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The thief climbed over the palace fence. He could see guards in the distance, nearer some light created by torches, and there was very little light near him. His dress matched this darkness. He was wearing a black cloak that reached just to his ankles, and he knew the guards couldn’t see him. They stood outside the palace’s front gate with spiked clubs, looming as large as bears--and looking dirtier. He felt the curved dagger at his belt and contemplated the guards. Perhaps there was a way around them.

***

In a pitch-dark room, a candle was lit. The room glowed. It was a small, damp room composed of large stone and mud. This was a residence on the outskirts of a modest village—a small, seemingly insignificant hut. The hut could easily have been mistaken for the shelter of a villager’s horse, and was discreetly off the path leading into the village while partially concealed by trees. The resident took a piece of parchment from underneath a table at which she was sitting and began composing a letter with ink and feather:

Dear Corrigan,

I have written this letter to you knowing that you are Lord Tovi’s treasury guard and will likely be dead before the end of this year. This will not be my doing. You will be hanged by his executioner for failure to perform your necessary duties. Your status as an inept guard will not be the result of my actions, so again your death will not in any way be due to any scheming or broodings on my part. In fact, even as I write this letter your fate is being sealed by different individual, one who happens to be on a selfish path. By the time you read this, the act will be done and you will never see me again. I know I have a reputation for petty thievery in this town, and Tovi will send his guards for me as soon as he hears what has happened. If he confronts you, tell him not to bother looking for me. I’ll never be found.
I was at the town tavern when I saw the first thief I realized to be more nimble than myself. He was wearing a dark cloak and was small. There was something very special about him. He was passing with amazing agility in between drinkers, stealing bags and satchels full of coins. No one noticed him except me, as I have an eye for thievery being a thief myself. He had amazing talent, Corrigan. I think the town treasury could be in some serious danger. Don’t forget about the Ziv stone, Lord Tovi’s most valuable treasure in the treasury.
As you are no doubt aware, the Ziv stone can only be used by a powerful sorcerer to summon the demon spirit Ziv. Lord Tovi has kept it a secret and not used it for obvious reasons. It can be targeted at men and used to transform them into mindless, demonic creatures that act as the servants of the sorcerer. It is vastly out of the reach of use by this thief, no matter how skilled an individual he appears to be (so something here is foul). The use of the spirit can turn the tide of wars.



There is perhaps one way that you may escape your death at the hands of Lord Tovi. Flee from this town, and leave your guards at the palace. Perhaps you can take some gold and bargain your way into an elfish town in the northern forests? Do this before he learns of the missing stone.

With regards,

Merle


***




The thief ran from the lighted palace entrance. On a darkly lit side of the palace, he found a grated sewer dumping water onto the ground. He calculated the bars on the sewer to be far enough apart that he could squeeze through. The sewer was too high from the ground to be reached without his grappling hook, and he threw it. He didn’t make a sound as he entered the passageway. The passage smelled foul and was short in height; he had to move in a crouch. He walked a long stretch, with many drops down, until he found himself facing another open grate in the sewer, which faced what appeared to be a dungeon. One torch lit the dungeon, and there were six cells with hay on the floors. Only one was occupied, holding an old man with dirt-soiled clothes. He looked at the thief as he passed.


“Let me out,” the old man said.


“Why should I?” The thief asked.


“I know the way to the treasure room. I’ve lived in this palace since I was young. There are enough gold and rare treasures to match even the high king’s treasury.”


“I know the way as well,” The thief said.
The old man could barely see the thief in the dimly lit room. He looked down at his hands, which were dry and cracked. He then looked back up, and thief was gone. The door to his cell slowly creaked open, and he crawled to the grating of the sewer.


The thief passed through a maze of dark hallways. He reached a door that he knew to be the door to the treasure room. It looked just like the other doors in the hallways he walked through. Just outside the door was a guard. He was fat, bald, and carried a wooden club. The thief leaned against a wall around a corner from the hallway that led to this room. He took out his dagger and tapped it against the wall, making a clanging sound. The guard grunted and walked toward the sound, while the thief crouched and concealed himself with his cloak. When the guard reached him, he cut the tendons above the guard’s heels. The guard fell, and before he could scream the thief covered the man’s mouth with his hand and cut his throat. The guard gasped, and the thief walked past him into the treasure room. When he entered he saw a girl standing amidst a large pile of gold coins and jeweled ornaments. She was wearing a soft-knit white cloak. Her hair was blond and her eyes were green. She had glowing white skin. The thief stood in front of her, with his face covered by this hood.


“How did you convince your father to let you in here?” The thief asked.


“I didn’t. I snuck in between shifts of the guards. Tovi probably wouldn’t mind if he found me here though. He’d just send me away and forget about it.”


“Anyone else’s head would be taken, he must trust you.”
“Yes, I suppose he does.”


“Give me the stone now. Your help is no longer needed.”


“I give you maps of my father’s home, betray him, and give you advice; all for you to speak to me this way? Remove you’re your hood, thief. Show me your face.”


The thief removed his hood. The skin on his face was black; his eyes were glowing red and sharply slanted. He smiled and held out his hand for the stone, and the girl noticed his teeth to be as sharp as a serpent’s.


The girl gasped. “You’re no thief. You’ve been twisted by dark arts.”


“Yes. I have practiced the dark arts for longer than this town has existed, and longer than your father’s eldest ancestors have been rotting in their tomes. Now give me the stone. This town will become a haven for Ziv’s children.” The treasure room then burst with a sorcerer’s flame.


------
Allan Onik


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by Bradburyskin





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