Emelan, the city of Summersea
Number 6, Cheeseman Street
When Briar arrived home after a day spent at Winding Circle Temple he'd expected to find Daja working in the forge and maybe Tris upstairs. He wouldn't have been surprised to see Sandry visiting either. And certainly, all three were in the house, but they were inside, in the kitchen, as far as he could tell. He followed his sense of his three foster-sisters and sure enough, there they were, seated around the kitchen table along with a young man he'd never met before.
"Briar!" Sandry said, smiling brightly at him as she stood. "We thought you'd be longer at Winding Circle."
He shook his head. "We didn't have time for a long session today. Dedicate Plumeria had to see to something else."
It's fine, he assured all three of his sisters through their shared magic. He'd been closed off to them while he spoke to Plumeria and after while he rode back and considered what they'd spoken of, but now he opened his mind to them so they could see that the mind-healing truly was helping. Not that they didn't know by now, since he was finally sleeping soundly most nights, without nightmares of war and death.
"Well, then you're back in plenty of time to have tea with us and our guest," Sandry said. "Briar, this is Eliam Broadcloak. Eliam, this is our brother, Briar Moss."
Briar took a quick inspection of the man who'd stood at Sandry's introduction. He was young, probably not much older than they were themselves. Early 20s at the outside. But he carried himself with confidence, standing with his shoulders back and smiling easily. His clothes were well-made but not luxurious and even if his name hadn't given away that he was a mage, small winks of magic showed at various points - on his ears and pockets. Briar held out his hand to the man and they shook firmly.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Eliam said, seeming not to even notice the vine tattoos on Briar's hand as they twined and shifted. "Lady Sandry was telling me of some of the things you've all done."
Briar glanced at Sandry as he let go of Eliam's hand.
Nothing too detailed, she assured him. Just some of the places we've been and things we've seen. Nothing about the war or Yanjing.
He relaxed a bit. Of course she hadn't said anything about the war. None of them would.
"I hear you've been to Chammur?" Eliam asked.
Briar nodded, though he didn't really want to talk about Chammur any more than he wanted to talk about Yanjing.
"I have been, though we didn't stay long."
Eliam chuckled, apparently hearing enough from Briar's tone to know what his opinion of the city was.
"Neither did I. I was born there and I left for Lightsbridge as soon as I could. My family all wanted me to go back there, but I couldn't bear it. And then a position opened with the harriers here in Summersea and here I am."
Sandry poured some tea for Briar and set it in front of him as he sat down.
"I wrote to you all about when we had that series of assassinations here?" she said as she sat again. "I worked with one of the harrier mages, Wulfric Snaptrap, until the assassins killed him. Eliam here studied under him, so he's come to us with a request."
Briar sat back to drink his tea while Sandry spoke, though he was still watching Eliam. He might well retract that request if he knew he was talking to a former thief. Or maybe not. He looked like he had a sense of humor too.
"Two weeks ago," Eliam began, "we had reports of a series of thefts from further along the coast. All magical items. All from mages' workshops or homes. All untraceable. It's not anything we can see and it's not unmagic either. The only tracking we've been able to do is location. Apparently when you can magically cover your crimes without leaving any evidence, you don't need to worry about whether your targets know you're coming. Whoever it is, they're headed for Summersea. And we are a ripe target indeed. I'm hoping to stop the thefts before they reach Winding Circle."
"We're a pretty ripe target ourselves, just in this house," Briar pointed out. "The shakkans alone would fetch a good price, and you wouldn't even need a fence for 'em. Back in the day, I'd have passed up a house with three - or four - mages, but I guess that ain't a problem?"
He saw Eliam register the admission and tuck it away before nodding. "That is exactly it. I'm hoping that the four of you will be willing to use your unusual skills to lay a bit of a trap. So far all the thefts have been from regular mages, not ambient mages like yourselves." And then he sat back himself, letting them think on it. If he knew that they'd also be debating it between themselves in silence, he didn't let on.
We'd want to pick and choose what we kept around the house, Daja pointed out. I've got things, like the living brass, that I wouldn't want to risk.
Well, this thief can't have the braids off my head, Tris added. Though... I do have a few minor breezes and rains bound up in knots. Not enough to do any damage but still fairly valuable. Not that I want to lose them!
None of us want to lose any of our things, Daja assured Tris. But do we think we can set a trap that this thief won't notice or slip through?
Briar noticed that Sandry was staying out of the discussion. She must have had an opinion, but whatever it was, she was keeping it to herself. He glanced at her, sending a private tendril of thought.
Hey, you think we should do this? he asked.
She smiled at him. It's your house. I'd be happy to bring some of my things as bait and to help set a trap, but it's not my home. Even if I do spend as much time here as I do at the Keep.
She hadn't kept that entirely private, which elicited a glare from Tris and a long-suffering sigh from Daja.
You'd think we hadn't gone over this dozens of times, Daja told them all. It doesn't matter if you sleep here or not. It's still your home. So if you think we can do it, I'm all for trying. We can't let Winding Circle get hit.
Tris nodded in agreement. There's far too much there that could be deadly in the wrong hands.
Briar grinned. "Well, fancy this," he said out loud. "My old mates'd laugh themselves silly if they heard I was helping nab thieves now." He turned to Eliam. "We'll do it."
Summersea - The Mire
Nareny's Boarding House
Given the coin she'd gotten for the last batch of charms she'd stolen, Kinna could have stayed almost anywhere in the city. But the Mire was easy and familiar. No one expected her to try and be neighborly and no one asked where she was from or what she was doing in Summersea. All she had to do was pay for her lodgings and keep herself fed. That was easy enough.
Once she'd settled into the tiny attic room she'd rented for the next two weeks she set about making some friends. Rats were the easiest. Not the most pleasant of creatures, but their wants and needs were simple. They wanted food and they wanted a place to nest. Using that to get one to go where she wanted wasn't difficult. It was just a matter of convincing him that there was food and bedding in whatever house she chose.
Soon enough she'd know what was worth checking out, what houses had animals she could talk to, what animals knew about odd items that could turn out to be valuable and what animals could be convinced to bring those items to her.
Number 6, Cheeseman Street
Briar crouched in the garden as he sent his magic through the pea and bean vines that grew there. Useful as they might be in ensnaring their thief, he didn't want to lose their crop later on if he could help it. The beans were agreeable enough but the peas were giving him trouble. He'd just gotten them to let go of his hands when he noticed Eliam standing at the edge of the garden.
"A plant mage once visited Lightsbridge while I was a student there," he said, watching as a few of the pea plants tested Briar one last time. "He specialized in trees. They weren't nearly so... eager."
With a firm touch of magic, Briar made the peas twine back around their trellis before he turned his attention to his guest.
"It bothers some folk," he said, shrugging. "Not you, I guess?"
Eliam shook his head. "No. I'm not bothered by much. Certainly not by a plant mage working with plants. You should see how it unnerves people when I start working and that's just a matter of charms and spells."
"I know I was plenty unnerved when a mage was around when I'd nicked something," Briar noted. He'd meant to start on the wisteria vines around the door but hesitated to watch Eliam as he circled the smaller garden patch. He didn't dress like a harrier, but he also didn't dress like a regular mage. It was as if he'd picked the precise clothes he needed to go unnoticed. Except Briar had trained himself to notice things like that. And for some reason he was noticing Eliam quite a lot. Which was a little worrisome.
"Former thief, hmm?" Eliam said. He smiled at Briar, who found himself smiling back. "I noticed the tattoos on your hands. Interesting work. But why tattoo your hands?" The barest hint of a smirk made it quite clear he'd figured it out already.
"It's for the ladies," Briar assured him.
"Ah, of course," Eliam said, nodding. "The ladies." He seemed almost as if he was about to say more, then stopped himself, stooping to inspect a tub full of chives.
"I apologize," he said to Briar as he walked over. "I meant simply to come and ask how your preparations are coming along and here I am interrogating you."
Briar shrugged, then turned as he realized he was still smiling. That wisteria wasn't going to train itself into the pattern he needed for the trap around the back door, so he got to work.
"I'm putting flowering vines around the doors and windows, some inside, some out. They're meant more to communicate than to catch, so if something opens and it's not me or one of the girls, they'll let me know. Sandry's set some nets in the carpets, drapes, dishcloths, sheets, napkins, baskets. You get the idea. Daja's covering the locks and Tris... Tris is keeping an eye on everything." Which was one of her unique talents these days.
"I admit," Eliam said as he walked over to watch Briar work with the wisteria, "when I came to ask Lady Sandriline if she could think of a way to assist me, I didn't expect quite this much help. I'd heard some rumors, but you know what they say about rumors."
Briar grinned and sent the Wisteria climbing up to the second story of the house. "Yeah, me'n the girls, we're good for rumors. It's truly amazing, the things people say we've done." The wisteria twined around the upper windows of the house as Briar glanced at Eliam. "Come in. You can tell me what rumors you've heard."
Number 18, Cottage Street
Not far from a house reported to be home to four mages, Kinna found a potter's shed to hide herself in after dark. It was the perfect spot to work from: Close enough for her to check for animals but not close enough to be visible to anyone in the house itself. Mages could see all manner of things at great distance, but they had to know to look in the first place.
She had intended to leave the house alone until she'd seen one of the residents with what appeared to be a glass dragon. Of course it couldn't be alive. Or could it? Mages did extraordinary things, but a living piece of glass seemed strange indeed and she wanted to check on it for herself.
The house seemed quiet. Just her luck - not even a mouse inside. Of course, with four mages, they had to have come up with something to keep unwanted creatures out. That was the trick to getting what she wanted. Traps and alarms were always set to attack the unwanted. But a pet? A pet was wanted. No mage alarm ever sounded because a cat needed to go outside.
Kinna put all of her attention on locating the glass dragon. If it was alive, she would find it. If not, then, well, she might well have to pass this house by, regardless of tales about a whole workshop of shakkan trees and the sorts of wind knots Traders sold at prices that could have fed Kinna's entire home village for a year or more. Magic woven into cloth and metal that grew - It was difficult not to be greedy. But she had to find that dragon first.
And there it was, unlike any creature she'd ever touched. She tried the usual enticements: Food and comfort. When those didn't work she pressed a little, searching for what a magical glass dragon could possibly want. It was magnificent... And that got a reaction. So. The way to the creature's heart was praise. Easier even than food. Kinna smiled in the dark of the shed. Soon. She'd call the dragon to her soon.
Number 6, Cheeseman Street
Each of them had been taking turns keeping watch at night. Briar knew his shift wasn't for another hour, but he'd had a nightmare and woke, sweating and half-way to panic. Meditation helped some, as did some time with his shakkan. But Dedicate Plumeria had been very firm about his insistence on coping with his fear alone. He'd said it was understandable, but unnecessary given his magical connection with Daja, Tris and Sandry. Rosethorn had been right in the first place.
"If only all of my patients had the support you could have," Plumeria had sighed. So after calming himself a little with the peace of his shakkan, Briar reached out to Daja, currently meditating in front of the low glow of coals in her forge.
Daj'? he said cautiously, not wanting to startle her.
Trouble sleeping? she asked without putting a hint of judgement into it. Of course Daja wouldn't judge him. Thinking rationally, Briar knew she'd seen terrible things herself. They all had. Not on the same scale as a full out war, with whole villages destroyed and people killed for the sake of where they lived, but terrible nonetheless.
Briar didn't attempt to hide his thoughts from her and in return he felt Daja's magic warm him as if he sat right next to her.
This was a new one, he told her. But... I knew it was real. You know, I actually lived this one. It wasn't just something my head came up with to torture me. Thing is? I hadn't remembered it until tonight. How could I forget something this bad?
Wordlessly, she opened her mind completely, offering to look and see exactly what he'd remembered and he let her see it all. A young man in a green habit, smile bright and clever, making him look younger than he had been. A sprawling garden full of things Briar hadn't seen before. The feel of the dedicate's hand brushing his own as they sifted through the soil to replant seedlings. A kiss he hadn't expected but welcomed and the night that had followed. The sound of gongs just before dawn and the sight of the young man's body sprawled across a row of seedlings, gutted and left to rot.
Briar cut it off there and felt Daja pull back a little to give him some time.
You didn't remember any of that? she asked a few moments later. At all?
None of it, he replied. Well, I remembered the gongs and that we were attacked, but not... Not the rest. Not what happened to him. Not that anything had ever... No. I didn't remember.
Daja took her time in responding. You should talk to Dedicate Plumeria about this, she advised. Tomorrow, if possible. You know we won't hold it against you. Forgetting or what you forgot.
Briar considered arguing for the sake of arguing, but this was Daja, not Sandry or Tris. So instead he just got up and started to head down to the forge. It was almost time for his shift anyhow.
I'll go up to Winding Circle... he'd started when suddenly a shrill screech sounded from the upper floor. Briar quickly sent his power through all the plants in the house but found nothing amiss.
Daj'? he asked.
It's nothing at any of the doors, she told him as they both felt Tris awaken and Sandry right after her.
It's Chime! Tris told them. She's trying to get through one of the windows!
Let her go! Sandry told them. Follow her with everything we can send.
They all felt Tris send a breeze along behind Chime as the dragon flew out her window. Briar quickly sent a vine of his own power to follow and felt Sandry and Daja do the same with their own. Whatever Chime was alerted to, they'd follow her to it.
Number 18, Cottage Street
She'd only meant to see if the dragon would follow her commands, first praising it and assuring it that she thought it was the most magnificent thing she'd ever seen. And she'd been telling the truth in that. This wasn't an object she could sell. This was a creature she'd keep with her for as long as she lived. She just had to get it to follow her.
Then it had all gone horribly wrong. Most animals, when throwing off her influence or refusing to listen, just shut her out or went back to their own business. The dragon, it seemed, was slightly stronger-willed. There was something uncontrollable and unpredictable about it that Kinna hadn't picked up on when she'd first touched it. When the dragon screeched she pulled back immediately, letting it go without any further attempt to communicate.
Kinna sat in the shed, stunned. Moments later she was on her feet, dusting off her dark clothes and making sure everything was just as she'd found it. She reached for the shed's door to creep out when she heard a light thud on the roof. An unpleasantly familiar screech sounded just above where she was standing. Well, she'd wanted the dragon. Now it was here. She moved to open the door and found that she couldn't. Odd, since there wasn't a latch on it. A breeze slipped in through the cracks in the door, then suddenly disappeared. She shoved the door lightly and then stepped back, startled as the wood seemed to move on its own.
By the dim light of the lantern she'd brought, Kinna saw the wood of the shed door and walls sprout thin branches that wove together into a tight mesh. When she tried the door's handle again it was hot to the touch and outside the shed she could hear the wind pick up. And when she would have grabbed the knife at her belt she found the sleeves of her shirt woven to her sides, trapping her arms in place. The dragon screeched again from outside the shed and as Kinna heard voices approaching, she cursed it and herself for her greed.
Number 6, Cheeseman Street
"So the Winding Circle council doesn't have anyone who can speak to animals?" Eliam asked, seated at the kitchen table one week after the thief had been caught. "I hadn't heard of it before, but I thought with so many specialized mages..." He shrugged.
Briar poured himself more tea and took a seat across the table from Eliam. "It's vexing them something fierce," he confided. "Much as they'd love to keep her there and learn as much as they could, she's made far too much trouble just in the time they've had her in custody. First night there? She got a crow to bring her the keys to her cell. Second night? A grass snake did the same. Since she's using her magic to talk to them, not to control them, they've got to ward against all animals, not just against magic." He sighed and sat back. Half of his talk with Dedicate Plumeria the day before had been on the subject of the young woman they'd caught and whether Briar, as a former thief himself, thought she could be turned around.
The other half of the talk had been about the nightmare that had woken him that night and the sudden and unstemmable rush of memories about Dedicate Teakleaf, whose name he still couldn't think of without getting a quick rush of terror. Briar closed his eyes and took a sip of his tea.
"Are you okay?" Eliam asked.
Briar opened his eyes and smiled shakily. "Mostly."
Eliam paused, then smiled back at him. "I... I hope you don't mind me asking, but I was wondering if you'd like to have lunch with me this afternoon?"
He didn't look a thing like Teakleaf. His smile was more guarded and he was taller, with narrower features and longer hair. Briar wasn't even quite sure if that would matter. Differences like that had never mattered with girls. But they only mattered here because of the memories. Because of the war. This was just lunch, though, not a tumble in bed or a kiss in the garden. Just lunch. For now. He'd talk to Plumeria about it next week.
"I'd like to," he told Eliam. "Lunch sounds perfect."