My first name was Aayara Haven. I was the second daughter of Lord Gabral Haven, the nominal head and public face of the Haven family.
This is the tale of how I took my second name.
As a child, I was often left to my own devices. I recall the footsteps of busy servants, the snoring of my drunken nursemaid, and playing at having friends and companions like my elder sister’s. Still, I made do. I wove complex intrigues between stuffed animals and their brutal, yet delicate, puppet rulers.
I was seven and playing such games when my life changed.
The puppets held court, and it was a rowdy affair. They were in the midst of debating the manner of execution for the leaders of an animal revolt when my game gained an audience. An adult leaned one shoulder against the doorway, arms folded. Her eyebrows slowly rose as she took in the scene before her.
I knelt in the center of the room, the puppet currently on trial in my lap and the rest seated around the room. A multitude of distinct voices emanated from every corner as each exalted puppet spoke in its turn. They discussed with vicious glee the misbehavior of one of their own: Lady Twoknot, the prettiest of the puppets, had planned the rebellion with the animals.
“Lady Twoknot,” the voice of the greybeard puppet was grim, but with a raspy and ponderous quality that was my attempt at age and masculinity. “You shall answer for your treachery.” I lifted my face to the intruder, and nodded toward the puppet beside the doorway. “Baron Darkwood! How shall we execute her?” An invitation.
The woman’s eyes slid to the seated baron. One corner of her lips twitched upward.
“We shall not.”
There was a moment of silence. The voice, young, confident, and unmistakably male, had originated from Baron Darkwood. It wasn’t one of mine. My eyes grew wide as the woman’s hands danced and the puppet spoke again. “For I am not Baron Darkwood.” She knelt, and one hand slipped over the front of the puppet, obscuring it.
“I am the great Master Whittle!” Beneath her hand, Baron Darkwood had changed completely, now looking quite dashing with a little cape and a carved grin. I gasped and she picked him up from behind. He appeared to leap toward Lady Twoknot—toward me.
“Until now, the secret partner of Lady Twoknot. My lady, let us escape!”
My playmate, I discovered later, was my father’s sister. In public, she was Siyara Haven, but her true identity was that of a legend, though I was not yet aware of it. Even so, she had certainly caught my attention. And I, it turned out, had caught hers as well.
I would regret this by the dawn of the next day, when I awoke in an empty room with nothing but my smallclothes. When I stumbled outside the door, bewildered and alarmed, my aunt slouched against the opposite wall.
“Are you crying? I had hoped to get through this without crying,” she forwent her morning greeting to say. She rolled her gaze up and to the side. “Finish quickly, will you?”
I did my best, but I was confused, and had a vague impression that I was in trouble. I wasn’t wrong.
“You’re already spoiled,” she explained once my face was more or less clean. “You have no drive.” Then she smiled. That was my first hint to be wary of her good humor. “We’re going to fix that. From this point forward, everything you need or want, you will take. Food, clothes, toys, tools. Anything you want is yours, but you’ll have to take it.”
I stood hunched over in front of her, arms clutched around myself. She snorted, which from her was a sort of sharp, mocking exhale. “I suggest you start with clothes.” I was a juvenile combination of mortified and outraged, but I couldn’t disagree.
That was how my training began. From that point forward, nothing was given to me, and anything I wanted, I had to take for myself. At first, it was easy—just something to change my mindset. As the years passed, my aunt found ways to make things… challenging.
What she taught me was that that there are thieves, and then there are Thieves. She was the latter. She was Symphony, the masked rogue who ran the thieves’ guild in my home city. She moonlighted as Siyara Haven, polished noblewoman of a proud family, my aunt and mentor. But her true self would always be a Thief, and it shone through in her every action.
When the Haven family came to Velrya in generations past, we stole thievery itself from the city, prettied it up with a genteel veneer, and branded it our own. A Haven in Velrya was nigh untouchable by the law or those outside it.
“Which is why,” the villain drawled, a smirk in her voice, “you’ll be working your first solo job in Tesri Rethil.” She ignored my bemusement easily, perched on the edge of a dining table with her feet cushioned on a chair. I was fourteen, and by then I’d gotten used to her casual lounging wherever she went.
Symphony was, when standing, my height, which wasn’t tall. She was hard, comprised of muscled planes and bony angles blanketed by a cascade of copper-blonde hair.
We would look a lot alike, if you added a few decades and a significant helping of dangerousness to my coltish figure.
As you’d expect from a legend, my aunt was accomplished in a variety of noble pursuits: swordplay; sorcery; sleight-of-hand… In other words, she was an ideal target for a resentful and envious sort of idolatry from my teenaged self.
“No support from the guild, Aayara,” she outlined cheerfully. “No understanding with the constables.” If she weren’t routinely obnoxious, I might have wondered if I’d ended up on my dear mentor’s bad side recently.
“On the other hand,” one of hers reached into a bowl on the table before she lobbed an apple at me, perhaps for emphasis. I dodged it, and her expression wrinkled in pained exasperation as it thwacked into the floor.
That was too bad for her; I wasn’t going to get pelted by fruit for anyone’s approval.
“Tesri Rethil is a relatively young city, and there’s no rival guild operating in it. You’ll be free to work without negotiating for dispensation from the locals.” She muttered a “Thank the gods,” with a half-frown and a once-over. I puzzled over what would have been so difficult about that.
“You’ll report to me as you gather information and make plans; I’ll want to know how and when you’ll be going in. I won’t save you from bad decisions, but I’ll be judging your preparatory work whether or not you succeed.”
I was contemplating sending back the bruised apple in an expression of my gratitude when the absurdity of her statement hit me.
“Wait, you’re coming with me?” Tesri Rethil wasn’t too far from Velrya, true, but the thought of the close, personal attention of Symphony for the trip triggered my self-preservation instincts.
“You do listen. Hm, startling.”
“What about the guild?” If my sister had asked this, I’m certain she would have known the tone and body language to display that would make the question sound sincere. Since it was me, the question trailed, and my voice cracked mid-word at the end, rising awkwardly in pitch.
“Silver can handle it until we get back.”
“Couldn’t Silver take me? Or Steel, even.” Even if I was her apprentice, taking the guild mistress from the city just to oversee my first solo heist seemed unnecessary. My uncle or cousin could be spared easily by comparison. More importantly, that would spare me.
“I’m afraid not.” Her head tilted upward and she quirked a grin at the ceiling. “We have a client. One who asked for me, specifically. We’ve worked out quite the beneficial deal.” It would have to be, to successfully requisition Symphony. My family hadn’t grown wealthy by stealing trinkets.
There was a moment of wide-eyed silence as my thoughts tripped over the implication. She was giving me a Symphony heist for my first solo job? If I’d wanted proof that I was being taken seriously as her potential successor, I had it.
…Or her client had been rude and she was feeling vindictive. It could be either, with her.
“You’ll be after a dagger named Luck’s Touch. It’s owned by House Ta’thyriel, wealthy landowners of some political importance in the area. It’s said to be enchanted, so it will be guarded or secured somehow.
“How are your studies in sorcery progressing?”
I managed not to wince, but it was a shallow victory. Symphony had taught me how to actively connect with the sorcerous Dominions that I could use, Deception and Sound. She’d also instructed me in the use of guild sign language to shape and catalyze spells. From there, she had left it to me to drive my improvement.
Despite starting out as what my aunt had described as a prodigy of Sound sorcery, I hadn’t devoted much time to the tedious experimentation and practice necessary to expand my skillset in that area. Sorcery instructors were rare, and tended to cluster in colleges.
For Sound sorcery, I’d find no better instructor than Symphony, but she’d concentrated on other elements of my training in the time she’d had to spare for me. Once I’d been given a framework for casting, I’d been expected to make progress in my free time. After practicing with her, though, making do on my own had become dull.
“I can change and throw my voice,” I began.
“You could do that when you were seven. Try again.”
“…around corners now. That’s new.” Her unimpressed face tilted down as she paused her study of the ceiling to eye me. I moved on.
“I can conjure sound to break brittle objects. I have to be touching whatever I target, though, or I can’t control the direction, and the intensity disperses too quickly.
“As for Deception, I can create small illusions now.”
“Can they move?”
“Stable ones won’t by themselves, but they’ll stay with what they’re fixed to, if I’m careful. Here, watch.” I flashed through a few of the guild hand signs. ‘Image, knife, gold, hand, appear.‘ I curled my left hand just in time for the seeming of a golden dagger to appear in my grip. I waggled my hand about, and the dagger moved with it. Then I clenched my fingers and the illusion shattered and faded.
“Work on using fewer signs. Eventually, you should only need a single gesture, but your goal right now should be to pare your casting down to three.”
Nag, nag. I wanted to roll my eyes. She wanted three gestures, huh? Well, I did have one trick I could show off…
‘Image, move,’ I signed. Then I held one finger up at chest-level, mentally marking it as my position, moved it forward to indicate her position, and twitched my finger around the left of that spot. There was an indistinct flicker of movement from Symphony’s side, and she startled like a cat. The impression faded before she’d turned her head, and I stood smugly.
“Hm,” she noted as she turned back to me. “Had any success using the Motion Dominion?” My satisfaction was banished. That’s family for you. I avoided her gaze, and she took the hint.
“It’s not ideal, but it will do for now. Come on,” she hopped off the table and headed for the doorway leading out into the hall. “Let’s get packed and get going. I’ll teach you silence shaping on the journey there. You pick up shaping tricks quickly, at least.”
“Wait.” She paused at my voice, but didn’t bother looking back at me.
“If I can’t get the dagger, are you planning to try for it afterward?” I didn’t want to be responsible for any deal that could make Symphony so smug falling through. The difficulty of stealing an item after the target was alerted went up considerably. Though my aunt was famous for a reason, the insecurity of inexperience had me wondering if handing me the reins was wise.
Her hand waved dismissively, as if to banish that line of thought.
“Just get the dagger and try not to get caught. That’s all you need to worry about.” Right. Why worry about the deal falling through if I’d be at the city’s mercy by that point anyway? Besides, Symphony knew my skills. If she thought I was ready for this, I was ready.
I moved to follow her out the door, but it slammed in my face as my mentor walked ahead without me.
The Havens were rich in a utilitarian sense. Our estate, Sanctuary, was its own high-walled, secret-tunneled world of intimidation and paranoia.
The Ta’thyriels were of a different ilk. Their wealth was flavored heavily by shameless ostentation, inviting where we were forbidding. Manicured gardens, shaded pavilions, and intricately carved wood and stone begged admiration, and the Ta’thyriels were known to oblige with frequent and lavish parties.
It was the ideal scenario for infiltration. Infiltration, in theory at least, required at least one of two things. The first was a good cover, which required an investment of time and resources to establish. The second was, to put it bluntly, gall: a knowledge of social conventions and the willingness to ignore them to twist polite behavior to one’s favor.
At fourteen, I was widely informed that I completely lacked a working understanding of social conventions. As such, it was with impatience and a familiar sense of frustrated inadequacy that I found myself on a rooftop overlooking a crowd bedecked in lace and embroidery. Symphony had been grudgingly informed of my intention, as she’d requested.
I used the stately and unwisely-placed trees by the building as cover, and sketched the layout of what I could see of the estate properties from my vantage point. At the same time, I listened to what I could hear of the discussions taking place below me. The crowd was youthful and loudly exuberant, but the conversations were in Isendri, which had a lilting cadence that distracted me when I tried to split my attention.
The man I identified as the host of this particular fête was a rangy youth with an amiable type of hauteur in his voice and expressive, nervous hand gestures. Nalorian Ta’thyriel was his name, and he flitted between guests with buzzing energy.
I drew with one ear out for anything of interest. I’d fallen into a hazy zone of semi-focus that I was knocked right out of when an unexpectedly familiar voice spoke in a shrill, bratty tone I’d never before associated with it.
“Well, my family has enchanted items too, and we’ve never seen the need for such elaborate displays.” That was… definitely Symphony. Only, she shouldn’t have been there. She’d said this was a solo job. I peered through the foliage in search of the source.
“Displays? Do you mean the Ta’thyriel Gallery? Are all the pieces enchanted then?” The man’s response was quieter, but from the same place. There. She looked nothing like my aunt, about twenty years younger in appearance, with the pale skin and white-blonde hair common among the locals. She was speaking with one of the guests, but her body was angled outward, as though in invitation for others to join in.
There were perhaps fifty people mingling about the lawn, a mix of noble and gentile youths. It seemed they weren’t so familiar with one another that a new face caused much suspicion.
I watched her conversation’s back and forth, reluctantly impressed at how long she must have been keeping this illusion stable as she fished for information. Eventually, Nalorian intervened, the smile on his face contradicted by the tenseness of his shoulders.
“My dear, I believe you are mistaking us. Our security is not merely for the enchanted items in our possession, but for our artifacts. It’s understandable that you wouldn’t know the difference; there are only a handful of artifact-level works in existence, after all.” His words and voice seemed perfectly friendly, but Symphony fluffed up like an angry kitten in her young gentry guise.
“If there are only a handful of these artifacts, then it’s lovely that you managed to procure more than one of them. What pieces do you have here?” Isendri was a much more layered language than our own native Velthryn. With it, Symphony managed all the polite forms of speech while still injecting skepticism in her comments. It was enough to give me a headache, though given the Ta’thyriel’s reaction, perhaps that wasn’t a problem held by me alone.
“The crown Goldfall, and the… legendary weapon, Luck’s Touch,” he replied with a stiff reluctance. “Though while they’re protected in the gallery with the rest of our collection, I’m afraid you won’t view our artifacts on one of our standard tours. They’re ritually guarded, you see. Our security for them is indeed a bit more,” he paused to drive the point home, “elaborate than for the rest.”
I couldn’t see Symphony’s expression, but her hand went up in a delicate gesture to cover her mouth. “My, that does sound inconvenient. To be in possession of two such important treasures and let not a soul actually see them…”
She continued to playfully nettle the young man’s pride until she received a flustered invitation for a “special” tour.
A vision struck me then, of a future in which Symphony taunted me with information she had that I needed. ‘You need more training,’ she’d tell me, and her lips would pull into that infuriating smirk, and…
The scenarios playing out in my imagination were supplanted by a sudden realization. This was originally a job she’d been hired for, and it would be just like her to steal the blasted dagger and then let me try for it none the wiser.
There was no question: I needed to go on this tour.
I didn’t even need to use signs to throw my voice from here.
“The gallery? Oh, let’s all go!” Interest sparked at that energetic interjection, and people started gravitating toward my aunt’s little group. Once the group determined that they were, actually, all going, they got on their way. I tucked my rough sketch of a map into my satchel, then shaped silence around my hands and feet and scrambled down the side of the building.
When I hit the ground, I inventoried my outfit. Trousers, tucked into leather boots to avoid catching fabrics when I climbed. A long-sleeved tunic. My satchel. Stashed within that were a few alchemical potions, my grappling hook, and my lockpicking set.
There wasn’t nearly enough frippery to pass among this group. I mentally replicated what I could from the ladies who’d been present and flashed my fingers through signs, over and over again. My head ached with the strain of so much Deception casting at once.
I looked down at myself once more. I was in a passable noblewoman’s outfit of the pale blues, creams, and browns that this city seemed to favor. It wouldn’t pass close inspection, as the cloth didn’t move like cloth, merely following the movements of my torso. I wasn’t sure how Siyara had pulled off such a detailed deception for so long, but it was beyond my current abilities. My hair contrasted starkly against the seeming of the cloth, and I grimaced. That would make me stand out. One more casting, then. My hands moved.
As my hair appeared to pale, I blinked rapidly in disorientation. What was I doing again? My eyes flicked to the retreating crowd of nobles. I started after them.
Right. Gallery. Dagger. It was necessary to be included, but unobtrusive. Symphony may interfere; she knew I’d be here today to gather intelligence. The sorceress could have changed her voice along with her appearance, but chose not to. She wanted me to know she was here.
I had responded in kind by using my own voice earlier: message received. Her motive remained in question. It seemed, however, that the schedule had been moved up.
I was catching up. I walked casually at the back of the group. They were entering the building as I got there, and the door started to close. I caught it and stepped inside.
The gallery was remarkably underwhelming, for all Nalorian’s boasting. All right, I’ll admit that assessment may have been unfair. It was well-lit, for a building with no windows, and certainly elegant. Tapestries decorated the walls in scenes that gradually depicted stories and histories. Grand weapons were held by cleverly carved statues of warriors. But it was open space and isolated displays, where I was young enough to dream of gleaming piles of hoarded treasure. This was the same dull refinement I might come across in Velrya.
I surveyed what I could from the entrance. There was a main path like a hallway that started straight from the entryway, then sloped leftward until it curved out of sight. To my left was a narrower path, with an alcove that led to a closed and guarded door. Behind me stood two other guards bearing short swords and crossbows, and before me a group of youths were starting to spread out into the main hall.
Nalorian took us left first, toward the alcove. The guard raised an eyebrow, but opened the doors to allow us access. Within was yet another hall, running parallel to the main hall. We ambled down it, gossip and chatter echoing across lamp-lit walls. Soon we came to what appeared to be a cul-de-sac, with Isendri runes carved into the wall.
I recognized the characters, but they appeared to be written in some sort of cipher, leaving me unable to determine the details of the ritual. Embedded around the writing were stones I recognized as planar essence, material components used for rituals. Upon examination, some appeared the carmine color of planar essence from the Dominion of Blood, but others were from dominions I couldn’t place.
Nalorian drew an ornamental dagger from his side and used it to prick his left thumb with a wince. He drew his bleeding thumb along the inner edge of the carvings, and the handle of a doorway twisted out from the wall, to the appreciative murmurings of his audience.
The door was opened to reveal an egg-shaped chamber with a high, rounded ceiling and broad pillars. Wood panels divided the room into segmented areas, each panel carved with an Isendri cypher and embedded with more planar essence. I eyed the floor and noted that though the walls of the panels left a space open for entry, the wooden frames along the bottom of the structures completed the ritual circles.
Two of the rooms held artifacts, according to Nalorian. Both were perched on raised stands in the center of their otherwise empty rooms. One was an elegant golden circlet with the name Goldfall, which he claimed the Ta’thyriels had a hand in creating. The ritual containing it had more of the planar essence I’d identified as Blood before, and I looked across from it to the room with Luck’s Touch.
There was no Blood essence embedded in that ritual, but I did see Protection, and… was that Void? I felt my face blanch.
Luck’s Touch had a blade that gleamed silver. Long and narrow, it tapered to a point like a needle’s at the tip. Its guard and pommel were rounded, and other than half-hearted patterns on the hilt, the dagger was rather plain.
I watched for a moment when no eyes followed me, then ducked out of sight behind one of the pillars at the back edge of the room. I would wait until the group left to continue with their tour, then take my time to figure out how to remove the dagger safely from its confines. Even if they locked the doors behind them, rituals like this would need regular maintenance; the planar essences would need to be replaced. Once the doors opened again, I’d abscond with the dagger and leave an illusion in its place to buy time.
My noblewoman disguise had faded by the time the group cleared out, leaving… well… a noble in an ignoble outfit. I returned to the paneled room, chewing my lip in thought. Swiftly, I approached the gap that I hesitate to label an entrance.
It would have been safer and easier if I’d been able read the details of the ritual. I would have to make do with what I did know.
The Dominion of Protection, whose functions resemble its name, was said to make barriers. It was also said to make its users resistant or immune to harm, or to make objects unbreakable. I supposed it could be used to reinforce the paneling, but anyone who broke the walls would disrupt the ritual and be hit by energy backlash, so it seemed a poor investment.
I took the map from the satchel and balled it up, then lobbed it at the entrance, testing an idea. It bounced off an invisible barrier.
Well, that was one function accounted for.
Void, unlike Protection, was known for its detrimental properties. The basic function of Void is dispersing dominion energy. Of course, since everything in existence is some composition of dominion energy, the process is almost invariably destructive.
Before I’d need to worry about that, however, I’d have to get through the barrier. I could try to remove the planar essence stones but, as far as I was aware, there wasn’t a way to do that without violent backlash from a ritual.
There were three ways to end a ritual safely that I knew of: to allow it to complete its objective, which wasn’t an option with ongoing rituals like these; to build conditions into the ritual that would allow for suspension or termination, such as the blood trigger at the door; and to allow the ritual to gradually run out of energy, which would happen if the planar essence stones weren’t maintained.
Given that there were no planar essence stones of Blood, I could rule out a key mechanism like the one on the doorway. Waiting out the energy drain wasn’t feasible either.
How else could I approach the problem?
My eyes drifted as I thought, and I focused on the absurdly grand ceiling. The absurdly grand… high… ceiling. I looked back at the planar essence and noted relatively few Protection stones.
I picked up the paper ball and lobbed it over the paneling. It bounced back again, hitting that invisible barrier. I tried once more, chucking it far above the height of the walls.
The ball fell into the room, bouncing lightly off the floor before rolling to a stop. Nothing exploded or caught fire.
Well, then. Time for the grappling hook.
Remembering that there were still people outside the room, I shaped silence around the hook after pulling it out. My throat started to hurt as the cost of using Sound took its toll. I’d spaced out my Sound castings more than I had my Deception spells, but not enough, it seemed, to avoid consequences. Ah well, it wasn’t like I’d need to speak to anyone for a while anyway.
It was easier to toss the grappling hook than the paper ball at the right height to get over the barrier, but my first attempt didn’t even land the hook on the stand the dagger rested on. As I dragged the hook back, I wondered if it would catch at the top of the barrier. If I couldn’t retrieve it, I might have to climb up myself.
I didn’t want to trigger whatever the Void element of the ritual was, but the idea of trying to scale an invisible, sorcerous wall was at least entertaining. When the hook seemed as if it might snag, however, the point pushed slowly through instead. It seemed the barrier had some permeability at the edges.
Adjusting my aim was child’s play, though, compared to actually hooking the blasted dagger. I had to reapply the silencing on the hook more than once. It was impossible to tell how much of the pain in my throat was due to losing my voice, and how much was due to the stranglehold of frustrated fury.
When I finally, finally dragged the dagger up those last few inches over the barrier and it tilted off the edge to my side, tears brimmed over my eyelids. Not once before or since have I felt so happy to have pointed blades approaching my face.
I ducked out of the way, wiping my eyes and sniffling. At last, I could grab this thing and relax for a while. I would hide out until the opportunity arose for me to leave.
I wound the rope attached to my grappling hook back up and stowed it away in my satchel. Then I knelt to pick up my prize.
“Ha…” As my fingers gripped the hilt, the abrupt chuckle nearly made me drop it. I stood with alarmed swiftness. “Ahaha…” My eyes widened in what must have been a comical display. That laughter, it sounded as though it had come from Luck’s Touch.
“Ahahaha!” The laughter continued, and abruptly I was —for lack of a better term—exhausted. I felt awful in more ways than I could think to complain of. I reeled for several moments while the weapon lost itself to hysterics.
…And then we were elsewhere, and my joints had gone stiff, and Nalorian was gaping at me with shock in his face, and that awful dagger was still laughing…
“Thought you could keep me there forever, didn’t you?!” Shock was pushed aside while horror and indignation warred for dominance in the Ta’thyriel’s expression.
“I’ll come and go as I please now. Ooh, and the stories I’ll tell! I can air your whole family’s dirty laundry!” The artifact’s voice was high and male, boyish, with an edge to its taunting.
Nalorian reached for his own blade, only to find it missing. Things happened very rapidly after that.
Nalorian turned and bolted away. I finally started to get my bearings, feeling vaguely as though I’d been ambushed by meningitis. I was back at the gallery’s entrance, surrounded by puzzled partygoers and three approaching guards. A hand reached out to grab me from my vision’s periphery and my own hand flashed up to stab at it before I’d really processed the action.
The dagger bent around my attacker’s arm, leaving my still-moving hand to smack at the offending limb before I scuttled backward out of range. The world spun, and my balance was unsteady at best.
“Whoa, hey! Let’s not get violent, new girl!” There was a twinge in my throat, and I pushed through a truly awful number of other discomforts to dodge between a couple of women trying to box me in. I continued weaving under and around grasping hands, my dodges drunken but well-trained. I needed to make my way to the door before the guards remembered it was the only exit.
Some distant part of my mind found it unbelievable that this dagger had caused things to go downhill so quickly. I hated it. It had teleported us, it wouldn’t stab people like a proper dagger, and it wouldn’t stop talking…
‘How does a dagger do any of that?’ The answer seemed clear: it was an artifact. Artifacts are imbued with powerful, strange abilities. Still, the question of why it had waited until I had it in hand struck me as significant. ‘Is this thing using me to power its sorcery?’
“Oh! Yes, sorry about that. I can do quite a bit on my own, usually, but that ritual’s kept me fatigued for YEARS. I needed a bit of a boost to recover.” I shoved a small man into a larger one to buy time to run around–here comes his hand, too close, lean–him and made a dash for the door.
‘Great, it can read my mind.’ I supposed reading minds had potential as a huge tactical advantage in a tool, but I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic about this thing’s usefulness.
“Well, I can sometimes. I have to try, I can’t just do it willy-nilly. But you weren’t exactly contributing to the conversation, were you?”
I opened my mouth to give a scathing reply and managed something between a hiss and a squawk just before a foot tripped me and I went sprawling. My chin smacked painfully into the floor, and the last thing I wanted to do was move. I rolled anyway, threw myself back upright, and dove through the door just as Nalorian’s voice yelled out, “The crown is gone! She has Goldfall!”
“No idea,” Luck’s Touch chirped. “It was there when we left!”
Shock and confusion did nothing to slow down the dead run I was at. This was fortunate, since I heard the thudding footsteps of several pursuers. There was a twang, and a crossbow bolt missed me only narrowly. I decided to sacrifice a bit of speed in exchange for a few feats of agility, dodging around artfully trimmed bushes and a fountain to make myself a more difficult target. Nausea plagued me, but the rush of the chase kept me focused.
The footfalls were growing close enough to be alarming. I shifted Luck’s Touch to my left hand and reached into my satchel with my right, fumbling around until I snagged my potion bottles.
Three alchemical smoke clouds in convenient glass bottles. Or—perhaps not that convenient. They were, by necessity, stoppered quite firmly. My original plan to open them quickly had been to use Sound sorcery to break them, but I’d hit my limit. Instead, I threw one to the ground before me with all my fourteen year-old might.
Shockingly, it didn’t break.
I stomped my boot heel on the bottle as I caught up to it, and the glass shattered. Thick smoke exploded into the air, and I covered my nose and mouth with my left arm. I heard coughing behind me and struggled to control my own breathing. My throat and chest burned with panic, exhaustion, and now chokingly thick smoke.
Aiming myself at where I remembered the nearest wall to be, I doggedly kept up my pace. When the surrounding smoke thinned, I broke the next bottle against a statue and thanked the gods I hadn’t plowed face-first into the thing.
I gauged that I had nearly reached the wall, so I thrust the dagger into my satchel and took out my grappling hook. Once there, a bit of unlooping, a toss, and a jerk at the right time got me set to climb. A crossbow bolt passing an inch to the left of my shoulder, lodging itself deeply into the wall, got me to turn right back around.
Nalorian stood a few feet away, a serious expression on his previously animated face. He reloaded as I grabbed Luck’s Touch back out from the satchel, not sure if I meant to bargain with it or die trying to deflect a bolt with an artifact.
“I don’t want to hurt a child, but I cannot allow you to take Goldfall. Return the circlet.”
My eyes flicked to Luck’s Touch before returning to him. The dagger was still, in fact, a dagger and not a crown.
I couldn’t ask what he was talking about, so I stared silently. He seemed to take that as defiant refusal, because the look in his eyes shifted. He pulled the trigger.
I dove to one side, smashing the final vial into the ground with my body weight. Oh, and my hand. Best not to forget that. I certainly wouldn’t be able to.
Glass was driven into my palm. Smoke filled my vision and my agonized throat. I made little whimpering noises as I rolled and scooted, trying to get a good distance away from where I’d started.
After a moment, the dagger’s voice pierced through the white noise of pain that blanked out my mind.
“…the wall. Run through the wall. Hey, new girl! C’mon, do it already. Run through the wall!” Stupid, overblown butter-knife. It was leading the Ta’thyriel right to me. I could hear him closing in as I once again pushed myself to my feet.
Run through the wall? Well, it wasn’t like I’d be climbing it, with my hand still sporting glass shards. I stumbled back toward the wall, conscious of Nalorian making his way toward me. Worst case scenario, I ended up embarrassed as well as caught.
With that thought held tightly, I summoned the willpower to run the last few steps back to the wall. I slid through it, just ahead of the hand grasping for my shoulder, and found myself just outside the Ta’thyriel estate. No one followed me, and when I looked behind me, the wall appeared as solid as ever.
I was stiff, exhausted, and if this story had any sort of fairness I could have collapsed right then to awaken in safety. But this is a Symphony story, and her legends never favored fairness. With much gasping and coughing, I made good my escape.
Symphony returned to our inn after I’d washed up. I was plucking fragments of glass from my hand with a frown. There was a bounce in her step as she entered the room, and her eyes were bright.
“Symphony.” My voice was a hoarse wreck, barely audible, and would be for days. Still, my hands were too preoccupied for sign language, so I would have to use it.
“I acquired Luck’s Touch.”
She flashed her teeth at me. “Brilliant! I thought you might pull that off. I suppose you’ve earned a name of your own now.”
“No, that one’s taken. What do you think of Sand? No?” Sand. Glass. Ha.
I worked another shard free from my palm.
“Luck’s Touch wasn’t what we were hired to steal, was it?” Events had fallen together in retrospect: the missing blade with the Ta’thyriel’s blood on it; his insistence that I’d taken the other artifact; the attention I’d attracted with a target that screamed at the top of its nonexistent lungs.
I’d been used like one of my alchemical smokescreens.
My aunt blinked. “Well, of course not. I told you the client requested me.” If I hadn’t known her for half my life, I’d have thought she looked innocent. “How about Silk? I saw your fancy disguise earlier.”
“You knew from the start what kind of ‘artifact’ that chattering bird’s beak was, didn’t you.” I couldn’t even make it a question.
“Hey now, no need to be rude!” The subject of my complaint had teleported to the table beside me. If my hand had hurt less, I might have lowered my head into it.
“Shard,” I croaked. “Just—just call me Shard.” With that pronouncement, I took the name Shard for my own… until I stole a different name, that is. But that, dear reader, is another story.