The Mage

(This story is from a prompt about new beginnings)

Mage titleThough I knew I had to steal the key, my conscience still smote me brutally. It wasn’t like it had been my idea. The hall was black-dark, but it wasn’t hard to flick open the lock on the tiny box and remove its contents. I could feel everything through my thin gloves, black as the shadows, as if they were a second skin.

The lock snicked shut as I closed the metal box. Ghosting over dark velvet floors, the massive ornate door in view, I was already triumphant. I would get my pay, and he would get his key. The authorities wouldn’t find out who’d stolen it; they never did when I was involved.

“Going somewhere?” The chuckle froze me by the door. Light spilled from a slit in the hall panels, an emerald eye peering through. I stared back through the dark mask across my face. I held my breath, waiting to see what she would do. Not that she knew anything was missing. Yet.

The mahogany panel slipped further open, light spreading toward me but stopping just short. “You do know you aren’t the first.” Her wrinkled lips pursed, eyes narrowing. “But I think I’ll give you a chance.” She stepped back. “Come in! Show me you can use that key, and I’ll let you keep it.”

I stayed motionless, mistrustful of her offer. Besides, it wasn’t my key; I didn’t want it, nor did I particularly want to steal it. “I was hired to take it, not use it,” I said, the words spilling out against my better judgment.

“Perhaps you’d like to change allegiances then.” She grinned. “You’re the best that’s ever tried! I almost missed catching you. And I assure you, I pay much better.”

I wavered, unconvinced, but she hadn’t called for help or tried yet to stop me. Cautiously, I approached, shadows unfurling behind me as the revealing light swirled before my boots.

She sank into a curving armchair, and I saw she was clothed in a riot of colors bright as her eyes. I stopped by the door, and we watched each other until she flicked a hand. “Go on, girl.” Slowly I uncurled my fingers, glancing at the slender key made of irregular wooden chunks fashioned together. Except…it was a puzzle, not a key.

Guessing it was supposed to open some way, I began shifting the pieces. Bit by bit they came apart until the last cluster fell open. Inky smoke spilled from them, unfurling into dark shimmering scales, an angular head, and slender body. I recoiled in shock as a sleek wolf-sized dragon gazed up at me.

“Ha! You thought he’d hire you to take a simple key?” the mage laughed.

“But—How—”

“That is magic, my dear. Never ask of magic ‘how.’” She waved airily. “Don’t worry, that dragon won’t hurt you. She’s yours remember!” I looked from the dragon, tail neatly wound around her feet, to the woman, who chuckled again. “I told you I pay better.”


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