There is no honor among thieves - Anonymous
Nathan squinted as he stepped from the shadows of the alley into the Thieves’ Guild. He paused a moment to take stock of his surroundings. Several thieves huddled around the practice station. When they saw him, they scowled and looked away. The head thief was at the large beginners safe, surrounded by a group of four or five young men, giving the standard “Welcome to the guild” speech.
He had been employed by the Guild for two years now and had come to think of the head thief, Garz, as a friend. Despite this, He still didn’t feel comfortable here. Many of the other thieves didn’t like him. He looked like an Elf, and most of the thieves were humans with little love for elven kind. He had also risen in the ranks of the guild faster than anybody in history. He was so good, he could be in and out of a house with his quarry in a matter of minutes. To top it all off, they were tired of Garz gushing about him to anyone who would listen.
“Remember boys, you must be quick in opening locks and safes. The longer you take, the more likely you’ll get caught,” Garz told the boys. Nathan had heard him tell this to every group since he himself had joined the guild. He didn’t hear those words during his orientation. He had opened both the safe and the locked door before Garz had finished his speech. Maybe he should have listened, for on his first job he did get caught.
Garz noticed Nathan and his face split into a wide grin.
“Here he is boys, the thief that has given the city militia the most trouble: Satchel.”
Nathan smiled at the boys, thankful that Garz had used his fake name. He grinned, despite himself, at the memory of how his thief’s name came to be. It had been on his first job. He was caught by the most intriguing girl. She had asked him his name and he had responded with the first thing he thought of: Satchel.
Taking his leave of the small group of boys, Garz pulled Nathan across the room. “Did you get it?”
“Of course,” Nathan replied as he produced the golden necklace he’d been sent to retrieve.
“You’re amazing!” Garz was not liberal with compliments, so Nathan knew he must have done well. “Do you have time for another job tonight? This is a special one.”
Nathan shook his head, “I can’t. I need to go and meet Parel.”
Garz gave Nathan a knowing look. “Be careful of that one, my boy. Anyone who catches you with your hand in her father’s safe and opts to not turn you in, may not be the most trustworthy.”
“I don’t know what it is about her,” Nathan confided. “When I am with her, it just feels right.”
Garz shook his head. “Beware your feelings, lad. That can be a dangerous way to live.”
Nathan smiled as he handed over the rest of the loot he had liberated from its owners. He accepted the money Garz gave him and hurried out into the night. He had to get to the central park in the human quadrant. He was already running a bit late, having spent too much time listening to Garz and his warnings. Parel was not going to be happy with him.
He hurried home for a moment to change out of his thief’s clothing into his typical shirt, pants, and cloak. He left without a word to his mother.
Stepping into the cool night air, he paused for a moment to steel himself. He stood still, reveling in the sounds and smells of the spring festival that was being held a few streets from his home. He picked out his favorite smells from the myriad that wafted on the breeze. His mouth began to water as the smells of the festival entered his nostrils.
He was tempted for a moment to attend the festival, leaving Parel waiting. He felt a driving compulsion to confide his deepest secret to her - in spite of his best judgment. He knew how she felt about him, and the fact that he did not reciprocate the feelings weighed on his mind. He knew it was wrong to string her along, but it just felt so good to be around her.
Shaking his head, he stepped out of the door way. He walked through the growing darkness of the early night, afraid of what the small raven-haired beauty would say if he was late. A smile crept across his lips as he hurried his pace.
He paused when he saw her sitting on a blanket next to the park’s fish pond. Her green eyes were stunning, highlighted by her long emerald gown. Her long black braid rested across her shoulder. She casually swirled her hand through the water of the pond, staring up at the star-filled sky.
Parel waved as she saw him approach. “You are late.”
His smile deepened as he sat next to her.
Nathan grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, I got caught up at work.”
Her face became serious. “You need to be careful. What if you really do get caught?”
“The night I met you is the only time I’ve ever been caught,” he defended.
Parel rolled her eyes. The subject of that night brought back mixed feelings for her. She’d caught Nathan stealing some incriminating documents from her father’s safe. These documents had led to her father’s disgrace and incarceration. She knew her father was involved in some shady business deals, but she still loved him.
He quietly murmured a brief entreat to the magic around him, asking if there were any any other living creatures in the park. In answer to his request, the life glow of everything in the vicinity became clear to him.
They were almost hidden from anyone outside of the park, so he did not need to worry about anything outside of its borders.
He wrapped his arms around Parel to shield her from the chill of the night, and she slowly relaxed. They sat like this until he could no longer see the life glow of anything larger than the fish.
He tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice. “Parel, do you remember when you said that nothing would ever change the way you feel about me?”
Parel raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, I remember saying that.”
Nathan half grinned.
“I have something to tell you that may put that to the test.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“I have a secret. A secret so big it could get me exiled, or possibly killed.”
“I know. You’re the infamous thief, Satchel,” she replied with a grin as she pulled away and pushed his shoulder.
“No, Parel. Even bigger than that.”
He reached under the cloak on his back. He allowed his shoulder length white hair to fall forward, hiding his face as he winced in pain. When he once again showed his hand, he was holding a large, snow white, feather.
“What’s that?” Parel asked.
“I have wings,” he replied. He wasn’t sure what the expression on her face meant, and he was nervous to find out.
“You’re joking, right?”
She was skeptical, but there was an edge of fear in her voice that was not there a moment before.
He unsuccessfully tried to hide the fear in his eyes as he surveyed the area, checking to see if anyone had entered the park. The magic assured him that nobody else was present, relieving his fear of being seen. The fact that he knew nobody else was around did little to assuage his fear of how she was going to react when she actually saw his wings.
He sighed. “There’s no turning back now.”
He watched her eyes as he stood, threw the edges of his cloak behind him, and extended his wings.
Parel gave a gasp and jumped to her feet as the white wings unfolded from his back. Holding her hand against her chest, she shook her head in disbelief, stammering, “How... When... Why?”
He answered her broken questions as best he could.
“I don’t know why I have them, but I’ve had them all my life.”
She closed her eyes, forcing herself to regain her composure. “Are they real? Can you fly?” she asked, reaching out to touch his left wing.
Nathan nodded and smiled, relieved that she was taking this well.
A sly smile slowly crept across her lips as a mischievous twinkle lit her eyes.
“Can you fly with a companion?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I’ve never tried. I don’t know if they are strong enough to hold the weight of another person.”
“How is it possible that you hid this... these... from everyone for your whole life?” she asked, gently stroking his feathers.
“I had to,” he answered. “People think it’s pretty weird that I wear a heavy cloak all the time, but they haven’t suspected the truth. Or at least I don’t think that they have.”
Parel snuggled into his shoulder. “This doesn’t change anything. Between us, I mean.”
This eased Nathan’s mind, and he gave a relieved sigh. Folding his wings flat against his back, he wrapped his cloak back around himself and sat down. He released the magic with deep gratitude, lest the magic grow angry and smite him.
They passed the rest of the night in silence, listening to Nature’s nocturnal symphony. They absently watched as the glowing fish in the pond danced to nature’s music.
The dual moons were both high in the sky when they rose, hugged each other, and headed home. Nathan considered returning to his house, but he knew that his mother would be furious that he had told Parel about his wings. She was upset when he expressed his desire to tell her. The fact that he had gone through with it was the ultimate betrayal as far as his mother was concerned.
He followed the sounds of the lively street festival to their source. He hadn’t really done enough open thieving to be good at it, and he thought this would be a good chance to get some practice. He knew he would have to be careful while he was there. Thieves tended to be territorial. His father’s sword stand was also in there somewhere, and he didn’t want his father getting angry as well. It’s never a good idea to make a swordsmith mad.
He silently berated himself for not going to see where his dad had set up to sell his blades earlier. His anger faded into shame as he realized that this was the first time in eight years that he had not accompanied Jarno to the festival.
The sounds of the festival were deafening as he stepped from the shadowy pathway into the bright lights of the market street. Vibrant colors from a multitude of tents dazzled his eyesight in the light of the double moons. Pungent smoke mingled with the savory smells of cooking meats to form a mixture of scents that left the mouth watering. The calls of the hawkers mingled in a cacophony of sound that beckoned to the curious to come and spend hard earned money on their wares.
It didn’t take long for him to mark the first thief he saw liberating precious belongings from their owners with a light hand. He was a small boy, a bit younger then Nathan himself, with sandy blond hair, vibrant blue eyes, and a soft, honest face. He was clad in nondescript brown trousers that were held up with black suspenders, and a baggy white blouse. Everything about him was completely forgettable, except for those brilliant, intelligent eyes.
Nathan smiled and moved on. He didn’t want to endanger the sport of such an obvious master of the thieving arts.
He wandered aimlessly through the festival, questioning his decision to come. Practice had sounded good at the beginning, but as he saw the faces of the nice-looking people, his resolve began to waver. He supposed this was the main reason why he was always sent to homes in the night for his thieving assignments.
As he turned a corner, a glint of metal caught his eye. Next to a nondescript grey tent stood many racks of the most beautiful knives, daggers, and swords. Upon every blade was emblazoned the image of a rose. This was the stall of the blacksmith Jarno Rose, Nathan’s father.
A man was surveying the displayed wares, causing an alarm to go off in Nathan’s head. The way that the man moved was wrong... almost unnatural. His incoherent muttering reached the young man’s ears. Nathan’s ears were sharp, so he heard every word, but he didn’t understand any of them.
“Can I help you? Can I show you anything?” Nathan asked with feigned cheer masking his anxiety.
His smile was wiped away by the point of the sword that he suddenly found himself facing.
“This is a nice sword,” the man said in a strange accent. “I think I will take it.”
Nathan’s smile was strained. “That blade will cost you forty-five gold pieces.”
The man smiled wickedly. “Oh, I will not be paying for it. I just said I would take it”
Nathan peered deeply into the shadows of the older man’s hood. Dark, deep set eyes stared back at him viciously. A long snout-like nose stuck out from under those eyes. Yellow fangs glimmered wickedly in the low light.
Faster than the eye could see, Nathan drew his own sword. There was a clang of metal and the sword in the dark man’s hand fell to the ground.
He couldn’t understand the words, but Nathan was sure the dark thief was muttering a curse as he retreated into the shadows.
“Nathan? What happened?” Jarno asked from the door of the tent.
Nathan shook his head and reclaimed the sword from the ground. “A thief tried to steal this,” he said, placing the sword back on the rack.
Jarno smiled jovially. “Then I owe you, yet again, for keeping my wares safe.”
“Why were you in the tent?” Nathan asked. “The blades were unprotected.”
“I was counting my profits for today. It is getting late and I was preparing to close up and go home,” Jarno explained. “I would suggest we don’t mention this to your mother. You know how she is.”
The mention of his mother bolstered his resolve not to go home yet.
He waved to his dad, saying, “I’ll be home later, don’t wait up.”
With his unwillingness to go home, along with the late hour, he went to the only place that he knew he could go, back to the Thieves’ Guild.
When he arrived, Garz looked at him curiously.
Nathan took some time to calm himself before approaching the Guild Master. The guild hall consisted of a large room with half a dozen smaller rooms that opened off of it. To the right, Nathan saw the fake door and safe where thieves could come to get practice in the finer arts of breaking and entering. On the left side stood Garz’ desk. A large rug adorned the middle of the room. This was the rarely used location for full guild meetings. Large bookshelves lined the walls heavy with leather bound tomes. He didn’t know what the books contained. He had never taken the time to investigate them.
“Do you still have that job for me?” Nathan asked as he approached the desk..
Garz looked him up and down. “You are not exactly dressed to be thieving.”
“I know,” Nathan replied. “Do you have an extra suit I can borrow?”
Garz pulled a new set of thief’s clothes out of his desk. “Hurry and get changed. I do still have that special job I mentioned earlier.”
Nathan went into the adjoining room to change his clothes. He didn’t really like wearing the thief’s clothing. They didn’t give him much room for his wings, and they made it impossible for him to fly while wearing them. He had modified his own shirt to allow the wings to be functional when necessary. He still didn’t like to use his wings, as they were bright white and almost glowed in the dark.
He removed the large blue Katana from his belt, leaning it in the corner. It was too large to take thieving. This still left his dagger and short sword should he need to defend himself.
Garz was looking absolutely gleeful as Nathan stepped back into the main room.
“Garz, I’m leaving my sword in the other room, don’t let anyone walk off with it. I will get it when I come back.” Now, what’s so special about this job that you saved it for me?“ Nathan asked. The jobs Garz usually reserved for Nathan involved high-profile individuals.
Nodding garz promised to protect his sword, before launching himself into the explanation of the job. “First, it’s going to be extremely easy. You are to break into Knoro’s old abandoned mansion in the Elven Quadrant,” Garz explained.
“Knoro’s mansion?” Nathan asked. “That place has been empty for three hundred years. Nobody can get inside. What’s so easy about that?”
“If anyone can find a way in, you can,” Garz winked. “And the pay on this is enough that we can both retire and live well for many lifetimes.”
Nathan was skeptical. “That kind of pay for what should be an easy job? There has to be a catch.”
Garz just shrugged, offering Nathan the slip of parchment that contained the information. Another reason that Nathan was Garz’s favorite thief was that Nathan was one of the few that could actually read. It made it much easier for him to understand the instructions. Nathan meant to thank his mother for teaching him, but it kept slipping his mind.
As he read the slip of parchment, he began to like this job less. He was to break into Knoro’s old abandoned mansion and find a mysterious, glowing crystal ball.
“What would our patron want with a Gypsy’s toy?” he asked.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. For this amount of gold, I would break into the old ruins and steal the dead elf king’s crown,” Garz said with a manic glint in his eye. “Now get your equipment and get going.”
Nathan quickly chose an assortment of tools from the equipment closet. Before he left, he retrieved his empty holding bag from his clothing.
He left the guild hall and walked in the direction of the elven quadrant, taking advantage of the late hour and the darkness. Knoro was a human prophet who died just over three hundred years ago. He was the only human that the elves had ever allowed to live among them. He didn’t feel safe being too far away from his own kind, so he built his home near the edge of the human quadrant.
His path followed an alleyway that held the wall where two shadowy silhouettes were visible, even in the low light. The sight of the shadow wall brought his recent dreams to his memory, and he saw the attack with vivid clarity.
Knoro was on his way home when the shadow creatures attacked. He tried to fight back, but he was not a young man. As he was about to succumb to the inevitable, a gold dragon flew overhead destroying the creatures with a flash of lightning, burning their shape into the wall.
“That’s impossible,” Nathan said aloud, scoffing. “That happened over three hundred years ago, if it really happened at all.” There wasn’t any way he could remember this event, but it was part of a dream he’d had every night for months now.
Nathan glanced again at the wall and the scorch marks that testified to the truth of his dreams.
“Focus!” he told himself. “Just get in and get out. Nothing is going to happen.” As he spoke the words, he had a funny feeling that they were not true. The only thing that kept him from retreating was that fact that Garz was counting on him to get this crystal ball.
Tearing his eyes away from the burned wall, he continued through the alley. After a slight curve, the alley let out into a small square with several houses facing it. As he looked around the square he saw it was empty. A few of the houses had lights in the windows showing that the inhabitants were there, but the old mansion was completely dark. He expected this. A gurgling fountain reflected the light of the two moons, casting the area into a state of half light. Not ideal for thieving.
In front of the old house there was a small balcony that overlooked the square. This looked like the best place to enter. There was a small patch of shadow under the balcony that looked like it would be a good place to use a grappling hook to climb.
Nathan skirted the edge of the ring of houses until he reached the shadowy area. He quickly pulled his grappling hook from the special pocket that held it, and threaded a rope through it. Swinging the rope a few times to gain the necessary momentum, he launched it through the air. He watched the hook fly upwards. It almost reached the top of the railing when some force pushed it away and it landed with a clatter behind him. He quickly gathered the rope, and stashed the hook back in its pocket before retreating deeper into the shadows.
He closed his eyes briefly, calling forth his magic sight. Gazing from the shadows, he concentrated on the balcony. As he watched, a glowing white gargoyle like creature appeared on the railing. This must have been what had repelled the rope hook. He wasn’t surprised to see the magical creature. Knoro was a notoriously paranoid man. He would have bound magical protection to his home.
He watched as a face appeared in one of the windows on the far side of the square. He waited for several minutes after the face disappeared to make sure he wouldn’t be seen. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but the balcony was still the best way to get in. There wasn’t any way to climb to it, with the gargoyle grinning down at him. That left one way to get up there.
Closing his eyes he muttered an earnest incantation, hoping it would calm the magic and allow him to pass unharmed. He knew that the creature had been bound here for a long while, but he didn’t know what kind of mood it would be in due to it’s incarceration.
As he completed his spell, he glanced up just as the creature climbed down from the railing to curl up and go to sleep. He hoped this was a good sign.
He ran out into the square, pulling his shirt off as he went. Reaching the far side, he whirled around and began to run back toward the old mansion. After three bounding steps, he snapped his wings out and rose into the air. He quickly flew across the open area and landed lightly on the balcony. He was happy to see that the magical protection was still slumbering. After pulling his shirt back on, he tried to open the glass door. To his surprise, and unease, it slid open easily. Once he was inside the house, he was unnerved to see that the room was in good repair. There was no dust on any of the surfaces, nor on the floor that could show footprints in case someone else were here. The plush carpet looked brand new. The four-poster bed gleamed in the moonlight that filtered into the room. Several bright paintings adorned the walls. This did not look like a room that had stood empty for three hundred years.
The room was large, covering the entire top floor of the house, and only had a single staircase leading to the lower floor. There were no closets, but a massive wardrobe stood on one wall. A full length mirror stood in the corner next to the wardrobe. The bed was made from a kind of wood that Nathan did not recognize. The four posts were carved with images of vines that wound diagonally up. The room was devoid of any other furnishings.
There was a handful of small bushy creatures moving through the room. They each had a forlorn look about them as the slid over the surfaces divesting them of any dust that might dare to try and find rest there.
In search of his quarry, Nathan decided to start simply. He checked under the bed first, looking for any hidden compartments, either on the bed or on the floor underneath. He found a secret compartment that contained a small pouch full of gold and a few precious stones. He dropped the bag into a pocket without much thought.
Not finding anything else under the bed, he moved to the wardrobe. When he opened the wardrobe, a blue glow filtered out. There was a sword leaning against the back wall. The sword was styled like a katana, but couldn’t have been forged. The blade consisted of a clear material that looked almost like glass, which was one source of the glow. On the gold hilt was a large sapphire that pulsed with a rhythm that reminded him of a heartbeat. A field of smaller blue was stones set around the larger central one.
There was something familiar about the sword, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Shrugging in indifference, he grabbed the sword, thinking it would fetch a good price. As soon as he touched the hilt, his fingers locked around it of their own accord, and he panicked, shaking his arm to try to knock the sword free. As he struggled, a warmth slowly enveloped his arm before flowing over his shoulder and into his head. He didn’t know what caused the sensation, and it did little to assure him that he was going to get out of this unscathed. After a few more seconds, the warmth subsided and he felt his fingers relax allowing the sword to fall to the carpet. Worrying about what just happened, and whether there would be any other effects from it, he shook his head. As he placed the sword into his holding bag, he thought it may not have been such a good idea to take it.
He scanned the room again, but he couldn’t see anywhere else that this mysterious crystal ball could be hidden.
He headed down the stairs, his mind still preoccupied by what just happened. As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he was caught across the midsection by a powerful blow that forced the air from his lungs. A pair of powerful arms grabbed him from behind in a viselike grip.
Stunned by the blow, it didn’t even occur to him to fight back
“Master right,” a deep voice said behind his head. “Master said boy come.”
Nathan had no idea what the voice was talking about. A mixture of curiosity and fear creeped into him as he began to comprehend what was happening.
The room was in complete shambles. Shreded parchment littered every horizontal surface. Leather bound tomes peaked though tiny tunnels in the carnage that was their brothers and sisters, hoping that the unknown attackers would overlook them. The fireplace stared at him, a dark gaping maw feeding on his fear. Shreds of cloth floated through the air, the only remnants of the cushioned chairs they once were.
A different voice sounded off to his right. “We sure this right boy?”
“Don’t care,” the first voice answered. “We kill boy. We please master.”
Fear flared into panic as the voices fell quiet. He was so busy trying to figure out how to free himself that he didn’t notice his bag freezing. A bright flash lit the room briefly, and he suddenly found himself falling. He tried to catch himself, but misjudged the distance, finding himself higher than he expected. As he hit the ground, his knees buckled and the momentum threw him forward.
He groped for a weapon, finding the strange blue sword among the frozen items that had once occupied his bag. Grabbing it he turned to face his attacker. He was shocked when he beheld a full grown ogre, its green skin glistening underneath a thin sheet of ice. Raising the sword, he prepared to defend himself. The attack never came. The frozen ogre appeared to be unable to move
A loud crash caused him to whirl around. Through a large hole in the wall he saw another ogre retreating. As it fled, it made a similar hole in the outer wall of the house.
A sense of urgency came over him as he glanced around the room. There would be no finding anything in the disaster left by the two large creatures in, so he moved through the hole into the entrance hall.
A slight glow caught his attention as he entered the room. The light came from a cylindrical object on the floor. As he lifted the object, words flashed across the smooth surface.
Choose your color!
He didn’t have time to ponder it as he heard approaching voices.
“It came from the mansion. We need to find out what it doing in there.” This voice was familiar, and belonged to the head of the city militia. Nathan had dodged him several times in his thieving career so far, and didn’t want to end that streak. He turned and sprinted back up the stairs, pulling his shirt off as he went. He burst through the door and sprinted back to the window through which he had entered. To his horror, he found that the window was closed, and locked.
The white gargoyle stood on the other side holding the window shut.
As he tugged and pulled against the window pane, he heard the voice of the captain barking orders.
“Thaw that thing out and get it in shackles.”
Nathan smashed the door with his shoulder, shards of glass exploding all over him. He felt blood flowing from cuts all over his face and arms where the glass struck him. He ran across the balcony and launched himself into the air. His wings were sore and bloody from the falling glass, and they screamed in pain as he pumped them up and down, as he flew away from the mansion.
He landed in a secluded part of the city, not far from the guild hall. He had to get back and tell Garz what happened.
He donned his shirt, wincing in pain as the cloth caught the glass shards embedded in the tender flesh between the feathers. He hurried through the streets, trying to get to the guild as quickly as he could.
He stepped from the shadowy alley into the guild hall and shock hit him. The place had been ransacked. There were books and papers everywhere. In the middle of the room a dark liquid oozed from under the desk, pooling. Nathan realized he smelled blood and his stomach lurched.
He was too late.
He turned and fled from the guild hall, trying to escape the fear that had been building in him all night.