2. The Theft
A number of things had to be organised in the space of one day, fortunately Locke now had three hundred gold coins to enable him to do these things. Sikilda had left a pouch where he had been sitting without Locke noticing him put it there. In the pouch had also been the number thirty-two written on a scrap of parchment. Next to it was a letter with ‘Open upon reaching Bannen’ written across the top. Locke deduced thirty-two was the number of Cartwright’s place. He supposed it made sense to make this place his first port-of-call.
Number thirty-two Lemasien street was not hard to find as it was a coach station. Locke found out from Mr Cartwright that he was to be given a coach ride as far as Neniaur and he would be ready to leave by nine the next morning. Apparently Cartwright was holding on to the two hundred gold until that time. Evidently Sikilda had got the man to do quite a lot without asking any questions. This did not surprise Locke, Sikilda had the right combination of money and subtle threat to engender quite a lot of unquestioning co-operation from most people. Feeling assured Locke moved onto his next stop.
He had given quite a bit of thought last night to the matter of finding his way around lands he knew nothing about. The conclusion he reached was that ideally he would have a guide. One who didn’t ask questions would be better still. The solution came to him quite quickly, he had often seen visitors to Mersudia walking around with little booklets called ‘Welcome to Mersudia’, ‘Things to see in Loresia’, and ‘A Guide to Journeys in the Wilde’ and they had usually been written by a man called O. C. Regelin . Locke went to one of the taverns near the harbour as there were usually a couple of these booklets left on the tables there. Sure enough this was the case when he went in. The booklets provided were little more than pamphlets with a little map of Mersudia on the inside. Underneath the map was a line that read ‘For a complete an unrivalled guide to the Northerne Continente visit O.C. Regelin at 11 Duke’s Street’. The address was marked with an arrow on the map not that Locke needed it.
Five minutes later he arrived outside a tiny shop with slim bars across the windows. Inside he found himself in a confined room with lots of shelves covered from end to end with books. At the far end of the room was a counter with a dozing old man behind it. Locke walked over to it loudly in order to give the man a chance to wake up before he reached him. The old man came to his senses quickly and tried to look as if he had only been resting his eyes.
“Hmm err how can I help you young man?” He said uncertainly. Locke wondered if he didn’t look like the sort who came in bookshops but then he hardly went around deliberately looking like a thief.
“I would like to see Mr O C Regelin.”
“You would? I mean, of course, follow me.” He said getting out from behind the counter and walking over to a door next to it on the left hand side of the room. The opened door led to a narrow corridor where two thirds of the way down there was another door on the left. “Just through there.” Locke nodded and let the old man move out the way before squeezing down the narrow wooden passageway. The door on the left had O C Regelin chipped into the cracked woodwork and was slightly ajar. Locke rapped on the door three times.
“Come in?” Said a surprised voice from the other side. Locke pushed the door open and was confronted by a room about a quarter of the size of the small shop front. Over the walls were large maps of the Northern Continent marked with mountains, rivers and black dots for important settlements. In the left hand corner of the room was a desk strewn with parchments were some maps some with writing on them. Regelin was trying to find room behind his desk in order to stand up. He was a lot younger than Locke had expected, younger than him, and had wavy light brown hair and was wearing simple black shin-length robes as seemed to be preferred by all kinds of clerks. He certainly didn’t look like someone who had travelled all the ways of the wild.
“O C Regelin unrivalled guide to the Northern Continent?” Asked Locke.
“Yes that is me. What is it you are looking for? Maps? Tales from Cities?”
“No I was looking for a guide. I am going north and I need someone to guide me where I go.”
“You mean to actually go with you?”
“Of course, that is what guides do is it not?”
“Traditionally yes but…” Regelin stopped himself. “Where is it you are going?”
“Ah…I know it well. I always recommend people visit it if they are passing by.”
“It is a long journey do you know how to get there and the places along the way?”
“Just as well as I know Bannen.” Regelin said confidently.
“Good, well if you think you’re up to it I’m leaving from thirty-two Lemasien Street at nine tomorrow morning. I’m willing to pay you a hundred gold crowns over the course of the journey. Can you do the job? ”
“A hundred gold crowns?” Regelin said startled. He recovered quickly and startled rustling through some of the written parchments. “Let me see hmm yes.” He said looking over various bits of script. “It is short notice but I think I can manage it. Would it be possible, perhaps, to get a little of the money up front?” Regelin inquired as casually as he could. Locke was little puzzled by his reaction but his mind was on other things.
“I will give you ten now? Will that be sufficient?”
“I would think so.” Regelin nodded.
“Good, well on the hour of nine tomorrow. I won’t want to be kept waiting.”
“I will be prompt I assure you.”
That sorted, Locke headed to the last place he needed to visit. It was another shop but this time in less plain view. Up until about fifteen years ago Mersudia had been a free city where all sorts of activities could take place where elsewhere they would have been cracked down on. Then the influence of the clergy finally took hold. It had been growing for years before, then one day it had suddenly become the major power in the city. The first thing to go had been the wizards; the Church of Loresia had been denouncing them for over a century and leapt at the opportunity to do something about them. If the wizards had wanted to put up a fight things might have been different but as far as they were concerned they could not be doing with such pettiness.
One by one things considered immoral became the target of church scrutiny with greater and greater powers being handed to the Watch to deal with them. The Watch may or may not have agreed with the church but they knew how to take an opportunity and started to present the church with lists of things they would like to see done away with. It was so much quicker to get a denouncement than to get a law passed. Locke, as freedom lover and as a member of the criminal fraternity, strongly disagreed with these changes though even he had to admit that making more active efforts to combat the Cult of Aphrozahl was not a bad thing.
On the corner of a narrow street, in one of the less respectable parts of town of town there was a shop not much bigger than the bookshop he had been in earlier labelled ‘Apofcary’. This terrible misspelling should have alerted people straight away that the shop was not what it seemed. Nonetheless, several times Locke had come across people actually trying to buy medicine there. No one ever did though because the shop was never manned there were a few vials on shelves shut behind a grate and an always empty counter.
Locke walked behind the counter and felt under the desk until he found a small lever. Pulling the lever caused a section of the wooden floor to slide aside and reveal a ladder leading down into a lit basement. At the bottom of this ladder the real shop was to be found and this one stocked not medicine but most of everything that the church had denounced. On one wall was a shelf stacked high with all sorts of pornography while in the far corner at the other ends were a number of books and items that had a certain dark magic feel to them. Nothing particularly powerful, though, this shop catered for the cheaper end of the market in that area. The thing the shop did best was unusual and often cruel weapons and associated venoms and poisons. It was for these things that Locke had come today.
“Afternoon Locke what brings you here?” Asked a short, weasel-like man from behind the counter beneath the stocks of poisons.
“Tools for the job Gaspar.”
“You planning something big?”
“I didn’t say that.” Gaspar was not the sort of person that you told if you were planning something big. Not unless you wanted every thieves guild in the city to know about it. It was bad enough that every job Locke got came through Bancrar, the head of the Silent Hoods, without other guilds knowing as well. Especially when there were guilds like the Bloody Knives, of which Tacrad was a key member, waiting to cut in. “What have you got in the way of quick loading crossbows?”
“You’ll love this.” Said Gaspar lighting up and drawing a handle out from below the counter. He pulled a lever on the side and two arms snapped out to make a crossbow shape. It was smaller than a normal crossbow easier to load and less powerful. Locke picked it up and held it in his hands appraisingly.
“This shoots quarrels?”
“No, darts. Poison costs extra mind.”
“Interesting.” Locke said placing in down. The journey to Bannen would be long and therefore the risk of bandit attack would be high. Not to mention the other possibilities, scurrian or stray orcs to name but two. He had his two daggers but these were not suitable for the open road. Locke had a philosophy about knives and daggers generally, when someone pulled out a knife they intended to stab you. Swords you could use defensively or to warn people off but knives weren’t much good for either of those things. They were too small to block well with and, to the amateur, not threatening enough to make them think they had no chance. People who used knives knew better, a knife wasn’t a weapon you posed with: it was a weapon you used. Locke’s knives were just about perfect for the circles he went in. Nine inch blades demonstrated stabbing power having two made it clear that injury could not be avoided. On the open road it was different, bandits carried swords and clubs a pair of knives could not intimidate such a group. “Could you show me the flail?” Locke said pointing to a small morning star with a smooth steel ball head roughly the size of a peach and a wooden handle hanging up behind Gaspar. He handed it over and Locke gave it an experimental twirl.
“Thought you were a knife man?”
“I am but a few extra weapons wouldn’t hurt. Well not me anyway.” He put the flail down next to the crossbow. “And I’ll take the bottom club off the rack” He said gesturing to a length of wood studded with metal with a looped leather strap by the handle.
“My word you are planning to take on the world. Come on Locke give me a clue.”
“How are you stocked for venoms?”
“Pretty well, I sold a load last week for a good price but I still got some good ones.”
“Word of advice Gaspar, don’t go telling a thief you’ve made a load of money.”
“Come now Locke, if you robbed me the guilds wouldn’t be very happy. If I went broke they wouldn’t have anywhere to go for their needs. The armoury wouldn’t sell them the things they want or that you want for that matter.”
“Relax Gaspar I’m not really going to rob you.”
“That’s a relief.”
“And if I did you’d never know it was me.” He added with a grin. “I need a venom that will knock someone out. I don’t want to kill them.”
“You and your conscience. Will that be to go with the darts?”
“Yes. I’m serious about not wanting to kill.”
“So you say.” Gaspar turned to the shelves and brought down a jar of black fluid. “This is the venom of a certain spider mixed with just the right amount of antidote to take the killing edge off. It will put someone to sleep for a couple of hours but will do them no lasting harm.”
“Is that a promise?”
“I’d stake anything on it.”
“Good I’ll take twenty darts filled with it.” Gaspar nodded and filled out his order.
“Let me see…ten for the club, thirty for the flail, fifty for the crossbow and twenty for the darts. That’s a lot to spend on a job. Are you planning on taking a trip or something?” Locke placed down the correct amount on the table. Gaspar swept it into his safe as quickly as he could when he peered up he saw Locke looking at him with the crossbow loaded.
“I hope you weren’t lying to me about the venom.” He said and shot him in the shoulder. Gaspar fell back clutching at the dart with a look of absolute shock on is face before slumping where he stood in an unconscious heap. Locke stepped over and checked his pulse; he was alive and stopped from spreading rumours for at least two hours. The speed news travelled in his circles that could prove useful.
The ship turned up on cue at the docks, judging from the markings Locke guessed it had come from quite far south in the Central Continent. The crew were all deeply tanned and most of them had black beards. Locke could tell straight away when they were bringing the item out. A nervous looking man in black robes who seemed to be going prematurely bald preceded it. Locke marked him immediately as the representative. Fourteen larger men all in chain mail and armed with scimitars followed, the last two carrying a satchel bound with iron chains between them. Clearly they were taking no chances. Seeing what he had come to see Locke headed off towards the White Head Inn.
He made no noise as he walked over the cobbled stone streets in the fading light of the evening. His boots had been adapted to stifle as much sound as possible. In addition to his usual hooded charcoal black cloak tonight he was wearing leather body armour moulded around a wire mesh. This gave a good degree of protection without inhibiting freedom of movement too badly. Over his face he wore a bandanna that covered everything below his eyes.
Around the White Head Inn there were three men in chainmail and carrying crossbows. These were mercenaries hired by the buyer to provide additional protection to his investment. Locke could see that inside the inn trade had been abandoned for the night. He had an ominous feeling about all of it, two more guards than he had anticipated had turned up and now he found the inn itself being watched over. Whatever this item was it had to be worth a great deal for all this effort and money being expended to secure its trade. There was nothing to be done for the meanwhile so there was no point hanging around drawing attention to himself. In the street that backed onto this one was another inn from where he could see the White Head. Locke moved along to this establishment to await the fall of night.
Nobody noticed him slip upstairs to the rooms where he shuffled alongside the door of each of the ones on the right-hand side and listened for sounds of life. The third room along was unoccupied. In a second he picked the lock and was inside heading towards the window. The next moment he was out of the window and up onto the roof. It was dark now and he was able to move among the shadows of chimneys jumping soundlessly from roof to roof until he was next to the White Head Inn. The fourteen guards had gone inside but the mercenaries still stood on duty outside. Two of them guarded the front door while the other circled around the back. This one was a real concern, there was little chance he wouldn’t notice him crawling over the roof and slipping in a window.
Leaning over the roof of the house he was on he waited until the mercenary was on the furthest extend of his patrol around the back then shot him in the neck. The man dumbly reached for the dart imbedded in him for a couple of seconds then sank forward onto his knees and fell into a shadowy corner. Locke pushed the arms of the crossbow back in and replaced it on his waist. His rooftop leap went unnoticed and soon he was, using the drainpipe for support, working on the side window to the upper floor of the inn. Without a sound he was inside the far room of the upper floor.
His heart was beating fast he had come so far so quickly he had to calm himself so he didn’t start thinking it was going to be easy. He moved over to the door and listened intently to the sounds from the corridor. Concentrating for every smallest sound he was able to hear two men talking quietly at the far end of the corridor. Closer to him, perhaps three doors down he could hear the breathing of two more men presumably standing outside the room the item was sealed in. There were steps coming up the stairs and a voice started speaking just outside the room in question. Locke didn’t understand the language but the tone said it all, the guards were being told not to leave their post under any circumstances. It was a speech Locke had heard more than once before and the emphases were always the same. He could put words to the foreign dialogue ‘no circumstances, do you understand?’ The conversation ceased and the footsteps disappeared down a floor. Locke leaned down to the floorboards and listened to the noises from below. On the floor beneath him the speaker went into one of the rooms while two pairs of feet marched up and down the corridor. On the bottom floor there were faint sounds of people drinking. There was less space than guards to fill it some were lucky enough to be given the job of securing the bar area.
Having found out what he needed, Locke was back out the window and onto the roof. He went three windows down then paused above the correct one. At the same moment two guards came out of the back door and stood either side of it, Locke retreated further up the roof. A matter of a few yards around the corner from these guards a mercenary lay snoozing amongst the refuse. He held his breath hoping against hope that neither of the waking guards thought to look for the missing mercenary. Leaning back against the join of the roof he waited a few moments before plunging towards the window when he heard noise from the street in front of the inn that made him look round.
Four figures were walking up the road towards the front door of the inn. There were all wearing full length black robes with the hoods up. Locke tried to get a glimpse of their faces but quickly realised that they were all wearing black masks. The mercenaries on the door demanded them to halt at which they as one drew short swords from beneath the folds of their robes. Surely the four of them did not intent to take on an inn full of soldiers, he thought. The mercenaries shouted warnings to inside and drew their own swords. With icy calm the hooded figures reached inside their robes again and each of them drew out a length of pointed wood. Hearing the call for help the guards at the back door ran up the alley way to the side of the inn towards the front. Locke suddenly felt he did not want to see what happened next. He slid down the roof to above the window and tried to think of nothing but what he needed to do. Reaching out for the pane of glass he felt an invisible barrier stop his hands.
Words of a dark tongue were shouted into the night Locke tried to ignore the flashes and screams of pain coming from the front of the inn. He went to his belt and pulled out a set of small wands on a ring. One by one he tried them against the invisible barrier concentrating to find the weak spot. The sounds of shattering glass and splintering wood rang out, Locke squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block it all out. He felt the resistance lessen as he touched the wand over a point high up on the window and he opened his eyes. The air rippled at the end of the wand like he had just dipped it in water. He put the wand ring back on his belt and lowered himself through the now open window. Clambering over a bed he came level with the safe. He pulled out the wand ring again and prodded the safe at various point with different ones.
From downstairs the commotion increased, more screams, more sounds of damage. Flickering light flashed under the crack of the door as the blasting spells and curses lighted the dark inn. Every time he heard a scream or a something that sounded like it could be the thud of a body hitting the floor at the back of his mind a mental counter went up. With each one he knew that there was one less guard between him and the attackers. The rest of his mind tried to quiet this so that he could focus all his thought on the task in front of him. The safe clicked a couple of times; he knew he was getting close. More shrieks echoed from downstairs and this time he could not ignore them.
“Please no not my family!” The voice of the landlord echoed out. “Please let them go!” Screams of anguish followed, through the sobs he could make out names being cried out. They were killing the poor man’s family one by one. Sickness started to bubble up inside him. He simply had to get this thing, whomever these people were they could not be allowed to have it. The safe door swung open and Locke wrenched out the satchel slinging it over his shoulder without pause and rushed to the window only to see the back door flying onto the stone of the yard. One of the masked men stepped outside and turned his wand on the first window of the first floor. The glass and frame burst inwards then he turned the wand on the next window. Locke turned and flattened himself behind the door. The next instant the two guards outside came rushing into the room and ran over to the window that he had fortunately remembered to close. It made no difference, the glass exploded inwards over the face of the guard nearer to it and then in the exposed view he was for a moment rimmed with green fire before crashing backwards onto the floor with smoke rising from his mouth and nostrils. The other guard threw himself back against the wall and both he and Locke for a moment stared at the lifeless body. Locke recovered first and struck the guard across the stomach with his club doubling him up. The guards by the stairs had gone down to fight and most likely gone down in that fight. Sprinting out of the room into the empty corridor with no attempt at stealth he rushed for the room at the end of the hall.
Beyond the door to this room he found himself facing a hooded figure who had just climbed in the window. For a moment his heart seemed to stop until he realised that this was not one of the masked men. It was not even a man it was a young woman and her gear at second glance was very similar to Locke’s own. Without hesitation she drew out a short sword and pointed it at Locke’s chest.
“Hand me the satchel.” She said forcefully. The shock passed and Locke pushed away her weapon with his club. She struggled and they went to and forth holding onto each other. Locke swung round and let her go. She flew out of his arms and went headfirst into the door panel knocking her senseless onto the floor. Locke opened the window and started to climb out when he heard another scream this time from the staircase.
He looked back at the unconscious girl, of all the times to get an attack of conscience this had to be the worst but he knew what fate awaited her if she was around when the masked men came across her. With an effort he slung her over his shoulder and clambered with some difficulty onto the window ledge then still holding onto her jumped into the alleyway. The landing was soft for him but the girl tumbled over his shoulder making a slight thud as she went. Sweating with fear Locke feverishly pulled out the crossbow sprang its arms into position and loaded a dart. In a moment the masked man who had been around the back stepped round the corner and looked immediately at the girl’s body. This gave Locke a crucial split second to act and he seized it by shooting the man in the chest from four yards away.
The dart rocked him, he noticed Locke as soon as he was hit and turned his wand on his crouched form. With his arm extended straight he wobbled for a moment then keeled over. At that moment Locke wished that Gaspar had given him deadly poison. The crossbow went away again and he picked up the girl. She was fortunately very light and it was not too much of a strain to pull her into the inn on the next street. The patrons busily immersed in their drinking did not pay attention as he sat her down at an empty seat. Locke did not know for sure that these people would be safe but he hoped there would be enough of them to deter the masked ones from attacking once they realised the thing they were looking for had gone. That had to be the priority, this item that they had murdered all those people for had to be kept away from such people, this he knew with absolute certainty. Securing the satchel tightly Locke stumbled out of breath into the street then summoning up all reserved he had left forced himself to run into the anonymity of the night.
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