Third Time Unlucky
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Warnings/notes: pre-series, Briar-gen-fic, ooc?

Disclaimer: The magical world of The Circle of Magic was created by Tamora Pierce.

written at 18th July 2008, by Misura. For Allison, who wished to read about Briar and his plants, and instead got, well, this.
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Everybody knew that burglaries were the best kinds of jobs, the least dangerous. All you needed to be was smart, and a little bit lucky. Most of the time, you didn't even need to do the boring stuff, like check how many guards there were and when they made their rounds - the Thief Lord always seemed to know about things like that, and he was happy to share his knowledge. After all, a week spent staking out a house meant a week with lean takings, and the Thief Lord prefered his thieves to be making money, not sitting around doing nothing. And even though a rich man might be carrying a fat purse and some jewelry around, he'd always keep the best things at home.

Roach knew he was plenty of smart. He was great with locks, and he seemed to have a nose for those pesky spells only the truly rich could afford to have cast in order to protect their valuables from people like Roach.

"Three times," Weevil said. "Three!"

When the Thief Lord had offered him and the others a chance to sneak into some rich Bag's house and relieve the man of some of his belongings, Roach had grabbed it with both hands. Never mind that the Thief Lord's cut would be over half their takings; it'd still be more than they'd usually make in a week, and all in a night's work. Or so they'd thought.

The first time, the hole in the hedge they'd used to get in had miraculously disappeared when they'd come back. It wouldn't have been quite so bad if Slug hadn't also given the signal for the Hajran Street Guard approaching when the rest of them had been about halfway the new hole they'd struggled to create. Since the Guard would be sure to notice the fresh damage to the hedge, they'd had little choice but to take what they could and make a run for it.

"Bad luck," the Thief Lord had said, seemingly more amused than angry, which was a bit of a relief. Roach had spent half his part of the loot on getting his shirt mended, as the branches of the hedge had torn it up in several places.

After the second time, he'd decided to pay a visit to the booth of the clothes merchant next Market Day, as even the most talented seamstress wouldn't be able to save his shirt. The Thief Lord hadn't been quite so amused then, although there'd still been a few jokes. After all, that time, too, they'd still managed to bring home a few items - they hardly got to keep any of them, but they figured they were lucky to have gotten away with their skins intact. The Thief Lord generally didn't like people who made a mess of things.

Roach didn't like people like that either - and he liked the idea that he might be one of them even less. Bad luck was one thing; it could happen even to the best of them. Once. Twice, perhaps. Not three times in a row though. That was too much, like maybe he'd been cursed or something.

The idea that anyone would waste the time and energy to curse him was ridiculous, but Roach couldn't shake the feeling that he was to blame somehow their recent stroke of bad luck. While he'd been as freaked out as Viper, Turtle and Alleycat when it had seemed like the branches they were cutting off seemed to grow back right away, a very small part of him had also been relieved and almost excited to see the foliage recovering so quickly.

Still, the third time, Roach had been happy to hear the house's owner had surrounded his property with a wall, rather than a hedges. Walls didn't grow back or acted like they were alive - at least, no wall that Roach had ever heard from had. Truth be told, he'd never heard of hedges that magically grew back when you hacked at them either, but after a few nights' sleep, the others had all agreed that they'd simply been imagining things and Roach had tried to convince himself they were right.

You'd have to be crazy to pay a mage to put a spell on your hedge to make it grow well, after all - if you could afford the money to hire one, why not have him simply spell your locks to be immune to lockpicks or something like that? Roach didn't know much about mages, but he did know they were expensive, and he doubted they'd waste any of their precious magic on gardening.

That was before he'd gotten into a tangles with a bunch of roses, though.

Sure, there was a wall, but it had plants growing on it - a kind of roses, to be precise. When Alleycat had gone over the wall, they hadn't looked like much. Pretty much dried out and barely alive, with only a few flowers here and there, closer to the ground. Roach had felt a mixture of relief and anger; whomever had bothered to get the plants could at least have made sure they got enough water.

When it had been Roach's turn to climb the wall, all of a sudden the roses hadn't looked quite so dried out anymore. Roach didn't think he could have been that much mistaken, but by the time he'd reached the top, the entire surface of the wall seemed covered in thick, winding branches. That by itself, Roach wouldn't have minded so much - the flowers smelled nice enough, too, and he could use the branches for support. It was the thorns that made things turn nasty.

The third time, they didn't manage to take a single coin. Roach might have felt more badly about that if he hadn't been so busy bleeding - he could have sworn he'd done his best to avoid the thorns, yet somehow, every time he'd moved his hands or feet or any other part of his body, they'd been there, almost as if they were trying to get him.

Strangely enough, the idea that a plant might have tried to harm him didn't strike Roach as even remotely funny. He tried to convince himself that it was - who'd ever heard of plants that ate people? - but it wouldn't quite stick. Roach had been there, on the wall; he'd seen with his own eyes how the plant had reacted to his trying to get away from it.

Roach wasn't there when his gangmates reported their failure to the Thief Lord, so he didn't know if they'd told him about the roses. When they came to see him he was covered in make-do bandages to stop the bleeding.

"He's never going to let us do another burglary ever again," Weevil said. Dancer and Alleycat looked disappointed; Turtle and Slug impassive.

"We should feel lucky if that's all he's going to do to us," Viper muttered.

"He knows it wasn't our fault!" Weevil argued.

Roach doubted the Thief Lord cared whose fault it was - the Thief Lord could be many things, but 'fair' wasn't one of them.

"Well, I don't mind going back to doing what we're good at," Turtle said. "I can handle a few street guards - let someone else try getting past a whole wall covered in plants that are trying to kill you, see how they like it."

"Yeah, but they only started going weird when it was Roach on the wall," said Dancer. "Me and Alleycat got over it just fine."

Roach tensed. This kind of talk, he could do without - once you got a reputation for being bad luck, you might as well turn yourself in to the guard, volunteer for a trip to the judge. He'd expected better of Dancer, truly - they weren't friends, but they'd helped each other out of tight spots a few times. They were gangmates; they were supposed to be watching each other's backs.

"Probably you or Alleycat set off an alarm - just Roach's bad luck he was on the wall when the bad stuff started coming down." Weevil made a dismissive gesture as Alleycat opened his mouth to protest. "Look, it was magic, all right? Just our bad luck that we tried to rob a bag with magical roses growing on his wall. It's nobody's fault - not yours, and not Roach's."

Roach relaxed slightly.

(It was only after the others had left that he noticed the ivy that usually stuck close to the ground had now somehow grown far enough to reach the window, providing Roach with something to look at as he waited for his wounds to heal far enough to get back to work.)