The Truth

Prompt: Show me that and destroy me

Ezra looked up when Chris Starbright approached him. He knew the man immediately, after all, he’d just spent the last week painting his likeness. As he drew near, Ezra stood. He could see immediately that Starbright was not handling the loss of his wife and son well.

“What do you want?” he asked, sounding tired.

For a moment, Ezra hesitated. Then, he said, “Pardon the intrusion, Master Starbright.” He bowed politely before continuing. “Your… late wife commissioned a painting from me. I… I just finished it and… what did you want me to do with it?”

“What is it of?” Starbright said. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, cursing softly. “Family portrait…”

Ezra nodded, but didn’t speak.

Tears welled in Starbright’s eyes and he shook his head. “I’ll pay you for the work,” he said. “It’s only fair.” He looked over at the man who’d met Ezra first. “Logan, could you take the painting. Right now, I just… I can’t…” he trailed off, shaking his head.

“I’ll see it’s kept safe,” Logan said, giving him a tight smile. “Someday, when you’re ready…” As Chris nodded and wandered away, Logan turned to Ezra. “I just need your account number and a copy of the contract you had with Sarah, we’ll see to it that you’re credited with the proper amount.”

“Right,” Ezra said. He held out the contract and pointed at one line of text. “That’s my account number at the National Bank.” His brows furrowed and he said, “I wouldn’t mind holding the painting for Master Starbright – free of charge. I’ve got the facilities for it, after all.”

“We’ll just do that then,” Logan said, nodding. “When Chris is up to it, he can come and collect it from you.”

Ezra nodded and bowed, as he walked away, he remembered his father’s death – how it had made him feel to lose someone he’d loved so deeply. He could imagine some of Starbright’s pain, but not all of it. Holding the painting, caring for it and keeping it safe, was the least he could do. As he stepped out onto the street, he said a silent prayer of comfort for Starbright.

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Buzzing

Prompt: all clues, no solutions

Ezra made his way to the hotel where Chris Starbright was staying. The painting was finished. The question was: what should he do with it now?

When he got there, he was surprised at how much activity there was. People were bustling around the lobby, but it didn’t have the feel of normal hotel business. There was an intensity to it that set Ezra on edge – as if these people were doing something Important and he was intruding.

He fidgeted a little as he made his way to the front desk. “Pardon me,” he said, catching the attention of the woman there. As she stepped over to him, Ezra could feel eyes on him from all over the room.

“Can I help you, sir?” she asked, her tone and manner polite.

Ezra gave her a wan smile. “I have a package for Master Starbright, so I was wondering if I could have a word with him.”

“Who are you?” a low voice asked from behind him.

Tensing, Ezra turned around. He looked up at the man standing there, looking serious and stern. “Ezra Sweetin,” he said, bowing politely. “His… late wife commissioned a painting from me.” He held out his business card.

The man took it and frowned at it for a moment. Then, he nodded. “I’ll see if Chris feels up to seeing anyone,” he said, hurrying away.

Ezra frowned. Just what had happened? The fire had just been a tragic accident, hadn’t it? But… if that were the case, then why were all these people here? Ezra sighed. There were hints of something huge going on, but there was no way any one there would confirm whether that was the case or not.

The Hands of Fate

Prompt: I’m the emperor of sorrows

It wasn’t often now, that Ezra had the chance to work on his own pieces. More often than not, his days were spent working on some commission or another – most from Keller. This piece, however, wasn’t for the crime boss. Instead, it was from a woman that had seen his style and enjoyed it enough to ask for something specific.

Ezra smiled at his handiwork. It was nearly finished. A few more finishing touches and he’d be able to call the client to tell her it was finished. He looked up at the viewscreen when something the reporter said caught his ear.

Hi eyes widened in shock as she continued the report. “Starbright is survived by her elderly father and her husband,” she said.

“Oh, dear,” Ezra breathed. He looked up at the painting: Sarah Starbright, with her husband and son. Two of the three people depicted were dead. Worse, there was little chance that Starbright would want this painting now that his young wife and son had been killed.

Ezra said a prayer for the young family and then returned to his work. However small the chance was, Starbright might want the completed piece, if only as a memento of the past he’d lost so suddenly.

Learning Patience

Prompt: In any case, try many things

“Aren’t you done with it yet?” Severin growled. He looked at the painting Ezra was working on and then at the score of others. Most were incomplete. All of them had the same image: the one he was meant to be forging. “You would have been done days ago, if you hadn’t kept starting over.”

“And it wouldn’t have fooled a child,” Ezra said. He glanced over at Severin. “Patience is a virtue, Severin.” As he turned back to his work, he added, “Paul called it a fruit of the spirit.”

“Keep your God to yourself,” Severin said, rolling his eyes.

Ezra chuckled. Without looking up, he said, “He’s your God too, whether you chose to acknowledge Him or not.”

Severin heaved a sigh and then looked at the incomplete copies again. Ezra was right. Each one had some flaw that would have given them away. For some, it was the hue of one color or another. For some, it was the texture of the brush strokes.

“This was all practice,” he said, as the realization hit him. “You were trying different things to figure out what the artist had done.”

“Only way to replicate a piece accurately,” Ezra said.

Severin shook his head. He had to hand it to the kid. He knew his stuff. That was why Keller kept him around. “You’ve got a week,” Severin said, heading for the door.

“I’ll call Shadow Kitten when it’s done,” Ezra called back. Severin couldn’t tell if that meant he expected to beat the deadline or miss it.

Author’s Note: Inspired by Galatians 5:22, but probably not what Paul had in mind…

Of the Flesh or of the Spirit

Prompt: Film and Flesh

Ezra listened to the pastor speak with his brows drawn together at the center of his forehead. How could the spirit and the flesh be so opposed? How was it that they were created that way, specifically to keep people from doing what they wanted?

On some level he understood. The desires of the flesh, were things that were often best avoided. People tended to want everything, even when it was bad for them. The desires of the spirit… well, that was what God wanted. So, did that mean that people wanted to do things they shouldn’t? That the spirit was there to remind them what they should do instead?

He shook out of his thoughts and listened again. Yes, the pastor seemed to be saying just that. People had a sinful nature, but a godly one as well. Jesus had redeemed them – given them a spirit to remind them what was right. Ezra needed to heed that spirit more and his mother’s advice just a bit less.

Author’s note: This is based on Galatians 5:13-17.

The Kindness of Strangers

Prompt: a gentleman can have it all

Ezra slipped through the crowd. It seemed to roll and pulse around him. Occasionally, it would spit him out and he’d have a few moments to catch his breath. He had found the food vendors. His mouth watered as the smells wafted over to him.

He sighed softly. He wanted so much to just find something he could eat. However, he had no money. He knew what his mother would tell him. He was a gentleman. He shouldn’t have to worry about money. People should simply give him food, because he asked about it. His charming smile should be enough to get him a free meal.

Things never seemed to work out that way. He frowned and then his eyes widened. He knew how to get something to eat. He pretended to collapse. As he sank to the ground, the crowd spit out a woman.

“Are you all right?” she asked, kneeling beside him.

He gave her a weak smile. “I’ll be fine,” he said. It wasn’t hard to sound tired. He hadn’t eaten anything in a day or so and he hadn’t slept well at the hostel. “I’m just a bit…” he stopped, as his stomach growled. “…thirsty,” he finished lamely.

“Hungry too,” she said, chuckling. She helped him stand and said, “Let’s get you settled in the shade and have some lunch.”

“Oh, but, I…” he started, shaking his head.

She laughed and patted his hand. “My treat,” she said. Sometimes, his mother’s advice actually came in handy.

Contemplations

Prompt: even my beloved people will fall like petals

Ezra sat back in the seat as the train glided over the rails. His gaze was fixed on the scenery outside, but he wasn’t seeing it – not really. He was deep in thought. Morgan’s life had been threatened. Devin was lying in a hospital in critical condition.

Why was he doing this? Was all of this really worth the grief he would face if he lost them? Tears welled in Ezra’s eyes and he swallowed thickly. The plates felt heavy, all of a suddenly.

Part of screamed that he should just give the plates to Keller. He could think of something to say. He’d always been good at talking his way out of tough spots in the past. Keller liked him! He’d want to believe Ezra and Ezra would use that to his advantage.

Ezra released a shuddering breath and thought about the other side of the argument. If he gave Keller the plates, they’d be printing counterfeit money. That could ruin the economy! They’d use it to hurt people! “What do I do?” he breathed, his voice faint.

“Whatever you think is right,” Monica said.

Flinching, Ezra looked over at her. “Sorry,” he said, his voice soft. “I… didn’t realize you were still awake.” He sighed softly and closed his eyes. She was right. He needed to trust his instincts here and they said that he couldn’t hand the plates over to Keller. Too many people would be hurt by that.

He glanced over at Monica again. “You… don’t need to stay with me, you know?” he said. “I’m sure you’ve got more important things you could be doing.”

A faint smile touched Monica’s lips. “I’m a freelance reporter, Ezra,” she said. “This… this is a huge story. I’m not going anywhere, except with you.”

Ezra smiled. Whatever happened, he knew he was doing the right thing. It helped, though, to have someone there, with him. “I couldn’t do this alone,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “I’m not strong enough.”

“I think you’re stronger than you realize, Ezra,” Monica murmured.

A Family

Prompt: I have daughters and I have sons

For some reason, Ezra was thinking about Keller more often now than he had in months. It was strange. Technically, he still worked for the crime lord, yet he seldom saw the man himself anymore. More often than not, Severin would be the one who visited him.

He could remember vividly the last time he’d seen the man who’d become his patron. He closed his eyes and thought back to that last meeting, almost nine years ago. He’d only been sixteen at the time.

“You’ve grown quite a bit since I first found you,” Keller said, smoothing Ezra’s hair away from his face. He smiled. “You’ve done well here.”

“I wouldn’t have gotten this far without you,” Ezra said. He bit his lip and looked down at his lap. “I’m not sure how I could ever repay you.”

“You’re an obedient child, Ezra,” Keller said, kissing his forehead lightly. “That’s more than enough. Of all my children, you’ve done the best at heeding my words.”

Ezra’s smile grew. No one had called him their child since he’d left home to learn magic. “You’re child?” he repeated.

“All the young people in my organization are like my children,” Keller said. “We’re a family, Ezra.”

Those words seemed to echo back to Ezra now. What he was doing? Why was he working with the Agency? It wasn’t something a good, obedient child did. He wasn’t treating the members of the Organization like family anymore. Now, he saw them as dangerous criminals. He had to be careful around them, or he’d get caught spying on them. If they caught him, they’d kill him.

Ezra’s brows furrowed. What he was doing, though, also felt right. For the first time in more than ten years, Ezra wasn’t preying on people. He was helping them! So, what was right and what was wrong? Sighing, Ezra closed his eyes. A quiet voice inside him – he liked to think it was God’s voice – told him he was on the right path now. He’d have to trust that voice. What other choice did he have?

Best Acting In a Life or Death Situation

Prompt: Take a bow.

Mischief’s chirp was the only warning Ezra got that he was no longer alone. He spun away from his work as Severin stepped across the room to where he sat. “Well,” Ezra said, forcing a sunny smile onto his face. “What a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you this fine day?”

“Keller has a new project for you,” Severin said. He set a bill on Ezra’s desk. When Ezra lifted it to look at it more closely, Severin leaned in close. “Can you sculpt printing plates for that?”

Ezra kept his expression neutral for a moment. Then, he smiled again. “Easily,” he said. He set the bill back down on the desk. “When does Keller want them completed?”

“Two weeks,” Severin said. “I’ll be back to check on your progress next week.” His expression became more intent for a moment and he said, “I don’t have to tell you not to breathe a word of this to anyone. Do I?”

“Of course not,” Ezra said. “My lips are sealed. I’ll have the plates complete in two weeks and then… well, you can print as much money as you need, can’t you.” There was, of course, no way he would keep this knowledge to himself. It was just the sort of thing Chris would want to know. However, he wasn’t sure how he could say anything without Severin finding out. In any case, he had no intention of giving Keller usable printing plates.

Severin looked at Ezra for a long moment. The gallery was completely silent, except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Ezra managed to keep the smile on his face – to keep his thoughts clear. He could feel Severin searching through them, trying to find some hint of deception.

Finally, he nodded. “Very well,” he said. He turned and headed for the door. “The money will be deposited into your account after delivery is made.”

As soon as he was gone, Ezra heaved a sigh of relief. He took a long, shuddering breath and then glanced at Mischief. “That… was quite the performance,” he said. A faint smile played at his lips. “I deserve a Cammy for that bit of acting.”

Mischief chirped and trilled in agreement.

Disaster Strikes

Prompt: Human jackals for every human disaster

Ezra woke with a start as an explosion shook his home. He clambered out of bed, hardly pausing to tug a jacket on over his pajamas or shove his feet into loose shoes. Then, he hurried down the steps and outside.

He could see smoke rising from nearby buildings. The postal office was on fire. People were on the street. Some were hurrying away from the fire and smoke, others were rushing in to see if they could help.

Ezra caught the eyes of one passerby. “What’s going on?” he asked, shaking his head.

“Someone attacked the city,” she said. “They said on the radios to go to the shelters right away.” She hurried passed, joining the stream of people heading away from the destruction. Now, Ezra knew where they were going to.

Shivering, Ezra looked up at the sky and frowned. He was about to follow the other people towards the shelter, when he noticed two people at the window of the shop across from his gallery. The window was shattered.

Ezra’s eyes widened as he saw the pair start to enter. As they did, a third came out, his pack bulging with stolen supplies. “Hey,” Ezra shouted, running over to the man. “What are you doing?”

Before he could say another word, he felt fire sear through his chest. He crumpled to his knees and looked down. His jacket was cut across the front. Blood was spreading through the material. He slumped forward.

Around him, there was shouting. Then, someone was rolling him onto his back. Soft brown eyes locked on his. “It’s all right, honey,” the woman said. “Don’t try to speak, just lie still.” She set her hands on his chest and murmured and incantation.

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