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Song Suggestion: Ghost In The Mirror by Nox Arcana
One of the weavers looked up at Gray, perched on the thick, dusty beam of an old barn. “There.” He didn’t shout. He didn’t have to. The moment he’d seen Gray, the air grew thick and warm. He couldn’t have run if he wanted to. The man motioned to Gray with two fingers and he fell off the beam, but he didn’t tumble to the ground. Instead, he sank through the warm, thick air like a leaf tumbling gently through along a slow current. The weaver set him on his feet and gave him a cold, arrogant smile. He pointed to the charm Gray wore, a twisted, silver triangle knot banded by a ring of black iron. “You know that is only a ward against the fey, correct? It has no effect on my kind.”
“It was my grandfather’s,” Gray said. He had dug it out of the fire when it cooled enough for him to walk over the ashes and burnt wood. He could still see the skull that had rolled up out of the rubble, gray with ash and unrecognizable as anyone he had ever known or loved. His sister had made him go alone. She could not bare to look, she said. He closed his fingers around the pendant. “It’s just a memory of the dead.” Gray pulled the stone in its pouch out of his pocket and held it out. “I wouldn’t have taken it if I had known it was yours. I don’t steal from weavers.”
The fire weaver smiled and spilled the stone into the palm of his hand. The firestone shimmered against his pale skin, feeding off the heat it found there. “Ah, but you did not steal it. It is payment.” And a bit of a test. I was curious if you could steal from one of us, if you could be swift enough and sly enough to take it when we knew you were coming. You passed the test admirably.” He tucked the stone back into the pouch and put it back in Gray’s hand. “If you could take something from me, then I knew you would be the one to hire. I needed to know I was paying the right thief.”
“Payment for what?” Gray asked. It didn’t matter, really; whatever they wanted, they would have from him. The alternative was to be tagged a thief publicly and suffer the consequences. He would burn. However, he was curious why the weavers wanted him; the man before him wore the insignia of The Coven – thirteen blood red stars in a circle on a field of white – which meant that the weaver was one of those stars and could have whatever he wanted with a single word. What could he possibly need a thief for?
“We are looking for someone. A child. And we need a thief to find him and steal him away.”
“I don’t kidnap children.” The words were out before Gray could think about the wisdom of saying them. They sounded perilously like a refusal. But he could not make himself take them back.
“His parents are not alive. The only thing you will be kidnapping him from is a life of suffering and starvation.”
Gray frowned. “Can’t you just track him?”
“It is one of our own,” the fire weaver said. “We have managed to discover his general location, but we cannot be sure where, exactly, he is within the city where he lives. He is hiding himself quite well.” It was an odd fact that a weaver could not track another weaver reliably, even if it was a child. Usually, when a weaver was born, their parents quickly handed them over; it was a guarantee that they would be well fed and safe from most of the horrors the other peasants suffered. But, sometimes, the parents would cover the birthmarks and teach their child to deny their gifts so well that most would never have guessed they were anything but ordinary.
“Your Enforcers can’t weed him out?” Gray asked. There was something here that felt off; The Coven did not need thieves to walk into a city and find children or take them out. It wasn’t as though anyone much cared what happened to an orphan or would try to stand against the weavers. Nor would the weavers care if they did; they could easily burn or freeze their way through anyone foolish enough to stand against them.
The man’s smile slipped for the first time and Gray saw what this was costing him. He did not want to ask for help, certainly not from a peasant and thief. But he needed that help. “He is in Blossom Town.” The weaver straightened his shoulders. “If we wanted to go in after him, we could, but it would begin the same battle which drove us out. Many of those trapped there would die. It would be so much easier just to have another slip in and bring him out. Look at it this way. You’ll be saving the boy’s life; you know how they feel about weavers there. The fact that he’s a child won’t matter if he is exposed.”
Gray swallowed hard. It was another curious fact that the men The Coven kept as their brute force did not seem to be wholly human. They looked it true enough. Though they were overlarge, certainly, heavily muscled, and talked with a brutal, uneducated tone, they still looked, smelled, and sounded like they were made of ordinary flesh and bone. But the spells of a weaver would roll off of their thick hide like water off a duck.
Not ten years before, for reasons they had not shared with anyone, the Enforcers in Blossom Town revolted. They drove The Coven out and any other weaver they found, they murdered. No weaver who went back into the city had ever came back out. But that was not what made Gray so quiet. “I had heard you were a clever thief,” the weaver said. “I was told you came from there and knew it well. Surely the city does not pose you a problem, no matter who is in charge of it?”
“I do not go to Blossom Town,” Gray said quietly, staring down at his left hand. The scar across his palm was small enough now, just a tiny, white streak against the callused skin. But it hadn’t been small when he was twelve. He’d bled everywhere. But there had been a lot of blood that wasn’t his.
“Well, if you are unwilling to make an exception….” The weaver raised his hand and flames grew slow and hissing between them.
Gray gave him a humorless smirk. “We both know I’m not stupid. You can keep your threats. I’ll go. But you’ll need more than a single firestone to pay me. You won’t find another that can still get into the city and certainly not one that can get back out with the child. I’m not even sure I can do it. So I’ll also need a promise.” He stopped smiling. “In writing and with the seal of The Coven. If I fail simply because the Enforcers have found the boy or he was otherwise hurt or injured by someone else, you will not punish me for it or allow another to do so. And I want free passage out of Iviradelle. Put that in as well.”
The weaver’s grin was wicked. “It is too bad you don’t have magic yourself. We could use someone like you.” He held out his hand, uncurling his long, pale fingers. Three more stones lay there. One was a deep, perfect green, one the bottomless, shimmering blue of the ocean, and one that shone with a pale, silvery light. He dropped them into Gray’s hand. “I’ll have the promised paper at your inn by dawn. Deliver the child to me in two weeks time. Beneath the King Tree, outside Blossom Town. And do not try to run the other way; the promises we make can only be upheld if both sides of the bargain are kept true.”
Gray folded the jewels carefully away. “I’ll see you under the King Tree. I know exactly what you are bound by.”
The weaver started to turn, paused, then sighed. “I ought to tell you. We have a policy. It isn’t one I believe is necessary, but Mesophistas always insists. Any siblings the child may have or friends he will not leave behind may come with him. We know that he is an orphan already and we don’t wish to cause him any more distress. I don’t think it could be nearly as bad as it is made out to be, but the instructors insist that it makes them unpredictable. Sometimes even a danger to themselves and the other children.”
“I believe it,” Gray said, meeting the fire weaver’s gaze without a smile. He looked down at his palm again. “Sometimes family is all you have.”