"Thief: Circle of Fate"
by The Oracle of Wayside

Chapter II

...And the Trickster sent his
Beastesses unto us, and they tore
The flesh from the bones of the men.

We took up hammer and saw against them,
But all was to no avail...

Then the Master Builder came to smite them,
And we praised his wrath, and worshiped him,
And followed him ever after...

--The Old Scripture Of the Master Builder

It’s been a few weeks since I was at Lord Beckwen’s place, and unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be going back. It turns out the old kook was telling the truth, after all; a few days after I was there, and before I could unload the merchandise, he was found in his bed. He died of Guinaspora, a rare skin fungus which eats the skin and eventually spreads its toxins throughout the body. I would imagine it would cause quite a bit of pain, and from what I’ve been able to dig up, I doubt the stuff the old man was taking eased the pain in the slightest. Had I known that then, I would have ended his pain like he asked. I denied the old man both a painless death and his final request, and for that, I don’t think I’ll be able to forgive myself for some time. Anyway, I got rid of everything except what Beckwen slipped into my palm. It looks pretty old and has some interesting runes and symbols carved into it. I think I’ll pay a visit to an old friend of mine.

During the day, the streets of the City were a very different place. It wasn’t often that Tomas ventured out in the light, even on legitimate business, but on this occasion, it was necessary. Besides, it probably wasn’t healthy to live one’s entire life in the shadows. The only thing he was wary of was the possibility of falling victim to his own trade, but with a thief of his caliber that was a long shot. The sky was slightly overcast, and the streets a bit more crowded than he would have preferred, but at least he didn’t have far to go.

He pushed his way through a market, trying politely to refuse those that were eager to separate him from his hard-earned money. More than once he got a rude remark for his troubles, but he had long learned to take what life dealt him. Hurriedly he crossed an open plaza full of drunks, prostitutes, and some of the luckier guards from nearby households. Fortunately, after a few more turns and the crossing of a bridge, Tomas found himself in Dayport, one of the more respectable areas in the City. Airen’s shop was just off one of the main streets, far enough from prying eyes to keep business fairly private. Her business actually consisted of two different trades: an antiques and appraisal shop, and a small import shop. They both got good business, but if the Hammers didn’t frown upon the types of things she imported, she’d likely get a good deal more customers. He opened the door to hear the sound of chimes, and nearly as soon as he entered, he was greeted by a warm and familiar voice.

“Tomas. You haven’t been around lately. How are you? Still doing what you do best, I assume.”

Tomas turned to see a shape detach itself from the rows of shadow and shelves. “I am, as a matter of fact. How have you been? You’re as beautiful as ever. Tell me, how is your father?”

They embraced. “The same as always, I’m afraid. He’s been doing better as of late, but the doctors don’t hold out much hope. But you must tell me of your adventures. How has the world been treating the master of thieves?” She backed away, and as she did so, Tomas could see a faint smile cross her lips. “To what do I owe the honor?”

Tomas let the hood of his cloak drape along his back. “This world is a very dangerous place for me and my kin, now more so than ever. I should probably think about retirement one of these days.” He moved farther into the store and closed the door behind him. “I’m sure by now that you’ve heard about Lord Beckwen?” He looked to see Airen nod her head. “Well I pulled my last job there a few days before he died. He caught me and gave me something, and I was hoping you could do some research about it for me.” He pulled the small box from the folds of his cloak and handed it to her with a slight look of embarrassment on his face. “I can’t make any sense of it.”

She took the box from his hand and began to examine it, squinting in the dim light. “I would say it’s probably from before the fall of Karreth Din, likely from the first or second dynasty. I could give you at least 150,000 for it. It’s in remarkable…”

“It’s not for sale. Can you just do the research?”

Airen looked at him with puzzlement in her eyes. “That’s a lot of money. Weren’t you just talking about retirement?”

He turned away. “It’s got sentimental value.”

She smiled. “You have changed. I’ve never known any thief, especially you, to turn down so much money for any reason.”

“He said some things before he died that I want to clear up. Can you just check into the box and the stuff in it?”

She shook the box near her ear, then slid the top off and began to thumb through the contents. “I’ll do my best, but I don’t know much about the Lost City. You might want to try to contact the Keepers.”

“I’d rather not.”

She looked at him, and then quickly blushed. “I’m sorry.”

“Forget about it. I’ll only see them if I have to, but I’m not so sure that they want to talk to me, considering how we parted ways. How much do you think this’ll cost?”

“For you, I’ll do the job for free, but this makes us even. Let’s head to my office. I really can’t see anything too well here.” They began to move to the back of the store, weaving between shelves filled with everything from parchments and ancient pottery and art, to the bones of those who fell in some long forgotten battle. “It’s quite a coincidence that you should come see me,” said Airen suddenly after a short silence. “I’ve acquired some items in a recent shipment that I thought you might find useful.”

“Oh? Your front, or something else, then?”

She turned with a smile on her face. “I’ve never known you to be interested in historical artifacts before, but then again, you seem to have changed since we last meet.” They stopped for a moment at the door as she fumbled for something in her pocket and, after finding a key ring and inserting the correct one into the keyhole, entered the office. It was of decent size and well lit, noticeably uncluttered except for a large stack of papers on the desk. Aside from the main desk, there was also a smaller table against the far wall, an old armchair, and some art hanging on the walls or standing in a corner. In fact, the only thing of real interest in the room was the head of a burrick, mounted on the wall above the desk.

“That’s interesting. Did you kill it yourself? Those things are hard to deal with.”

Following his gaze, Airen looked up at the head. “Actually, my father killed it. Put up quite a fight, as I understand.”

“I didn’t know he hunted, either.”

“He hunted quite a lot, actually. Would you care to sit?”

Tomas looked at the chair, but then shook his head. “I’m fine, thanks.”

She sat in the chair and crossed her legs, and a small puff of dust flew into the air as the old leather sighed and the wood creaked under her weight. She removed the top of the box, then the things inside: a scrap of cloth, some beads, a small knife, and several other things, nothing of any apparent value. She pulled a magnifying glass nearer and began to look at the box, slowly turning it so that she could take in every detail. After several minutes of careful examination, Airen suddenly said, “If you want, you can go on back and take a look at those things I was telling you about. I put them on your shelf. Just bring them back here to check them out.”

In the warehouse, after more than a little difficulty in remembering where he needed to go, Tomas managed to find the switch that opened the secret door into the small, illegal import store. The back room was filled with familiar things, mostly the tools of his trade. Although there were some magical items and things from exotic, far-off lands, the most commonly purchased items were the elemental crystals used to create the various arrows that thieves used to make their work easier. He went to the shelf that had been setup specifically for him, only to find it empty. After a bit of searching, Tomas found what Airen was talking about, tucked away on top of the shelf in a dark corner. It was a sack, fairly large, and when he pulled it down he noticed immediately its weight. Whatever was inside was heavy, something Tomas hadn’t expected.

He left the shop and moved back into the storeroom, making sure to close the door behind him. As he entered the main shop, a shape moved toward him from the front of the store. Tomas readied his sword, but what greeted him was a face from the past.

“Hello, Tomas,” said a voice that he barely remembered. “How have you been? Its funny how we meet in the strangest places.” A smile crossed the thin lips on the face underneath the hood.

“And what are you doing here? When did you become interested in historical artifacts? Or have you been following me?”

The other laughed a quit laugh. “Are you afraid I spied on you? Don’t worry. We have better things to do. I came here to talk to you.”

“Then talk.”

The cloaked man moved nearer to Tomas. “We need to talk about Beckwen. Don’t you think it convenient that he should die when he did?”

“He was an old, sick man. Whats strange about that?”

“Its odd because he should have had a great deal more years ahead of him. But right when he was about to lose everything, he left the world.”

Tomas cocked an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”

The smile returned to the other man’s face. “Didn’t you know? You yourself must have played a large role in his debts. He was going to lose his home, his money, his belongings, and it still wouldn’t be enough to pay back all of what he owed.”

“What are you saying? That he killed himself? Or are you saying he’s still alive.”

“I’m only asking a question. I’ll be leaving now, but I think that you’ll be looking for our help soon enough.” The mysterious man turned toward the door. “You have quite a puzzle to solve, my friend. When you realize this, you know where to find me.”

“And what makes you think I can’t take care of things on my own?”

He stopped. “Tell me, have you found the secret of the box?” He looked at Tomas, obviously able to read the look on his face. “When you do, everything will become clear.” As he began to move away, Tomas stood for a moment pondering the words that he had heard. He picked up the bag and made his way to the office. Airen, with an air of triumph about her, met him at the door.

“What took you so long?”

He was about to tell her, but quickly decided against it. “You hid this away well enough,” he said instead. “I had some trouble finding it.”

She took his wrist and led him to the desk she had been working at, the smile never once leaving her face. “I wish you had been here when I discovered this.” She picked up the small box and shook it, creating a dull rattle. “You hear that? I found a small compartment hidden underneath the bottom. And you know what I found?” The smile on her face grew wider as she slid the false bottom of the box off, then tipped it over. A ring fell out, and as it rolled around, Tomas’ eyes narrowed. He had seen them before; he was sure of it. As it slowly came to a stop, his suspicions were confirmed. It was a gold ring, plain with no decoration, but the face was of onyx, with the shape of a keyhole carved into it. It was only then that he began to see what he had been dragged into.

Chapter 3

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