Eye of Newt

Summary: In which Cassim is not Mozenrath's long-lost father (sorry). When the King of Thieves tries to steal from a family of sorcerers, he is quickly made to see the error of his ways. A sort of prequel to my "Spellbound" story. One-shot.

This place was not so strange as he would have thought.

The Land of the Black Sand was aptly, if rather unimaginatively named. He'd seen sand that looked like gold, and sand stained red with blood (more times than he cared to count, actually), but he'd never seen sand like this: as black as ash, as black and night, as black as storm clouds.

Yet it was still just sand, for all that.

And the people there were not so different from those in his homeland. He didn't like to think about home too much, about the wife and son he'd lost there, but this place reminded him of them, somehow. True, the people looked a bit different – most of them were far paler than the typical citizen of Agrabah – but otherwise they seemed much the same, merchants and traders and shopkeepers, making their way, earning an honest living.

Unlike himself.

He'd been separated from his band of forty thieves, and he planned to return to them soon, but his stomach was complaining loudly, and he'd spent the last of his stolen coin a while ago. So he would have to resort to stealing food from some of these unsuspecting, upstanding citizens.

He did not relish the thought – they seemed like a decent enough people – but if he didn't get something to eat soon, he might collapse, and then he'd be of no use to anyone.

He spotted a likely target, a modest but clean-looking home on the outskirts of the settlement. When night fell, he stole in, quick and quiet as a shadow. He was about to make his way to the kitchen, but stopped short at the sight of a bookshelf. Goodness, these people had quite a library! It seemed to take up half the space in their home. His eyes scanned the books and scrolls. He recognized some of the titles, but many of them were written in strange languages he was unfamiliar with. He frowned. He could read well enough, but he had no great love for it. He was far more interested in telling stories than reading them. And even better was living out the adventures yourself. How could cold parchment ever hope to compare with the actual experience of –

"Are you admiring our collection, thief?"

Cassim whirled around. He barely had time to register that it was a man standing there before he had taken out a knife and thrown it. He didn't intend to kill the man; he had excellent aim, and merely wanted to pin him by his clothing to the wall, so that he would not have to fight him.

The man reacted quickly, but not in the way he had expected. He held up a hand, and shouted a word Cassim didn't recognize.

And the knife stopped in mid-air.

"Sorcery!" He gasped.

The man gave him a feral smile. "Correct," he said. He lowered his hand, and the knife dropped to the floor. He was one of the few darker-skinned people in this land, Cassim noted absently. He had dark brown hair, and a beard much like his own. He also had strikingly green eyes, almost unearthly in the brightness of their hue. And now, as his smile faded, those eyes were locked on him with an unreadable expression.

"I don't like thieves," the man said. His voice was soft, but Cassim could still hear the threat in it.

"I was starving –"

"Then you might have asked for food," the man said sharply. "We are not an unkind people. But even the gentlest of souls does not take well to being robbed in the night."

There was a sudden thud, and both men started at the sound. With a sigh, the man turned around. "Wonderful," he sighed. "You've probably woken –"

Cassim took the opening the man's distraction provided to stalk across the room, seize the knife, and pin him against the wall. He put the knife to the man's throat.

"Any more magic tricks you've got to use on me?" He asked him, and the man's only answer was a sullen scowl.

Cassim grinned. He had no desire to hurt the man, but he didn't like being bested, or caught off guard, especially not by magic. "I thought not. It seems you're not so powerful a sorcerer as all that, after all."

"You're right," he admitted. "I'm not." But suddenly, the man was the one grinning, and Cassim had a very bad feeling. Before he could react, an unseen force had pulled him off the man and sent him careening into the opposite wall. He sank to the floor – and there he stayed, as if held down by invisible hands.

"My wife, however," the man continued, "Is far more gifted with magic than I am."

Cassim looked up. Now standing beside the man was a pale, slender woman. She was rather pretty, and had softly curling black hair. Her eyes were also black, and she regarded him with amusement. The man put his arm around her.

"What do you think, my dear? What shall we do with this thief who tried to ransack our home rather than bothering just ask us for some bread?"

The woman eyed Cassim. "Hmm. Well, it has been a while since I've tried my hand at a transformation spell … perhaps I could turn him into a newt? We could use the eyes for a potion …"

The man chuckled. "Oh, make him something more charming, my love. He could be a pet for the children."

The woman sighed. "Hasan, we've discussed this –"

"Oh come on! The children want a pet –"

"You want a pet, you mean."

"Lamia, it would teach them responsibility."

"They're responsible enough. You know I'd still be the one cleaning up after it, in end. Besides," her gaze fell on Cassim again, "I don't think he'd make a very good pet." She sneered at him. "Are you even housebroken, thief?"

The King of Thieves felt his face go red. "How dare you–" But the woman gestured with her hand, spoke another foreign word, and he found himself unable to speak. The couple continued their conversation, as Cassim wondered how he could possibly get out this situation.

"Turn him into a dog at least, just so we can try it," the man called Hasan was saying.

"I'd prefer a cat," his wife Lamia countered.

"Hah! I knew it, you want a pet too! Maybe we should let him decide." Hasan waved his hand, and Cassim was able to speak again. "What do you say, thief? Would you rather be a dog or a cat?"

"Is 'neither' an option?"

Before either of them could retort, there was the soft patter of footsteps. All three adults turned to see two children standing in the doorway.

It was a boy and a girl, both pale and black-haired liked their mother. The boy looked to be in his early teens – barely older than Aladdin would be, Cassim thought with a pang – but the girl was younger, probably at least five years younger than her brother. The boy had his mother's black eyes, but the girl's eyes were the same shade of beautiful, unearthly green as her father's.

"What's going on?" The boy demanded. "We heard voices …" He noticed Cassim, and he immediately moved to stand in front of his sister. He was protecting her, the King of Thieves realized. The boy scowled at him.

"Who's this?" He asked.

"A thief, son," his father answered. "No need to worry, your mother has put a binding spell on him. He's not getting up until we decide to let him."

The boy relaxed slightly, but still wound his arms around his sister's shoulders. The little girl looked up at him affectionately, and then settled her gaze on Cassim. It was mild, but somehow piercing.

"You're sad," she announced suddenly. Her father snorted.

"Yes, I would imagine thieves are sad when they get caught."

"No, father," the girl said softly. "It's more than that. It's a bone-deep sadness, I can tell. He's sad, and he's alone."

The father regarded his daughter with interest. "Is he now?"

"I'm not –" Cassim started to protest.

"Hush, thief, or we shall deprive you or your speech again. If my daughter says it is so, then it must be true. Aisha has a gift for reading people." He and his wife exchanged a look. "Well, I suppose someone with a bone-deep sadness would make for a poor pet, at that. Ah well."

"You were going to turn him into an animal?" The boy suddenly sounded eager. He turned to Lamia. "Mother, you promised you would teach me the transformation spell! Can't I just –"

"No," his mother said firmly, and the boy pouted.

"Oh come on! I'll change him right back, I swear!"

"Mozenrath, you know reverting is the hardest part of transformation. And as much as I've no taste for thieves, we're not going to make an experiment of him." The boy looked like he wanted to argue more, but at his father's warning look, he fell silent. Lamia raised her hand, and Cassim was jerked up into a standing position.

"Now, thief," Lamia said. "You will leave our home, and our land. Once you are clear of this place, any spells we have placed on you will be broken."

"And after that," Hasan added. "You may do as you like. But I would advise you not to pass our way again. My son will probably have figured out how to turn you into a newt by then." The man and his boy wore matching smirks, but Cassim couldn't even be angry for their mockery. To see a father and a son so in sync with each other like that ….

For a moment, he missed Aladdin so badly that he felt the ache of it in his bones.

Lamia made a "pushing" gesture, and he was thrown out the door of the family's home. For a moment, he tried to turn back, but it was as if he was coming up against an invisible wall. Even though the family had toyed with him, he couldn't help but feel a little badly, especially when he thought of how the boy had hastened to shield his sister. But whether he wanted to apologize to them or confront them, it seemed their magic would allow him to do nothing except leave.

Cassim made his way out of the Land of the Black Sand, more weary and hungry than ever. When he was out of their kingdom, he felt as if a weight had been lifted from him, and knew the spell must have broken, as they had said it would. But then, the pouch he carried on his belt suddenly felt much heavier …

Cassim frowned. Was this another petty little magic trick? Carefully, he opened the pouch, half-expecting to find a newt inside. Instead, he found bread – and meat, and cheese, and water and wine, far more food and drink than had any business fitting in such a small space. Also inside was a note.

Don't thank us, thief. Thank our daughter. It was her idea.

Cassim gave an astonished little chuckle. "Thank you, Aisha," he whispered into the night. He ate quickly, and felt much stronger afterwards. For a moment, he was tempted to go back to Agrabah … but no. He had no kin left there. Perhaps that family of sorcerers, as modest as their home had been, was in some ways richer than he would ever be. The little girl had been right. He was sad, and he was alone.

But without his family, he supposed the forty thieves and the riches he stole with them would have to do. Cassim sighed, and made his way back to their lair. He must continue searching for the Hand of Midas.