Time: Several days after the end of Shax's War
The new scarf Papa Ness had bought him wasn’t cooperating. Leopold sat on his haunches with a frustrated peep, the rainbow-colored scarf clutched in both paws. He’d tried to weave it into the lining of the nest, but the shadows had hidden its bright colors that way. Then he’d tried working it in along the top, but it clashed with the pink dress socks he’d stolen from Papa Shax.
His textile thefts weren’t secret. He knew that. But for whatever reason, his fathers chose to ignore the little bits of laundry larceny. Papa Shax had gone so far as to declare loudly in Leopold’s hearing that he must have misplaced his blue velvet micro shorts and he’d simply have to buy a new pair. He wasn’t sure he understood Shax yet. Ness was uncomplicated—sweet and kind, though fierce when he needed to be. Shax was…a demon and had ulterior motives hidden in all things, though his ulterior motives often included the welfare of people he considered his. His lover. His ship. His crew. His only son. Who was a pink hedgehog that started life as a figment.
The full truth was a bit more complicated, having to do with removed angel body parts being unwilling to die and possible scraps of demon DNA in the mix, all brought to a rolling boil by Ness’s desperate thoughts of Shax during a terrible, dark time.
“Leopold?” Shax’s call over ship comm interrupted his thoughts. “Come down to the galley, my dear. We have business.”
Startled, Leopold fell over onto his back and had to roll himself up in a ball before he could right himself and waddle to the comm to peep acknowledgment. What could this be now? He draped his new scarf atop his nest and scurried to the galley where he found Shax sitting at the single, long table.
He patted the bench beside him. “Come up with me. I’ve decided your apprenticeship begins today.”
Leopold clambered up, careful to keep his back paws on the bench so no one could yell at him about putting his butt on the table. Metal contraptions, some as small as his paw, others as large as his head lay spread out across the table, while in front of his father sat a rolled up piece of leather.
Shax gave him a bright smile and waved a hand over the table. “Consider this Lock Picking 101. Your very first lesson. I’d considered starting with pick-pocketing, but I’m afraid your size doesn’t lend itself well to that particular discipline.”
“These are all locks, then? The mechanisms themselves? Why not digital?” Leopold leaned over and sniffed at the leather roll.
“We’ll work on digital locks another time, my dear. Yes, most locks you’ll come across these days are electronic, which is why most common thieves are equipped to deal with them. But we aren’t common thieves, and you’ll find many wealthy, ah, patrons will employ mechanical locks simply because the modern thief no longer bothers to learn about them.” Shax gave a disdainful sniff. “My son needs to understand every sort of lock.”
Leopold peeped his assent and watched in fascination as Shax unrolled the leather to reveal a meticulously ordered set of metal rods from tiny to finger length, some with bends and hooks or odd protrusions.
“One set of tools of the trade. Picks and probes. We’ll start with the easiest and let you get a feel for it.” Shax picked up a medium sized padlock and one of the least complicated rods. With the rod delicately inserted in the lock, he gave it a twist and a nudge, and the lock sprang open. “Now you try.”
There was something peaceful and warm about the lesson. Papa Shax was infinitely patient and no one disturbed them, though Leopold suspected they had been told not to interrupt. There was a feel to it, one Leopold began to pick up as they practiced, as well as small sounds that told him whether he was successfully moving the bits and pieces or not.
Comfortable and intriguing as the lesson was, Leopold still found himself getting frustrated. Many of the picks were too big for him to handle effectively. He just couldn’t quite get the right angle with some of them. Finally, he shook out his aching paw, curled in far enough to reach his quills, and plucked one.
“Um, Leopold?” Shax eye him with concern, one eyebrow raised high. “That can’t be good for you.”
“It will grow back soon. I want to try something else. Give me a moment.” Leopold studied the pick and nibbled at his plucked quill until it mimicked the shape of the pick he had been using. He inserted the modified quill into the lock and began feeling around with it.
“That’s not going to do much, my dear,” Shax said with a soft smile. “It’s simply not stiff en—”
The click of the lock opening cut Shax off. For a moment, the demon Prince of Thieves sat open-mouthed, his black eyes wide. Leopold sat back with a peep, as shocked as his father that it had worked.
“Well. Ah. Hmm.” Shax took the quill from Leopold and studied it, turning it this way and that. “I…hmm. I suppose I should think about a modified set of tools for you. Smaller hands and all that.” He returned the quill and gave Leopold a pat on his spiny back. “In the meantime, please, by all things unholy, don’t pluck yourself bald while you practice.”