Chapter 1 - The Correspondence

- Jyre: The Urchin - Day 1: 11pm

I stared up at the tower, which was nestled halfway up the steep hillside. It was a hauntingly eerie image in the fading light. I could have gone up the stairs, I suppose, but then I would have had to face ridicule from the servants and guards, if there were any. So I chose, instead, to take the back route. I had traversed this way once before but that had been in daylight. The area I had chosen to climb, sheltered by plant growth from any view from the tower, looked a lot steeper in the dark. The initial stages were easy enough. The ground was rocky with tufts of grass sprouting here and there. They gave enough purchase for me with which to haul myself up. I was past the halfway point when I came across the real problem. An overhang, like a miniature cliff, towered at least twelve feet above my head. The rock-face in front of me looked like a bowl standing on edge. The rock itself was as smooth as glass. I would have turned back, had I not seen this place before. Skirting my way around the lip of rock that made the bottom edge of the bowl, I eventually came to the thin crack that ran from the bowl's base to its top. With a little effort, I managed to squeeze into the fissure. It widened slightly just above my head and I was able to grab on to the rough rock and pull myself up, bracing my feet against the rock to stop myself falling. Had I been any bigger I would not have been able to do this; there are times when being a titch has its advantages. By repeating the process of reaching, bracing and pulling until my arms felt as though they were about to fall off, I eventually managed to drag myself out of the bowl and onto the overhang above. Once there I just fell on my back and stared up at the darkening sky, panting.

The tower itself was perched on a small shelf halfway up the tall rocky hill. The structure could be described as having two parts: the mansion-like base and the tall tower..

The wide mansion-like base sprawled out across the shelf in an irregular shape consisting of rectangular and cylindrical units with arched roofs, some connected by short hallways. It filled the shelf easily, leaving little room to walk, or even stand. Many of the units and halls protruded out of the rock-face, which lent me to conclude that there was much of this house hidden inside the hill. From what I could see by the light of the lampposts at the front of the house, the entire structure was made from black shiny stone, ornately decorated with all sorts of relief carvings. Stained glass windows circled the structures, each one different from the one that came before. The entire mansion gave a clear sense of carefully calculated randomness. Had I approached from the stone path and stairway it would have been impossible to see any of this, for it was blocked by the dense foliage and the fences that channeled any visitors to the front door whilst preventing any exploration of the property.

The tower part itself was too distant to be clearly made out by the light of the lampposts lining the front walk. The night sky was overcast, so not even starlight could illuminate its features. It was tall; very tall. It was also a good way into the manorís structure, standing free of the vertical rock-face that made up the rest of the hill which towered several hundred feet above the towerís tip. Searching for the most efficient way up, I circled around the structure in front of me, glancing at the relief carvings as I went past. They seemed to be forming a narrative. This particular one showed a man doing battle with an iron golem, and upon defeating the beast, receiving a large shield. I saw my path up as soon as I went around the bend; there was a narrow passage between two of the structures, which formed a path straight to the base of the tower itself.

I was level with the tower's base now and a short dash brought me to its stone clad walls. I walked around to its sides, careful to keep in the shadows and avoiding the windows whilst I searched for my goal. Spotting the dark window near the top of the tower was not easy, especially with the moon's light blocked out by the clouds. Finding the ugly gargoyle that was perched on the wall above it was much easier. It overhung the wall slightly and a wooden platform had been constructed around its base to support its weight. I pulled two pieces of wood out from under my baggy top and placed one of them, a rope arrow, on the floor. I held the other between the palms of my hands and whispered a short chant. The wood in my hands shook and grew until it stood as tall as my shoulder. I couldn't hold back a smile at the sight of that bow. It had been a gift from a young mage named Tanya, whom I had met on my travels but a year ago. I hooked the arrow in place, raised my bow and took aim. When I released the string the arrow rose with a whistle which was followed by a resounding thud a few seconds later. The rope uncoiled, its end hanging level with my face. I returned the bow to its original size, slipped it back under my top and began to climb.

I grabbed for the windowsill with my left hand and pulled myself forward. At the same time I released the rope I had used and then pulled myself through. It was dark inside and I could just make out enough to know I was in the right place. The bedroom was quite massive, and thankfully dark enough to keep me from being too distracted by the odd shapes all around me. I just focused on the shapes I did recognize, the bed, wardrobe, and chest of drawers. There was, however, no sign that the one I had come to see was there. I tucked myself beside the wardrobe and waited.

My hands were sweaty with nervousness, and I could feel them shaking. A glance at the outside told me it was getting very late. Just as I was beginning to wonder if he would ever come, the door swung open and he walked in. By the light in the hall I could just make out the silhouette of a man in a hoodless cloak. My mind went blank. Everything I had prepared was forgotten. He was preparing himself for bed by the time I realized why I was here. My presence suddenly seemed highly inappropriate. I pulled the letter from my pocket and stepped into the light. "This... this is for you," I blurted out, then hurriedly jumped back out the window and scrambled down the rope before he had a chance to reply.


- Nightfall: The Return Home - Day 2: 12am

The midnight hour approached as I slowly climbed the spiral staircase to my chambers, near the peak of the tower. I had been unable to get anything constructive accomplished in the halls of The Circle that day, in spite of the wealth of new content, which made me slightly frustrated. "Never enough time in the day," I muttered to myself under my breath. I reached the top of the stair and passed through the grand double doors leading to my chamber. Upon entering the room, I immediately felt a presence nearby. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a figure huddled by the wardrobe. I chose to discreetly observe what my guest was up to, without letting it know that I was aware of its presence. *

The minutes passed as I emptied my pockets onto my desk, and placed my formal cloak on the hook by the door. Just as I began a few random meaningless acts which could give one the impression of getting ready for bed, a small silhouette, which I vaguely recognized to be that of the young thief Jyre, sprang from its hiding place. She shoved a letter into my hands, muttered something about it being for me, and dove out the window. She is an interesting girl, to say the least.

For the past month Jyre had been one of my more faithful contributors. She regularly showed up at my doorstep or the office at The Circle with one or more new treasures she had salvaged, usually paintings or obscure rarities, in return for things like supplies, food, or money. She was a very secretive and timid person, and our words exchanged were seldom more then were absolutely necessary, but I appreciated her all the same.

Rebuttoning my overshirt, I turned on the lamp at my desk and opened the letter to read.

Master Nightfall,

Good, you have been. Understanding. I feel... I must tell of myself to you. Me words, please forgive, are not good. Me learning of letters came late to me. But I will try. You take my goods. Pass them on. Fair of me it is to reveal to you your source.

Orphan I be. Me dad I never knew. Me mum... Dead she is. Many years dead. Street rat am I. Thief, steal, rob. Those were my deeds. For food in me belly and clothes on me back. Understand, please. I had to survive! Twelve I did be when I were caught. A young man he were who found me. Ranson. That were his name. A guard he were. For the Lady. Ranson did see me starved. Filthy. Pity was his kindness. Took me home. Fed me. By the fire I sat all night. Such warmth I had not known before that time. Handsome, he was. Black of hair and green of eye. Loved him would any lass, sure of it am I.

Innocent I be'd. He... took advantage of me. Drowsing by the fire were I when he... touched me! "Quiet," says he. "Do as I say, or kill you I wills. You think they will miss one of your kind." Please, say you understand. I was lonely. He... The memory pains. Please.

Morning bright did wake us and to him his feet did leap. "Come," he commanded. To the lady did we go. And to her did he make plea for my service. I was a guard that very day. Do not judge me by this! I serve or I die. He gave me no choice!

I train, work hard. Learns much. Letters was I taught, and stealth. Watching. Protecting. Did I enjoy? Yes. Guard I was and guard I was happy to stay. Food I did have and much health. And Ranson did I have to fill me where I were lonely. Happy content. That was me.

But a mistake I did make. To patrol the house was my duty and I did see many a time that things were no good. To my captain Els I did go. And explain I did. But never, never, never did he listen! Angry I grew! Frustrated! "Tell the lady," be all he ever did say. To tell her I tried but always were she busy. Unimportant, I was. And so ignored. When to him I went to tell of bad lights, he did shrug and say "tell the lady." Hit him I did. Hard. We fought much. Everyone saw. She saw!

Arrested. Both of us. Captain Els was whipped. I... Put in a cage and left to rot. Hunger. Fever. Fear of death. No other memories have I. The rescue I do not remember. Going on the ship... It was captain Els who did freedom give me. His life was risked for mine. Obliged was the word he used when I asked why.

Time passed. Strength I gained. Guard I was again, for a short time. Then return did we to my homeland. It is revenge we seek. The captain and me. The lady she... She is evil! It is from her I steal my goods and to you they are passed. Though thief I be, I am not a bad person. Wish only to stop the lady do I.

This is me. This is who I be. Now you know the truth.

Your servant,

Jyre.

I paused for a moment, considering, and then quickly penned a brief letter in reply to her. I set it into the "out" chute by the desk. A servant would find it a the bottom of the chute in the morning and have it delivered promptly to her by my agents. Then, finally, I headed to bed.


- Jyre: On the Streets - Day 2: 10am

I was honestly enjoying myself as I trailed behind that fat merchant, having already picked three of his pockets, and found tasty trinkets in each. The marketplace was busy enough that day for me to stalk him quite closely without him ever noticing. Besides, he looked to be the type who never looked a peasant in the eye unless he wanted to buy something, so even if he did see me twice, he wouldnít have acknowledged it. He just bounced along, the folds of flesh beneath his layered garments jiggling with every footstep, which made it all the more easy to grab something without him ever giving it a second thought.

I was just reaching out for more when a small boy dressed in rags ran right into me. I had scarcely got a word out in protest when he whispered, "Master Nightfall sends his regards!" winked, and vanished into the crowd. I didnít even get a good look at the lad, though he appeared to be a boy of no more than six or seven years. Quickly looking back up, I was relieved to see the fat man still in view, flirting with a comely peddler woman. Judging by the expression on her face, he was getting nowhere. My next instinct was to check my pockets. I kicked at the dirt of the path as I discovered that the fruits of a morning's work had been replaced by a neatly folded note. Cursing under my breath, I pulled it out and scanned it quickly. Then my face lit up.

Jyre,

Hello again, always a pleasure to make the correspondence. Seeing as you are one of the patrons and contributors to The Circle, in the future I do suggest you visit me via the front door.

Now, allow me to congratulate you. I know that this seems an odd thing to say, but it is what came to mind as what I should first do. If your tale is true, and I have no doubt that it is, then you have survived much suffering and hardship, and grown strong as a result. For this, I congratulate you. Also, to a lesser degree, Iíd like to welcome you to the realm of the written word. I see you are quite new at this, and you managed to put forth a valiant effort. I know of many poor feeble minds who, in spite of proper schooling and a wide knowledge base in the field of language, cannot seem to tell a story half as decent as you have done. At any rate, that is enough chatter from me.

So you and the captain wish to reap revenge upon this cruel ladyÖ did I gather that correctly? I am curious to hear of your plans.

Sincerely,

- Nightfall, Master of the Circle of Stone and Shadow

P.S. If the boy steals anything, steal it back from him.

Surging with excitement, I quickly dashed to a courier post, making a small detour to relieve the merchant of his gold pocket watch. Arriving, I rang the bell to summon a message carrier, and quickly pulled out a narrow stick of coal to write a letter in reply, using the back of Nightfall's letter to write on. A tall gaunt fellow in his early twenties arrived shortly, and stood there, staring at me as I scratched out the letter. "You need me to carry letter, lady?" the man said, through a mouth with as many teeth as I could count on one hand.

"Yes," I said plainly. "And if you make speed there'll be a gold piece waiting for your return." Grinning from ear to ear, a sight I really wish I hadnít seen, he nodded vigorously and stretched out his hand to take it. "As soon as I'm done," I said, sensing his anxious nature. I reread the letter and wondered if there was anything I had forgotten. Hearing the courier's impatient shuffle of feet, I wrapped the letter in some cloth and handed it to him, along with a silver piece. "Now go, quickly," I told him. The man nodded once and ran off.


- Nightfall: A Letter from Jyre - Day 2: 12pm

I try to take at least one day a week off from my usual work to just relax and waste time. That was today. My reading was interrupted by Jossimer, my head butler. He approached slowly, knocking on the doorframe as he entered. "Sir," he said, with his thick nasal aristocratic accent, "a rather disgusting man rudely dropped off this letter at the front gate. He claimed that it was urgent. Shall it be disposed of, sir?" I looked up from the book I was reading, Memoirs of Sir Cabirus, and gave him an expression which usually meant, Ďthis had better be good.í Jossimer approached in his narrow stiff walk, the light from my lamp catching in his bifocals to make him look like some sort of mechanical creation. He held up the letter between his thumb and forefinger, as if he did not wish to touch it for fear of catching some disease. I reached out to him, the universal signal for Ďgive it to meí. He did so, and then stood there, absentmindedly dusting off his black formal coat. Strange how the room was emptier when he was in it. I set my book aside, marking my place with Lord Baffordís favorite bookmark, and opened the letter.

I found that is was actually the letter I had send to Jyre last night, tightly folded, with the addition of smudged charcoal writing on the back.

Master Nightfall,

Your praise, it lifts my heart. My thanks I do give you. Of my revenge you would hear? Then tell will I, best I can.

The Lady, powerful in our city is she. Much monies and rule does she have. Many man of the city are hers to command. Feared she be. Despised! Listen in the shadows. Hear their moans. Listen in the streets. Hear their praise. Such is her hold on us! But there is weakness. Yes. And find it will we. Exploit it will we.

Revenge. That was my word. But deeper than that it goes, I think. My people suffering I see now I am home. So freedom now is the need. That will my revenge be.

A few short weeks ago we did thief from the Lady, the captain and I. Into a house of her we snuck. Through her things did we look. The captain, he fears she is connected with the dark ones. That is what he says. And so does her evil rise. Proof it were we sought of this. And through every room and garden did we search it for. My ears did echo the sounds of my blood.

Bmmbmm, bmmbmm. My heart did my excite pound and my fingers did my fear sweat. The captain, he be brave. Calm did he keep me. And safe. Always safe. He knew every patrol, every post. And round each one did he guide us. Once, I fear we was seen but pursuit followed us not that night. Paintings I did find, which now you do posses. Some gold. Some jewels. Not to alert her, most of this did we leave. And letters, many letters. But none, the captain did me tell, that would serve as proof. But one thing did itself appear. A map of many places unknown where her things she did keep. Hovels, sewers, caves and such.

Searched them one by one we have but nothing did we find. To the captain, I say. "What good proof. Listen to us they will not!"

"We find her wrongs, we find her weakness. And that we exploit! Riches she loves, we take them. Contacts she has, we shatter them! Rumors we spread. Foul and dark! And bit by bit she is broken and eventually will fall! To get to her we must first shatter her foundations.

And to do that we need knowledge! Patience, Jyre. You must have patience!"

To seek revenge in this way we do. Her downfall will we bring about. And then she the beggar will be. Hers will starvation be! The picture is sweet to me. Peace in my heart it grants me.

But misjudge me not. I seek not her death. Such is not my way.

Your faithful servant, Jyre

p.s. A large lodge has she. In the woods. Far from the city wall. We go there tomorrow. And seek us our proof.

"Will that be all, sir?" Jossimer asked quietly. I swept my hand towards him, the universal signal for 'go away', and he did so. Folding up the letter and placing it in the inside pocket of my cloak, I went to speak to James.

James resides deep within the downtown area, Warden Clide's area, between the business district and the slums. The building in which he lives is on the edge of the slums, a once prosperous part of The City, which has fallen on very hard times. He owns a flat on the top floor of a condominium, which was originally built by the Hammers to be sort of a monastery for acolytes. But then they built that new place over by their new main cathedral, in the central town square, so it was given to the man they deemed most worthy. Well it seems even a high-ranking Hammerite isnít always the best judge of character, and this individual sold it to the highest bidder, who happened to be the third wealthiest landlord in town. How James managed to actually buy the top floor is a mystery to most, except of course for James, the man who sold it, and the guy who paid for it Ė me.

It was a short walk for someone who knew the way, but I still wasn't in much of a hurry. I had only been living in The City for a couple months, but already I had quite a good handle on most of the districts. As I walked I received, as always, an assortment of glances from the passers-by, usually in the form of a discreet nod of greeting from members of the respectable underworld. Most commoners and noblemen, however, took care not to give the dark, foreboding figure of Master Nightfall a second glance, or even a first.

I arrived at the building just as late afternoon was creeping up on me. The first thing that came to mind is the first thing that always comes to mind when I look at the place. What a ghastly piece of rock. The building was built by the Hammers, and thus looked like a fortress. However, unlike the perfectly clean and polished Hammerite fortresses, this place was a towering symbol of rot and deterioration. I always wondered why James refused my offers of a fine estate in the uptown area. He claimed that he needed to be close to his agents. I could have easily chosen to argue the matter, but I humored him, and so this is where he lives. I arrived at Jamesís front door shortly after making my way up a deteriorated set of stairs, which wasnít without several smelly bodies sleeping on it. I recognized that the door had been locked from the outside, so I knew he was out. Following standard procedure, I passed my hand over the deadbolts, and they magically opened for me. A nice little gadget, courtesy of an elementalist mage, who most likely really misses it. Stepping inside was like stepping into another world. Gone were the cracked stucco walls of the condo, the rotting wooden floor, and the stone ceiling. Actually, they werenít gone. You just couldnít see them.

James and his wife, Corinne, do not appreciate others saying their home is messy. They contend that they know where everything is: "Underlying Order in Superficial Chaos". And indeed the first impression of any visitor must necessarily be of chaos. Books, scrolls, and half-finished dissertations cover the tables; and they cover much of the floor as well. Massive filing cabinets overflow with papers and books are stacked two ranks deep on the wall-to-wall bookshelves. They live a simple life overall, happy to consume peasant fare day in and day out. But they spare few expenses in the pursuit of their mutual passion; knowledge. Which, of course, is why I hired him to run the Intelligence Section.

Stepping over some new volumes on an eclectic assortment of topics, apparently received shortly before their departure - they had not yet disposed of the packaging, though one of the books, Principia Mathematica, had clearly been skimmed - I found, sitting in the middle of a clear spot, a letter addressed to me. Most would find it odd that someone would write someone a letter, and think that the best way for that person to get it was to leave it on your coffee table, but I long ago learned that James was no ordinary chap. He was almost always at least two steps ahead of the game, which made him a damn good spy. I soon discovered that James and Corinne were indulging one of their subjects of particular fascination, military history, during a short holiday. The letter was written in James' typically ugly, blocky, but very easy-to-read print (one of his eccentricities: he only uses script for languages other than his native tongue).

D:

An old friend has come visiting. We are examining battle sites, traveling in the South for this week and the next. For the first week our location is predictable and I can be reached via Drop Box 74f. I regret to say that the second week will be less predictable and communications will probably be temporarily interrupted, but I shall post my movements as they occur so you can reach me in the event of emergency.

J - 09.06 23.3

The letter was dated today, meaning that he left this morning, which actually was not much of a problem. I was slightly disturbed by the fact that I had to reach James through a drop box. I prefer a valuable document not be left unattended. A drop-box is a location where the recipient certainly will not personally be present any time the courier is. James claims this increases security if part of the network is broken. The courier leaves the message in the pre-arranged location and then leaves a mark at a pre-arranged location to indicate that the box has mail. The courier leaves. The recipient checks the marker site every so often, and when the mark is spotted, will erase the mark and proceed to the drop site. After observation to ensure the site is not watched, nor the agent being followed, the agent gets the message. It often helps to place the drop box in places where it can be easily and unobtrusively grabbed even if in plain view. I pulled a chair up to his desk (I first had to find a chair, and then find a desk), and wrote him a short letter.
J:

You know of Jyre, of course. Attached to this letter are copies of several of her letters to me. Please read them. Did you read them? No? Go read them! Did you read them? Yes? Okay, good. Now, Iíd like to get some additional information on Jyre. This is not to say that I do not trust her, I do, oddly enough, but Iíd like to make sure there are no details that I donít know about that should be useful. That should be simple enough for your spies and telepaths. The second task should be all the more enjoyable. I want information on this Lady. All of it. I want to know the layout of her castles, all of them, and all her bases too, especially this lodge of hers in the woods, which I hear she spends the most time at. I want to know her past, history, heritage, how many skeletons she has in the closet, the breed of her pet cat, what she serves her servants for breakfast, how many times she blinked last year, and most importantly, her NAME. You get the idea? I understand you are on vacation, so to speak (donít deny it, I know you enjoy doing that stuff), but that doesnít mean that you canít get one of your many henchmen to pull this off for you. Oh yes, and as always, thank you greatly in advance.

- D - 05.26 23.3

"Now, where does he keep thatÖ" I muttered to myself, trailing off into thought. Then I saw it, perched on top of a stack of economic reports, his automatic copy device. Another one of the Hammerís wonderful inventions, this remarkable machine will copy any book or document quickly and accurately (and I use the terms lightly). I put Jyreís letters into the "in" slot, and waited while it did its work. Whether the Hammerís craftsmanship is overrated, or James had worked the thing halfway into its grave, I cannot say. What I did know is that I had to coax the machine to keep working several times, through some rather unscientific means. Judging by the tools that a Hammerite keeps on his person at all times, Iíd venture to say that this was a feature, rather than a bug. The collection of Hammerite tools scattered about the flat reinforced this notion. About ten minutes later I had a set of perfect copies, and a rather sore fist. Packing my letter and the copies together, I left the room as close to what I found it as possible, and let the door automatically lock behind me. I went to the back of the building and waited. An old man emerged from the shadows, a man whom I recognized as one of Jamesí agents. He was an extremely thin old fellow, skinnier than Jossimer, which I found quite shocking, and slightly grotesque. He walked up to me slowly, limping badly, as if his left leg was nothing more than carrion. I admit, I was a little more then slightly skeptical that this man could be any sort of courier. As soon as he was within striking distance of my walking stick, he spoke.

"Ohh, heelew Massteer Nitfell." He spat his words out as if he was hacking up phlegm, because he was.

I didnít waste time with pleasantries or small talk. "Take this to drop box 74f," I ordered him. He reached out and plucked the envelope from my hand, like he was picking an orange.

"Aye ssser!" he spat, and then suddenly bolted off down the ally as if he was no more than eighteen.

My eyebrow raised almost involuntarily. "HmmmÖ" I thought to myself. "James employs strange ones." In intelligence, one needs a cold mind and a warm heart, James always claimed. And he noted that with a bit of careful vetting, a small investment of basic human decency towards society's unloved outcasts - often as little as a regular cup of tea and a sympathetic ear - can reap a great return in dedication and loyalty. Shrugging, I made an about-face, and walked back to the main avenue. It was now evening, and soon it would be nightfall. Rather than going home, I decided to deviate a bit.

- Foreword, by an anonymous Keeper / Chapter 2 - Rouges

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.