The City Task Force has confiscated a stash of treasure... Or has it?
The seasoned guards straightened as they heard the heavy footfalls approach the cave. They easily recognized the low baritone voice of their commander as he tread through the low underbrush of the remote forest. The consequence of any lack of discipline would be severe.
Like a great monster, Commander Romulus emerged from the line of oaks that surrounded the well-hidden cave. Under the guidance of this seasoned warrior, the city of Cyperien had finally found and captured the last of the gang of highwaymen that had terrorized the main trade routes.
Commander Romulus towered over any of his men, standing at least 6'4" tall. His large build and commanding voice made him a natural military leader at a very early age. Now, since his retirement, he has traveled from city to city, kingdom to kingdom ridding them of the unlawful
scum he'd hated all of his life.
He brushed his hand down his burly red beard as he entered the dimly lit cave. Though the place had been captured for over an hour, and was quite secure, the veteran soldier entered the cave with practiced caution. The guards that stood at the entrance feared to even breath in his presence. King Nimrod had given him full authority over the city guard and he'd been known to render unfavorable men unconscious with just a backhand.
Lieutenant Kwen watched as his new commanding officer entered the cave. Up until three months ago, he had been in charge of the city guard--and doing a fine job. He didn't need this old fossil . . .
"Yes, Commander Romulus"
"How many captured?"
"What do you mean... None, sir?"
"We killed seven of them sir."
"I left express instructions to get me someone to question Lieutenant."
The young soldier laughed "Yes sir. It was dark. I guess we just got lucky."
The blow was struck before the young man knew what had happened. The subordinate fell to the ground in a clump.
"Damn fool. Disobeying my orders is never lucky." The Commander growled out the words. "I not only want to arrest the thugs of this operation but the bosses as well. How am I to do that if I have no one to question?"
"Uhmmm . . . I . . ."
"You are an incompetent fool Kwen"
"Yes sir," The shamed Lieutenant got to his feet. His lip bled, though he dare not wipe off the blood in the Commander's presence. "We do still have the girl."
For the first time, the Commander allowed the tiniest of smiles to escape his chiseled face. "Yes, that we do. The daughter of the leader of one of the most prominent thief's guild in Cyperien will be invaluable. What secrets she knows, she will reveal, I promise."
"Will you be needing assistance in her questioning sir?"
The implied insult drew forth the usual angry grimace from his new commander. "You may think that an old war-horse like me isn't clever enough to 'get' your jibes Lieutenant, but I assure you that I do, and when my job here is done I shall teach you a lesson in respect."
A voice called out from deeper within the cave. "Sir! We have found the loot."
A young guardsman approached cautiously. He knew better than to interrupt either of these men without due cause. Suddenly the Commander forgot about the lieutenant and followed the young guardsman down a narrow passage. As they passed into the opening of a smaller compartment, Commander Romulus stepped over the body of a fallen soldier.
Lieutenant Kwen noticed that the arrogant veteran only huffed in disgust at the man who had obviously tried to open a secret compartment, only to set off the trap therein. The man he noted was no older than 17 and probably a new recruit.
Sacks and chests of all different sizes covered the room, containing all sorts of jewels and works of art. Though the shear amount of loot still did nothing to draw your attention away from the
centerpiece of the collection--the statue.
Even in the dim light of the torches, the statue glimmered with the magnificence of it's beauty. The image was of an elven man, so handsome one might call him beautiful. He wore a long cape and a shirt of mail that could only have been elven chain. With closer inspection, the commander quickly saw the sword strapped to the elf's back, the intricate detail of the hilt proved to him that the image could only be of one man...
"Belias . . ?"
The Commander huffed loudly. "Of course it's Belias. My only question is why would anyone make a golden statue of one of the most notorious thieves in the land."
"More importantly, who could steal from him?" asked the subordinate
"You sound like you admire this rogue." Commander Romulus said, angrily. "I assure you that he too will fall to justice."
Walking around the statue, the lieutenant examined it more closely. "What detail."
"Cease your prattling, fool. It's just more loot, although this one may be melted down and the gold to be put to better use. Have your men begin moving this stuff out, and let them know that if anything is missing I shall have their heads."
The commander, confident that his orders would be followed to the letter, left his minions to their labor. He would return to his luxurious accommodations, supplied to him by the governor of Cyperien. He was sure that the riff raff that these people called guards would skim some but most of them, being cowards, would not.
It took the men ten hours of nonstop labor to carry all of the loot to the wagons and ferry it into town where it was put into a special vault within the castle walls. The brilliant craftsmen of Cyperien, who were reputed to be the most skilled in the land, had made the vault. These craftsmen assured the king that no thief would ever be able to penetrate it's defenses.
As the last of the loot was brought in, the men stopped to admire the golden statue for a moment. Though they knew not to let the Commander know it, they did admire the beauty of the craven image.
The large slab was rolled into place as the men left. All of the contents of the safe were now the property of Cyperien and it's people.
Twelve hours after the men had found the loot, the statue stood in the dark, it's beauty unseen by any. One minute later, the spell wore off.
By the demons that spawned my soul, I thought that damn spell would never wear off, thought Belias. He squatted and stretched, shaking off the torturous feeling of not being able to move. He could hear and see in his line of sight but could not even feel the wind as he was moved to tthe wagon.
As he stepped from the pedestal that supported the statue, he realized that even his elven eyes could barely penetrate the darkness of the vault. He knew that time was short, as the air in the vault would soon run out. He took out the silver chalk that Tavaris, a mage he'd hired, had given him. As Tavaris had instructed him, he drew an arcane symbol on the vault floor.
He knew that he had to draw it exactly as he'd been shown. Magic was nothing to play around with. He'd gotten angry at Tavaris when he suggested it was too difficult for him.
"I have designed and penetrated more traps and safes than you have ever seen. I think I can draw a symbol on the floor!"
It took him only about fifteen minutes to complete the drawing. Now came the more difficult task for the thinly built elf. He had to move all of the loot to the symbol. Most of the things were easy enough, though there were chests of gold in this room that he had to struggle with. He
knew that his greatest weakness was always his physical strength.
He had filled the circle with loot. Suddenly, as he stopped to catch his breath, his head began to
spin. He knew that his air had just about run out. He took a ring that had belonged to Tavaris from his pouch. A twist of the jewel that decorated it allowed the needle to spring out. A drop of blood activated the homing spell that would allow its owner to scry its location.
Carefully, the elven thief rested the ring on top of the stacked loot. "All right Tavaris, bring it all home. Don't get greedy while I'm gone. I'll cut out your black heart if you do."
One moment the loot was there, stacked on top of the arcane symbol and the next, it was gone.
In addition to the thick walls and concrete slab, there were two guards posted at the entrance. They stood ever vigilant for any attempt to break into the vault. They both knew that the rewards for a job well done were great as was the penalty for failure. Neither moved, keeping their eyes forward and backs straight. The silence was maddening but neither would risk talking.
At the sound, both jumped. It was crazy but it sounded like the knocks had come from behind them. Warily, they peered from the corner of their eyes at one another as if expecting the other to know the truth.
The second occurence confirmed it. Someone or something knocked on the vault door, from the inside.
"Maybe someone got locked in by accident?"
"I don't know. I guess it's possible."
"He may be suffocating! Better hit the lever!"
The guard ran for the large wooden lever that when released would cause the vault door to open. Normally no one but the Commander could order it to be open but if they waited, whoever was in the vault would be dead.
The lever slid down easily. As the weights were released, a clicking could be heard. Slowly the heavy rock slab was pulled aside revealing the darkness of the vault, the very empty vault.
As the realization that the room was empty took hold in their minds, both guards drew their swords. Both men were chosen for their large builds and intimidating looks. Both were men to be reckoned with. Their large bastard swords were poised, waiting for something to spring
from the darkness.
Carefully, both entered the empty chamber, their hearts beating with fear and wonder. All of the loot was gone. They knew they would be blamed and killed. All that was left was the statue, covered in a white sheet.
One guard decided to examine the dark corners of the vault while the other moved to the statue which stood in the center of the room. With care he kept the metal piece of sculpture to his back in case the room wasn't as empty as it seemed.
Suddenly, the elf made his move. His sensitive hearing told him exactly where the soldiers were. H threw the sheet covering him over the guard's head. What light came in from the hall was blocked, leaving the startled soldier blind.
He would not be so easily taken. The frantic guard turned and sliced where his assailant should have been. If his blow had struck, it would have definitely killed the thief, however, it was not to be. The elf's inhuman dexterity once again allowed him to easily dodge a lethal blow.
He'd ducked under, rolling to the fighter's flank. He knew even as he struck the guard that it would have little effect. It did manage to infuriate his opponent. The warrior determined quickly where the weak blow had come from and struck ferociously. He felt his blade strike flesh and blood, severing it completely through.
"I got him," the soldier said.
Only then did he take the time to remove the sheet. He saw his fellow guard, lying on the floor in a pool of blood. His head rolled across the floor to rest against the far wall.
Stunned only for a moment, the fighter quickly saw that his assailant--the spitting image of the statue--lay on the ceiling. The powder flew with such speed and accuracy that it was impossible to avoid. As the guard reeled from the pain of the blinding powder Belias' ring of levitation lowered him to the ground.
As expected from such a thug, the behemoth's rage quickly dispelled his pain. He flew at the frail elven thief like a charging bull. With practiced ease, Belias side stepped the blow, as he found a tiny space between bands of armor. Demon's Vein dug deep, spilling blood and drinking in the man's soul. Feeding the sword increased its power, so Belias fed it often.
With the unpleasantness was over, Belias concentrated on his task. Morell had hired him to find and rescue his daughter. The loot in the vault was just a fringe benefit.
As he heard the footsteps of many running guards, Belias used his cloak of shadows to transform himself into a bat. It was a simple matter to fly past the charging horde and make his way to the cells.
The single guard at the door fell easily to a dart dipped in a little poison. As he found the keys and opened the door open, Belias could feel that something was wrong. He slipped the large brass key ring, holding the single key for the door, into a pocket in his cloak and carefully
examined the room. He saw no other guards. He expected at least a few. Without a sound, the infamous cutpurse stepped into the room. He saw three cell doors.
He had traveled halfway to the doors when the trap he had expected was sprung. From behind tapestries stepped four men armed with crossbows. They were placed around the room so that there was little chance of shooting each other in a crossfire. From the middle cell door emerged Commander Romulus.
"Bravo, bravo, Belias, isn't it?"
"I am Belias, Commander Romulus, isn't it?"
"You've done your homework then? I can only guess that you are mad to think you could outwit me. Did you really think that that statue would fool me?"
"Morell talked, didn't he?"
Romulus frowned, perhaps annoyed that this cretin, Belias, knew that it was an informant and not the Commander's keen sense of detection who uncovered his plot.
"Yes, the fool decided that your plan was too risky. He traded his daughter's life for yours. Loyalty among thieves--what a crock."
"Apparently, you seem to be right."
"If you don't want to be shot, I would suggest that you disarm yourself, slowly."
One at a time, Belias dropped his weapons. The daggers sheathed at each wrist and ankle, his own hand crossbow that hung from his belt, the sash that kept his poisoned tipped darts and finally Demon's Vein.
Lieutenant Kwen stood silently next to his commanding officer. When all of Belias' weapons were on the floor he approached, gathering them in his arms. He placed them inside a cabinet which was then locked
"The problem with thieves like you Belias," said the blustering Commander, "is that no matter how many weapons you carry, they cannot make up for a lack of skill."
"I see your point." With very little movement, only a flick of the wrist, the large key ring flew across the room. The cold metal struck the trigger-finger of the archer to his right, causing his bolt to be released. Belias had only tried this once before and it took nearly a week for his hand to heal. Today, though his skill was unerringly accurate.
The bolt was caught and thrown in the same fluid motion. He had only a moment before the other archers would slay him. The bolt struck the left hand of the man in front of Belias. The
pain and surprise caused him to jerk his hand to his left and pull the trigger of the crossbow.
The archer to Belias' right was struck in his side. Belias had been shot several times and knew that almost anyone would be stunned, if just for a moment. As he moved to his right, the bolt he feared most hit its mark.
Though his well-made elven mail took the brunt of the damage, the tip managed to penetrate. The sudden pain almost threw him off long enough for his target to recover. He reached one of the archers and grasped his weapon. The archer he'd struck with the keys had nearly reloaded his bow when the bolt tore into his neck. He fell, gurgling out warm blood.
In a matter of a second, Belias still holding onto the end of the crossbow used it to block the shot of the man to his right. The crossbow and bolt both broke from the impact. Lieutenant Kwen watched this blur of action, amazed at the elf's speed and accuracy. He'd never seen either human or elf move like that.
The practiced pickpocket found the dagger the archer had sheathed behind him, using it to pierce the young soldier's eye, killing him instantly. There was only two archers left. One slightly to his right and one flanking his left. He knew that he'd have to contend with the Lieutenant and Commander sooner or later but they would wait for the archers to act before jumping into the middle of the fray.
The one to his left frantically tried to notch another bolt when the broken crossbow of his fallen comrade came sailing into his weapon, breaking the string and rendering it useless. He looked on hopeful that his colleague would finish this fool.
Belias gauged his timing down to the last instant. As the archer pulled the trigger, he leapt to his right. Before the bolt left the weapon, the man realized the thief's strategy. Remarkably Belias spun around the missile, allowing it to continue it's journey until it struck the bewildered, unarmed bowman.
As his companion fell dying, The other quickly grabbed another bolt. Once it was notched, he raised his weapon to aim. The last thing he saw was the dagger soaring towards him. He prayed he would be remembered well.
Pain ripped through Belias' side as he rose from his crouching position. "Yes, I completely agree. A weapon cannot replace skill Commander."
The burly mountain of a man strode into the center of the room. "We shall see rogue... We shall see."
"Are you to attack an unarmed man sir?"
The honorable man paused for a moment. "Lieutenant Kwen, give this cretin your sword."
"You heard me Lieutenant. Do I have to repeat myself?"
"No sir," answered the warrior.
The young man pulled his sword from it's sheath and hilt first handed to a smiling Belias. "Thank you my good man. I shall deal with you in a moment."
"You pompous, arrogant--" The Commander charged with the strength of a wild beast. "I shall cleave you in half!"
The blow struck Belias' sword, wrenching it from his hand. With his left hand, Belias flung the contents of a small glass vial that he kept in his cloak. The white powder sailed through the air... only to be blocked by Commander Romulus's left arm.
"Hah! My men told me about the body of my guard upstairs. Your blinding powder is only useful if it strikes the eyes."
Belias stepped back, weaponless and smiled at the gloating war-horse.
"What are you smiling about little man. You are about to die."
"You are right Commander, my blinding powder does need to make contact with the eyes to work. My sleeping powder however, works with just contact with one's skin."
Even as the rogue spoke, the commander could feel himself getting lightheaded. His smug smile was swept away. For the first time in his life the warrior knew fear. He knew he was going to die even as he sunk to the floor.
Belias watched the sleeping man for a moment, until he realized that Lieutenant Kwen approached.
As they came in arm's reach, Belias extended his hand. "Your contract is fulfilled sir."
The lieutenant raised his hand to take Belias'. "And as your end is fulfilled, you are welcome to do business in Cyperien, so long as there isn't too much bloodshed.
"I think we're going to get along fine Lieutenant Kwen . Now if you will, I would like to take the girl. Morell owes me for his betrayal."
"You are going to kill her?!"
"Oh no. He'll pay handsomely for her return, I'm sure."
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