The thief entered the bookshop carefully. The place was supposed to be heavily defended, as it stored some of the treasures of the kingdom. But there were no guards. The books simply stood upon the shelves, some of them leaning against each other.
The most precious tomes, the ones of magic, stood on the back shelf. The thief sneered. They weren’t locked up. They weren’t even behind glass. What fools.
He took a quick glance around the store. There was nobody near him. No customers in the store at all. Two workers stood at the front counter, bent over some old notebook. Neither seemed to even notice he was there.
Well, he had come to take power, had he not? What better moment than the present?
He snatched the book and hid it in his tattered cloth bag. The cloth strained at the weight, but it should hold until he returned to his hideout. He moved over to another shelf, with cheaper books. Oddly clean, this shop. He had been in many bookstores across the land, searching for the tomes of magic, and often they were very dusty places.
He picked out a cheap book describing sleight of hand and brought it to the counter. The elder of the two shop assistants took his money and slipped the small volume into a paper bag. “Found everything you were looking for?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“If you ever feel the need, do return. We always have something for those who seek out knowledge… and power.”
The thief laughed. “I don’t know if that fits my description exactly.”
“I saw you at the back. You obviously have an interest in the secrets of deep magic.”
“I…” The thief clutched at his bag. “I haven’t much chance to explore them. And those books are expensive.”
“They are valuable. But they can be earned, if you are willing to work for them.”
“I’ll… keep that in mind. Thank you, sir.”
“My name is Atin. Remember that.”
The thief turned, sweating. But this Atin, he couldn’t know that the book was stolen, could he? The man would have said something. But nobody said or did anything to stop the thief from leaving
“Master Atin, sir? Aren’t you going to stop him?”
“Why should I?”
“He stole one of the Ancient Tomes! You saw him!”
“He won’t go far.” Atin turned a page in the notebook. “Let’s get back to your lesson, shall we?”
Relief washed over the thief as he stood in the sunlight of the street. They hadn’t noticed. All he had to do now was get to somewhere safe, back to his hideout where he could peruse in peace and quiet. But what if they noticed the book was missing? What if they caught up with him before he could get to his hideout? He looked behind him at the imposing building. Nobody was following. It seemed hardly anyone had even noticed. No, he was safe.
The book was so heavy. The bag, already worn, would surely break with that weight, so he took the book out. People would think it odd if he was seen carrying such a large book in broad daylight. He stumbled into the shade of a tree and sat on the bench beneath. People would be looking for him. Eventually, they would notice the missing book. They’d search the city, or send messengers. But nobody would think the thief would remain at the scene of the crime. This was the safest place. He’d wait until dark and sneak back then.
And while he was waiting, why not begin reading? After all, he could see others in the park across the road, sprawled on the grass with books. It would not look odd. That way, he could begin to absorb the magic that he had been born to wield and begin the first steps to taking on his power.
He took a deep breath, laid the tome on his lap, and opened the heavy cover. “Now,” he muttered. “Let me read you.”
No, said the book, let me read you.
It was dark when the apprentice bookseller followed his master outside. “I don’t understand why we waited,” he said. “The thief must be miles away by now.”
“I doubt that very much,” said Master Atin. “You see, the Tome of All Magical Knowledge has its own defences. Many of our best books do. We tried stopping a thief once, but we learned it only gets in the way. Ah. There, you see?”
He pointed to a shape slumped on a bench. The apprentice hurried up and lifted the book that had tumbled to the ground. “What happened?”
“I suspect,” said the Master, “our thief was suddenly struck with a strong urge to stop and read as he left. Get too far with this book and that’s what happens. Don’t worry,” he added, as his apprentice looked nervously at the book, nearly dropping it, “the effect will have worn off by now.”
The apprentice looked down at the unconscious figure. “Should we, uh, should we do something for him?”
“There’s nothing more terrible or more helpful that we can do that the book hasn’t done already.” The Master arranged the body into a more comfortable position. “Hopefully he’s been set upon the right path. Come on, let’s get that thing back on the shelf.”
The thief woke as the first rays of the sun touched his face. What on earth? What was he doing, sleeping on a bench by the street, out in the open?
Wasn’t there something he had to do?
He rummaged through his tattered cloth bag. There was a small book there, describing sleight-of-hand tricks. He frowned at it, then stood and walked forward until he was in front of the bookshop. There was something in there he had to do, to claim the power he was owed.
He entered the bookshop. A friendly old man stood behind the counter.
“Master Atin?” How did he know that name?
“Yes, young man?”
“You are Master Atin?”
The old man nodded. Behind him, a younger man gaped at the two of them.
“I wish… I wish to learn magic.”
“That is certainly something you can learn here. I would be willing to teach you, as long as you earn your keep.”
“Of course, master.”
“Well then.” Master Atin handed him a broom. “Start in the back corner. Clear all the dust from the floor, and all the cobwebs from the ceiling.”
Was this what he had come to do? No matter. It seemed to be the best thing to do right now. No doubt he would learn more, in time.
The thief went to the back of the store and got to work.
some qualms about the ethical conundrums involved here…