And, of Course, the Material Rewards
May loved the quiet solitude that came with a heist. Waiting for the wind to align clouds and moonlight, counting the steps of approaching and departing guards to assess their patterns. The challenge of finding then disarming traps, the thrill of successfully picking locks.
And, of course, the material rewards.
The goblin held her breath as she drew back the bow and… wait for the precise moment of opportunity… then… fire. The arrow flew across the courtyard and sank deep into a windowsill dozens of feet away and several stories up. Plucking the materializing rope, the thief nodded in satisfaction to herself. Arms extended, she began to tightrope walk up to her destination.
The infinitely sprawling and geographically shifting nature of the Netherworld makes robbery of rich and royal households a necessity. Taxes are levied and money is spent in the community, but rogues and burglars provide a much needed amount of chaotic energy to keep systems moving, systems that would otherwise stagnate. The rich, as is their way, take life’s necessities and make it fashion. If a household goes too long without anyone even attempting to rob it, it is considered a scandal. How rich can one be if community rogues ignore you? How important can you possibly be if burglars are not bothering to peak in?
May, though new to the profession, was talented and willing to contribute to this much needed scheme of wealth redistribution.
Her shot was good. She was at a comfortable level with the window and now simply had to balance one foot on the magic arrow as if it were a ledge, her other foot on the tightrope, check the window for lingering spells, hope to have timed this properly to avoid the guards, check for window traps, find and then pick the lock, check for traps inside the window, and get in before the aforementioned arrow’s spell ended — without weight, it would last for hours. In use as a support, minutes.
Standing just inside the empty bedroom, May allowed the too-long-held breath to ease out slowly. There are, at last count, ten million safer career paths, though none as exciting.
The revelry ended as the doorknob began to turn and a young gentleman entered. A thrown dagger quickly dispatched him and the castle’s owner dematerialized into a burst of light without pain or sound. He would, within a day or so, re-materialize and awaken stunned and mildly confused.
Death is not permanent in the Netherworld.
But it is a common alarm trigger.
May stuffed her backpack with small treasure chests close at hand, a small mirror, and a set of beautiful combs. As if on queue, a guardsman burst through the door weilding an axe. With a wordless battlecry, he leapt towards the thief with a mighty swing.
May dove backwards to buy herself a moment. Unstrapping a small buckler from her backpack, she was able to ward off the guard’s follow up swing — barely. Cringing in pain from the impact, she ducked down and grabbed the edge of the rug the guard stood on. She had one shot — she was literally presenting her neck at this angle.
The understanding of weaponry and battle tactics comes to warriors as naturally as theories of magic comes to witches and wizards, each spending countless years honing their instincts and abilities. Rogues, a blend of these disciplines, study preparation to known obstacles, improvisation against unknown traps, and appreciation for raw chaos.
A low level Wind Gust spell is no match for a seasoned castle guard — armor and battle stance are more than enough to overcome such an attack, even if it comes as a surprise. But if you can remove the battle stance from the equation by aiming the spell below a rug, you may have a chance.
The spell rose the rug about a finger’s width, just enough for May to pull it out from under the guard, sending him tumbling.
Rushing to the window, May retrieved her bow from her quiver, pulled back the magic string and an arrow of light appeared — zip! As before, a tightrope materialized after it sunk into a far off wall. May, walking and balancing, hastened down her escape route.
“THIEF!” the guard shouted, having regained his footing and breath, called from the window. “ARCHERS, TO ARMS!”
Several times, May had to pause on the rope and return fire, taking out three distant archers and two guards who had followed her tightrope to its end. Once May reached the wall, she scrambled up and dove over, landing in a less-than-graceful but mostly unharmed heap. She ran into the forest, turning only to return arrow fire, and quickly melded into the night.
The next morning, a huge orc drove a lizard-drawn wagon past the castle’s gates. Snow had begun to fall and the lizards required significant coaxing to not rush towards the castle’s promising warmth.
“Going to have to stop you, miss,” a guard said, holding up a hand as the orc’s cart approached. “Going to need to search. We’re lookin’ for a goblin that ran through the doors last night. Can you dismount please?” he said, eying the firewood neatly piled in the wagon’s basin.
“And I am going to have to insist you let me go. Look at my poor mounts, freezing already, and we are headed all the way down to Peyroux,” Petal grinned, her tusks flashing in the morning’s pale light. “As you can see, I have nothing but oilwood and a schedule to keep.”
Maybe it was because the guard felt for the lizards, having a giant pet snake at home. Maybe it was because he, too, was freezing. Maybe it was because Petal was two heads taller and had used her significant muscles to beat him in arm wrestling last month at the local tavern. Maybe the knock on the head from having the rug swept out from under him the previous night scrambled his better sense. Whatever the case, “Yeah, you best get ‘em home, snow storm is getting worse.” He eyed the oilwood piles and, without seeing a goblin-shaped mound, decided this orc was trustworthy.
“Thank you,” Petal said, sing song, clicking her tongue and nudging the lizards into moving. They complied with a sleepy, annoyed hiss and one last glance at the castle.
Once they had successfully crossed the realm’s border, May crawled out from her hiding spot in the wood pile and nudged her way into the seat next to Petal, who greeted her with a kiss. “Hot cocoa under the seat, we will be home in a few hours.”
“No peeking, I might have a presents in here,” May said as she reached behind her and pulled her backpack into her lap. She rummaged around, looking for her lockpick set and a treasure chest to open.
“Now how am I not going to peek? You are right there!” Petal said indignantly, “I come all this way and rescue you and this is the thanks I get, I do not even get to preview my own presents.” She mumbled playfully under her breath as the chorus of “You did not rescue me, I had my escape route planned!” began from May, interrupting and yet unheard.