OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gilead Persia


17. It Takes a Thief   

Persia's audience with the Archon is brief. She basically wants to give him her personal wishes for his health and to ask a few things about her mother. She also asks a few questions about Slick Russpelt, the weasel whom she believes to be operating under the guise of Fingal the Fox. Ningan tells her that Slick cannot steal anymore. The Archon himself modified his psyche to prevent any further larcenous activity. He had allowed the weasel to live, since he felt that his skills might someday prove useful. Persia ends the interview by apologizing for some of her past behavior, pledging to be more principled in the future.

She speaks longer with Domo. She explains to him that she would like to quit thievery, but she is being pressured by Fingal. Domo is a Paladin and aware of tactics and strategy. He explains to her that Fingal's advantage over her is his knowledge of where she lives. He knows who and where she is, but she knows nothing of him. She leaves heavy with thought.

The following day, a paladin summons Gilead to the Archon's presence. The old monarch questions him closely regarding his part in the recovery of Annihilator, paying particular attention to his interview by Bishop Thane. He appears agitated when Gilead admits that his psyche was probed by the high priest. Gilead is forthcoming and once again pledges support for Ningan.

Before he is released from the audience, Gilead voices a concern over the wealth contained in the Mausoleum. He tells the Archon that he believes that the treasures buried within would be better used to improve the lot of the people of the city. He adds that he hopes the Archon does not plan to do the same.

Despite the boldness of the inquiry, Ningan patiently explains to him that each Archon makes individual funeral arrangements. Some, like Carlo the Great, are buried with lavish splendor. Others like Tonda the Farmer are buried more simply. He plans to be more like Tonda. This answer seems to satisfy the young man.

An announcement is made the next day that the sword has been recovered. Hannon's name is cleared, and all will be told next Highday by a personal address by the Archon. The garden of the Standing Stones is packed beyond capacity when the time comes. The congregation is shocked to see the Archon stride through the Adept Gate and down the promenade with obvious vigor and health. He stands within the high circle and lifts his voice. It is clear and carries easily to the backmost rows.

“People of Tallon, subjects of the Word and the Way, hear my words and know my judgement. The sword Annihilator has been recovered. Here it rides at my side. Know that the sword was stolen by an ambitious foreign master who sought to bear its power for himself. He altered criminals to the point where three of them were able to slay a Paladin, my dear and beloved Winston.”

The populace cries, “Death, death to the foreigner! Death!”

“Wait! Though the actions of this criminal have caused death and pain, yet he shall not be given death himself. He shall abide in the pits of the palace, there to languish.”

There is more protest from the populace.

“I know there are those of you who would see this man die for his crimes, and I agree that they warrant death. But it shall not be so. Instead, imprisonment shall be his fate. He shall dwell in the pits until the day of my death. On that day he shall meet the executioner. I have spoken.”

Here he draws the sword and holds it aloft. It eerie light-bending quality is clearly visible.

“As for Annihilator, from this day forward, I shall bear it myself. It shall be worn as an emblem of the Archony, to be displayed during great matters of state. It shall continue to serve and protect the Jewel of Merrikia as a symbol of divine appointment.”

After this he says no more, but re-sheathes the sword and walks from the circle. There is some confusion and the service is deftly finished by Bishop Thane. Many remain afterwards to discuss the Archons words and their implications. Most are outraged that the strange master was not given death. The compact between Master and Paladin is a close one that demands harsh reprisal for injury. Others note the momentary look of hostility upon the face of General Hannon at the pronouncement of the fate of Annihilator.

The heroes gather in the garden, but decide to retire to a café to continue their discussion more privately. They wonder at the same things that concerned multitudes, but have more inside information. They are mostly curious about the strange master, whom they believe to be a Mingatoki Grandmaster. Why did he steal the sword? Why would he re-animate a gangster like Scorch? Is he somehow allied with Harker, the master of vice? Is he related to Ningan's turn of health? They are left with many questions, but few answers.

Two days later, the sleep of the heroes staying at Persia's house is interrupted by an arrow, which embeds itself in her front door. The shaft of the arrow is wrapped by a note that reads:

Deliv'r monthly dues of 25 Eagl's to
the innkeep'r of the Wyvern's Roost
in three days time,
or the next arrow will carrie fire.

Persia realizes that the threat of the guild has reached a critical point. Char sniffs the note and detects a slight odor of musk, indicating either the writer or the archer was a musk-bearing beast. She eventually consults with her friends. Gilead is affronted that a Thieves Guild could operate in his home city. He wants to turn the matter over to the authorities until those leading less privileged lives explain to him how justice does not always favor the poor, particularly on the West Hill. He, Char and Hank decide to go to the Wyvern's Roost a few days early to see if anyone else is turning in thieves' dues. Persia decides to go find her informant Firkin at the Kraken's Head. Firkin confirms that other thieves have been shaken down. Some have paid, but most have gone to ground, hoping to wait until the whole thing blows over. He also tells her that Tomba, the canine pit-fighter is running for the guild.

Gilead has gone to the Wyvern's Roost, which is unusually busy. He is wearing an oil cloak to disguise his expensive clothing. Sure enough, as the night wears on, a large dog enters the tavern and begins to speak in suspiciously low tones with the innkeeper. Gilead picks this moment to refill his over-foamed beer. He makes a remark to the innkeeper disparaging the wares and service at the Roost. The barman takes umbrage, as does the dog, whose name is Tomba. Words are exchanged and tempers mount until honor can only be settled by a fight between Gilead and Tomba. Gilead is set to run the blackguard through until Tomba points out that he is unarmed. Gilead, knowing nothing of the dog's reputation as a tooth-and-claw pit fighter, leaves his sword in the scabbard.

He begins to get the worst of the fight, which quickly spills out into the street. Fortunately both Char and Hank enter the fray. They have no qualms about using weapons. It is only when Gilead repeatedly attempts to stop the fight and Char is grievously wounded by Tomba's jaws that he draws his sword. With Hank's hammer, Char's spear and Gilead's sword, they quickly subdue Tomba.

They now have a dilemma. They are not sure if Tomba is indeed the courier for the guild. He never received any money at the inn. He also recognized Char and Hank, whom he knows to be allies of Persia. Fortunately, Persia arrives at this moment. She confirms their suspicions about the big dog.

Gilead takes Char off to a healer, while Persia decides to follow Tomba when he awakens. While she and Hank are discussing what to do, they are approached by a night watchman. It is Brassman, the manikin city guard. While walking the city as he does at night, he was attracted to the sounds of the preceding melee. The others quickly concoct a story about finding him already unconscious. They say that he must have been robbed. Brassman asks a few questions, but seems to be satisfied with their answers. During the questioning, Tomba rouses himself. Seeing the constable, and realizing his own wounded state of health, he quickly retreats into the night. Persia gives chase, followed by Hank and Brassman. The two manikins are no match for the speed of the graceful feline and they quickly fall behind.

Their chase takes them near the Beast Quarter, where they cross paths with Haiku, who is returning from her job as a Nightwatcher. She hails them and they stop and compare notes. Haiku decides to continue to Persia's and escort Tira home. Hank joins her, leaving Brassman to continue the fruitless search.

Back at Persia's, Tira has read the note with her psychometry and confirmed that at least two beasts have handled the note. One wrote the note, while another fired the arrow. By reading the arrow, she discovers that he archer was an unusual beast, not one of the more common types like dogs, cats, rats or rabbits. Hank and Haiku take her back to the Hall of Art.

Persia has kept a close eye on Tomba who has limped his way to a street doctor by the name of Cormorant. Here he is treated, apparently on credit of the guild, since he carried no money to speak of. Tomba lopes off into the rain, again followed by the cat. After a good number of blocks, she loses sight of the canine. While she perches on a rooftop, squinting into the rain, she is surprised by a voice from behind saying, “Looking for something, Kitty –Kat?”

Tomba had spotted her following and had doubled back. Apparently his senses are very keen. Without waiting for an answer, the huge dog launches himself at her. He berates her cowardice in using a sword while he fights barehanded, but this tactic does not work on the feline. A short fierce battle is resolved when Tomba is impaled on her spirit sword. She pitches the body from the roof into an alley.

The next day, she travels to the Roost and leaves a note in place of dues. Written on the back of the message that was delivered by arrow, the note reads:


I quit

If u both'r mee
agan, wat hapn'd to
Tomba wil hap'n to u.


Afterwards, she meets with Tira, Hank and Haiku for lunch. It is Marketday, and Tira's class load is light. Gilead has been called away on an errand for his grandfather, so the party decides that Persia must be the one to wait in the inn that night. They reason that with Tomba gone, someone else will gather dues for the guild. They need to disguise her somewhat, though. She is far too conspicuous.

Shopping about the market, they find a pair of high boots that will disguise her feet enough to make her species indeterminate, as long as she also wears a full oil cloak. Hank buys a large supply of hair coloring and they spend the afternoon making the gray and white feline into a black cat. By the time evening falls, she is nearly unrecognizable. The party now consists of Persia, Tira, Hank and Haiku. Persia enters the inn, while the others position themselves outside. The Roost is nearly deserted this night. Nevertheless, the barkeep is not the type to ask a lot of questions and allows her to stay so long as she keeps buying beer.

Near midnight, a mink walks into the common room. She has a furtive look that pricks Persia's street instincts. The mink gives her a hard suspicious look, but is apparently fooled by her disguise. She waits for the mink to leave and then saunters towards the door.

Outside, the other companions see the mink suddenly take off through the rainy night. There are few street lamps on this side of town and they are in danger of losing their quarry. Fortunately, Persia does a better job of tailing than last night and keeps the mink in sight. Tira also proves effective at following, since her spirit sight is not obstructed by buildings and walls. Eventually, they trail the mink to a lumberyard. Here they lose sight of her. She has disappeared between stacks of timbers. They search the lumberyard carefully, but apparently, someone ahs paid the night watch to be elsewhere; the yard is deserted.

Finally, they discover a series of storm drains leading to a central culvert. The culvert looks dangerous, awash with the combined drainage of the yard, but it is the only place the mink could have gone.

Persia enters first. Though the shaft has handholds, it is like climbing down a waterfall. Once at the bottom, she is standing shin-deep in rapidly moving water. She moves quickly aside out of the downpour in order to let the others descend. Once all are at the bottom, they notice that there is faint light in the sewer. They proceed cautiously, passing a low offshoot of the tunnel that carries away the drain water. They manage to avoid the fierce undertow. Tira's spirit sight saves them from an ambush, since she can see a guard waiting beyond in a left-hand side passage. Haiku quickly disables the guard, who proves to be riven. The man has skin that looks melted and lumpy. Since he is only unconscious, they tie him so that he cannot get away and warn others.

Continuing on, they are again saved from disaster by the young adept's special senses. There is a disguised pit beneath the floor. She is unable to determine mechanism or nature of the trap, but is certain that the floor is thin, with a deep pit below. Examining the passage carefully, they discover a series of small rungs set into the ceiling. They decide to cross. Persia goes first, deciding on a whim to take the first rung and skip every subsequent rung. She crosses without incident. Hank and Tira also cross without a problem.

Meanwhile Persia has examined a door at the end of the passage. It has a small peephole, but no lock. She suspects that there is a bar across it beyond. Tira's sight confirms this. The young adept also sees that there are three people in the room beyond. One is the mink, the other two she cannot discern clearly.

They need to find a way to get the door open. They decide to use the prisoner, to put his face in front of the peephole and perhaps fool those beyond into opening up. Haiku re-ccrosses the pit, taking with her some rope from the ever-resourceful Hank. She is trusting to her strength to carry her across with the riven thief bound to her back. Unfortunately, she underestimates the man's weight and the slipperiness of the rungs. She gets only a few rungs before she drops. Instantly the pit swivels on a central hinge. The forward end goes up, while her side dips down, sliding her into the pit below. The others hear a muffled thud and grown as the Yzlonder lands upon the body of her prisoner. Unfortunately, the prisoner lands upon spikes set into the floor below. He is killed instantly.

The thieves beyond the door realize they have been fooled and launch an attack. The door flies open as they release a barrage of missile attacks. A human thief and the mink have bows, while Fingal the Fox, who is indeed there, has an animate self-cocking crossbow.

While the trap door was up, Hank had a chance to use his engineering skills to examine the mechanism. The trap is only dangerous for the first twelve feet. Their side is counterbalanced in such a way as to only go up. Using the rungs to go to the center, he instructs Tira to follow. She will hang on to him and use her weight to cause the other end of the door to descend. Once Haiku can see them, she tosses Hank's rope to the others and is quickly rescued.

Meanwhile, Persia has been a whirlwind of activity. She quickly dispatches the mink, deftly avoiding arrow fire. Using her acrobatic skills, she vaults over the top of the door, using it for cover while fighting the Fox. She lands a telling blow, convincing the fox to dive for an escape door. He disappears behind a tapestry. Haiku races from her erstwhil death trap to aid her feline friend arriving just in time to slash at the covering. With a shriek, the fox collapses, halfway through a small tunnel door.

Tira examines the bodies and discovers that the fox is not dead and is not even a fox. He is indeed as they suspected, Slick Russpelt, the weasel. The one whom the Archon had altered so as to be unable to steal. Tira decides to bind his wounds and performs first aid on the wounded beast.

The others search the chamber. Hank does a diligent search of the walls and floor, revealing a small cache below a loose flagstone. Inside is a chest containing bags of coinage. The bags are numerous, and the amounts inside are small. They conclude that this must be the remnant of the fishdocks payroll theft. Examining the bolt-hole behind the tapestry, they find a small drowned passage that leads to a fish-rendering operation. No one would come in that way, since it would entail diving into a pool of fish guts.

Besides the payroll, the decide that the tapestries have some value, as well as Slick's jewelry, a pair of candelsticks, and the animated crossbow.

Hank discovers how to secure the trap door and they leave the den, carrying the wounded weasel and much of the booty. Persia indicates her intention to return and clear out the tapestries later. Apparently her pledge to turn over a new leaf does not include stealing from thieves.

Back at her house, they question Russpelt. The weasel is weak, but able to answer. Their questioning reveals that he is deathly afraid of being probed. He would rather they killed him. He “cannot say” how he overcame the Archon's conditioning. Nor can he say whether he knows of any strange grandmasters. The rapidly conclude that he is trying to be truthful and that when he says he “cannot say” he is being very literal. Once again, Tira is escorted back to the Old Circle. Though the hour is early, she gains an audience with the Archon. She tells him of their exploits and of the interview with Russpelt. The Archon says he will try to preserve Russpelt without triggering whatever compulsion might have been placed upon him. He also says that he will try to secure the reward for them, since they have been so diligent. Russpelt is left at Persia's until the Archon can send an agent.