it unblinking.

There was nothing there to dispel – not anymore. Maybe the first spark had been magical in nature, but it had struck grass and brush that hadn’t known rain for weeks. The soil was parched and cracking, the leaves withered, the branches easy fuel for the flame. And as it spread, it built, gaining in ferocity, in raw, destructive heat. And so it spread ever faster.

When it had finished, there would be nothing left but ash and cinders. Or so it would be, if this assault hadn’t been directed at him.


Everything, Ayden had come to understand, had its price. Sometimes that price was harsh and other times it was gentle, but everything had its price.

That was certainly no less true in magic. And for the greatest and most complex works, many prices might be needed.

He took samples from many plants in many places, and even some animal sources as well. All of these he set to dry. Then, one by one, he crumbled leaves and stems and roots and seed pods into small pieces, or chopped thicker stalks – or organs. One by one, he put those coarse things into his mortar and worked the pestle with careful vigour, grinding each thing in turn to a fine powder before tipping them into bowls, cleaning his tools, and moving on to the next.


It was supposed to be a nice, straightforward job. Go in, get the prize, get out.

Anyone who tells you it was simple doesn’t know a blasted thing. That place had a small army of guards, the best locks money could by, and despite our best efforts, nobody was sure what other tricks might be there. But that’s why they sent me. Maybe some others can open those fancy locks a little faster, or know a bit more about this or that sort of trap, but I had the softest step in the Silken Glove bar Tarvenarr herself, and she’s no locksplitter. I haven’t met a lock yet that I couldn’t open in time or a trap that I couldn’t figure out, and I’ve got just enough magic that even those traps I can deal with. And it isn’t all that long ago that I was lifting purses in the market, and doing quite a good job of it.

So, while the Chancellor was out of the city on business, I went in – ideally to get the job done, since it was the best opportunity we had, but failing that, to case the place. With the Chancellor gone, the guards gone complacent, and the Festival pouring a little more booze into them than normal, if I couldn’t pull it off now, it just might be impossible.


It was so strange, being back in this park again.

This was where it had all crumbled. So many words said – or shouted – in anger. So much venom it was a wonder anything could grow here at all – yet there it was, in full bloom, with birds singing, just like nothing had happened.

She’d avoided this park for so long. The first time she’d happened by it, afterwards, she’d had the whole scene play out again in her head, so strong it was like he was right there shouting at her again, and she’d had to clamp down on the urge to scream back. After that, she’d taken to charting her days so she never had to come to this part of town. As the days turned to week and the weeks turned to months, and the legal battle raged on, him accusing her of the impossible and denying every one of his own misdeeds, that careful gap had taken less and less effort, until it had been automatic.


“Engineering, secure.” The report cut through the gunfire, the patter of projectiles on hull metal, the tromp of booted feet and the heavier stomping of battle armour.

“Environmental, secure.” “Crew, secure.” The two reports came through so quickly, only the radically different voices made plain that they weren’t one speaker.

It took a bit more time, a few more shirt-sleeved bodies hitting the hull metal, another two corridor junctions of progress, before the next: “Brig, secure.”


It was a strange thing Allan found himself feeling.

He’d got an early start on adolescence, a tall and handsome youth who had, in time, come to manhood similarly early. On some level, he supposed he’d become used to being tall and handsome; talented enough in magic that he hadn’t needed to devote every moment of his teenaged years to study, he’d been able to seek other pursuits – and while he didn’t take that to nearly the lengths that some of his fellows could, he fancied himself well-experienced in the arts of romance, from courtship to the bedchamber. Not a great master, heavens, no – he didn’t devote nearly that much of his life to it. But a comfortable sort of experience that any lover he courted might benefit from.


He was rowing home with his catch, as he always did, when he heard the song drifting over the waves. It was sad and lonely, played with amazing skill on what had to be one of the finest flutes in all of creation, and it beckoned to him. He changed his course, and he found the source of that song: a woman sat upon the rocks, her fair hair tossing unbound in the wind, her gown shimmering like fish scales while she played a flute carved from a narwhal’s horn. Everything about her was wondrous, and yet the sorrow in her song wrenched his heart.

He waited there, his boat bobbing in the waves, until her song was done; and only then did he call out to her, asking why such a lovely woman would be here all alone, playing such a mournful song.

“I am cursed,” she told him, “and any man who shares my life will be taken by the embrace of the sea.”


For twenty nights, the forges had burned, hammers ringing on steel. The finest smith in the land put all his art into the work, shaping arms and armour such as had never been seen, the likes of which would be remembered through the age.

Finally, on the morning of the winter solstice, it was done. Each piece was a work of terrible artistry; each link in the mail was shaped just so, each plate curved exactly as it ought to be and inlaid with fine filigree. The sword was exquisitely balanced, sharp enough to cut the very wind, and a brilliant fire opal gleamed in its pommel.


If anyone had asked, Allan would have said his life was comfortable enough. He had a little cabin in the woods, where he kept all the things he needed to do his work. Those same woods were home to a great variety of life, and that life was his wealth. He took pelts and meat, bone and horn, and other, more esoteric things as he found them; in exchange, he gave his thanks and respect. Each time he found a beast in his traps or snares, or brought it down with an arrow, he whispered a prayer to that animal’s spirit, thanking it for its sacrifice and wishing it life anew. He checked his traps often, leaving nothing to suffer long in them, and his kills were as quick and merciful as he could make them. Anything he could use, he did, wasting little, and returning the remains to the forest.


“What’s to decide?” the tiger grumbled. “They’re bandits and murderers. They’ve earned their lot.”

The bigger, blue-eyed white tiger beside him sighed. “Verantine enjoins us to be merciful where we can, Marquis.”

Marquis Aramon di Talai considered the man trembling before them, and shook his head. “He also teaches us that ignorance of the consequences of our deeds does not absolve us of those consequences, does he not, Ser?”

Ser Nicolai di Casson nodded, slowly and reluctantly.


“Okay, you can fix things.” The bear crossed his arms. “What the hell got you sent out here? Wouldn’t think you’d need to get in that much trouble to have a pretty good life.”

The weasel snorted, shrugged, and reached for a spanner, putting the access panel back in place. “Do the details really matter? Let’s just say there’s some people who aren’t gonna cause me any more trouble, but I’m not so sure of their friends.”

“All right, all right.” The bear shook his head. “Everyone’s got a past here, and while half of ’em brag about it the other half don’t want to bring it up at all, so you’ll fit right in far as that goes. The stars know we could use a tech who doesn’t have sledgehammers for hands. How ’bout you get on that air scrubber in C block while I tell the Captain you’ll work out all right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the weasel muttered. “Just so long as I’ve got a bunk somewhere eventually.”

“Don’t worry about that, Mal,” the bear gushed. “For magic fingers like yours we’ll make room.”


The tales had spread far and wide of the lonely keep in the mountains, guarded by a beast with claws like swords, its scales black as coal, its breath hotter than a blacksmith’s forge. Of the ancient relics that rested within, their beauty and value beyond measure. And, of course, of the beautiful woman who could be glimpsed at the window, singing lovely, lonely songs to the moon and stars.

Many warriors had come to the mountain keep to vanquish the beast. Some had come for the promises of wealth, some for the beautiful maiden’s hand; some had come for glory, some in quest of good and valiant deeds, and there could be none finer than such a rescue.

None had returned.


It was all becoming distressingly familiar. The hunger, the wind in his fur and earth under his paws, the hunt, the taste of blood on  his tongue… still lingering when he woke, well away from the village, with only the grass against his skin. It had happened three nights around each full moon; this was the third month, now, the seventh time he’d woken in the wilds.

Except that this time, when he came to, there was a rough blanket thrown over him and a hand on his cheek.