The price of Honour

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Easy Beginnnings

At the agreed time, the four of them met in the alleyway behind the hall of stars. The day was hot and sunny, as where most days in Luchelle. Yet clouds did hang in the sky, with some large ones drifting along with the low wind. Brill had once remarked that Rain always came when tragedy befell Luchelle. Faultner did not care for such talk, nor did he hold any credit in it. But still, his eyes did drift upwards.

Faultner had made sure not to forget to bring his bow, quiver, and pair of daggers from his home, leaving everything else for his landlady to get rid of, for he had no plans to ever return to it. His weapons were the same ones he had borne during his days as a scout, and he felt no guilt about not returning them when he had been dismissed. He had made sure to dress lightly, without any great cloak. Stealth and speed would be needed today, if he were to survive and get paid.

His fellows had all evidently been of the same mind as him, all dressed simply, with weapons showing. The sight of people openly carrying arms wasn’t unusual in any part of Luchelle, as bodyguards of wealthy merchants, or even privateers for hire were a part of the city’s fabric. Brill had his fine Short sword at his hip, his right hand near it for a quick draw. Glarren had his great broadsword strapped to his back, while Tisza had her curious little daggers in full view. Faultner wondered of what make they might be, as they were oddly curved, with strange designs on the hilt, but now was not the time for idle speculation.

Without exchanging more than a nod to each other, the group began their journey towards the Ismail family bank. They headed out northwards towards the “mud-line”, the long established border between the Ache and other districts. Their target was the open concourse near the west gate, through which many travellers arrived to conduct business.

It was important that they were not seen leaving the Ache’s limits by any guardsmen, as anyone who left in any direction other than towards the Raggere district was immediately under suspicion, and subsequently followed. Fortunately, they kept to the alleyways, which where mercifully unobstructed today, and where able to pass the “Mud-line” without being seen. For the time being, at least, luck was on their side.

The west-gate concourse was already heaving by the time they got there. Carts laden with goods, herds of oxen and sheep, and large crowds of travellers arriving by foot poured through the wide open entrance to the city, with the Guards who were meant to be checking people’s bags merely waving everyone through, it being too early for them to really care about their duties. In this environment, their group was able to cross this human river with no difficulty.

They passed out of the crowd, and after taking a moment to shake dust and sand off of themselves, they kept going, now taking the wider, well tiled alleyways of the north west of the city. Here, little streams ran close to the buildings, all of which were connected to the large reservoirs that lay outside of the city walls, and channelled into the many fountains and bathing houses of the wealthy quarters of Luchelle. Here, the guards that did see them occasionally gave them a second look, but otherwise ignored them. Unless they actually committed a crime, none of them felt like risking the anger of the giant with the huge sword.

It didn’t take them very long before they reached the place they were looking for. Stepping out of the final backstreet before the square, they took a moment to survey the scene before them.

They were now in the place known as “Oakes’s square”. Since the earliest days of Luchelle’s prosperous history, it had been here where those who practiced the trade of lending and handling money did their work. Its name came from the oak benches from which the earliest bankers had conducted their businesses, though those where now long gone.

In their place, grand offices lined the four sides of the square, each the headquarters of one of the four large family banks, who over hundreds of years had risen to dominance above all others, in struggles that sometimes turned into all-out wars in the streets. Even now, they vied with each other for power, none of them seeming to be content until they were the only ones left standing.

Faultner’s group however, where only interested in one place today and that was the grandest office of them all. Turning to the north side of the square, they saw their long-planned target.

The Ismail family bank was situated in a three story building, which differed greatly in style to its neighbours in the square. While the other families built their banks in the Nikralkan style, with white marble bricks and tall pillars, mimicking the ancient architecture of their forebears, the Ismail family, who could trace their lineage back to lady Luchelle’s grand army that came to claim this region for the glory of Gardena, chose to build their bank in the manner one might find in the heartlands. Built of painted wood, with fine, square windows on each floor, its thatched roofed simplicity was merely a mask for the true wealth that lay within. The Ismail, in their own words, where trueborn Gardenan’s, who felt no need for grand demonstrations of power. It was this same ethic which made this place the family’s home, as well as their place of business. While their rivals all put great expense into mansions near the walls, the Ismail’s instead stuck to their creed, that being “ our trade, our life”. But as Brill had found out for a small fee, the Ismail’s where out of the city, on business in the capital.

Faultner knew he couldn’t just gawk at fine buildings all day. Turning to Brill and Glarren, he gave a small nod in their direction. Looking back at him, they nodded in response.

At this, Faultner turned and followed behind Tisza, who had already begun the short run to their objective. Tilting his head back only once, he saw Glarren and Brill making their way towards the front door of the bank, Glarren already reaching behind his back, ready to unsheathe his Broadsword. Putting them out of his mind for now, Faultner quickened his pace, trying his best to keep up with Tisza’s quick strides.

In the direct centre of the square, they found what they were looking for. Embedded into the tiles lay a round cylinder, which was the cover of the manhole that served as an entrance to the sewers. With a quick flourish, Tisza pulled the handle, and the hole became open. Without a word, Tisza descended, almost seeming to dive into the black void. Not wishing to be seen as a slouch, Faultner hastened his way down too. Taking hold of the ladder, he climbed down for no more than five steps before loosening his grip, letting himself glide down for the rest of the fairly short fall.

Reaching the bottom, he found himself in a spacious, dark tunnel. Doing his utmost to ignore the muddy water running about his feet, as well as the not so charming odours of the sewer, he looked about himself, and saw that Tisza was already making her way forward, in the direction of their next target.

They walked in silence, both preoccupied with the task at hand. As they walk, the sewer became narrower, the tunnel walls closing in around them. Before long, they reached the point where they both knew they must crawl, as they were now directly beneath the Ismail bank, and nearly at the entrance.

Getting on their hands and knees, they began the crawl. Tisza took the lead, as it was her task to open the way to the vault. Faultner could not help but grimace a little as his hands touched the tunnel’s floor, its touch slimy and foul. Even in his days as a scout, he had never enjoyed grime and muck, and had done his best to avoid places like this whenever he could.

Looking up, he could see Tisza crawling ahead of him. For a moment his gaze lingered, before he remembered himself and set his eyes firmly to the ground. From what he knew of the woman, he had the impression that she would definitely not appreciate glances of that sort. Besides, he could not let anything distract him, not now they were so close.

Thankfully, Tisza was paying him no mind, and before she and Faultner had crawled more than forty yards, they abruptly stopped. Before them was a small wooden door, round and heavily bolted. This was their entrance to the bank’s basement, wherein lay the vault. By now, Faultner assumed that Glarren and Brill must already be in the bank, and would now be in the process of shaking down the Clerks. He hoped that they didn’t meet with too much resistance, as he had heard the stories from Brill about what Glarren could do when he was made to get serious.

He was forced to snap out of his musings when he heard a sharp click, and saw Tisza crawl forward through the now open door. He hadn’t the faintest idea how she had managed to unlock it so quickly, as he didn’t doubt that the Ismail’s spent big on details such as this. It seemed Brill had been right to call her the groups “Ace in the hole”.

Crawling after her, he made his way through the door. As soon as he was past it, he got to his feet, relieved that he could stand again. Taking a quick look about him, he saw that they were now in a large open room. The walls where lined with heavy grey stone, which was plain and unadorned. Boxes where lined up around the place, no doubt filled with stationary and other such pointless junk. He could see two doors heading out of this place, one too his right, and another too his left. From what he remembered of Brill’s maps, their route laid to the west, down a corridor heading to their prize, the vault. The right led to their escape, a stairway up to the main floor, where Brill and Glarren would be waiting.

Tisza clearly knew this better than he, as she spared no time running to the left, towards the door. Faultner ran after her, making sure to keep up. They passed into the corridor, which was wide enough for the two of them to run side by side. It was long, and many doors lined either side of it, but already Faultner’s far seeing eyes caught sight of the Vault. Already, he could tell from the locks and reinforcements that the thing must be damn near impenetrable. He hoped that Tisza knew what she was doing, or else they would be there till they starved to death.

“You there stop! In the name of the Ismail family, I say stop!

The loud shout had come from behind them, and Faultner had no sooner turned around to face it than he had drawn his bow, stringing an arrow as he moved his body. When he turned, he saw a stout, middle aged man in the uniform of the Ismail bank guards, with round helm, Ring mail, and blue tunic and cape. He held a long sword with his right hand, pointing towards him. His round face was red; his eyes narrow as he yelled his warning.

In an instant, Faultner aimed his arrow, and without the slightest hesitation, let it loose. It struck the Guard straight in his throat, showing that training of the Gardenan scouts was not easily forgotten. The guard slumped down immediately, no noise coming from his mouth as blood seeped out of his open wound.

No sooner had that guard fallen however, Than Faultner felt a presence behind him. Twisting back around as fast as his body could allow, he saw another guardsman, this one younger and quicker than the one he had just killed, charging towards him, sword raised and ready to strike. Hatred was in the young man’s eyes, as well as tears, as he rushed forward.

“You fucking Bastard!” Screamed the Guardsmen, as he swung his blade down, in a fast wild stroke, at Faultner’s chest.

Taking a swift leap backwards, Angling himself so that the blade’s point missed him by a fraction of an inch, Faultner quickly flung his bow down, it now being of little use in such close quarters.

“Tisza! Keep running, I’ll handle him!” Shouted Faultner, though he needn’t had bothered.

The young woman had never stopped moving, and now she was almost at the vault.

Paying her no further attention, he drew his daggers, holding them blade downwards in each hand. His foe had righted himself after his downward swing, and was now holding his sword with both hands. He made to charge again, motioning his arms to take a sideways swing at Faultner.

Anticipating this, Faultner Swung his body to the left, aiming to avoid the blow. The Guardsman’s sword hit air, and his body came forward with his strike. Faultner now readied his killing blow, his daggers already raised, ready to plunge them into the back of the young man’s neck.

Yet before he could do this, the Guardsman, seemingly reading his movement, rammed into Faultner with the full force of his shoulder, slamming him into the stone wall. The force of it caused Faultner to drop his daggers, and he yelped as the sharp pain ran up his spine.

The Guardsman drew back, letting Faultner slump to the ground, and pointed his sword downwards, ready to bury it in his foe’s chest. But Faultner had long since learned to soak up some pain, and swift as he could he aimed his leg in an upwards kick, his boot striking the young man’s groin. The pain of this strike led the Guardsman to drop his blade, His hands reaching downwards to grab the afflicted area.

Taking a breath, Faultner got to his feet. Yet before he could make another move, the Guardsman was charging at him again, having taken no time at all to recover from the blow that had been inflicted upon him. Faultner could tell that the man whom he was fighting had the rage of a beast, his eyes wild with anger and hatred.

Faultner raised his arms, his hands grabbing the Guardsman’s. The two of them pushed against each other, hands locked in a grapple lock, in the style of the wrestlers at the arena. Each was testing the others strength, Faultner digging his feet into the floor as he strained himself, hoping to overwhelm the younger man. Both where panting with the effort, sweat running down their foreheads.

Faultner felt his hands being pushed back, the young Guardsman’s strength starting to overpower his. Making a swift decision, he swiftly head-butted the younger man, a trick he’d learned in the alleyways of The Ache. The Guardsman stumbled back, letting go of Faultner’s hands. Blood poured from his nose and lip, and Faultner could feel his own forehead bleeding slightly.

Faultner looked about him, trying to find where his daggers had fallen. Catching sight of one of them, he dived down to grab it. Reaching the floor, he took the dagger in his right hand, gripping it firmly.

However in doing this, he had taken his eye of his foe, and sure enough, as he turned upwards to rise to his feet, the Guardsman was upon him again, jumping down onto Faultner. The young man made a grab for the dagger with his right hand, aiming a punch for Faultner’s face with his left. Faultner moved his head out of the way, avoiding the punch, but could not stop the dagger being prized away from him.

The Guardsman, sensing he had the upper hand, lifted the dagger upward, aiming to bring its point down on his enemy’s face. For a moment, Faultner believed it was all over, that his life would end here. Yet an idea swiftly sprung to his mind, and he reached his left hand behind his back, towards the quiver he carried there.

With a guttural scream, the Guardsman motioned to bring the dagger down. But before he could move any further, he saw an arrow heading for his eye, and then half of his world went dark. He screamed in pain, keeling over to his side, letting the dagger loose from his hands as motioned them both to where the arrow had struck him. He tried to pull it out, but it was in too deep, the wound now oozing with blood.

Faultner did not think he needed to waste any time, and reached for his dagger. He found the other one, and picked that up too, and after that he grabbed his bow, holstering it on his back. He looked down on the Guardsman, and he could not help but grimace. The young man was now crawling on his hands and knees, the arrow still in his eye. He was heading down to where the other Guardsman lay dead, and he reached out an arm, as if to touch him.

Faultner leaned down, and pressed the dagger to the young man’s throat, to end his suffering. Yet before he made the final cut, the young Guardsman opened his mouth, determined to say his last words.

“Father… I….. Forgive…. Me”

The blade slid across the young man’s throat, and he said no more.

Faultner quickly got up, that familiar feeling returning the pit of his stomach. He fought back the urge to vomit, holdings his left hand over his mouth as he reeled slightly. He could see the blood flowing freely from the cut he had just made, the young Guardsman’s lifeblood now pooling on the clean floor.

Faultner was more accustomed to most than killing. Be it during the war, or scuffles in the alleyways of the ache, he knew how to survive, and fight ugly to win. But he could never claim to take pleasure in it, as no man should. Still, he had never felt as sick as he did now.

“It’s so petty”, Was all he could think. By his hand, a father and son had met their end together, the latter being forced to watch the other die before being robbed of his vengeance. They now lay dead, never to home to their loved ones, and for what?

Faultner knew the answer to that question: Because he wanted to get richer. He had no duty to be down here, and these two could never have had any grudge against him had he not been there that day. In war, he could console himself with the fact that his foes were trying to kill him and his friends, and that had he not struck first then others besides him would suffer for it. In the alleyways, it was simply protection, as one fought off ruthless cutpurses who didn’t know who they were dealing with. Here, it was just ugly killing, for nothing but Faultner’s own selfish reasons.

“By the darkest stars, this had better be worth it Brill” mouthed Faultner, under his breath. He now wanted nothing more than today to be over, and to get paid, so he could finally leave this accursed city.

Turning around in the direction of the vault, he could see that Tisza had clearly not been phased by the struggle that had just occurred. She sat cross legged on the floor, directly in front of the vault, placing her hands flat on the heavy door.

Faultner made his way down the corridor, as he was sure now that no other Guardsmen would attack him. When he reached Tisza, he looked down at her, curious to see how she intended to open this vault.

What struck him initially was that there were no tools of any kind strewn about the young woman. He had expected her to use all kinds of elaborate and precise instruments, the type he had seen other thieves use, to perform the complex procedure of opening the vault. Yet Tisza was using none of these, instead she simply sat there, hands flat and unmoving on the vault door. For a moment, Faultner considered shouting at her to get on with it, but then he noticed that Tisza’s eyes where firmly shut, and that her lips were moving. Faultner tried to listen, but the sound was barely above a mumble. From what he could tell, she was speaking no language he had ever heard before.

Then in an instant, her voice got louder, and her eyes flew open, a look of steely determination in them.

“Ell, hekwen, canharrg arrite!”

With this exclamation, the vault door swung open. Tisza got to her feet, and without a word to Faultner, stepped inside.

For a moment, Faultner could only gawp like a simpleton at what he had just seen. There was no doubt about it now; this woman was no ordinary thief. She possessed power, the like of which was rarely seen among the common folk of Gardena.

Regaining himself, Faultner followed her into the vault. He fought down the urge to ask Tisza all sorts of questions, even though he was desperate for answers. No doubt she might be a prodigy, or something of the like, but he had never heard of prodigies who used their skills without the authority of the realm. From what he knew of the woman, he doubted she’d be straight with him right away. The best thing was to wait until the job was done, then he could annoy her all he liked, until she made it clear he should get lost.

Stepping into the vault, he found himself in a high ceilinged room, which was lined with shelves on every wall, three apiece. On the floor he could see at least ten large wooden chests, which he assumed where full of gold. The shelves where lined with smaller chest’s surely also filled to the brim with coin. Tisza had already opened on of the larger ones, and was pulling out a large bag, that seemed to be heaving with wealth.

Brill, it seemed, had not been misinformed about how much was down here. Faultner was fairly sure that a large deposit had in fact been recently made, meaning that they could surely be taking even more than fifty thousand Garand’s.

Remembering his part of the plan, Faultner pulled out his whistle from his pocket, and blew sharply on it. It sounded load, echoing off the walls of the vault, and Faultner was sure that it could be heard upstairs. Now, there was nothing to do but wait for Glarren and Brill.

Yet a minute passed, and he saw or heard nothing from them. He looked back, towards the dead bodies and the stairs, but there was no sign of his accomplices. He blew the whistle again, putting even more breath into it, and once again he waited. But still, nothing, and Tisza just kept unloading bags from the chests, seemingly unfazed by this new development.

“Glarren! Brill!”, Faultner shouted, and again he blew his whistle. Still no answer, and now He began to sweat. This was not in the plan, and the slightest irregularity could mean disaster. Cold fear was starting to creep into his heart, and Faultner cursed under his breath.

Crying out their names again, and blowing his whistle as hard as he possibly could, he sprinted down the hall, leaping over the two dead bodies as he did so. Reaching sight of the stairs, he saw that they were high, and thst the banks main floor was clearly far above the vault. That filled him with hope, as surely his whistles and shouts could not be heard so far down. Taking to the stairs, climbing them two at a time, he cried out again, hoping that he would be heard.

He saw the door that lead to the main floor, and started for it. But in all his dreams, he could never have foreseen what lay on the other side.

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