Excerpt: Finder Tolan

Tolan passed the time alternating between tidying up the shop, catching up on paperwork, and plotting his master’s demise.

He really shouldn’t be resentful—it was standard practice to make the apprentice work while the master caroused with the rest of the village during the three-day Winter Solstice festival. Still, he was a third-year apprentice, just two years away from making journeyman—assuming Master Worthless ever let him take the tests. He was a bit past being made to babysit the shop, especially when everyone was too busy getting drunk and having fun to require a Finder.

Tomorrow would be a different story, when they all stumbled in hungover desperate to find a lost purse, bit of jewelry, or incriminating bit of clothing from their married lover’s home.

Today, though, they were too busy getting into the trouble they’d need Tolan’s help fixing later.

Scowling at a group of revelers who stumbled past the front window, he returned to the ledger he’d been working on, adding in the last of the receipts that his master had failed—as usual—to add when he should have. Instead, the bastard just let the work pile up and pile up, then skipped off to have fun, sticking Tolan with a month of backlog.

It might be his master’s name on the shop sign, but pretty much everyone knew who really did all the work.

Tolan sighed and closed the ledger, then replaced it in its proper drawer in the desk.

Even on an ordinary day, their shop was quiet. Oh, people needed their services, but as often as not, they didn’t want to speak too loudly of that which they had lost. If only he was reprobate enough to take advantage of them; he could retire on blackmail money and never work another day in his life.

Rolling his eyes, Tolan pulled out a beat up, dusty tome he’d gotten from a secondhand shop and began with disinterest to read. He didn’t particularly need to; he was well ahead of his training. If his master wasn’t less than worthless, he’d be encouraging and helping Tolan to finish up his studies and test early. Tolan was more than good enough to do so; he had no time for false modesty. But no, his master never did anything before he absolutely had to—except run off to drink and harass poor women with what he thought were smooth seductions.

Sighing, Tolan focused on his book. Left to do the bulk of the work, he had learned all his lessons well ahead of schedule. By the time he was able to move to journeyman, he would probably be at a master level.

All he lacked was the license to practice most of the magic he used every day—the other reason he could not retire on blackmail money. All his customers knew his dirty secret too: an unlicensed apprentice practicing high level magic. Even with his master’s permission, it wasn’t legal.

But there was no point in being a Finder without the high-level spells. Apprentice spells were for finding lost combs and other nonsense people preferred not to pay others to find. No, people only came to Finders to figure out at which house they had left their jewels, or where their spouse was hiding incriminating letters from a lover.

Sometimes, they cut to the chase, and simply asked where the cheating spouse had gone. Things of that nature. It was intriguing work, if not always pleasant—especially since, barring very particular circumstances, it was illegal to search for people. Invasion of privacy and all that, not that anyone believed Finders respected privacy.

He wondered, occasionally, just what he had been thinking when he’d decided to pursue Finder magic. It could be such interesting work, though—and he did like it when someone simply wanted to locate a missing cat, a wedding band that had gotten lost while doing laundry, or a stolen purse.

Tolan sighed and daydreamed about finding a missing purse, and the grateful customer giving him the abundant contents of it in gratitude.

He was just about to doze off from sheer boredom when the bell above the door tinkled, and he jerked upright in his seat.

Straightening his clothes, he stood up and strode to the counter that kept people from the backrooms. The main area was composed of simple tables, chairs, sofas—various ways of sitting, to offer customers whatever made them most comfortable. An oversized parlor, really, suitable for figuring out where Fluffy had gone off to this time, the damned cat. For those requiring more privacy, there were the backrooms.

He frowned as he spotted his customer and drew to an uncertain halt as he was seen in turn.

The child began to wail, and clearly he had been crying something fierce for the past while. Tears and snot and dirt covered the little boy’s face, his hair was badly mussed, and his clothes were beyond saving.

“Secret! Secret!” The boy wailed, and reached out with tiny, grubby hands to cling as best he could to Tolan’s breeches. “Secret! Find secret!”

Tolan knelt and took the dirty hands in his own, frowning. “Where is your mother or father?”

The little boy began to cry in earnest. “Secret,” he choked out miserably. “Find secret.”

Oh, bother it. Scooping the boy up, utterly confounded when he clung for dear life, Tolan moved to one of the small sofas and settled the boy in his lap. Honestly, shouldn’t the child know better than to be so easy with strangers? What sort of idiot parent had let the boy from his sight? “Now, then, we will find secret,” he said briskly, wishing suddenly he’d paid a bit more attention to how his mother had talked to his siblings when they were babies.

“Find secret?” the boy asked. What the devil did that mean?

“Where is your mother?” Tolan asked again. “Your father? Guardian?”

“Secret!” the boy said, lighting up.

Tolan felt a headache coming on. “Secret?”