"Thief: Circle of Fate"
by The Oracle of Wayside
Winter has always been one of my favorite times of the year. The days are darker, the nights longer, and the upper classes of the City are as stupid as ever. With the winter holidays and some of the wealthiest, most powerful men in town having some type of celebration or another, a skilled thief can make a killing, almost like the bonuses some honest men get. Of course, in my line of work, I just take whatever catches my fancy. Some of the more daring, or perhaps just stupider, of my kin will take the chance of working in the day. That’s fine for them; I’m better than most and could easily get away with it, but I prefer to work at night, during hours that any sane creature would be asleep, and even the undead seem to have retired for the night.
Tonight I have an easy job; one that I hit every year on this night, and which never has any better defenses than my last visit. An hour of observation, and it doesn’t look like anything’s changed, so it looks like it’s time to visit Lord Beckwen again…
It was almost one o’clock before the snow began to fall, covering the sleeping world with a blanket of pure white. Most would enjoy this, and under different circumstances, Tomas might agree with them; but at the moment, it only hindered those like him, the ones who would make their living during the night. This part of the Thieves’ Highway in particular, with the space between buildings and the slanted, tile rooftops, was a virtual deathtrap. It was enough to discourage all but the most daring of thieves, and if there were any way around it, Tomas would never be here risking his life. But all things considered, it was still the safest way to his target. It had become a tradition of his to rob Lord Beckwen on this night, but the old man never had tighter security when Tomas returned the next year. Perhaps Beckwen, who was alone except for his guards and was said to be more than a bit crazy, enjoyed having a guest, even if he never saw him and all he got in return was the loss of some of his most precious treasures. Or maybe he was just an old miser who refused to spend money on things that weren’t necessary or brought him joy. But the reasons didn’t matter; soon the young thief would take as much of the old man’s wealth as he could carry.
After some difficult jumps, precarious slides, and a fair amount of sneaking to avoid the guards protecting the mansions of some of the City’s elite, Tomas was finally nearing his target. Several times that night, he had run into others on their nightly quests, and most were smart enough to let him pass without trouble. In this trade, you either built a reputation or you missed the choice jobs, and only a few were better than he was. After finding his way to Beckwen’s manor and ducking into some shadows to avoid a nearby patrol, Tomas looked up to spot the rafter he had used so many times in the past. He knocked an arrow, took aim, and let it fly straight to the beam; and after it entered the wood with the usual dull sound, a rope dropped silently down to him. The window had been shut, a change of pace that Tomas found interesting. With the slightest difficulty, caused only because he still had to hold the rope, he was able to pick the lock and enter the attic. In the dim light of the half moon, the thief could easily see the outlines of the space, although he really didn’t need the light; he had been here enough that he could navigate it blindfolded. He carefully moved to the nearest door, picking his way through boxes and chairs, and making as little noise as possible, because although this was an easy job, it wasn’t without danger; guards patrolled the upper and lowermost floors. Fortunately, most of the old man’s possessions were kept on the unpatrolled floors, which would help Tomas quite a bit.
He reached the door and cracked it an inch, and after seeing no guards, opened it enough to stick his head through. The poorly lit hallway was empty for the time, until the patrolling guard made his way back on his rounds. Years of practice and instinct took hold as he seized the opportunity and left his secure hiding place to begin his night’s work. The only thing of interest on the top floor was Beckwen’s gallery and bedroom. He normally avoided these areas and went straight to the best stashes, but on this night, he decided to pay Beckwen a visit after he had cleaned out the rooms below. He was bored, and felt he needed a change of pace. He crept down the hall, going slowly to avoid guards and dowsing torches here-and-there to create pools of shadow. The top floor was always fairly drafty, so nobody would really be suspicious if a few more torches were out, but he had to remember to collect the shafts to keep the guards unaware. This had led to some close calls in his early days, but was almost second nature now.
After several long moments he passed the stairwell. It would obviously have been the easiest, and fastest, way down, but it was also heavily used, and the mark of an amateur. A good thief found more creative, less noticeable paths to victory. He rounded a corner and ducked into a doorway on the right, into the kitchen area used to prepare meals for Beckwen. Several times a day someone would come to take care of him, making meals and taking care of anything else he needed. They were always young, fairly attractive girls, probably around fifteen or sixteen years old. Whether they were legitimate, or were providing the old man with additional services, Tomas neither knew nor cared. Had they been older, he could have appreciated Beckwen’s taste in women, but right now, the dumb waiter was his only interest in the room. After tying the end of a rope onto a beam just inside the opening, he climbed in and began to carefully lower himself down the shaft. On his way down he only had one close call; some guard had decided to take a break and was in the kitchen directly beneath him, taking what appeared to be some of the finest wine he had ever seen. After the guard left, Tomas decided that he would take several bottles before continuing down. After all, not everything that he collected on these trips was necessarily going to be sold on the streets, although there were many who would practically kill for a vintage so rare.
On the next floor he left the dumb waiter and went out to the hall. From this spot, it was only a few turns and he would come out to the parlors and smaller galleries. These were the areas that, on the few occasions when he actually had any, Beckwen would entertain visitors. The guest suites were also on this floor, and Tomas knew that Lord Gallious was preparing to stay here and had sent some of his valuables ahead of him. There was likely to be at least one guard protecting these items, but aside from that, he could roam this floor with impunity. Tomas moved swiftly, ducking into rooms, taking anything of value that wasn’t nailed down, staying alert for a room with someone standing by it, since he didn’t know which one Gallious would be staying in, although he had some idea of the general area. He reached the main parlor and, after quickly checking to make sure it was indeed empty, he went on a little farther to investigate his hunch. As he suspected, the room set up for Gallious was at the end of the hall furthest from any stairs, the perfect location for any paranoid aristocrat. Tomas made his way back to the parlor and quickly entered. After taking everything of value in the room, including an odd marble drink dispenser featuring a cherub doing something that an angel probably wouldn’t, he left the parlor and went towards the hall that was being safeguarded. Getting past the guard proved easier than it at first appeared. When hired by someone only willing to spend the minimum for protection, the guards were usually pretty negligent in their duties, and Tomas was quick to reward the sentry with a blackjack to the back of the head.
After clearing the floor, he returned to the dumb waiter and slowly climbed back to the top floor. From his initial point in the kitchen, it wasn’t far to Beckwen’s chamber. He covered the distance in a few minutes, hiding at intervals to avoid being spotted. He stopped, glad for the last water arrow he had used, because the carpet ended at tile, and a guard stood alert at Beckwen’s door. Despite several years having passed since he had ventured this way, Tomas was sure the guard was new, and was fairly certain about the tile. Still, he had faced tougher situations before and was not the type to back off in the presence of force. Muffled footsteps sounded behind him, and he quickly ducked into a nearby doorway to avoid the approaching guard. He hadn’t been noticed, which was good, because with the guards unaware of his presence, he was free to find a way past the fool in his way. While looking, Tomas happened to look up, and nearly laughed out loud at his luck. There was enough space between the rafters and roof that he could easily crawl on the beams, and the wall only went as high as the rafters. He could easily get into the room without alerting anyone. Plus, in a pinch, he could hide up there, should he need to.
The arrow bit into the wood with a familiar, low groan, but to his surprise, the sentry turned, and Tomas froze. “Who’s out there?” he heard him say, and after a moment began to hear the footsteps from the other guard. For a few moments it seemed that the sentry might start searching for him, but he returned to his post, muttering something about rats. Tomas shot up the rope and pulled it after him just as the second guard appeared.
“Was that you?”
The second guard stopped. “Was what me?”
I heard a noise. Are you messing with me again? You know what the boss said’d happen again if …”
He shrugged the first one off. “Quit taffen me, Waybridge, I just got here.” He continued on, and a look of annoyance crossed the first guard’s face, but nothing further happened. Too bad, thought Tomas. If they had taken each other out, that would save me a bit of trouble. He crossed the beams, slowly, feeling the wood give slightly beneath him, until he crossed into the old man’s room. After tying a rope onto the rafter, Tomas descended onto the carpeted floor of the chamber. The room was large, lit only by a torch by the door, some candles surrounding the bed, and the light entering in through the open window. As he began to move, silently opening drawers, his footsteps stifled by the brightly colored carpet, a slight movement at the edge of his vision caught his attention. Turning, Tomas saw Beckwen sitting up in the bed, watching him. Tomas wasted no time loosening his sword in its sheath.
A chuckle sounded from the bed. “I’m quite certain that you’ll have no use for that, my boy,” said an old, cracked voice.
The thief sneered. “I’ll be the judge of that.” He took a step towards the rope. “So it looks like you got smarter after all, to set a trap like this.”
“You still show many signs of an amateur, Tomas. Had this indeed been a trap, you would already be dead.”
Tomas took a step closer, drawing his sword, a look of anger distorting his face. “How dare you say that! And tell me before you die, how do you know that name?”
“You have no worries from me. I have followed you for some time now. Will you truly take my life, though, and end my suffering?” Tomas stopped at this, wondering what kind of game Beckwen was playing. “I’m dying, you see, and have been unable to move barely enough to eat. Now all I want is to end my life, but I can’t even do that on my own.”
“Really? Forgive me if I don’t seem to trust you. I know that if I were you, I would say anything to keep from being disemboweled. Of course, if you’re telling the truth, why don’t you ask your guards? I’m sure if they’re willing to steal from you, they’d kill you if you asked.”
In the faint half-light Tomas could see a smile distort the wrinkled face. “I’m sure they would. What did they take?” Tomas removed one of the gold-bottles of wine from his sack, letting Beckwen see. The old man nodded his head in approval, probably remembering, or trying to remember the flavor. “At least they have good taste.” A silence followed. It seemed to Tomas that Beckwen had fallen asleep, but just as the thief was preparing to leave, the old man started again. “What reason would I have, after so many years of allowing you to visit me, would I have to deal with you now? Had I wanted, I could have been rid of you long ago.”
And why haven’t you, then? Are you as crazy as everyone says? Or are you just stupid?”
Beckwen paused, then turned to a table by the bed. “Perhaps a little of both. But I won’t stay in this world much longer to ponder such things, so I am glad you decided to visit me tonight, my son. Come closer, I have something that I must give to you.” A look of mistrust crossed the thief’s face, but he slowly obeyed and crossed the room. All about the bed lingered a slight fragrance, something calming and familiar, a mix of spice, vanilla, and wormewood. There was also a mug of some liquid, likely mushroom tea, based on the faint glow that it gave off. Then perhaps the old man was telling the truth, after all. There were a number of herbal treatments used by terminally ill people to dull pain, and the tea especially was said to numb a person’s perception if properly brewed. Of course, on the other hand, you couldn’t really trust someone after they had caught you in their home uninvited.
Beckwen pushed a small box into the thief’s hand. “You must take this.”
He looked down questioningly. “What is it, old man?”
Beckwen smiled. “A gift. I was always praying that I would have a chance to give it to you before I died.” He lay back in the bed and closed his eyes. In a whisper that was barely audible, even in the utter stillness of the night, Tomas could hear Beckwen say: “I’m tired. If you will not kill me, then leave me to rot in this bed.” The thief turned to climb the rope and leave the chamber. After exiting the manor, Tomas followed his treacherous journey across the highway, to return to his own home, where he would take a much-deserved rest.
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