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Feb 25, 2011

Alright, here's my submission. I might go back to expand some heist mechanics if I decide to publish this as part of a collection, but for this contest it's probably best to post the shortest version.

Sacrilege in the City of Spires

There could have been knives at their backs, Devos reflected. The fact that they were striding through the Hawk’s halls with his henchmen in front of them was a far better state of affairs. One his right, the good side, Pick tittered as she twisted round to catch each new sight. From every angle the faces of ancient magi peered out from pretentious portraits, all sly sneers or glowering glares.

“He sure does love wizards,” Pick said.

“Magi,” Devos corrected. “And unwise to advertise it.”

“Not like this is a public gallery. Nor like wizards still exist.”

“They do.”

“Used to, unless the grand spire’s architects were giants. But if they were still around they wouldn’t hunt others of their kind the way you’ve heard. It’s like in those quartos about magic leaking out of the world and the fairies fleeing to some enchanted isle, they just faded away. You do read, don’t you, Devos?”

“Not that tripe.”

Pick playfully punched him in the right arm. He didn’t even feel it. His left leg was beginning to grow tired from the sheer length of these passages. He had tried to track the subtle slopes but between all the turns he could only tell was that they were somewhere underground a great distance from where they had entered. His neck prickled. This was going to be a job offer, wasn’t it?

They turned once again and faced a metal door with a fogged glass panel inlaid. One of the men in front slid open a bolt and steam issued forth. They heard a commanding voice.

“Come in quickly or you’ll let all the heat out.”

The two entered a compact wooden room drenched in humidity, sizzling rocks sitting atop blazing braziers. Only a few yards away sat the Hawk, totally nude aside from a small towel atop his lap. Every part of the Hawk’s face was porcelain smooth except around the eyes, where spindly crows feet bit deeply into the skin. He’d been named after the wrong bird.

The henchmen hadn’t followed them into this scalding chamber and Devos could sympathize. Why would their boss, the most powerful man in Elcantro’s underworld, subject himself to this torture? A negotiating tactic, surely. Then this was for a job. Devos felt his left shoulder relax.

“Devos! Devos and…Pick, was it?”

“Short for Pickswilla,” Pick provided.

The Hawk’s brows rose a fraction of an inch. “Of course. Thieves, or in my line of work, associates. You two have accumulated quite a reputation these past few years.”

“No job too small! Except for that one time, but then, what did they even need the pin for? We never found out.”
In these situations Devos always found it best to stay silent. Pick could placate with pleasantries and then the negotiating could begin. Besides, it was always risky to talk too much. He could never be sure if his voice would come out as a confident growl or a rasping squeak. Whichever side of his body was feeling more at the fore, he supposed.

“But a bit too big,” the Hawk cut Pick off, “when you stole from me.”

Devos’ left shoulder twinged. He had the overpowering urge to bite the nails on his left hand.

“You couldn’t have known,” the Hawk continued. “Not with your network. The shipment looked legitimate. Your clients wanted what it contained, but even they must have been ignorant of the true owner. Those clients have already paid the price, but I wanted to meet with the thieves who outwitted my sentries.”

Devos scanned around for exits. Just the metal door. Two guards beyond it but they could be dispatched. The Hawk himself. If the rumors were true this man dabbled in magic. But there was no staff nearby and besides, no one would be foolish enough to appear a fanatic for arcane paraphernalia while actually flouting the Order’s rules. There was no way this mobster was a rogue mage. In which case they might just survive.

The Hawk was angling his head over into Devos’ askance line of sight and giving a small wave. “Worried about something? Trying to figure out if there are arrows aimed at you from above? I said I wanted to meet you both. I didn’t say you were about to die.”

“Devos is always on edge,” Pick said. She looked totally untroubled. “Rough childhood, I’m thinking, though you can’t get him to talk about his past. If you brought us here for our life stories about how we became such excellent grifters I’m the only one you’re gonna have fun with.”

“I like you.” The Hawk gave a broad grin. It didn’t cause a single line to appear on his cheeks, like his face was a badly built puppet. The only trace of age was around those eyes. “But I won’t say you’re not in any danger. There are things that I want and you have shown me your ability. Therefore I would like you to steal something for me. And if you do not then you may find the canals of Elcantro will have new occupants.”

As far as negotiations went, Devos reckoned that was a strong opening.

“Sure, what do you need?” Pick always at the ready.

“I do like you! You may have noticed my collection as you came through. Lots of magi, wonderful brushwork. Though I can’t say much for the authenticity, the artists were never able to capture those symbols on their staffs. But it's all a bit passe now, while sacred iconography has come into vogue. Particularly pieces from that troubled religion from Auduwyn which is seeing so many of its great works destroyed.”

Pick seemed to shift uncomfortably at this. Devos had become very attuned to her mannerisms and it was only slight, but there was a shadow of concern on her face.

“There is a merchant family in this city,” the Hawk continued, “that subscribes to that religion and has recently received a tapestry. It depicts the Revelation of Many Waters. You two are going to get it for me.”

Pick didn’t answer. Devos stepped forward, right foot first. “You can count on us.” He spoke in an even tone, thanking his vocal cords for their cooperation.
“Brilliant! You two are a pleasure.” The Hawk gave a grin so wide that it just seemed to suggest dimples. “I expect great things.”


If there had been a Thieves Guild in Elcantro, the open air tavern of Thessos would have been its hall. The evenings had a biting chill at this time of year, but the simmering grate of charcoal at the center of the table warmed Devos and Pick as they nursed tepid beers. She was further through hers, taking quick sips instead of speaking as she stared at the glowing embers.

“Is it that you think we won’t be able to get the plans?” Devos asked. “It’s a large estate, but Katrick has the schematics for nearly every acre of the city. She’ll sell them to us.”

“We won’t need plans.”

“Won’t we?”

“We won’t need plans, or timetables of the guard’s shifts, or even a way in. It’s daddy’s house.”

Devos coughed. “You’ve been seeing someone? When do you find the time?”

“What? No, I mean it’s my father’s estate. I don’t refer to my lovers like that.”

“Oh. Well, you wouldn’t be the first.”

“You’re an odd one, you know that? And I call him daddy because I ran away before ‘father’ was the more appropriate term. You never wondered why all those tales I told you happened when I was still so young?”

“Your past is your business. Same as mine. I try not to think too much on it.”

Pick sighed. She filled out the bench with lanky limbs, seeming to take up ample space. Devos was personally acquainted with how small she could become in a tight spot when the situation called for it. No such luck with him. The oversize knuckles on his right hand made the mug of ale he was holding look like a thimble.

“But this is all good news. If you know the house back to front we won’t have any trouble. Unless you feel bad about stealing from your father.”

“If it was silverware or something I wouldn’t have a second thought. But a tapestry, you don’t understand the significance. The Auduwyni religion is mad for rugs and tapestries. Daddy is a believer. Taking that from him would be like spitting in his face.”

“I didn’t know you had any relationship with religion.”

Pick peered up from the coals. “I don’t, but he does. If things had gone his way I’d have been in a convent by twelve. Found my way back to the city from the first one. Always had a knack with locks.”

“You decided a life on the streets was better than a few years at some religious academy?”

Pick scowled. “It’s not a finishing school. There’s a commitment, a decade at least. And they were…cruel. In ways you wouldn’t understand.”

Devos blew out a great sigh. “Fair enough.” Ways he wouldn’t understand? If only she knew. Not that he was forthcoming. “But that means you don’t owe your father anything. How do you want to do this? Does the exterior have a fire escape? Even if not, I can scale the building or you can sneak in. Make it a tearful reunion if you have to. But we need to deliver on this job, unless you want to skip town.”

Pick finally smiled, a portion of playfulness in her eyes. “Leave this city? Devos, we can’t do that.”

As if responding to her words, the last gleams of light from the sun burned particularly bright against the grand spire, a shimmering opalescence covering the sky from Elcantro’s gemstone heart.

“Wizards and their wondrous architecture,” Pick said.

“So I’m scaling the building?” Devos surmised.

“No, I have another idea.”


The citizens of Elcantro liked to believe that theirs was the most beautiful of cities. What no one could argue with was that it was the tallest. Whatever ancient Archmage had created the grand spire had set an example for all ensuing architects, and from among the flash of gilded domes sprouted steeples and towers of all types. The most distasteful, Devos had decided, were those that tried to match the spire’s majesty. Constructing an apex of amethyst only called attention to the vast gulf between the efforts of ordinary men and that of the magi.

Pick’s childhood home, the Duthcari estate, sported one of these offending pseudo-spires, though the chosen quartz tended more toward blue. Devos himself donned a blue coat, as that was seemingly what was required of servants in this household. He held a letter in his left hand, stamped with Pick’s best approximation of the family crest.

Most estates in Elcantro consisted of ludicrously vertical structures as close to the center of the city as could be managed. The majority were wreathed with great gates, cutting them off from the polity proper. But this building was free of all barriers, the entrance opening into a wide square with fountains on either side. A crowd gathered in front of the first archway. Trading partners to the great merchant awaiting an audience, Devos thought. But as he drew closer he saw many were cloaked in rags, and the servants in blue jackets were handing out bread.

“Daddy’s generosity,” Pick whispered. Devos lurched around. She had snuck into an adjacent alley, smiling at him with the mischievous grin that always preceded a job.

“We agreed you’re supposed to stay out of sight.”

“Well daddy’s not going to come out of his study, and I still know most of the longest serving staff-members. I used to be part of the bread-lines, back when the gold wasn’t rolling in.”

“So you set this up? Convinced your father to start a charity before you left? Clever, always find a mitigation strategy before enduring any risk.”

“Oh no, daddy has been doing this for ages.”

“Huh.” Helping the poor? That didn’t sound like something any rich man Devos had ever met would do.

“He’s not horrible, just very firm in his beliefs. I’m lucky Nan was a tad less orthodox. She runs the household staff so she’s the one you’ll need to see. The letter should be enough.”

“And if it’s not?”

“Knock some heads together. Maybe they’ll make you his bodyguard.”

“Oh very droll.”

Pick flicked his right ear. At least, he thought she did, the sensation didn’t carry through. “I’m joking. This really is the easiest job we could have asked for, given the circumstances. It won’t even be a smash and grab, just a ‘keep watch on daddy while I sneak in’. And if the servants catch me I can explain myself away.”

“You’re wearing equipment to climb up a building if need be. You think that’ll be easy to justify?”

Pick shrugged. “I know this house. I won’t be seen.”

“If you say so. Now I go and find this ‘Nan’.”

“Too familiar.” Pick flicked his ear again. “She’s the ‘Head of Household’ to you.”


Devos stood in a wide white marble hall that might have been 80 yards across, though the building narrowed out on the upper stories. A red faced woman whom Pick had called ‘Nan’ was giving him instructions on how he should best deal with the guests. Not speaking, that was important. Only moving when one of them required a drink, that was also key. Nan thought she was doing a favor for Pick, helping out one of her street friends by getting Devos a gig at one of her father’s parties. Religious men had parties? It seems they did, especially if said man was more like the Auduwyni ambassador than any everyday adherent.

As it turned out, Devos could be as silent as a column. Drink delivery was more of a problem, for his right hand would easily snap the thin flutes on the glasses. That was overcome by having his left convey them while his right stayed hidden under the silver serving tray. This had the added benefit of avoiding undue comment about such a freakishly large appendage. It wasn’t that big, Devos tried to tell himself. Only like it had been stung by a bee. If he had been highly allergic to bees, and the swelling had somehow spread to his bones. If only that had been what happened.

There was a rehearsal to get through, where the permanent household staff mimed as guests and the temporary hires served their every whim. Devos tried to focus on the flow of traffic so that he was always close at hand but never underfoot. During tonight’s party he would serve as a sentry, making sure Pick’s father Farimus never ventured up the stairs to his study. That was where the tapestry would be, Pick was sure of it. And the fact that Farimus was evidently there right now, and by reports hardly ever left, did add credence to that hypothesis.

Devos was more pessimistic. The tapestry could be in one of any number of rooms in this exceedingly massive building. Stuffed in a chest for safekeeping. Adorning some other area for an opaque religious reason. Pick couldn’t remember much of the Auduwyni holy book, not even the children’s edition. There could be any number of regulations about how to properly deal with a tapestry depicting the Revelation of Many Waters. Maybe it needed to be hung in a room that was closest to the nearest ocean. Unfortunately ecclesiastical texts describing proper form and function of Auduwyni ritual were hard to get due to some business across the border. Devos didn’t read the broadsheets but thought he remembered talk of reorganization in the Auduwyni military, and a reformation in the church’s ranks. Something for the patrician class to worry about.

Nan plucked a glass from his plate. “Why didn’t you offer it to me when you saw me coming close?”

“Sorry, I was miles away.” Wrong answer.

“Don’t speak! You blink twice and bow your head in shame for fifteen seconds. Then you nod thrice and resume serving. Proper form.” She came in closer. “You had best not be shacking up with the Lady Pickswilla. You’re not in her class.”

“Don’t worry,” Devos chanced speaking. “It’s purely platonic. She’s doing me a favor with this job. Thank you for taking me on.” His voice had more of a wobble than he intended. His left arm was trembling slightly.

Nan surveyed him with what was definitely disgust. “You haven’t got a bad face but your posture is all unbalanced. The wrong energies have gotten into you.”

Devos nearly gasped at that, but held himself back. This was only superstitious talk, not anything probing the truth.

“Don’t let your attention waver again. Those around you should be your only thought. Extend it to outside your eye-line if you have the imagination. A good server sees where people are and where they might be, and where they will be. A…” she tapped her chin. “A panorama is what it’s called.”

She was staring up at a fresco that depicted several unadorned men around one in blue. Above, God’s face spat down a deluge.

“Think of yourself as the Inheritor of the Water’s Gifts, giving sustenance to the deserving.” She put a hand to her mouth like that had been too far. “Forget I said that, heresy to compare. it anyway.” With that she spun about and walked away.

Devos gave a silent sigh of relief. He put all thoughts of misplaced tapestries and bungled jobs out of his mind. Deliver drinks, quench thirsts, act as sentry. If all went well he wouldn’t find himself further acquainted with the water in the canals.

Then it was night. The light in Elcantro changed as evening set in, the setting sun reflecting so brightly against the grand spire that the sky brimmed with greenish-blue overlaid on bright orange. The hall that had seemed so grand in daytime was made otherworldly by wide windows with slightly stained panes that bent the light further down the spectrum toward azure. Devos wondered if this was what it was like to be a fish swimming through a shipwreck, the tall columns bringing to mind masts.

The guests had begun to file in, forwarded from the antechamber by the host staff. At this point Pick would be sneaking in through a side door and up a tower of interminable steps to her father’s study. But where was Farimus? Within the sea of blue doublets, as well as jackets that could well be another color but appeared blue enough thanks to the light, there was no one accorded such stature to suggest he was Pick’s father.

Devos heard a ding behind him. A wide row of stairs at the edge of the hall led to a landing and an arch at the back. A man was striding through, glasses in both hands, bringing them together to create a chord that echoed through the area. The guests turned to who was presumably Farimus, a well bearded and benevolent looking figure. Devos couldn’t contain a sad smile. Even at a distance Farimus reminded him of every mentor he’d ever had. The bright eyes that betrayed total belief in a cause, the steady gait that suggested control and fortitude. A confident and commanding man. And all that before he even spoke.

“Citizens of Elcantro and envoys from abroad, thank you for joining me here tonight.”

Devos nearly swooned. Such perfect pitch to those few words. This was a man people would follow into battle. He understood why Pick had never left the city, she probably wanted to keep an eye on her father, always make sure he was safe and cared for even if their ideas on the direction of her life had diverged. Maybe Devos could finish as a thief and go into this man’s employ, and help liberate a bit of Pick’s inheritance for her in the process.

“We stand on a jagged peninsula assailed by rough seas. The Church of Auduwyn has been beset from above by forces who do not believe we have the right to exist. They claim a common power and restrict it from all of God’s children. In doing so they break the spirit of a treaty that has held our world back from tyranny and become tyrants themselves.”

Devos’ left arm shook and he had to grit his teeth to stop the trembling. No, no, no, this was not what any sane man would say. To a dozen close friends perhaps, but not to a room filled with over a hundred guests.

“Elcantro has long been a city that spoke to many faiths. You cannot look at the spire in its center and fail to believe in a higher power. We are protected from the chaos in Auduwyn by the treaty’s terms, but we must go further to safeguard our brothers and sisters across the border who may be caught up in unjust accosting by infernal forces. Allow safe travel to those affected on your barges. House those who have recently arrived in our city. Give bread to the throngs who gather at the fountains. The calm waters of the tranquil ocean will prevail, but we must be its waves.”

The speech itself was adequate enough but Farimus’ voice elevated it. There was nodding and hurrahs throughout the room. A devout guest near at hand was muttering a prayer. Devos was surprised there were this many powerful devotees of the Auduwyni Church in Elcantro. It wasn’t the oldest religion and was tied up in imperial politics. Granted, relations had been good between the city state and the enlarging empire for as long as he had been alive, but Devos had always been a moon man himself. As a child he had teased the few Auduwyni adherents with the fact that the moon controlled the tides, and therefore his God was better. They had splashed water in his face.

But if there was ever a man to convert him, Farimus would be it. The great orator was now mingling with his guests and as he came closer his features became more and more appealing. Kind eyes, the glint of great intelligence, a soft smile. Devos wondered where Pick’s mother might be. Not at a convent, surely? If she had died young it made even more sense Pick would want to stay close.
Farimus was only a few yards away so Devos offered him a drink. He took it in one smooth motion, with a graceful nod that split the difference between overindulgent and abrupt. Devos sighed inwardly. What he would give for one iota of this man’s charisma. As matters stood, it was enough to bask in the glow.

Farimus was conversing with many of his fellows as he advanced through the room, and Devos followed behind, handing off new and collecting spent drinks. He only had one glass of wine left on the tray and would have to depart back to the kitchens to gather more, but the crowd thinned out, a jaunty song issuing from a fiddle at the far end of the grand hall. Visitors began to drift toward the performance and Farimus moved to join them. He was cut off by an elderly man with a straight cane who tottered close. Devos offered the man a drink, but he waved it away. “Do go serve the other guests, if you’d please.”

Devos nodded thrice, then walked to the other side of a column where he was out of sight but still able to track Farimus’ location by ear. He twisted to chance one look at the old man’s back. There was no mistaking that his vestment was truly blue, not just a trick of the light. Resplendently cerulean, in fact. Someone of stature.

“Quite a nice speech,” the old man said. “You’ve been a powerful ally in this province.”

“Not a province yet, Your Eminence. I’m unsure if it ever will be, after all that has happened.”

“The situation in Salmeco will sort itself out. They’re not being as harsh as we expected, and soon their attentions will avert elsewhere.”

“Was it true, the rumors I’ve heard? We didn’t actually break the treaty?”

“Oh?” The old man sounded amused. “It depends on what you mean by ‘we’. Auduwyn is such a large nation, and once you affix the religion on top of it, who can really say what ‘we’ did? A few bad actors, there always are, but in ten years trade will do what armies never could.”

“I see. Well, as long as the faith prevails.”

“Always. On that subject, I heard you had a delivery recently. One of Galtier’s finest creations.”

Devos’ left arm twitched and he clenched his jaw.

“The tapestry, yes,” Farimus answered. “It’s beautiful. Beyond what I could have ever imagined.” There was reverence in his voice.

“I wanted to see it one last time before it departed Salmeco, but we had to get it out in a hurry. Do you have it here?”

“You want to see Perhaps you can come back next week, when there aren’t so many guests.”

“Farimus, you know my age. Who’s to say if I’ll even be alive next week?”

Pick’s father gave a nervous laugh. It was the first instance of his composure slipping that Devos had heard.

“Of course, Your Eminence. But it’s up quite a lot of stairs. Are you sure you’ll be alright?”

“Let’s find out. I’m sure God won’t let me die on the way to see an image after his own creation.”

The two started walking toward the stairs at the back of the hall. Devos swore under his breath. On the one hand, he could follow them and hope he wasn’t discovered. They would lead him straight to the tapestry. On the other, he could slip outside and throw a rock with his hefty hand at the window to Farimus’ study, alerting Pick if she was still there that it was time to flee. And on the third hand...he was all out of hands. Hoping he was choosing right, he scurried after the two adherents.


Devos cursed the Archmage who had made the grand spire as he trundled up what felt like the millionth step. Every architect just had to outdo himself to try to match that miraculous height. His left leg was burning. It was evidence of his affliction that Farimus and the old man, far ahead, didn’t seem to be having nearly as much trouble. Of course his right leg didn’t hurt at all, but he couldn’t exactly hop up the stairs on one foot without creating quite a lot of noise.

Devos froze as he heard words being exchanged with a third man higher up the stairwell. A guard. Well, of course they’d have one. How had Pick slipped by? He couldn’t imagine every servant in this house knew her or would extend the kind of courtesy that Nan had, by nature of being a kind of godmother. Pick hated scaling buildings without fire escapes but she could manage a few stories if needs absolutely be. He could accomplish that as well, but didn’t feel like exiting the stairwell and getting even further behind his quarry. Instead, he waited behind a turn in the stairs where he was still out of sight. The guard was staring out a narrow window, whistling to himself. Pushing off with his right leg, Devos charged forward and grabbed the man’s neck. One pinch of his powerful arm adjacent to the voice box and the man went down. Not dead, but unlikely to wake anytime soon. Devos’ left fingers twitched. He should have taken the outside route, what was he doing? This had gained hardly any time, just let him relieve some tension. He was always worried that there was a part of his body that craved violence the way the other side spurned it. And in these moments he knew which side won.

No helping it now. He followed further up, the space between the walls shrinking as the building became more and more confined. He finally reached a landing whose carpeted floors led to a tight doorway adorned around the edges with exotic minerals of bluish-green. The door was slightly ajar. drat, this did seem to be Farimus’ study. He’d hoped Pick had heard the footsteps and gotten out fast. Although he couldn’t be too worried, since she wouldn’t be in danger from her father. Such a noble man.

Sliding over to the crack in the door, Devos peeked in on the two adherents. Wide windows framed a finely appointed room. A broad desk of dark wood occupied much of the right wall and above it rested a wide vertical hanging depicting God’s spouting face. Below the deity sat swirling and elusive iconography suggesting congregations and a single figure in the center resting in the waves.
Despite the effort of the artist’s composition in drawing the eye to these images, Devos’ attention was called away to the coiling script on the edges of the tapestry. Looking at it, his right arm gave a ghost of a feeling and old training began to awaken in his mind. There was something about the order of those symbols that suggested ciphertext. Or perhaps he was having his first real religious experience. If only he could read the language of those letters.

“It’s brilliant, don’t you agree?” The old man walked over to the hanging and placed a stubby finger on the weave. “One of the earliest efforts with the shuttle loom, I’m told.”

“Based on a painting by Besarius,” Farimus answered. “But the dyes the weaver chose outdid the original concept. And the texture of handicrafts has always appealed to me more than any oil on panel.”

“You’re a man of good taste, Farimus. It’s such a shame…”

Devos felt a poke on his left. He turned to see Pick, sweating profusely. She motioned him over to a small door he hadn’t noticed before, a closet of some kind. They snuck inside.

“Why are you here?” she whispered.

“I followed them up the stairs.” He really hoped his voice wouldn’t betray him now and come out louder than intended. “Had a chance to make sure where the tapestry was. Why hadn’t you already grabbed it?”

“Got to get past the guard, so I snuck outside. I haven’t climbed at these heights for ages, and, well, my nerves got the better of me. I managed it, but by that point I could already hear them on the steps and didn’t have time for the lock.”

“Great. Well, no harm done. They’ll be finished admiring soon enough. Then we just sneak it and grab it. We might need to exit from the outside since I dealt with the guard, but—”

“As long as I can ride on your right shoulder I’ll be fine.”

He sighed. “Sure.”

They heard a shout.

“drat, they’ve already found the guard.”

“No, that didn’t sound like it came from the stairwell.”

Devos eased open the door and crept over to the office. He stared in through the slit in the door but what he saw didn’t make any sense. His right arm went to the handle and he dragged it open, giving a full view of the scene.

Farimus lay in a pool of his own blood. The desk had been overturned, singed at the base like blasting powder had been set off without a sound. Ink spilled into the carpet from overturned bottles and loose parchment covered the floor. The windows were open and a figure stood on the railing of the balcony against the opalescent light. The old man, though he was no longer as old, and his vestment more a robe, and his cane more...a staff. Rolled under one arm was the rug. He turned and caught Devos’ eye, giving a wry smile. Then he leapt off the railing and into the void.

“Daddy!” Pick yelled. She was at her father’s side a moment later. There were no last words, he didn’t even cough in response as a final acknowledgement. Dead, well and truly.

A feeling coursed through Devos so powerful that both his arms burned. He walked over to where the mage had just jumped, staring down toward the top of a neighboring building where a far off figure had landed. Devos didn’t even consider if this was a good idea. He raised himself onto the railing and leapt off, pushing with his right leg and angling his body so the good side was pointed toward the ground. He smashed into the roof and his left limbs recoiled against his body with such an impact that bones surely snapped. The Order’s enforcer turned to see what all the racket was.

Devos rose to his feet. Pulsating pain on his left side was overcome by an immense pressure, a force that spread out from his dextral edge to encompass his entire being. He was snorting like a bull, blood pouring from one nostril. He found his voice, forced it to say one word. “Why?”

The mage regarded him curiously. He was grey haired, but he wasn’t an old man. Though all magi were old, Devos knew, once they looked above thirty. By the standards of their sect, however, he wasn’t in his dotage. He still had a pliancy to his face, a mischievous and enraging immaturity that affected all of his kind. Their distance from death, Devos had decided long ago, made them callow.

“Where did you come from?” the mage asked. Though more as a statement than a question, as if he couldn’t really be bothered to learn the answer.

“Why did you kill that man? That isn’t part of the treaty. If he isn’t a mage you can’t quarrel with him.”

The mage looked vaguely contemptuous. “The man all the way up there?” He pointed to where Devos had just fallen from. “You saw that? And now you’re down here, somehow still alive. What’s going on?”

“You should never have killed him. Not even if that tapestry is an artifact. There are prescribed rules.” Devos’ voice varied between growl and squawk.

“Something’s off about this,” the mage said. An amber light bubbled about him, a shield taking the shape of a sphere. The afterimages of runes could be seen twinkling in the astral substrate.

“Why.” Devos stepped forward. Pain was imaginary. His larboard bones somehow still worked. “Did you kill that man.” He grunted and gained another step. “You should not.” And another. “Have done that.”

The mage laughed, though whether at his contrasting tones of voice or his labored progress it was impossible to tell. “Oh wise up. If that man wasn’t a rogue he was destined to become one. Treaties, the Judicator verification process, that’s all an inconvenience. There are times we need to send a message. A message we would have sent in Auduwyn, if Evroh hadn’t interfered.”

The name meant nothing to Devos, but this bit of prattle had proved its worth. The mage was surveying him with the eyes of utter victory. Behind a shield he couldn’t be hurt.

Devos’ right arm swept forward without a windup. There was no need. As his knuckles touched the edge of the astral shield it shattered, tiny motes of glimmering light spinning off in every direction. The arm extended further, into the face of the smug mage. There was a certain undeniable beauty to the way the skin rippled in the response to the contact. The way blood sprang from a fair face as the force pushed it back far enough that bones began to break. Shatter, more like. It became uglier very quickly as the mixture of liquids and solids and cartilage in between combined in ways they wouldn’t in any living being. But a part of Devos couldn’t help savoring every bit.

The staff clattered to the ground as Devos let the body drop off the side of the building. A suicide, it would be ruled. He reached for the length of wood, the symbols carved into its exterior blurring in his vision. He cracked it over his right knee and used his undershirt to tie a piece to his left arm and leg as a stabilizer. Then he found a fire escape. If there’s one thing all the worthwhile architects of Elcantro had learned about building such tall towers, you needed fire escapes.


Devos stumbled through the streets with the tapestry rolled under his right arm. The intensity that had overtaken his body during the fight had faded, leaving only intrusive pain one one side and utter insensitivity on the other. Laughing and drunken revelers from even worse taverns than Thessos ignored him, thinking him another of their kind. But the rare sober faces surveyed him with concern. Reports would spread of a strange man with a mat and connect him with the robbery and murder of Farimus. He would have to skip town after all.

A hissing brazier spat sparks a few doors away from the entrance to the Hawk’s gallery. Devos had the urge to dump the drapery into the flames. But he had never before failed a job. At least not since the misplaced pin, or the accident in his earlier career…

The guards inside the Hawk’s halls helped convey him along the corridors.

“We can bring this to him if you want,” one said. “You should get to a physician.”

“I need to see this done.”

“Suit yourself,” the man replied, though he looked put out from helping to support Devos’ weight.

The Hawk still sat in that sweltering room. This time a guard sweated with Devos as the Hawk admired the tapestry, laid out on the ground.

“You’re not worried the damp will get into it?” Devos asked. His voice was hitting new heights in awkward rasps and tonal shifts, but he couldn’t be bothered to care.

“I just had to see it. Only for a moment.” The Hawk smiled as his eyes ran up and down the edges. “Brilliant.” He motioned to the guard. “Find a place for it on the walls.”

The guard detached from Devos and collected the artwork.

“Where is the girl? I hope she didn’t die in the attempt.”

“She’s alive. You’ll still need to pay both of us.”

“Did we discuss payment? It was agreed this was in return for my lost shipments.”

Devos stood with some difficulty. “There will be payment. Equal to the object’s worth. Minus the damages to your previous cargo.”

“I don’t think you’re in a position to request that.”

“Call it an act of good faith. To create a relationship towards future assignments.”

The Hawk frowned. His eyes creased further and at once, despite his smooth skin, he seemed incredibly old.

“You know, I think I would like us to be in each other’s graces. You’ll have your payment.”

Devos nodded thrice. Then he turned and, with effort, hauled himself out of the hot room.


The physician hadn’t been much help but both limbs were now properly bound. How long the healing would last was a matter of debate. Drinking, it was judged, would slow down the process.
Devos stared at a cup of still water at the back of Thessos. They were paid off, so the authorities usually avoided the premises. Whether that would stand true for the wanted murderer of a prosperous merchant, Devos couldn’t say. But if Pick needed to find him, this was the best place.

A lanky arm laid a mug of ale in front of him, the rest of Pick’s body sliding into view after it. She looked like she needed a drink.

“He’s going to pay us, but I have to clear out,” Devos said. “I’m sorry about your father. I should have said that first.”

Pick nodded. “I never imagined. A mage.”

“Best you stop imagining it and pretend you never saw. It’ll only lead to trouble. Anyway, the offending one’s been dealt with.”

“And you,” Pick said. “I’ve seen deformities before. But no warping of the flesh results in a man who can survive that fall. What are you?”

“Someone with a past that you can probably figure out in the broadest strokes.”

Pick sucked a breath in between her teeth. “It’s a lot to get my head around.”

“I’d stay and listen but I’ve got to be on a boat by sunrise. If they aren’t already after my head, they will be soon.”

“Actually, I took responsibility.”


“They found me with the body. And the delivery of the Revelation was a closely guarded secret. No one knew anything was missing from the study.”

“ stupid,” Devos didn’t have the heart to continue on a rant. “Why did you…” he finished lamely.

“And they don’t even believe me. My grief, well, it wasn’t made up. They think I’m mad, but who else are they going to go after?”

“Maybe the man from the party who disappeared midway and was later seen wandering the streets in makeshift bandages?”

“There’s a number of guards on the ground floor and no one saw you run through. And if you fell while scaling the building, explaining your broken bones, it would’ve created an awful commotion. There’s no convincing argument for how you got out of the estate naturally without alerting a single sentry. Or that you had any motive for killing my father.”

‘My father,’ Devos thought. Now she thinks of him like an adult.

“They found the body of Auduwyn’s formal ambassador dead in his chambers, that’s another wrinkle,” Pick continued.

“An older gentleman? Grey hair, needed a cane?”

“I never saw him, but he was apparently in his sixties. So now they think it was a plot by the partisans to drive a wedge between Elcantro and Auduwyn, and I was trying to warn my father. When I failed I went mad.”

“Do they normally allow mad women to roam the streets?”

“Even an asylum has locks.”

Devos sighed. “I still think I should get out of the city. I don’t want to do any more jobs for the Hawk and I’m not certain I won’t become a suspect.”

Pick nodded. “That’s a sensible choice. Six months abroad, I think, would be a good idea. Let everyone think you are really gone.”

“You want to come with me?”

She shook her head thrice. “They won’t hold me for long. I’m an heiress now, and I can maneuver my way back into polite society after a stint in the asylum.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that.”

“Oh, you’ll see. And if not I’ll just escape again. Where is it you’re going?”

“Helrigsvein. Up north.”

“Fine. If things don’t work out for me here, I’ll join you there. But come back and check on me in six months, remember?”

Devos took her hand with his great paw of an appendage. “You sure you’re alright?”

The start of tears gleamed at the edges of Pick’s eyes. “I just wish I’d had a chance to reconcile. I always thought when he was older he’d understand.”

Devos nodded. “He seemed like a good man. Perhaps a great man. Sometimes they’re taken too soon.”

Pick nodded, not thrice but irregularly, droplets splattering from her eyes onto the table.

“Come back, Devos. Six months. Don’t forget.”

“I won’t.”

Ccs fucked around with this message at 02:58 on May 18, 2021


Feb 25, 2011

Hooray! I always knew I was an idiot but it’s nice to know for sure.

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