The last person who had tried to sneak into the Garden was buried alive by an Earthmage. Rumor has it one of his decaying fingers still reaches over the surface, desperately trying to claw his way to freedom. With that thought on my mind, why was I attempting to do the same?
I didn’t have anything to lose, I suppose.
There weren’t any guards in the Garden, which should have been odd. Why wouldn’t anyone be protecting the Thread Trees? It should have been an easy steal. Dash in, grab some bark and branches, and dash out. I knew a weaver who would keep hush about my sources and create me a belt or something with the thread the trees granted. Figured a bit of magic would improve my life a bit.
Taking one last look about the Gardens, I steeled myself to hurry with my task. I leaped off of the elm I had perched in and sidled up to the stone gate. As quick as I dared, I scaled the gate and landed on the perfectly manicured lawn.
I paused, half expecting to be swallowed up by the earth in an instant, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, all I heard was a bird or two, but their peaceful melody was shattered by my thoughts peppering me with the idea of the birds being the guards, of their tweets being a secret language that the Airmages could understand, and the Airmages were on their way right that moment to harness the winds to throw me up in the air and let me drop on the asphalt to die.
I glared at the birds, who took no heed, and strolled past their nest toward the Thread Trees. I was almost there. It wouldn’t take long at all to grab what I needed–
The fountain in the middle of the Garden exploded, and I cursed profoundly as a giant fist created of water swept my feet out from under me. It lifted me up in the air by my waist, and I found myself upside-down staring at a young woman with threads of blue embroidered in her otherwise white cloak.
The birds’ tweets made it sound as if they were laughing.
“Excellent catch.” A few gentlemen appeared behind the young woman, one with red embroidery, another with yellow, and a third with blue.
“What shall I do with the trespasser, Professors?” the young woman asked. I was whipped over toward the fountain. “Drown her? Perhaps Professor Auburn would like to demonstrate his power?”
“Thank you, but I do not particularly feel like burning anyone today,” the Firemage said with a chuckle.
“Pity. I do enjoy a bonfire.” The woman had her water hand bring me back in front of them. To me, she said, “Why did you cross the gates, trespasser?”
“To take a bit of your magic,” I said.
She raised a delicate eyebrow. “That’s it? No tales of accidentally falling over the gate? Of being lost? I expected a carefully woven lie.”
I shrugged. “Aren’t I going to die, anyway?”
“Then why trespass?” the Airmage asked.
“Figured I’d take a chance,” I said. “Mind putting me right side up?”
The woman actually obliged. “Why take the chance to die?”
“I was taking the chance that having magic would make my life better,” I said. “I don’t really have anything else going for me right now. So, what are you going to do with me? I’d rather you get it over with.”
The woman glanced at the men, apparently at a loss with such a compliant trespasser. The Firemage eventually made a gesture toward the fountain, and I briefly wondered how long it would take to drown.
“Wait a moment,” the older Watermage said, his voice raspy with his age. “Perhaps we could make this lady a proposition.”
“For trespassing?” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “Forgive me, Professor River, but why not just give her gold? Trespassers should be punished, not rewarded.”
“Peace, Misty,” Professor River said. “What you claim as a reward for her would be more beneficial to us. Either she completes it, or she dies.”
“Sounds riveting,” I said. “You do realize I’m still here, right? What is this proposition?”
“You will wait until we address you–”
“Or what?” I cut off Misty. She gawked at the interruption, and I continued. “Again, I got nothing to lose. I really don’t care about your supposed status at this point.”
“You apparently don’t care much about your life either,” she said.
“Did I give you the impression that I did?” I retorted. Her eyes narrowed, and she turned back to the professors.
“What am I to do with her now, then?” she asked.
“Let us take her to the conference room,” the Airmage said. “You may put her down, Misty. She will not go anywhere.”
“Professor Sterling, she may escape–”
“With four mages watching? I think not,” he said. “Do as I say.”
The water hand nearly dropped me, but I at least landed on my feet, even if it wasn’t gracefully. I was bemused by their discussion, but not enough to protest. Instead, I complied and followed the group, with the disgruntled Misty bringing up the rear. We went inside the estate and I was ushered through the winding hallways and staircases until we entered a large room, sparse except for the oval table in the middle. About a dozen mages were already seated, and I was soon under the scrutiny of all their gazes.
I smiled and waved.
“What is this creature?” an Earthmage asked.
“A trespasser, Professor Glenn,” Professor Sterling said cheerfully. “Professor River is under the impression that this young lady is the answer to our dilemma.”
“Intriguing.” Professor Glenn looked me up and down. “What is your name?”
“Canvas?” the Earthmage repeated.
“Yes,” I said. “I don’t know what my birth name is, but on the streets that’s how I’m known. I draw for a bit of money.”
He nodded, but otherwise didn’t seem too interested. Gesturing to a chair, he asked, “Would you like to sit down?”
“Sure.” I plopped down in the seat, nearly sinking in the silk cushion. The oval table was as high as my chest at that level, and I did my best to sit up as straight as possible. “Well, then, let’s get on with this proposition…”