a heroic moment in the life of a thief-mage

Inspired by a prompt using the words "limit" and "puzzle." Lior, a thief with the power to lock or unlock anything he lays his hands on, frees some war prisoners and baffles the prison guards with a secret code.

"Do whatever you want," she said. "Just keep in mind they might sense you."

Lior ignored her and strolled down the prison aisle. He held his arms stretched out so his fingertips brushed the locks, and with every few steps there was a resounding click. The prisoners held the bars, their faces squished between the metal, and watched with rapt attention. Maya stood, arms crossed, back against the wooden door behind her. Her eyes were closed, but she could see Lior, see the heat of his magic in her mind's eye.

"There's too much. Try doing it one at a time," Maya hissed.

Lior paused and let his arms fall to his sides. "Look, the faster I do it, the sooner I can seal the door."

"The faster you do it, the more magic you use, and the possibility that you'll have time to seal the door will drop. Now, slow your ass down."

Muttering, Lior ran a hand through his messy blond hair and took his merry time approaching the next cell. Maya rolled her eyes. Smart-ass.

She leaned her head against the door and closed her eyes again, feeling the air. All she felt were the presences of Lior and the prisoners, and the now-faint warmth of her companion's powers weighing down on her skin like low dark thunder-clouds. Drawing back into herself to avoid being noticed, Maya watched Lior as he stepped from cell to cell, effortlessly nudging each padlock with the tip of his index finger.

She wondered why the Powers That Be would bestow such a ... relevant gift upon a lowly criminal. Before the war, Lior had been a thief, and with the ability to unlock any lock, anywhere, he was, well, the best in the business. But that was before the empire of Shiran flowed over Lanvia's borders, burning, pillaging, killing. Maya touched her knuckle to her lower lip in deep thought, willing memories she'd rather not recall to the dark places in her mind.

There was a final, obnoxious, echoic clang as Lior reached the last of the prison cells. With his signature nonchalant grin, the thief snapped his fingers; each padlock clattered to the floor and every cell screeched open. The prisoners pulled back, their dirt-smeared faces frozen in shock, and then stumbled out of their cages in a daze, drunk on the distant recollection of freedom.

"That last move required a big burst," Lior explained, making his way to Maya. "Move. I gotta make this quick."

She nodded and fell into her new job of herding the prisoners outside. Sucking in a breath between his teeth, Lior moved his hands over the door, whispering as he exhaled. Glowing words in a strange language appeared, lighting up underneath his palms. He heard shouts and running footsteps on the other side. With a last push of energy, Lior covered the door in the glowing script, and fled down the hallway after Maya and the escapees.

He stared at the writing on the door. "What the hell is this?"

A lesser guard cleared his throat. "Sir, it looks like some variation of Old Lanvian--"

"I know what language it is, fool," The captain exclaimed, smacking the dull edge of his sword across the guard's helmet. "Why is it glowing, and why is it on the door?"

A dark-haired man wound through the crowd, his deep scarlet cape flowing behind him. He stared at the guard captain with apathetic, lidded black eyes.

"Well, you certainly took your time getting here," The captain said drily.

"It is a dialect of old Lanvian, originating in the East and probably developed by thieves so they could pass secret messages," The man explained. "My guess is it's a locking spell crafted by a thief. If I can translate the message on the door, I can unlock it."

"And how long is that going to take?"

"Possibly hours."

"Hours!" The captain barked, throwing his helmet to the ground. He whirled to face his men. "What are you doing? Get back to your positions!"

The guard from earlier winced. "But, sir, shouldn't we pursue--"

"There's no time. The girl is powerful. She can disguise every last one of them without breaking a sweat," The caped man said, smirking.

The captain growled at his superior, face twisted into an ugly scowl. "Whose side are you on, anyway? Get back to breaking that spell."

"I don't believe I take orders from you, but I'd be happy to oblige."

Giving one last strangled shout of frustration, the captain scooped up his helmet and stomped away, leaving Zeev to crack the code with a proud smile on his face.

The End

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