He needed to remember that a new location did not mean safety. It only meant a different kind of danger.
(The prompt for this one was "A story entitled 'A New Beginning'." This takes place about seven years before Book 1 [Colorweaver], back when Sol was still going by his birth name of Sebastien and the twins were teenagers.)
Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "A New Beginning"
The young would-be-thief leaned further inside as he perched half in and half out of the open window. While getting into this position had been easy due to the recent discovery that his magic could do more than he had been taught, that form made it difficult to do anything that involved any of his senses. As a shadow sounds were slightly muffled, sight was clouded, smell was almost nonexistent, taste was impossible, and touch was hit-or-miss. Etri had been able to slide the window open further before shifting back, but if it hadn't been partially open in the first place, this plan would have failed from the start.
Right now sound was of utmost importance. With his body back in a shape that possessed ears, he listened to check if any of the residents were awake. No sound greeted him, so he deemed it temporarily safe and slid down to the floor. The moon was waning and the streetlights were too distant to shed much illumination on the room that had the tangy scent of metal and chemicals. That meant he was inside the metalworker's studio he wanted to search. He let his eyes adjust to the near-darkness and saw what he was looking for on the far wall. Seb would be pleased. With this many metalworking tools, it was unlikely the artist who owned this studio would notice one or two missing before Etri had a chance to return it.
Etri inched across the wooden floor in his soft boots and took care to avoid any potentially squeaky floorboards. He was so intent on this that he failed to notice a shadow where a shadow didn't belong. As he reached up to grab the type of tool that Seb had pointed out to him while window shopping earlier that day, he found his wrist caught in a vice-like grip just above his glove and below his sleeve. It was only his upbringing that preached near-silence that kept him from making a sound. It was also this training that allowed him to snatch his thin wrist away in an instinctive reaction that took his assailant by surprise enough to let him go. Touch was forbidden, especially skin-to-skin! How could they be so careless! No, this was Concordia, Etri reminded himself as he glanced in revulsion at his own arm. Things were different here.
Situated somewhere between fear of being caught and aversion to being touched, his mind raced as he sought a way out. The window was only a possibility if he could get away without whoever this was seeing how he was able to scale three stories without a means for climbing. The only door in the room would take him further into the building, which was not his intention.
The only thing to do was to see what kind of trouble he was in. He turned around to check and his eyes widened before he caught himself and smoothed his expression back to impassivity. This wasn't the armed and muscular bodyguard he was expecting to find in an artist's home. Instead a petite young woman a few years older than himself stood with a frown just visible behind a curtain of … blue hair? Were the people of Concordia that genetically dissimilar that their hair was as different from his own as their dark skin to his light? She was dressed in a loose shirt and trousers, not much different from what many of the less prosperous wore here, Etri included. All this added up to her not having any better reason for being here than Etri did and he assumed that he had inadvertently run into another thief.
“Why are you here?” She phrased it as a question, but her tone was more demanding than inquisitive.
Etri begun to answer “I shall ask the same” when it hit him that he could understand her words. After a few weeks in this country, he had learned only a handful of words and phrases. His brother, who they had discovered had an affinity towards picking up languages, had been their best chance of communicating until now.
Montglacian. She was speaking Montglacian. That couldn't be right, considering that no one here spoke it. He knew all too well that no one was allowed to leave Montglace and she didn't look the part even if she had.
Instead he changed his answer to “I wished to borrow tools.”
The young woman tilted her head to the side and let out a disbelieving “hmm?” sound. For some reason Etri felt the need to convince her of his statement. He chalked it up to finally being able to understand someone here. Otherwise he would have kept his mouth shut and looked for another way out. He should be seeking another way out, his mind rebelled.
After almost a year of hearing no one but his brother speak understandably, however, he was too curious to find an escape. Besides, he reasoned, what good would it do for a thief to turn in another one? That would be counterproductive. “My brother invents things, but he is in need of tools. I only wished to borrow these until he sold what he created. With that money we could buy tools and return these.”
“Is that the truth?”
What reason would he have for lying? He and Seb needed money and this was the best way to go about obtaining it. Seb at least had a penchant for creating things from metal with his magic. No longer an apprentice-priest, Etri had no practical skills to bring to the table besides finding a way for his brother to get the supplies he needed. But he couldn't explain this. Magic, their fugitive status… these were not things he would ever share.
Etri kept his mouth tightly shut and simply nodded. It suddenly occurred to him that she could be an agent reporting back to his home and that was how she knew his language. Panic welled up in his chest as he realized he had already given away more than he should have by mentioning his brother. For as far back as he could remember Seb had been the one in the most jeopardy and Etri didn't feel as though a change in location was likely to change this.
His feeling of unease didn't diminish when the woman eyed him up and down as though appraising him. Or possibly recalling his exact appearance to use against him later, his already worried mind supplied. He needed to remember that a new location did not mean safety. It only meant a different kind of danger.
“I have a deal for you.” When she finally spoke again, her words had lost their suspicion and sounded almost… kind. That in itself was strange; Etri had only heard his own language spoken through levels of monotone. She had the correct accent and sentence structure, but her inflection was all wrong.
Etri waited for her to reach her point and explain this deal. He realized that she must be expecting a response when she didn't continue, so he mirrored her earlier action by tilting his head. He assumed this would convey that he was awaiting more information.
Whether or not this was accurate, she continued her offer. “I lead a group of...” she paused as though fumbling for a word until she settled on one. “You could call them reverse thieves. If what you spoke was truth, you could do well at this.”
“'Reverse thieves'?” Etri couldn't make sense of that and had no idea what word she had tried to find.
She gave him a small smile. “Exactly what I said, if a bit cumbersome. We return what was stolen.”
She reached into the small pouch on her belt and made a point of showing him the necklace in the palm of her hand. This she placed on the workbench behind them. “This is why I am here. If you wish, you can join us. In return for that work, you would be given room and board. Your brother, too, of course.”
That sounded too suspicious. Why would a stranger wish to help people she did not know, particularly a stranger who was fluent in a language she should not know? “You turn me over to the city guards if I refuse, yes?”
The woman had the incivility to chuckle. “No, although I would suggest you try a different career. A typical thief would be displeased by your competition and the artists' guards more so.”
Etri mulled over his options. On the one hand this meant potential refuge for himself and Seb. On the other, this could be more danger than it was worth. Life had always included a level of background fear and they had nothing to lose when they had nothing left.
Hope and freedom were such strange concepts, yet he found himself aching for a new start despite the risk. He knew Seb would agree. The nod he gave would either sign their lives as forfeit or grant a new beginning.