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How to Form a Magical Undercover Team

An Illusion of Thieves author Cate Glass joined in the Magic X Mayhem to share her foolproof formula for forming a magical heist crew!


By Cate Glass

I’ve always loved spy stories, from The Scarlet Pimpernel to Len Deighton’s cold war novels to Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels. I also enjoy elaborate heist stories like Denzel Washington’s “Inside Man,” Robert Redford’s “Sneakers,” and two of my favorite binge-worthy TV series—“Burn Notice” and “White Collar.”

These tales center on groups of skilled operatives who pull off amazing, twisty ventures that look very much like magic. When noodling around with my own project a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to pull this classic story into a world of my own devising, to create my own group of agents or thieves and set them on intriguing adventures where the “magic” in the caper was actual magic!

First, where and when?

I envisioned a great city just moving into an age of enlightenment and the rule of law, where feudal barons are being replaced by merchants and bankers and explorers. Magic, believed to be the dangerous residue of the wars of Creation, has almost been eradicated, though the authorities are ever on the alert for magical activity. Rather than conquest and empire-building conflicts, I wanted to focus on localized intrigue and political skullduggery, struggles between new governance and old ways. Rather than battlefields, significant conflicts take place in salons or dining rooms, secret societies, artisan workshops, catacombs, public marketplaces, and dark streets. Combat involves betrayals, kidnappings, poisonings, and assassinations. And crises arise that need to be dealt with in secret, without the overt complicity of authorities.

But, of course, before I could devise a first adventure for my little group, I needed to figure out who they were! Sorcerers certainly, and in my world, magical talents are unique and rare. And for truly complex missions, they would need more than magic.

So I looked back at those agents and thieves I so enjoyed and assessed the tools they used to get their jobs done. They used laser glass cutters or elaborate climbing harnesses to get them into inaccessible places. They impersonated their marks by using tools that bypass retinal, voice, or fingerprint scanners. Communications were on earwig devices. Their weapons were things like laser–aimed dart guns or focused explosives. I also considered the classic TV show Mission Impossible, where the team was not composed of experienced spies with super electronics, but actors, mechanics, electronics experts, linguists, and the like—who brought their own particular set of talents and more mundane tools, like makeup, latex masks, and trucks, winches, power supplies, and common screwdrivers to do similar tasks. Though I wanted to put my adventure in an era more like the sixteenth century, the skills they would need were much the same.

Time for a casting call!

WANTED, for four possible positions in or near the independency of Cantagna, applicants possessing one or more of the following job skills:

  • ability to breach secured facilities without detection
  • ability to replicate documents…and signatures…and artworks or other artifacts.
  • knowledge of history, art, law, government, important personages, and political and interfamily rivalries throughout the nine independencies of the Costa Drago.
  • high-level skills in weaponry and offensive and defensive combat.
  • impersonation.
  • costuming.
  • retrieval.
  • communications specialists.
  • improvise structural and mechanical devices in close quarters.

Applicants must be able to work in a variety of stressful environments in tasks which have no visible support from any official entity. Decent pay, but no benefits, no public acknowledgment of service, and most definitely no life, health, accident, or disability insurance.

After sorting through a variety of applicants with a variety of skills and background, I found my four. Like my favorite literary operatives, they should be able to create enough magic and mayhem to ensure the good guys – or mostly good guys – win the day.

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Stay tuned for more #magicXmayhem all summer long!

 

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