Added on October 22, 1999
Category: Fantasy/Dark Elf
Author: Lledrith RavenWolf

The Theft

The Visit
The Facts
The End

Still bored. So I write fast. :p but, to quote Pratchett, writing's the most fun one can have by yourself. Not counting computer games, of course :D I have one more idea after this, or inspiration may hit me in tuition *bleah* Anyway, enjoy!


The Visit

There was a respectful knock on the door. The only person in the luxurious room looked up from the oak table and leaned back in the cushioned chair.

"Come in," he said. The person was a dark elf long white mane in a 'pony tail', features characteristically unmarked by the passage of time.

A human walked in, wearing chain mail and the surcoat of an upraised talon. He wore a mark of rank that proclaimed him a lieutenant. He bowed to the dark elf.

"Something of note has happened?" the dark elf asked in a light baritone.

"A mage of Halruaa has come to port, sir," the Talon said, "And he'd like to speak to you."

"Where is he now?" the dark elf asked.

"In the waiting room, sir," the Talon replied, "Should I ask him in?"

"I suppose so," the dark elf sighed. Over a few years, the Talons had become an established hiring force in the realms, although only for specific deeds, which would be carefully chosen by their dark elf leader. The Grand Dukes of Baldur's Gate had long since become accustomed to the men wearing a pattern of the Talon walking about the streets, though the dark elf knew his Citadel was watched continuously by Flaming Fists.

The Talon nodded, and walked outside, closing the door behind him. There was a short while as the dark elf sighed, then a portly, ruddy-faced mage waddled in, to rest his bulk in the chair in front of the table.

"You are Zaknafein Do'Urden, leader of the Talons?" he asked in a business-like way.

"I am," the dark elf said, leaning back in his seat, "What's the job?"

"I see you don't get many social visits," the mage grinned in his jolly voice, "Well, it's a job, but it's a hard one, and I'd like you to do it personally with your friend Kurent."

"Thieving, then," Zak said.

"Oh yes." The mage said, "Highest order."

"I didn't know there was order to thieving," Zak said. "And why myself?"

The mage shrugged. "I know elves," he said, "If they want something done, they'd get it done. They just have to want it first."

"Kurent may not agree," Zak said, "He's rather busy now."

"He will," the mage said, "The terms are a million in gold."

Zak raised his eyebrow slightly. "Each." He said flatly, "And what is this job?"

"Have you heard of the Rising Star?" the mage said.

"A group of Halruaan mages," Zak said, "Their power apparently depends on a jewel of the same name."

"Precisely," the mage said, "And the jewel is the most closely guarded thing in Halruaa."

"So we steal it?" Zak said casually. The mage looked around.

"The walls are impregnable to sound," Zak shrugged, "And also to scrying."

"Useful," the mage said, "You are to steal the Rising Star with Kurent. No doubt he'd find a way."

"Oh yes," Zak smiled. "Do you know how it is guarded? And how large is it?"

"There's no secret about that," the mage said, "Except for the size. It's the size of a marble."

Zak raised his eyebrow. "And such an object is the focus of power?"

"Power only to mages," the mage said, "Human mages. It enables certain ones, in a certain radius, to use their mind to create anything they wish."

"If only certain mages then why bother?" Zak asked, "If only in a certain radius, I do not see what that has to do with the... ah, Halruaan government."

The mage half-started out of his seat, then sat down ruefully. "I'd give a bit to see how you got to that," he said.

"Simplicity itself," Zak smiled, "You are wearing a light robe. Since it is rather cold now here, and Halruaa mages control the elements, you will not be used to this weather. Thus you should be wearing something thicker. So the robe is to conceal, perhaps, another robe, which can be seen from your collar."

The mage's hands flew up and touched it, feeling the insignia, then sighed. "A good eye you have."

"So I'd ask again," Zak said, "What does the Prime Minister of Halruaa have to do with the Rising Star?"

"It is also elementary," the Prime Minister said, "There is rumor that the radius can be extended to include the Realms themselves."

"I see," Zak said, "And this must be prevented?"

"At all costs," the Prime Minister said, "The coffers of Halruaa are open to you if you require. Transport will be by my flying ship."

"How is this jewel guarded?" Zak asked.

"That will be explained on the ship," the mage said, "Where a full scale model of the building is available. Can you collect your friend Kurent?"

"Now, if you'd like," Zak said.

"All the better," the mage said, "I will meet you both at the docks." With that, he waddled out of the room, nodding at the Talon who opened the door immediately and looked in suspiciously to see if anything had been done to the dark elf.

"Very loyal, aren't they?" the mage asked, turning back slightly.

"To me," Zak said, with a nod and a smile. "One more question why did you not ask Kurent first?"

"You're the one who's head of a place which offers to take up jobs," the mage said, "If I'd gone to the thief guild, I have no doubt I would have been robbed blind. I will see the both of you at the docks." With that, he turned and walked away, and Zak heard his huffing and occasional pauses for breath on the stairs down to the exit.

***

The Facts

"Zaknafein!" A man approached in a jaunty walk. Zak turned around with a smile, to see a tall, lean man bearing down on him, wearing a white cloak and black leather armor. A black eye patch ran over one eye, giving him a very suspicious looking appearance. His remaining eye was green like a cat's, and looked keenly at the dark elf.

"Greetings, thief," Zak said, "It's been a long time,"

"So it has," Kurent said, "What's this I hear about a million gold piece job?"

"Halruaa," Zak said succinctly, pointing to the sight in front of them. They were at the stone harbor of the city, and there were many ships around them, some ornate and some ordinary, but what took one's breath away was the flying ship.

The ship was slung underneath great bags filled with volatile gases, and hovered a few meters or so above the tallest ship. Its headpiece was that of a griffin, wings spread to the back and one claw upraised.

Sailors could occasionally be seen looking over the side, waving at the small crowd that had gathered at the edge of the harbor and was gawking at the ship.

The Prime Minister pushed past them to the two. "Greetings, Kurent," he said.

Kurent nodded. "We'd hardly get up there unnoticed," he remarked.

"To the contrary," Zak said, nodding at his staff.

"Fine," Kurent said, and the staff glowed faintly, and they appeared to be wearing Halruaan robes. None in the crowd noticed.

Zak pulled the hood over his head, and nodded to the Prime Minister. The mage raised his staff, and they began to rise into the air. Kurent looked down nervously then resolutely closed his eyes.

"Afraid of heights?" Zak asked with a malicious grin.

"It's a strange one," Kurent said, "If I'm climbing several hundred meters above crashing waves on a sheer wall I'm not afraid at all. If I'm levitating several hundred meters above a heap of soft pillows I'm still very afraid."

Zak laughed softly, and watched as the mage reached the deck. Kurent opened his eyes, sighed, and looked to Zak.

"I think you had better explain it to Kurent," Zak said to the Prime Minister, who nodded.

***

"And how is this Rising Star guarded?" Kurent asked when the mage finished.

They were seated in the Prime Minister's plush cabin, at the front part of the ship. It was richly furnished, such that it did not resemble a cabin at all. A large map of the realms adorned one side, along with several scrolls on shelves designed not to allow the scrolls to roll off in a storm. There was a large carpet in the design of the crest of Halruaa, and several comfortable seats around it. A glass table sat in the center.

The Prime Minister clapped his hands, and a point of light radiated out from the glass table, to form a glowing, semitransparent grid in front of them. A large building came into view that vaguely resembled a cube with no windows and no apparent entrance. There was a half-sphere, also semitransparent, surrounding it.

"The shield, as you can see," the mage said, pointing to the half-sphere, "Surrounds the whole thing, and even reaches underground to form a complete sphere. The box is immense, larger than this ship itself."

"What does the shield do?" Kurent asked.

"Anti-magic," the mage said sourly, "The field encompassed inside is a zone of no-magic. That means we cannot teleport you in there."

"It doesn't prevent us getting in?" Kurent asked.

"No," the mage said, "For some reason we cannot understand."

"Probably to discourage robbery," Zak said, "The cube seems to be without entrance."

"There has to be one," the mage said, "For maintenance, at least."

"Maintenance of what?" Kurent asked.

"There's some sort of air inside the cube as well," the mage said, ignoring the question. "Perhaps the walls are porous to air. Apparently inside the cube is a mass of transparent tubes just wide enough for a human to walk. The air's for the tunnels."

"What does the rest of the cube hold?" Zak asked.

"The temperature is minus two hundred for the rest of the cube," the mage said, "Again, we're not sure how this is done."

"Very cold then," Kurent shrugged.

"At minus two hundred," the mage said sharply, "Air itself freezes into liquid."

"I see," Zak said.

"The rest of the cube is liquid air," the mage said, "And they keep strange creatures summoned from other planes in there. Creatures that can swim and survive in the liquid. Most of the descriptions feature teeth, claws, size, that kind of thing."

"Ah," Kurent said.

"They have to have been fed regularly," the mage said, "So there should be an entrance somewhere."

"Can they not drink the liquid air?" Zak asked.

The mage appeared taken aback. "I didn't think about that," he admitted. "I suppose they could but then what would be the purpose of those tunnels?"

"Are you certain that there are tunnels?" Zak asked.

"The Rising Star keep talking about them," the mage said.

"A ruse," Kurent said.

"There are pictures." The mage said.

"Imagination," Zak shrugged.

"Once of our agents have been in the tunnels blindfolded past the entrance."

"Tampered with," Kurent said.

"We were keeping tabs with his mind,"

"I see," Zak said. "How did this agent get in?"

"He is one of the major contacts of the Rising Star, and expressed interest in seeing their trap. They took him in through twists and turns with a blindfold, and then when it was taken off he was inside one of those transparent tunnels with his guards grinning at him," the mage said.

"Does he know where the jewel is?" Zak asked.

"That's the crux of it," the mage said ruefully, "It's separate from the tunnels completely. Somehow, they've managed to put it in a glass bubble suspended by some kind of thread or other to the walls. It's quite visible from any tunnel."

"Then how do they use it?" Zak asked.

"Apparently the radius is not affected by this imprisonment," the mage said.

"Is it sentient?" Kurent asked.

"No," the mage said, "It cannot be affected by any sort of magic either."

"Have attempts been made?" Zak asked.

"All have failed," the mage said. "But in such a way that the Rising Star does not suspect the government itself."

"What is around this cube? The land, I mean," Kurent said.

"It's in the center of a fortress in the shape of a wall around it," the mage said, "The headquarters of the Rising Star. The rest of the lands around for miles are farming lands."

The mage clapped his hands again, and the fortress and the lands formed around the cube.

"Not good," Kurent said, "Farmers have a remarkable memory for unusual things."

"Is a member of the Rising Star an unusual sight there?" Zak asked.

"Yes," the mage said, "They mostly keep to themselves."

"If you were to teleport us into a part of the fortress?" Zak asked.

"Not possible," the mage said, "Alarms sound whenever such penetrating magic is found."

"How tall is the wall?" Kurent asked.

"A hundred feet or so," the mage said. Kurent winced.

"Would it be possible to fly over?" Zak asked.

"Archers are on the walls that can also use other spells to bring you down," the mage said. "It's rumored that another invisible sphere shield surrounds the fortress itself, and any intruder larger than the size of a condor will be detected immediately."

"I'd like to meet the man who thought of this," Kurent said sourly.

"He's the greatest architect of Halruaa," the mage said, "A brilliant young man known as Nankaar, strangely only as magical as the lowest scullery maid, but brilliant all the same. This was his last work before he disappeared. He also designed all sorts of other things from siege engines to flying crafts. This ship itself has several items that carry his handiwork."

"Kidnapped?" Zak asked thoughtfully.

"Probably," the mage agreed, "By the Rising Star. He would have been too dangerous."

"Killed?" Kurent asked.

"I do not think so," the mage said, "He would have been more useful to them alive."

"Does this Rising Star have any other headquarters outside the radius?" Zak asked.

"No," the mage said.

"How big is this radius?" Kurent asked.

The mage frowned at the grid, and it zoomed out smaller and smaller until it revealed only the fortress in the center of many fields. "Fifty kilometers or so radius," he said, "That is an estimation."

"If we were to walk into this radius, would we be detected?" Zak asked.

"No," the mage said, "Unless they are looking for you."

"How is the inside of the fortress guarded?" Kurent asked.

"Entirely by Rising Star," the mage said, "But they tend to walk past superiors with their heads down. They cannot meet each other's eyes."

"Superiors?" Zak asked. "Do you mean the Arch Magi?"

"Of the Rising Star, yes," the mage said, "But they are easily recognizable."

Zak nodded, "I believe I know somewhat about this matter."

"Very well, gentlemen," the mage said, "You will be shown to your cabins. There is information there for your reading on the long journey to Halruaa, and this model is also available in there."

Zak and Kurent rose and bowed, then were escorted out.

***

"What do you think of it?" Kurent asked, as Zak rifled through the documents.

"A case well worth its price," Zak said thoughtfully.

"What does the wife think of you going off like this?" Kurent grinned.

"Not very happy," Zak said dryly.

"Then when you return you'd have to go chase her around the bedroom for a while," Kurent's grin grew even wider.

"Thank you for that suggestion," Zak said with dignity, unearthing a few sheets of paper neatly put together in a folder.

"How's your heir?" Kurent asked with a smile.

"Noisy," Zak sighed, "Irritating. Adorable at times. About every Talon is under her little finger, and she has the run of the place. We've given up trying to stop her."

"Must be two years now?" Kurent said.

"Two," Zak said, his expression softening at the thought.

"Any sign of wolves?" Kurent asked.

"You're just full of questions today, aren't you?" Zak remarked, "No. Apparently it should only come when they reach puberty or something. Look at this," he said, tossing Kurent the folder.

The thief caught the folder with ease and opened it. "Our friend the mage has pretty much covered all the customs and habits of everyone in the fortress, I see," he said dryly.

"You exaggerate," Zak said, sitting down on one of the feather beds, "Maybe not the habits of the novices that is."

"Well?" Kurent asked after he read through the folder.

Zak turned over from where he had been lying down on the bed. "Well what?" he asked.

"Any ideas?"

"That's for you to think up and me to sleep through," Zak said wryly, "Good day, Kurent." He remarked, then turned over to the thief's sour grumble.

***

"Thought of something?" Zak asked, when he woke up.

The model of the fortress had been enlarged, and Kurent was tracing a red line through it with a thin, small metal rod. Occasionally he would erase the line and turn it elsewhere.

"Not really," Kurent said, "There are a few more security points that the mage didn't tell us about. For example, the only gate to the place has its guard changed every four hours, and the fresh set has to be with the old set as the old set prepares to leave. So the guard is always there. The servant door is also guarded."

"How do they get their water in?" Zak asked.

Kurent made a gesture with his fingers. There was a pause, then tunnels showed underground. One of them carried water that suddenly flowed upwards and into a device in the fortress, where it apparently went to other parts of the building.

The other led out and away from the building, with many tubes leading down to it. Zak pointed to the tunnel.

"That is the sewers, I believe?" he asked.

"Ah yes," Kurent said, "Although many filters are in the water tunnel, there's nothing at all in the sewers."

"No guards?" Zak asked.

"Halruaans are a proud race, and you'd find that fanatics are the worst of the lot. There are probably monsters in the sewers, but that would be about it." Kurent said.

"Strange people," Zak shook his head, "But we'd call attention to our smell if we were to come through there."

"There are ways to get past that," Kurent said, "Would you like to know the approximate plan?"

"Approximate?" Zak grinned.

"That means that, strange as it is," Kurent retorted, "There's always room for a bit of improvement."

"Very well," the dark elf laughed.

***

The End

The journey took a few weeks, where Kurent stubbornly refused to get out and look down from the deck over the magnificent view. The food was simple and good, and there was a supply of wine in the bar of the ornate ship.

One such day Zak sat in their spacious cabin looking out of the porthole. "We're coming to port," he remarked.

"Really," Kurent said, his eyes intent on the model. A mass of red lines covered it.

Zak turned to the thief. "If we're to take that route you're tracing out," he said critically, "We'd be in there for months."

"I suppose," Kurent sighed, wiping off most of them, then starting again.

"I'd say the sewers is the most obvious route," Zak observed.

"Obvious, yes," Kurent said cryptically, and Zak nodded.

"The greatest problem," Zak observed, "Is getting out the crystal."

"One thing at a time," Kurent said airily, "One thing at a time."

"Your 'one thing at a time' might get us caught," Zak remarked, "And friendly as the Prime Minister is, he'd deny knowing us at that point."

"I've never been caught thieving before," Kurent said.

"I'd just like you to know that Neira won't be happy if I come home in separate pieces, that's all," Zak grinned. "And if I remember, Thalantyr and the Baron..."

"I know," Kurent said with an irritable sigh. "I'd try to prevent that."

"We may be expected," Zak said, "It's not like they disguised the flying ship coming to port."

"They're under the cover of trade," Kurent said, "And the Prime Minister is supposed to be in Halruaa."

"Ah," Zak said.

"Often happened before," Kurent said.

"I know," Zak said, "They supposedly come to trade, but use this excuse as a cover. Scar's always rather upset when one of these ships appear."

"Scar's a good man," Kurent remarked abstractly, "Totally honest, though."

"What's wrong with honesty?" Zak grinned.

"It makes making friends with him difficult," Kurent laughed, "Since I'm sure he reports everything I say to Eltan or someone. How's Rimn and Gamier going on?"

"Ever since Rimn's with the Iron Throne, we haven't seen each other often except over several business propositions," Zak smiled, "Gamier's doing well. Last I heard, he's engaged."

"Another one falling to the cunning trap of all women," Kurent said sourly, "Rimn's been going out with Duke Belt's daughter."

"A good move," Zak mused, then smiled at Kurent. "You'd get caught sooner or later as well, old friend."

"Never," Kurent said, "I'm a bachelor with odd habits, and I won't like to drag any woman in my life to get nagged at."

"You might find you'd like it," Zak observed.

Kurent shrugged, returning to the model.

***

The ship landed lightly in the harbor, the air let out carefully and the bag collected in slowly. They got off, led by the Prime Minister into a carriage with odd fins at the end and odder horses six smart looking pegasi.

"Pretty," Zak commented, looking at the creatures as they went into the roomy interior.

"Common," the Prime Minister said, "Ministers and others of rank usually have chariots led by drakes."

"Ah," Zak said, "Doesn't air traffic get rather heavy?"

"No," the Prime Minister said, "Teleporting is common as well, but since it is sometimes unpredictable in such a magic-saturated place, the merchants or nobles hardly ever use it."

"I see," Zak said.

"When can you start?" the Prime Minister asked.

"As soon as possible," Kurent said, "We'd just need some finances, and we can start."

"The coffers of the state are at your disposal," the Prime Minister said.

"That's not a good thing to say to a thief," Zak laughed, "Are elves common here?"

"Yes," the Prime Minister said, "Our universities are well known places of study."

"Very well," Kurent said.

***

"This Rising Star is quite a jewel, isn't it?" Kurent said. Zak nodded, wearing his disguise of a slender human with nonchalance. They were seated on a wagon of assorted farm produce, and were already somewhat far in the country, courtesy of a few government mages. Their weapons were deep underneath the pile of melons, as well as their armor.

"Why a wagon?" he asked, wincing at the next bump. "It's slow."

"Also a fairly common sight," Kurent nodded at a wagon coming up to them, led by the same strange oxen of Halruaa, then waited until it was out of sight.

"Ah," Zak said, "While quick government agents wouldn't be?"

"Yes," Kurent said.

"You've done this sort of thing before?" Zak asked.

"Several times," Kurent replied with a smirk, "All differently. I'm not Master for nothing."

"And an elf would be noticeable in the country, I suppose," Zak said.

"I hate pulling off heists in the country," Kurent said, "The people have remarkable memories for strangers, and you can live in the country for years and still be considered one."

There was a pause as they passed another wagon. "I hope the mages are in place," Zak said.

"They should be," Kurent shrugged, "The mage promised."

***

"Can you hold your breath?" Kurent grinned. They were looking at the large reservoir in the catchment area, which led to the water tunnel.

"Like a fish," Zak smiled, "I see. Less obvious place where we would enter, eh?"

"Oh yes," Kurent agreed, "They'd think that thieves will go through the sewers, as they leave it deliberately unguarded. There'd be guards at the exit, I'd tell you, for the sewers."

"And how exactly will we get through the water tunnel?" Zak asked, looking at the still surface of the water doubtfully.

"Magic's usable in the fortress," Kurent shrugged, "At the most, use Khazid'hea, then stick back that part of the floor with your staff."

"Very well," Zak said. Kurent put down his pack, which contained their weapons and armor along with a few 'essentials' for a thief, and took out two shiny suits of a strange material.

"So that we don't drip all over the place," he said, handing Zak one, "We'd change back when we get out."

***

They surfaced in a fast flowing water tunnel. Thankfully, there was some space above where they could breathe. The tunnel was just big enough for them to half-stand and wedge themselves with their feet and back bracing either side of the cylindrical tunnel, and edge along carefully. The staff was glowing faintly, strapped to Kurent's backpack.

They reached the first filter almost immediately when they stabilized their position. The filter was of the strongest metal, designed more to keep out fish or other that came in by accident. Magical filters that eliminated impurities usually affected the water itself. Impurities like sand were filtered off later inside the fortress itself.

Occasionally some kind of charge would pass through the filter with a crackle, discouraging anything hitting the filter. As they watched, a fish tried to pass through the holes, and was immediately electrocuted, floating upside-down in the water, dead. Another type of fish, probably expecting this, immediately dove in and ate the dead one, then swam off.

Kurent counted the charges they came at thirty second intervals, then nodded to Zak, who edged closer and cut through the adamantite filters with Khazid'hea. The metal filter floated off.

The next charge passed through the small border that Zak had left, that touched the tunnel walls, but did not seem to affect the gaping hole. Nevertheless, they held their breath and swam through without touching the edges.

They did the same thing to the other filters, and eventually reached the exit, where the water turned abruptly upwards.

They dropped off onto a ledge probably put there a long time ago for maintenance, but now coated with centuries of dust when magical methods had been found. They stripped off the cover and quickly dried their hair, then wore their armor and the robes provided by the Prime Minister quickly and ascended the old rungs quietly.

***

They entered to a long unused room, and walked quietly over to the only door. Zak closed his eyes for a moment, then shook his head No one outside, and they opened the door.

They slipped easily out and closed the door, then walked with the hesitant stride of a novice mage in a new school. Zak and Kurent were stopped at the next floor, where they found the entire faction of the Rising Star in turmoil.

"Where are you going?" another novice asked suspiciously.

"Well," Kurent said in such a piping voice that he could have easily been mistaken for a boy of eighteen, "We were told to go tell the guards with Nankaar to be alert and wait for reinforcements."

The novice nodded. "So the Arch mages think that the attack's focused on him?"

"Perhaps," Kurent said easily, "Not our place to think about it."

"Right," the novice sighed with the air of an old argument, "We novices aren't noticed, aren't cared for, and our views not appreciated."

"Novices everywhere are," Kurent said comfortingly, "However, They forgot to tell us where this Nankaar is."

"Normally they do," the novice rolled his eyes, "Nankaar's supposed to be closely guarded at the Room far from the dungeons. The Room's supposedly for laundry, but it's not."

"Thanks," Kurent said, and they walked off hurriedly.

"You know where this room is then?" Zak asked.

"Photographic memory," Kurent smiled, as they bowed to a mage of higher rank.

***

There was a knock on the door, and the guards in the Room looked up from where they were playing cards with their celebrated prisoner. He was wearing very simple clothing that could not conceal any weapons.

One of them warily went to the door and looked out of a slot. He relaxed. "Novices," he said.

"Let them in and see what they want," said the leader of the guards.

The guard nodded, letting in the two novices and closing the thick door behind them.

A minute later, Nankaar looked up at the two, who were grimly wiping their weapons on the guards. "You've come to take me?" he asked in a soft-spoken voice.

"Of course," one of them grinned, and Nankaar's heart took a lurch when he saw the speaker was a dark elf. "We're going to steal the Rising Star."

"Then I'd gladly help," Nankaar grinned, "Ten years of imprisonment I have suffered, and I'd help you if you'd free me."

"You are free," the other said, "But if you betray us I swear I'd kill you first."

Nankaar nodded gravely.

"Now where is the entrance to the Rising Star?" the dark elf said.

Nankaar darted over to what looked like a complicated device for washing, and flipped a few buttons. The thing shifted noiselessly to show a tunnel. "Here," he said. "Not even the guards knew. Occasionally the Arch Magi would come down and they'd think they're here for a chat, but it was really for the tunnels."

***

The tunnels were deserted fanatics tended to be a rather possessive and secretive race, and they crept quietly through.

"How would you know we won't we detected?" Nankaar asked.

"They're fighting a war outside," the dark elf shrugged.

"I see," Nankaar said, "No wonder the guards were so agitated today."

"How do we shut off the thing that turns off the cold in the cube?" the one with the eye patch asked.

"There's a room," Nankaar said, "I'd take you there."

"You've thought of this, I see," the dark elf said.

"I thought of everything before I even built this where the glass would land when it hit the ground," Nankaar said, "I knew they would imprison me."

"Then why did you do it?" the one with the eye patch asked.

"It was a challenge," Nankaar said, "And they said they'd kill me if I didn't."

"Ah," the dark elf said. His companion looked a little crestfallen.

"Is something wrong?" Nankaar asked.

"My friend here thought of a plan," the dark elf grinned, "But we think yours is better."

"How did you get in?" Nankaar inquired, "All entrances have many guards or devices."

"The water," the elf's companion said.

Nankaar looked surprised.

"I have a very good sword," the elf said modestly.

***

They had quickly disposed of the ice bird that guarded the room and disarmed all the traps with such efficiency that Nankaar was considerably impressed.

He deftly flipped switches and dials, and a panel came into view, with many buttons on it, and he pressed an assortment of buttons.

Then they walked back to the tunnels, bypassing a glass mouth where the tunnels started.

"Aren't we to go in?" the elf, or Elf as he was to be called, inquired.

"No," Nankaar smiled, "It's the most obvious way."

"There we go again," the Thief sighed, then shook his head at Nankaar's surprised expression. "Private joke," he said.

They walked down a dark tunnel until they came to a place that resembled a toilet, or 'the garden shed', as it was sometimes fancifully called. "It works, of course," Nankaar said, pointing at the seat, "But what's more important is the secret entrance. We'd have to enter only when we're sure all the liquid air has turned back to gas. I set the temperatures high just for a shorter wait."

Nankaar looked at his timepiece while the other two looked around casually with bored expressions, then looked up as he nodded.

He pressed his hands on some of the stone blocks, and they sank in. "This requires the correct amount of pressure to open it," he said with a grin, as with a grind of stone the wall detached itself and slid to the side.

***

They walked in to a place where the temperature was already more or less like a Baldur's Gate summer. Fantastical creatures writhed and lay dying on the floor, and they walked casually past all this to a glass globe that had been shattered on the ground, leaving just an empty shell and a glowing jewel. The Thief picked it up carefully.

Then Nankaar ran quickly forward to a wall, and pressed a block before they could stop him. It slid open, and six wizards trooped out. One of them was holding what looked like a marble, and Nankaar smirked at them.

"We do seem to have caught our thieves," the one holding the marble said casually, "It was so obvious. A war on the very stronghold of this place itself would only be for covering up a theft."

The Thief nodded gravely. "As obvious as why such a jewel would have been placed in such an unreachable position? Obviously to cover up the fact that the real jewel was elsewhere."

"We thank you for showing it to us," the Elf said dryly, as the mages stiffened. "Nankaar was a little too quick in accepting to be our guide."

"You'd never get it," the mage snarled, raising the jewel.

"Anti-magic?" the Elf asked.

"The sphere was the signal," the mage said smugly, "When you turn off the cooling system it shuts down as well. Now then..."

The mages blinked. The Elf and the Thief were gone.

Then all hell broke loose behind them in a stabbing, slashing fury, and the mage collapsed as the Elf ran him through with a sword and plucked the jewel out of it with another hand.

They turned to Nankaar, who fell on his knees. "Please, good sirs... they forced me!"

"No witnesses," the Thief snarled.

The End

Kurent walked into the study calmly, and seated himself at the table. Zak nodded a greeting to him.

"Well done, if I may say so myself," he grinned.

"A million each," Zak agreed, "Is a good sum for this job, along with the thanks of a high placed personage in a country."

There was a hum as a small wooden craft flew unsteadily into the room and hit Kurent on the head. The thief deftly caught it and looked at it curiously.

"Your daughter's, I presume?" he asked. It was a neat toy with sleek wings and a light body, that was wound up by a elastic band connected to the tail and also to the nose, where a flat-bladed device turned when wound up.

Zak nodded wearily. "That thing has hit me so many times I believe she does it on purpose," he said.

A young child trooped into the room and grabbed the plane from Kurent. She looked exactly like a dark elf, except that her skin was somewhat lighter, and her eyes were that of a wolf's, amber and abstract. She climbed onto the table, assisted by the thief, and threw her arms affectionately round Zak's neck.

"I understand why you let him live," Kurent said sourly, "But allowing him to get close to your daughter?"

"I think of myself as quite a good judge of character," Zak grinned as the girl began to play with the craft in his lap, making swooping noises. "He would trust in you if you trusted in him, and he's been a good addition to the Talons."

"I suppose so," Kurent said. "Nice working with you."

Zak inclined his head. "That much is obvious," he said, and laughed.

Lledith RavenWolf


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