Amber hobbled through the streets of Hopeswell. She’d developed a blister on her right foot from a shoe that didn’t fit as well as it should. This was hardly her triumphal procession to the site of victory.
Amber smiled at her own fancies. Her senses were cautiously extended from her body. Every time they collided with a human pattern, she ducked into a side street or took a detour. There weren’t many people around at any rate; the clock had struck one as she’d climbed down from the town hall roof.
The ghost tugged at her, but pattern lines didn’t exactly follow streets. Unless she could walk through brick walls or entered people’s homes through their windows, she had to take a more circuitous route. The ghost didn’t like it and only pulled harder.
A less insistent ghost next time.
The ghost led her behind shops, over the railroad tracks, and in among the warehouses with their tiny windows and large blank walls. A greasy stillness hung around her, heavy with the patterns of a dozen different defensive spells. Amber threaded carefully among them, fitting herself through narrow gaps.
This one. Amber craned her neck up at a warehouse, no different from its fellows in the night. Her ghost pulled at her from inside.
Amber pulled out the locator spell Waleem had given her. Stick it on the ground, activate the spell, and one thousand coppas are as good as mine.
But still she hesitated. Still the ghost pulled. Still the voices went around and around her head.
“… we’ll have all the sycophants after us…”
“… two-coppa witch…”
“…don’t feed the strays…”
The memory stung. The band around her wrist, marking her as not-good-enough, was a painful reminder. Amber turned it over and over around her arm. The knowledge rubbed her raw.
I’m better than they think! I know I can do this. I can walk into that warehouse and stick the spell right on that pipe without tripping any alarms at all.
She knew it was her pride talking. She knew what Papa would say if he were privy to her turmoil. But the same sudden impulse that had taken her into the bakery this evening had a hold of her again.
I can do this.
Amber scanned the defense spell around the warehouse. Ooh, tricky. It looked like your average, off-the-shelf keep-thieves-out spell, but there some nasty little snarls and thorns hidden in it. Yes, this spell could give someone quite the unpleasant shock. Right before they were incinerated by fire or zapped with lightning.
But no defense spell was airtight. There were always holes, and the key was to insert yourself through them without triggering the spell.
You had to make yourself be part of its pattern, or else something small and harmless, like a mouse or a puff of air.
Since you couldn’t change your own individual pattern, all you could do was wear a disguise on top of it.
If I duplicate this part… and match up the edges… I can walk right through this gap… and no one will be the wiser.
Amber pulled out a square of fabric from her pocket and shook it out. It billowed into a grey cloak, almost as light as air. I knew this would come in handy. The cloak was mistwoven; its fibers easily absorbed and held patterns. Amber could use it as either disguise or armor, though her patterns didn’t hold much longer than a day. Mostly, they dispelled within hours or even minutes, depending on the circumstance.
This pattern would last long enough. Once she’d imprinted it on the mistcloak, Amber flung it around her shoulders and put the hood up over her head. It draped on her body, surprisingly heavy now that she wore it. It was as if the pattern actually added weight to the fabric.
Let’s do this.
Amber stepped forward. One, two, three. The defense spell shifted as she stood in its gap, and her shoulders tightened against a lightning bolt.
Amber slid one foot along the ground, then the next, slowly detaching herself from the spell. A sudden jerk would trigger massive amounts of pain.
With a last pinch, she was past the spell and free. Amber took a deep breath and strode forward.
A warning shimmer stopped her mid-stride, one foot lifted up.
What’s this? Another layer? Amber carefully put her foot back down and examined the second layer, this one weaker and paler, hiding behind the stronger, bolder pattern.
And I nearly walked straight into it. Amber shook her head in disgust. Pay attention, you two-coppa witch!
She wove another pattern, imprinted it into her cloak, glided through a gap. There. She reached out and touched the wall of the warehouse. It was solid and spell-less.
Amber cast a doubtful look at the wide padlocked door. Too big, too heavy, bound to be guarded with more nasty spells and make a horrible grinding sound when moved.
She circled the building, looking for windows. Her ghost fluttered at the end of its tether, but the movement was weak.
It was already dissipating. Amber wished, not for the first time, that she had sun magic to power her pattern creations, and then instantly felt treacherous for even thinking it.
Aha. Amber crouched by a basement window, hidden in the shadow of an overhang. The window was small, the glass dusty, the frame rickety, and there were no spells around, in front of, or behind it. The pattern threads around it were frail and stretched thin. It took the merest twitch to encourage the hook-and-eye latch to click open.
Amber tugged at the casement. It put up a token resistance, then popped open. She put her feet in the gap and squeezed through. Her hips stuck for one heart-stopping moment, but a wiggle freed them. She fell ungracefully to the floor in a heap of braided hair and mistwoven cloak.
Mysterious shapes hulked in the faint light coming from the window. Great. I hate working in the dark. Amber pushed her senses out ahead of her and made her slow way past stacks of crates and up a short flight of stairs. She tripped up the last step and landed hard on her hands. Ouch.
At least she was on the main floor now. The gloom lifted a little, and Amber risked a small light pattern. It bobbed ahead of her, casting a dim glow.
Smaller spells draped walls and ceiling. Some were detached and floating free. They were easy enough to deflect, but Amber slowed, moving cautiously. More annoying were the blanks in her mage senses, dead places were objects had been heavily wrapped in silence. The sheer number of those blank spots made Amber nervous.
Just how many magical artifacts were in this warehouse?
I’m in this up to my neck, so I might as well see it through. Amber stopped in front of a shelving unit crowded with boxes. She reached out a hand and her ghost misted onto her palm, leaving a slight coolness.
Found you. Amber ran her fingers over a long narrow case, raising dust. She held back a sneeze, then fiddled with the clasps. The age-worn leather gave way easily. Amber opened the case and peered at the pipe.
In the cool blue of her faint lights, she could make out few details, but the curve of its stem and shape of its bowl was distinctive. A Serepentine cha-smoking pipe, as she’d guessed.
Amber couldn’t resist picking it up, couldn’t resist feeling its pattern, matching it with her ghost, gloating over how right she’d been.
Not bad, huh? Wonder how many licensed mages could pick out an object in an entire city based off a bit of broken energy signature. Time to get that locator spell on and get out of here. I deserve a warm bed, a hot bath, and a great meal after this.
Amber pulled out the locator spell Waleem had given her, a small sticky blob with a deep indentation. Her thumb hovered over the hollow.
All the patterns around her lurched horribly, flashed in lurid colors. Amber staggered, blinded.
And then the world went horribly, disastrously mad.
Author’s Note: Everything was going too well for Amber. It’s time to shake things up.
Any questions or comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts!