The Thief’s Wager: Epiphany and the Magic Shop

Chapter Nine

Zack meandered through the bustling street trying to stretch out the kink in his neck. His body ached from sleeping on the floor of Chris’s shabby apartment. He rolled his stiff shoulder trying to shake off a night’s worth of alcohol. Although the night was a hazy blur, he did remember the task at hand. Terrorist threatened the safety of the kingdom. He couldn’t help but suspect it was related to the dead bodies in the canal.

A group of shabby dressed people huddled on a street corner, watching the faces of strangers as they whispered. It was a common affair in every place he visited. But then he spied a second group of people doing the same thing on the kitty corner. He paused, observing the population of shoppers and wanderers doing the same thing. They didn’t pay him any mind which made him wonder what gossip had peeked their attention. He felt isolated, as if something important was passing him by. Almost like the answers he sought escaped their very lips.

As he approached a frantic barking sounded from the alley beside him. The alarm failed to call anyone into action. Which meant he squeezed between the damp brick walls until he reached an enclosed courtyard. Obeying his training, he scanned the rooftops but the overlapping structures were quiet. In the center of the muddy space was a rusting water pump and group of youths fighting.

Three boys surrounded a smaller boy while a white dog with black spots barked at the attackers. The taller youth threw punches in the middle, while the other two held the squirming victim. The smack of hand against skin mixed with shouts as the sounds echoed against the walls. As he approached the boy with the hat shoved their victim to the mud. Zack pushed passed the shouting and elbows. The dog snapped at his legs, tugging on his pants.

A flailing fist jabbed his arm but he gripped a shoulder, yanking one of them free. The bleeding youth in the center swore at his attackers while landing a punch of his own. The youth he shoved away returned, jumping on his back. Scrawny arms wrapped around his throat but Zack flung him off. A second boy flung a punch at his face but Zack had taken harder beatings.

The victim crawled between Zack’s legs. One attacker swung hitting his colleague and the onslaught halted. More swearing and screaming but it seemed like they forgot about Zack and the youngest boy and started to fight each other instead. Eventually the third, his would be strangler, noticed his sword and pulled his friends apart. They gave him a sideways glance as they raced from the scene. The dog chased them, biting at their legs and arms as they retreated.

“Spot!” the folded over boy called, “Inkspot! Come back boy”

“I think your dog is gone,” he pulled the muddy boy to his feet.

“He’ll be back,” the boy coughed wiping the blood from his busted lip, “he gets carried away sometimes, but he’s a good boy. He doesn’t like when the guys pick at me.”

“Seems like a loyal animal,”

“Oh yeah, me an’ him go way back,” he brushed his hair from his eyes, “I found him as a pup, thrown away in a box near some trash bins. The Boss didn’t like mutts, but I couldn’t leave him. I mean those tossed away need to stick together, eh?” He pointed down another connecting alley, where the long-legged animal pranced. “See, told ya. Thanks for scaring them off.”

“What did they want anyway?”

“The usual,” he shrugged, “money.”

“I’m sorry, did they take everything?” The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a few silver coins, a smile broke on his bruised face.

“I managed to keep a bit. They would’ve got more if you haven’t come by.”

“I’m here to help if I can,” he thought of Chris’s comment about a damsel in distress from the previous night. “Will you be okay or would you like me to escort you home?”

“Escort? Nah I’ll be fine, but thanks,” he laughed but smiled in gratitude, “hey, you aren’t from around here, are you?”

“It’s that obvious huh?”

“If you’re lost, I can show you where you need to go.”

“Actually, I was looking for the Mage shop. A friend of mine said it was somewhere around here. But I can’t seem to find it.” If some crazed aristocrat was experimenting with magical weapons he needed to know more. The magic shop was the best lead he had.

“Old Man Drover’s place? Yea I know it.”

“You do?” He didn’t expect the boy would willingly associate with a shopkeeper catering to Mages.

“Oh yeah, he’s real nice. Sometimes he has scraps for Spot. Spot thought his fluffy sheep dog was pretty but she had an accident a few months back. So now it’s just Old Man Drover. We try to go by there when we can, isn’t that right pooch?” The dog barked wagging his tail.

“Well, if you can show me to this Old Man Drover, then consider the debt paid.”

“Sure thing,” he smiled holding out his hand, “I’m Milo.”

“Zack,” they shook hands and Zack followed his new friends through the meandering streets.

The magic shop had an ancient ambience. Most of the shelves were dusty but the items seemed to be in good condition. He passed shelves with jars stuffed with strange ingredients. Vials of various sizes stored different liquids; their fragrances seeping from the corks. He reached the counter before his imagination could create purposes for the strange contents.

Behind the glass counter sat rows of colourful gems. Each the size of a man’s fist and with various cuts. They rivalled the craftsmanship of the gemstone cutters in Alexanderia. The wall along the side of the store housed various size staffs, amazed at the unique designs of the wood used. He admitted some were beautiful despite the missing stones.

A short elderly man emerged from a red curtain behind the counter. His worn teal robes dragged across the floor as he approached. The color emphasized his grey hair and matching beard and mustache; all of which grew to his waist. There was no urgency in the man’s movements, as if he had all the time in the world.

“I thought I heard someone,” he smiled, “what can I do for you, Sir?”

“Do you have time to answer a few questions?” Drover lifted a bushy eyebrow and surveyed the empty shop.

“It seems you have my undivided attention. What troubles you?” he folded his hands on the counter and waited.

Where to start? He thought. Most of his information was conjecture unless Chris actually told the truth for once. The last thing he wanted was to start a rumor or create a panic. He was so preoccupied with finding the shop he didn’t consider what to say when he got there. But then a sparking sapphire glittered in the corner of his eye and he had an idea.

“How does a Mage Staff work?

“That’s rather specific, but you came to the right place.” He gestured to the staffs to his left. “The staff is constructed from materials that transmit magic from the Mage to the gemstone. The placement of the gem, at the head of the wooden base, focuses the magic into a central location. The concentration stabilizes the magic allowing the Mage to complete a manipulation. You see, magic exists in the world and it runs through their bodies. And Mages harness it to manipulate the elements around them.”

“How does a staff differ from let’s say this?” He placed his dagger on the counter, “I mean, can someone use something like this in a similar way as one of those?”

“Certainly not. Natural materials such as wood allow magic to flow freely between palm to stone. Treated and crafter materials, like this dagger, do not possess the same qualities. It may be possible but that is difficult for an average Mage to do.”

“So, it’s possible for magic to pass through this?”

“I do not know of a living Mage, then or now, that could do the feat you are describing. Magic is ever changing so I will not say anything is impossible.”

“I heard there are Mages who use magic without the staff.”

“Yes, usually, the members of the Imperial Class can. Although, they have dedicated an entire lifetime to the craft to reach the rank. An average Mage will never reach that level for various reasons.” He plucked the dagger from the countertop, “but what you asked is if a Mage could use this dagger like a staff. And I will say unlikely. The material used here is in opposition to the flow of magic. Picture it like this: using a staff is like swimming with the current—you go faster and further with little effort. Using an item that isn’t a staff is like swimming against the current. Much more difficult and exhausting. It doesn’t make sense for a Mage to choose to swim against the current when with the current will grant better results.”

“But what if there was a way to make it easier?” He watched the smile fade from Drover’s face, but he had to know if there was a chance; if Chris’s theory was right. “Is there any way to forge magic into this or a weapon like it?” Drover stroked his beard and watched the smoke from the candle’s flame swirl into the air. But Zack waited, this man had the answers he sought, and for that; he had all the time in the world.

“We lost that ability long ago.”

“Lost what exactly?”

“You are referring to items invested with magic. It is a practice that is unheard of in modern times. Before you ask, our gemstones have no magic on their own, instead they have qualities to enhance it. A Mage on the other hand, is invested with magic; at birth specifically. Their type of magic exists in living creatures. If you separate that magic from the Mage, then the Mage will no longer exist.”

“How do you extract magic from a Mage?”

“Some aspects of our world are best kept to ourselves. For our safety and yours.” Zack wanted to know more but Drover’s stoic face indicated he would say nothing further. Instead, he removed his sword from its sheath, placing it on the counter.

“Considering what you said about the invested items, tell me what you know about this.”

His wrinkled hands, once steady in his youth now trembled as his hands passed over the blade. With careful consideration he examined the sword in the light from the dusty window. His narrow eyes focused on the crafted hilt; a wide grip made of silver steel wrapped in black iron strands. Ending at the bottom of the hilt was a head of an open-mouthed snake. Inside the mouth, wedged between the carved teeth was a steel crafted sun. He knew little of the sword he carried but he knew it wasn’t an average weapon.

“Where did you get this?”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not. No, not for now. This sword is unlike anything I have ever had in this shop.” He said the next words slowly, almost a whisper, “there is a strong power trapped within. The nature of it is unclear,” a sigh escaped his lips as he pushed it across the glass. “I would practice caution. Something as ancient as this is not a toy.” Zack smiled, he hoped Drover would sense the power in the steel.

“Do you still believe magic cannot be forged in a weapon?”

“I never said that.” He straightened his robes, “I said Mage magic could not be infused in a weapon.”

“I don’t understand. Is there some other kind of magic?”

“There is one other,” he frowned, “but it is rare and volatile. Mages are unwilling to use it for it is dangerous for anyone who tries to master it.”

“Tell me.”

“The magic of the Gods.” He paused, allowing the words to gather in the air. “It is at the centre of all life, death and existence. It’s powerful for a Mage to wield. Those who do rarely survive. The Gods exist, beyond our grasp, in the Celestial Realm; Their magic is forever out of our reach, and for good reason.”

“Wait, are you telling me there is divine magic in my sword?” Zack didn’t know whether to smile or cower. Drover was the first person to offer any clue to his sword’s strange power. For years he thought he was insane for feeling a strange magical pull. Hearing a whisper in the night; but now he may have an answer.  

“I can’t be sure, but your sword has an ancient magic encased in it. If I suspected before, I am certain now; what you are involved in will have dire consequences.”

The man’s reaction made him wonder what he would say if he knew what Chris discovered in Bayliss’s basement. But if what Drover said was true, how could Bayliss infuse divine magic into simple objects. How did he possess the skills abandoned long ago?

“I swore an oath to protect this realm. Believe me,” he slid the sword into its sheath, “I will do everything in my power to protect the vulnerable from harm. I am merely collecting information, so I can carry out my mission.”

“A mission?” he leaned over the counter, “are you investigating the Mages in the canal?”

“The floaters? They’re all Mages?”

“Not sure if all but most. Our community fears for our lives.”

“How do they end up in the water?”

“People say a Shadow lurks in the night and plucks unexpecting Mages from the streets. We don’t know who or what it is. But it started a month ago and hasn’t stopped.”

“What of the heart?”

“The heart?”

“The locals claim the heart is ripped from the chest. I saw the hole myself.”

“Magic removal has dire consequences.”

“But how can someone do that?” The jingle of the bell above the door cuts their conversation short. A woman in a grey dress and a bonnet stepped into the shop. In one arm was a baby and a basket in another.

“I’ll be right with you Mrs. Bixby.” Drover smiled. “My apologies sir knight,”

“Oh, not at all. Thank you again Master Mage.” He shuffled out of the way allowing the woman to approach the counter. Faint crying caused his feet to pause at the door.

“Did you hear? Toby didn’t return home last night. Merle said he saw him fixing nets at the dock and that was the last anyone saw of him.”

“Now now dear, I’m sure he will be home soon.”

“They found another one Mr. Drover; I don’t have the heart to ask who it was.”

She leaned on the counter with her head in her hand. As Drover consoled her, he glanced at him. Zack nodded, determined to not let the information go to waste. Once again, he had more questions than answers. Unfortunately, the more he learned the more dangerous the streets felt.

Revisit Chapter Eight

Journey to Chapter Ten

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