A nondescript voice rang out from within. “Come in, unless you’re a tax collector or the police. Then you can just leave, because you won’t find anything here.”
I was about to go in when I saw Kaolin shake his head out of my peripheral vision.
“Let me go in first,” he whispered to me.
I knew he was just trying to protect me, but I didn’t necessarily like it. I let him go anyway.
“Hello?” he called out, walking in. The rest of us followed, and we stood in a thin, dark hallway leading to a door.
A person fell from the ceiling and landed in front of us. Kaolin swore and jumped back.
“Hello there. What brings you here on this fine day?” The man spoke in what you would call a British accent. He had sandy hair and sharp, ice blue eyes.
“How did you – ” I started, but then decided I didn’t want to know. Looking up at the ceiling, I didn’t see anywhere he could have hung on.
“Does it matter?” he asked, turning something around and around in his hands. I suddenly saw that it was my knife. “Good quality.” He nodded in appreciation.
“Give that back!” I shouted, snatching it out of his hands.
He held up his hands innocently. “What did you expect when you came to visit a thief?”
“You’re a thief?” Kaolin asked.
“Yes, what of it? Many are, in this area. We trade possessions around like the flu.”
“Camarin from across the street said we should come here,” Maybelle said.
“Don’t like her. She locks her doors with magyk, not a lock. Harder to get in.” His response was matter-of-fact.
“Speaking of locks, we need a lock pick and a glass cutter,” Kaolin said, getting down to business. “What will it cost?”
“Whatcha got? Something that I can’t steal for myself, hopefully.” He tossed a crumpled wad of plia toward Maybelle. “Here’s your money back. Minus a small fee.”
“Kleptomaniac,” she muttered. She didn’t try to make him give the rest of her money back. I understood. I wouldn’t want to try to beat that guy at his own game either. “We have information.”
“Good information? About what?”
“Yes, although the travel might take a while. I bet you’ve never stolen from a castle, have you?”
“No,” he said, suddenly interested. “They lock up too tight, too many wizards. I don’t like wizards.”
“What about sorcerers?” Kaolin asked.
He shrugged. “All the same. None like it when I steal from them. Only difference is, when I steal from a sorcerer, they want to kill me dead. Wizards would prefer to lock me up.”
“Anyway,” Maybelle said, bringing the conversation back around to what we should have been talking about, “how would you like to steal from the castle at Rhellens?”
“Fine,” he said. “It’ll take some time to get there, but as long as you can prove it.”
Maybelle held out her hand. A three dimensional hologram of a crown rotated above her palm. “Only castle wizards can do that.”
“Fine, fine, but what’s the info?” He didn’t seem impressed by the symbol.
“Give us the stuff first.”
“No, tell me first, then I’ll give you the pick if it’s worth it.” His accent was getting annoying.
Maybelle and the thief stared at each other for a moment, then Maybelle nodded.
“There’s a secret passageway in the castle. Goes in all directions. It opens to the outside through a tunnel hidden under a bush by…” She trailed off.
“Where’s the bush?” he asked eagerly.
“The items first, then I’ll tell you.” Maybelle was amazing. I never would have thought to do that.
“All right, but I’m warning you, if you don’t tell me, you aren’t going to leave this place. That door’s the only exit, and there’s not a handle. I’m the only one who knows how to open it. And magyk is useless with all the caerthin around.”
“Got it,” Maybelle said, rolling her eyes. “Now where’s the stuff?”
Instead of walking into another room like I thought he would, the guy turned to the wall and shifted some of the bricks, opening up a secret compartment.
“Nice,” I said.
He pulled out a twisted bit of metal that I assumed was a lock pick and a sharp knife-looking thing.
“Need me to show you how to pick locks?” he asked, half-smiling in a sarcastic way.
“No, I think we’re covered,” Kaolin said.
“All right then, where’s the entrance to the secret passage?” he asked.
“By the pegasus stables. Now can we go?” Maybelle seemed exasperated.
“Don’t you want your stuff back?” he asked innocently. “I’ve got a few things of yours.”
“Of course you do,” I sighed, checking to make sure my knife was still there. It was, but my bag did feel a little light.
“Yours, yours, yours.” He tossed Maybelle, Kaolin, and I something as he said each word. I caught my journal and stuffed it back in my pack, glaring at him. How did he do it? None of us had noticed a thing.
“Anything else?” Maybelle asked.
“Not that I can think of,” the thief said. “If I remember something after you’ve left, though, don’t blame me. I tend to have a pretty bad short-term memory.”
“Right,” Kaolin grumbled. “Miftuha!” he said, pointing at the door. The door burst open, thanks to the spell.
The thief, whose name I realized we had never learned, nodded, impressed for once. “Not bad,” he said.
“Bye,” I called as we left.
As we walked back down the street to the better part of town, Kaolin said, “I didn’t like him.”
Maybelle and I laughed. Dossik smiled.
“I know, but really. He’s not exactly polite, is he?”
“I doubt most thieves are,” I said. “Politeness isn’t how they make their living. But Maybelle, did you have to tell him about the secret passageway? I mean, that could be bad. None of us even noticed him taking our stuff. He’s pretty talented.”
“Yeah, but it is a long way away, and at this point we have bigger things to worry about. If he goes now, anyway, the sorcerers will probably catch him. And really, is it that big of a deal to have a few things go missing every once in a while if we save the kingdom?”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s do this. Kaolin, you know how to pick locks?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve never actually done it before, but I know the theory.”
“And how did you come about this knowledge?” Dossik asked, suspicious.
“Most sorcerers know how to. Caerthin only prevents magykans from using spells, so if we have to get in somewhere, the skill is useful. And caerthin is pretty expensive, so many can only afford, say, some on the door.”
“That would have been nice to know about,” I said. “But it doesn’t really matter, and that’ll be useful for tonight.” By this point it was midafternoon, so we didn’t have much longer to wait.
“Well, what do we do until then?” Kaolin wondered.
I grinned. “We said that we wanted to sightsee. Why not do that?”
“That sounds really nice, actually. Just relax and forget about everything for once.”
“I’ve never traveled,” I said. “This’ll be fun.”
I really meant it. Our quest might have been the most dangerous thing I had ever done, but it was also the most fun. I had had no adventure before this happened. It might have been a bad thing when the sorcerers took over, but it did add more excitement to my life, which had been really pretty dull before. Of course, I did live in a castle populated by wizards, but still.
“Where should we go, though?” Maybelle asked. “I don’t really know any place to go for tourism.”
We came out into the prettier part of the city. “There’s a tourism center,” Kaolin said, pointing.
“That would be as good of a place as any to start,” Dossik said.
We went in the little building. Since none of us were in the mood to talk to anybody, in case they ended up like the two eccentric personas we had spoken to earlier, we just picked up a few brochures and left quietly. The place was crowded enough that we didn’t draw attention, even with Dossik.
Looking at the brochure I had grabbed, I said, “Let’s avoid museums. They haven’t really been amazing lately, and if we want to forget about what we’re really here for, let’s just not.”
The rest laughed.
“What about a zoo?” Kaolin suggested. “Apparently it’s” – he quoted the brochure he was holding – “a great place to spend an afternoon.’ Sounds perfect.”
“Let’s go,” Maybelle said.
Walking to the zoo didn’t take that long. It was only a short distance away, and we had plenty of time to spend until the zoo, and the museum, would close.
It was pretty fun, but none of us could fully enjoy it. We were all thinking about what we were going to do that night. Near the end of the afternoon, I kept expecting every enclosure we passed to have a griffon in it, and I suspected the others felt the same way.
“Well, that was a waste of time,” I said after we finally left at about sunset. “I know we were all probably thinking about the same thing, and it wasn’t the beautiful animals – well, I’m sure they were beautiful, anyway.”
“Yep,” Maybelle said. “I couldn’t focus on anything. I just kept trying to imagine us actually pulling this thing off. I couldn’t see it.”
Kaolin sighed. “Do you really think we’re going to get away with this?”
“We have to,” Dossik said firmly.
“I agree. Even if we don’t, we’re going to escape. Hey, Maybelle, why didn’t you just convince the guy to give it to you?” I hadn’t thought about it then, but it didn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t she do that?
She blinked. “I completely forgot about it. This ability is so new, I don’t even use it that much. Oh well, you know even before we all assumed that we would have to steal it anyway.”
“That’s true, I guess. But it still would have been easier, and legal.”
“Too late now,” she said.
“Okay, then, let’s go. Is it closed now?”
“Maybe,” Kaolin said. “But we should probably wait until later tonight anyway, when it’ll be darker. We don’t want to get caught before we even get in there.”
“All right. Let’s just hang around somewhere. Look, there’s a park over there,” I said. The park was bright and green, even in the fading light, and busy, crowded with people and different types of horse-based creatures. We wouldn’t stand out there.
“Let’s split up, it’ll be less obvious,” Maybelle suggested, and we all nodded in agreement. While splitting up might not be quite as fun, a break would be nice.
“We can meet up at this tree,” Dossik suggested, gesturing to a large pine tree near us.
I wandered over to a small pond, full of ducks and geese, and sat down in a bench near it.
A moment later, another girl sat down net to me. She looked to be about 4, with bright red hair.
“Hello,” I said, wondering who she was.
“Hi,” she responded. “You look like you need to relax a bit.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“It’s not good to have too much on your mind,” she said solemnly.
Just then, a voice from the other side of the pond called, “Marie! Time to go!” The call came from a man who looked like he was the girl’s father.
“I have to go,” Marie told me, and got up and skipped away, leaving me questioning the type of people they had in Lospem.
All of the people we had met so far were very strange individuals. The workers at the inn and the museum, Maybelle’s wizard friend, and that thief we had gotten the lock pick from. I wondered if there were any people like that in Rhellens. I had never met any who were quite that odd. Except maybe Dossik, but he wasn’t really a person.
I got up and wove my way back through the park to the pine tree. Maybelle was the only one there.
“Weird place, isn’t it?” I commented to her, looking at the people interacting with each other throughout the park. I didn’t elaborate, but she knew what I meant.
“It sure is. These people are so different from back home.” She didn’t elaborate either, but that was exactly what I had been thinking.
I sat down against the tree with a sigh. It had been a long day, and I was glad that soon it would be over. Or not, really. Although the sun had set, our day was far from over.
We still had a feather to steal.
Eventually, Dossik, and then Kaolin came out of the sea of people, which was slowly starting to thin out, and headed over to where Maybelle and I were sitting.
“Let’s go,” Kaolin said once we were all there.
I looked around and again spotted the unmistakable curve of the museum around the side of the pine tree. We headed in that direction, each of us gathering our courage for what we were about to do.
We hadn’t gotten it the legal way, so it was time to break some rules.
“Here, Kaolin,” Maybelle whispered as we got closer to the entrance, passing him the lock pick.
He took it and pushed the strange piece of metal into the keyhole. After fiddling with it for a few tense moments, we all heard the distinct click as the lock was opened.
We were in.
But that wasn’t the end of our troubles. We still had to get the thing, and hope that there weren’t any alarms that would go off on our way there.
The hallway was dark, but there was no problem there. The place was spooky when it was abandoned.
As we made it to the lobby, there was a bit of light. Looking around for the source, I noticed a skylight on the ceiling that I hadn’t seen before. A trace amount of light from the moon shone through, but it wasn’t enough to see details in the room by.
“Hopefully there’ll be some lights on in the display rooms,” Maybelle whispered in a voice hardly louder than a breath.
“There ought to be,” Dossik murmured. “Most places have some lighting even at night when nobody is there.”
I pulled on the handle of the door leading to the other museum rooms. “Locked,” I said as quietly as possible. I’m not very good at whispering, even though my voice isn’t that loud naturally.
Kaolin came forward and started working on it. We lost a few moments while he picked it, but it didn’t take that long.
We passed through into the room with the enchanted objects, carefully avoiding the explosive door handle, and advanced into the room filled with skeletons.
The bones seemed foreboding in the dark room. There was some light, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Nothing cast shadows in light that faint.
Maybelle was the first one to the door housing the room with the feather. She carefully pushed it open.
The sudden light blinded all of us. Blinking and squinting against the bright light of the room, I saw Jack standing there with a few other people, dressed in the colors of the wizard police.
We were caught.