The Art of Theft: Part 2 by Phoebe Harris

I sat on the railing of the ramp that leads down to the thick passageway from the harbour to the docks where the boats moored. The crowds moved in and out like the tide, and boats emerged from the Misty Isles with whistles and cheers as the sailors waved their hats. I scanned the crowd for the elf, but it was all moving so quickly that it was hard to pick out an individual. The seagulls cawed, and they gathered around a grandfather and his granddaughter tossing breadcrumbs onto the ground. From my vantage point on the rail, I could see the heads of thousands, and I managed to spot three elves, but none were checked-out. One was a busker, wearing a jester hat and juggling four multi-coloured balls and a wine bottle. His skin was tinged purple with dye, and his hair poking out from under the jester hat was black. The second elf was brooding under a wide-brimmed hat with dangling feathers, and his eyes were lined with kohl. He had no hair to speak of. The third elf was eating spun sugar from a bag, and her hair was striped in the colours of a rainbow. Her eyes were scanning the crowd, though. What was she looking for? Then, a fourth elf emerged and sat down next to the rainbow-elf. The new elf had green dreadlocks secured with blue cotton. I jumped off the rail and sprinted towards the elf, ducking between alarmed sailors and shoppers. As I neared, I could see that although the green-haired elf was engaged in conversation, he had a far-off look in his eyes. Yes, I thought. A checked-out elf. I slid into the seat next to him, and the rainbow-haired elf looked at me with surprise. The checked-out elf just turned to me with barely a hint of alarm.

“Yes, hello, hi. So, you know something about a coin?” I said in the means of an introduction.
        The rainbow-haired elf had a resting worried face, and her frown deepened as she turned to her green-haired companion.
        “What? Coins? Never. Bacteria.” The green-haired elf said. Over the green-haired elf’s head, the rainbow-haired elf began to offer me an explanation, no doubt about some kind of war trauma, but I cut her off and turned back to the far-away elf.
        “What’s your name?” I asked, my impatience mounting.
        “His name is Joplin, and he’s been a bit odd since the Great Elf War.” Knew it. War trauma.
        “Well, Joplin, have you ever seen anything like this?” I asked, shoving the gold-diamond coin under his nose. He stared at it for a while, before turning his head away.
        “Bacteria.” He said, and I withheld a groan.
        “There’s no bacteria on this coin,” I lied. “I cleaned it just before I came here.” This seemed to satisfy Joplin, but the rainbow-haired elf rolled her eyes. Liar, she mouthed at me. Shut up, I mouthed back.
        “Folly. Hold.” The rainbow-haired elf, or Folly, apparently, took the coin from me. “No. Sorry.”
        “So, you’ve never seen this coin before?” I said through gritted teeth. “Never in your lifetime?”
        “No.” Joplin said curtly. “Not seen coin. Ever.”
        I got up in a huff, swiped the coin from Folly’s roaming fingers and hurried away. Joplin might be lying, of course, but there was something about Folly’s protective ferocity that someone just can’t fake. The coin must’ve been planted.

I turned the coin over in my hands, tapping my foot as the ancient goblin behind the counter shuffled towards me, a huge dust-coated book in his hands. Antiques and Items de Interest was situated right at the bottom of Ahoy, with a back door that led straight into the Forgotten Woods. The place was covered in dust, and I forced myself not to sneeze. The ancient goblin, who almost never came out of the shop, didn’t have a name, so the townspeople had nicknamed him The Shuffler, because of his infamous time-consuming shuffle-walk. The Shuffler blew the dust off the cover of the book, and I was worried his lungs would collapse at such a quick motion. The dust flew into the air to swirl above our heads. Above the counter, a loft with a bed and a kitchen was just visible under the overhang, and the shelves of antiques were riddled with bugs. The floorboards, however, were in surprisingly good condition. Legend has it that The Shuffler keeps troublemakers locked away under the floorboards and has to get them repaired each time he checks on them. The Shuffler opened the book to the contents page and ran his wrinkled finger down the page, leaving a trail of dead skin. I shivered. He inspected the coin on the counter again and opened the book to a page around half of the way through the book.

“Runes, their meanings and origins.” He said in a croaking voice, before skimming the page and turning to the next, until he let out a humph of content. “This rune here?” He prodded at a rune with a single straight line with two short diagonal lines attached, like an awkward f. It matched the rune on the coin. “It means ash. And the dragon is a symbol of courage and strength. But also, evil.” Despite my stony silence, I let out a small gasp. The Shuffler shot me a look before continuing. “I’d say this has something to do with evil magic. The fire, the destruction, the mountains… of ash.”

Read Part 3 here:

Read Part 1 here: