Monday, August 22, 2011

Night School

A bit stilted to be sure, my first attempt at the picaresque. Hope you enjoy.
For the terribleminds flash fiction challenge. Please, go read the other entries as well.

 “Ready to talk thief?” The imp asked every hour on the hour. Most accurate clock I had ever had really. I didn't bother to answer, it wouldn't have made a difference. The tiny scaled monster repeated it's query before returning to a resting position. Supposedly it was self aware, but I had to wonder if it even knew it was outside of the prison I had nicked it from. I checked the sky, the winter was nearly here and the sun was already down, which made my life easier. I grabbed my gear and dropped out the window, hitting the alley below the boardinghouse. I could have taken the door, but hauling a bag of tools down the stairs in the late evening was rarely inconspicuous. I checked my bag one last time and started walking towards the compound in the center of town.
I made quick time through the lower parts of town, but I had to slow down when I hit the central district. Guards patrolled the walls constantly, and the gates were barred and locked at sundown supposedly as much to keep the wizards in as the rest of us out. Just on the other side riches were waiting, ancient artifacts, spells of unimaginable power, and something even greater. This wasn't my first time scaling the wall and it wouldn't be the last if I had any luck tonight. I circled around slowly, ducking into shadows whenever a patrol crossed overhead. Finally a gap opened around the corner, a slightly lower edge of the outer wall. I grabbed the hook from my bag and hurled it over the edge. I managed to snag on something first go. One quick shimmy up and I was over the edge... face to face with a surprised looking guard.
Under his helmet he looked young, and he was staring between the rope and me as I unhooked it. I guess he was new, and hadn't learned to sound the alarm instantly. He tightened the grip on his spear and started to yell. Before he could I swung the hook low and caught him between the legs, sending him doubling over. By luck a hook snagged on his leg and when I pulled free he went sprawling. “Sorry man.” I mumbled as I swung over the other side of the wall. In my haste I fell poorly, hitting my shoulder and knocking the wind out of me for a moment.
I staggered away, trying to get breath back in my lungs before the guard regained his senses. By the time an alarm went up I was half way across the campus, and far away from where they guessed. I skirted away from the central tower, the mage housing, even the armory, instead diving into the rats nest of smaller buildings. Most of them were completely dark but a few still had lights in the windows, burning steadily. But only one had lights framing the doorway. I smiled when I saw those burning lamps. Class was in session and I was just on time.
It wasn't any difficulty to pry open a window just a bit, and the ledge was more than wide enough for me to sit on. I found quickly I had misjudged the time but luckily the first part was always a review so I hadn't missed much of the lecture. The senior wizard, an old man with a cane and a strange fire in his eyes, was called Laurence by the students. Tonight he was explaining the uses of sulfur and mercury in alchemical reactions. I fished the few blank sheets of paper I had out of my bag and started to take notes, idly wondering where the guards were looking now. Probably checking some of the less secured vaults. My daydreaming was my undoing though. I lost my balance and fell into the classroom, the contents of my bag flying everywhere. For a brief moment I hoped in vain I hadn't been noticed. No such luck, as every eye in the place was now trained on me. Mage Laurence started briefly, dropping a flask of mercury on the floor, before striding over to me as I scrambled to get my junk back in my bag. “Who are you?” “I, uh, that is to say.. I'm” “Well? I'm sure I haven't seen you before in the lectures.” As I groped for the last of my things my hand curled around a familiar lump of metal. “I'm your best student actually.” A few giggles came from the assembled crowd. “You? You are clearly some interloper, how could you be my best student?” I had my mind back now. “Because I don't have your preconceptions my friendly mage. The secret of Alchemy? There is no secret to it. Any fool with the right tools could make these things.” Now I had a gasp. “Preposterous. Students, observe. What we have hear is a commoner who thinks to elevate himself to the level of the mage. To think of it. We alone hold this knowledge.” He had turned to address them and gave me a chance to stand. I should have run. “Well, yeah, you do. That's the trick though. Sure spells and all that are a little unique but this alchemy, the astronomy. Why is it only the mages get to know these things? Love of power? Thinking they have inherent magic? Whatever the case it just isn't true.” Now I had everyone's attention. I lifted up the root shaped lump in my hand. “Consider this my final project.” I pulled a hidden key and hurled the now glowing metal. As I turned to flee out the door it exploded loudly, showering the place in blinding light. Some day mages would learn the truth. Until then I guess I had to start teaching on the side.

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