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Demon Eye - Part One

Author: 
David Simpson (MacShimes)
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
350

Demon Eye – Part 1

David Simpson (MacShimes)

Kisha murmured in her sleep as I ran a finger lightly over the curve of her hip. The sunrise streamed in through the window and began to dapple our bodies with light and shadow. It was going to be one of those lazy mornings suited to nothing more than lying in bed all day. Well perhaps a little more.

"Mmm," she murmured, "Good morning milord."

"Indeed," I replied, "I believe it will be."

We were in my luxurious apartments above the docks in a pretty little seaport by name of Whitecliff. I was a recent resident, living the good life on the remains of a small fortune that I‘d liberated from a notorious General in a far away land. That adventure was more than a year behind me now, but the money was still holding out nicely and I was enjoying it with gusto. A life of thievery, I reflected, had its benefits.

My career in that ignoble profession had been successful and long lived by any measurement. I had even garnered a certain amount of fame, though not by name of course. In spite of that I'd recently tried my hand at other things. Fresh from enough adventure to last a lifetime, I'd settled down with a good woman and tried to make an honest living. My well-earned riches had enabled me to buy a couple of riverboats and corner the transportation market in a war ravaged country struggling to pull it self back into civilization. Alas, the honest life quickly paled. Fae was a lovely girl with a head made for business and a body for sin, but the routine of a ‘normal' life weighed heavily on me. Paying bills, adhering to schedules... in short: drudgery.

Eventually I left. Not a good reflection on me perhaps, but best for everyone in the end. I'm not sure Fae would even have tried to stop me had I told her first. Then again she might have, considering I took our best boat.

It was like being reborn. Revelling in my regained freedom, I indulged in a one man crime spree; renewing my skills as I traveled the rivers from town to town. I had little need for the money, but the sheer joy of it revitalized me. I stole a famous goblet from a well guarded temple and replaced it with an equally famous spittoon liberated from a brothel. The goblet went to the local drunk in another town. I liberated a prize stallion from a prince's herd and rented it for stud several times before trading it to a traveling alchemist in return for some potions of dubious quality. A necklace of finest sapphires found its way into my hands, lifted from the vault of a renowned magus whilst he hosted a party. That one I kept. I laid a long, winding and scandalous trail and eventually found myself taking an extended break in Whitecliff.

More specifically, I found myself in bed with my maid on a beautiful spring morning.

I kissed her awake, closing my eyes and listening to the birds awakening. Suddenly, another sound caught my attention. I froze.

"Wha..." Kisha mumbled.

I put a finger to her lips and listened. A moment later I heard it again. It was nothing more than a rustle; a sound so soft only someone with a guilty conscience would give it any mind.

Someone was in my rooms.

I rolled out of bed silently, motioning Kisha to stay where she was, and slid across to the doorway. I listened. It was cold, standing there naked at the crack of dawn, but I was rewarded with the sound of a whisper, indicating there was more than one intruder. More rustles and slow breathing. They were very quiet--thieves for a certainty. I thought about simply jumping out a window, and would have done except for the fact I had quite a bit of gold coin stashed away in the other room. That was the annoying thing about wealth - once you had it, you had to protect it lest unsavoury characters tried to take it from you.

Light footfalls approached the room. Glancing at Kisha I saw she had covered her head with the blanket. I berated myself for not keeping a weapon in the bedroom. I'd been getting soft. A large window was beside the bed, approximately opposite the doorway. That would have to do.

I sensed the presence of somebody near the threshold and held my breath whilst pressing myself flat against the wall beside the door. The intruder seemed to hesitate for an instant, then came slowly into the room. A knife was the first thing I saw, the dulled blade held before him. Then an arm, clothed in black. I moved fast.

Grabbing his wrist with one hand I jerked him forward, grabbing the back of his neck with my other. I pushed off the wall and ran across the room, propelling the surprised fellow with me. Three steps and we were at the window where I unhesitatingly flung him through it. The glass shattered satisfyingly and the man screamed as he fell. Lucky for him it was only a two story building. He'd probably survive; though it'd be a rude awakening for my neighbours.

I turned back toward the door where the second intruder was rushing into the room. My advantage of surprise was done and I stood naked and unarmed facing a black clad man wielding a knife.

The best thing to bring to a knife fight is a crossbow, in my experience. Not having one handy, I grabbed the nearest thing I could get my hands on – the chamber pot – and threw it at him. I followed that with a pitcher and started moving around the room, grimacing as I stepped on some broken glass. He charged me and I jumped onto the bed. Kisha screamed as I ran across it and out of the room.

Cursing, the thief followed close behind. I ran into the other room, grabbing at my sword belt that hung on a nearby wall. The blade came free with a ringing sound and my assailant skidded to a halt. Faced with a drawn blade and an evil grin on my face he turned and ran for the front door. As he went through he snatched up a sack that lay beside it – some of my valuables, no doubt. I went after him.

My door opened onto an open stairwell that led to the ground beside the docks. The cold morning air hit me like a fist as we went careening down the stairs. I was only seconds behind him as we hit the ground running but then I suddenly realized two things: first, my feet were bleeding. Bits of glass were still stuck in them and I abruptly noticed the pain, forcing me to a gingerly stop. Second, I realized I had run stark naked into a gathering crowd of people. They'd congregated about the foot of the building where the first thief had fallen in a shower of broken glass. There was no body to be seen, but half a dozen people had gathered nonetheless and were staring at me with shocked expressions.

"Um...," I said, but could think of nothing else to add.

We stared at each other for a second longer then I turned with as much dignity as I could manage and limped back up the stairs.

 

#

Truth be told, I should have left town then. I had obviously been targeted as a rich sheep to be sheared by the local criminal element. They certainly wouldn't give up trying to relieve me of my wealth just because I tossed one out a window. In fact, they might even take it personally. The best course of action would have been to pack up my things and move on.

However...I was insulted. I mean, here I was, a renowned thief of the highest calibre and I was being treated like a common merchant. Had they known of my reputation they would have feted me. It was outrageous that a common footpad should dare even have a covetous thought in my presence, let alone have the gall to think they could take what I had fairly stolen. I wanted, nay deserved, some professional courtesy.

In retrospect I was quite full of myself.

Still, it seemed like a good idea at the time to look up the local thieves' guild. Whitecliff was a respectably sized place so I was sure that someone was taking a cut from all the crime around these parts – a small percentage of every illegal transaction; a monthly stipend from the businesses to ensure their safety; a cut of the loot from every significant theft. I started in the taverns and over the next two days followed a trail of tips and referrals to a seedy place not four blocks from my abode. The man behind the bar was fat and oily looking, with various missing teeth and a series of tattoos covering his arms that would make a maid blush.

"I'm looking for a fellow named Blowrag," I said to him with a charming smile as I settled onto a sticky stool.

"Lowreg," he said after a moment. He looked me over rather directly I thought, taking in all he could before continuing, "I'm Lowreg. Whatd'ya want?"

"Ah, a pleasure. I was told you might be able to get a message to a certain person for me. Goes by the name of Redblade?"

I hated thieves who took on mysterious sounding names. It went against the whole point of thievery. Redblade was a name I'd dug up after plying a minor fence with many drinks. He was reputed to be the leader of the local guild. I would go right to the top.

Lowreg the bartender wasn't a quick talker. He looked at me steadily for a long, uncomfortable moment before saying, "Maybe."

I spun a silver coin across the bar and the fat man proved his reflexes were quicker than his conversation as he snatched it up. I followed it with a letter, sealed with wax and after a slight hesitation that too disappeared. I threw him a little salute and walked out whistling.

The letter was couched as an introduction of sorts, presenting myself as a fellow of like mind and skill - a peer. It contained allusions to some of my more spectacular accomplishments and lavished praise on the guild's well run operations. It insisted that the proceeds of the theft be kept by the guild and inquired solicitously over the health of the fellow I'd thrown out the window. It was neatly written, polite but firm, and asked for nothing more than a bit of professional respect. It was an admonishment certainly, but a well deserved one and exceedingly gracious for all that. I fully expected to be left alone for as long as I chose to remain in Whitecliff and would not have been surprised were an apology to be offered, if not restitution.

 

#

I stood on the dock and watched my boat burn its way down to the waterline. The surrounding vessels had been moved away to safe distances and a bucket brigade concentrated on keeping the flames from spreading to the dock. It looked to have burning for some time and now, as dawn broke over the city, it was well past saving. No doubt the gold and valuables I had secreted aboard had been liberated as well, but I wasn't too concerned with that – I could always get more wealth. No, I was rather more concerned with my sudden fit of naiveté.

What did I expect, after all? ‘Hello, I'm a notorious thief. There's obviously been a misunderstanding so just back off and we'll all get along, OK?' It was laughable. What conceit! I should consider myself lucky that they didn't send an assassin. It was high time to pack up and leave. Perhaps I'd send them some flowers and a note just to let them know there were no hard feelings.

Except... there were hard feelings.

They'd started it, after all. I may have been a conceited ass that deserved a little comeuppance but that didn't mean I had to be a good sport about it. More particularly, I wasn't content to admit I'd been bested. It was a blow to my self confidence. The only way to restore the balance was to... what?

I wasn't sure what I could do really. Steal something from them? Stealing something from a thief is much ado about nothing – my own case notwithstanding. Get a few arrested? That wouldn't accomplish much either, unless it was the big fish, and such a setup would be difficult and time consuming.

The big fish.

That's who I wanted to poke. The Guild Master had received my message and ignored it. ‘Send that arrogant bastard a message' he'd have said, ‘Teach him a lesson.'

Very well, I thought, let the lesson begin.

 

#

Infiltrating a Thieves Guild is surprising easy once you break it down into its component parts. First, you find a thief and follow him - sooner or later he'll have to go home. Second, you use your natural talents to sneak past the guards, various traps and any other obstacles. Third, you do your business, and fourth – most importantly – you get out again.

The first part was relatively easy. In a place the size of Whitecliff I guessed there were perhaps two dozen thieves of any standing, not counting petty thugs and other criminal elements. Most would be simple footpads and I was sure I could pick up one in a tavern if I just stayed sober long enough.

The second part might be tougher, depending on the setup, but I had full confidence in my skills and did not expect serious trouble in that regard. That pretty well covered the fourth part as well.

It was the third piece that was the problem. It would be a wonderful insult to infiltrate the guild and wreak some havoc, but I still wasn't really sure what form said havoc would take. All I was sure of was that it had to be big and annoying. I would just have to play it by ear.

So it was that I found myself in a tavern called the Yellow Boar. I picked a table near the fire and nursed a series of ales as long as I could without attracting attention. Even so, by the time I spotted a likely candidate it was well into the night and I was feeling little pain.

The man was thin, of medium height, with brown hair and no outstanding characteristics. He was dressed unobtrusively and came in just after a group of three rather well to do men. I watched him watch the men as he had a pint alone at the bar. When the men ordered their second round, seemingly settled in for the evening, he tossed a coin on the bar and left. I followed.

The night air cleared my head and I trailed him at a safe distance. He wasn't worried about anyone following him and I had no trouble keeping him in sight. We wound through several blocks and alleyways until we ended up in an upscale section of shops. He slipped into a dark doorway and I did likewise, a dozen doors distant. I could just make out the shop's sign above the door – a furniture maker.

A furniture maker, I thought, what's he to steal there? An end table?

After an hour he still hadn't emerged. I'd found the guild.

 

#

The hardest part had been finding the watcher.

Thieve's guilds are usually pretty unstable organizations, considering the makeup of their memberships, but they do take their security seriously. Traps and hidden entrances are standard fare, but there is usually a human element as well. Typically this simply involves a hired watchman since thieves, being notoriously independent of mind, make terrible guards. It was so in this case, but there was no one on the premises. I finally found him across the street, propped in a chair behind a second floor window, industriously trimming his toenails and drinking from an earthenware jug. I simply watched him for an hour from a rooftop opposite until he rose to relieve himself. I then scurried down to the street, across to the storefront, picked the door lock and was through it before he returned. Simple.

The entrance to the guild itself was hidden of course, and no doubt trapped to the rafters. I didn't bother trying to find it. Instead I settled down behind a stack of large wooden chests and waited. It wasn't long before another late night furniture enthusiast arrived.

This one was a chubby fellow. He fumbled a bit with the front door – I'd relocked behind me of course – then trundled into the room whistling a little tune. He made straight for a back room, stepping carefully over a particular area of floor, then continuing out of my site. I slid out and followed quietly in his footsteps, stopping short of the doorway to peer in. A desk was rolled aside on well balanced wheels, another trap disabled by way of a switch behind a bookcase, and a trapdoor opened which allowed the portly thief access to a set of hidden stairs. Once he'd descended, the trapdoor was closed, the desk rolled back of its own accord, and a series of soft clicks stated that the traps had been reset remotely.

I counted to fifty before following.

The stairs held an easily spotted tripwire and a not so easily spotted pressure plate. Once past those I was pretty sure I was safely inside. Not much sense in laying traps all about the place after all. Entrances yes, but one couldn't be expected to traverse a deadly obstacle course every time one had to pee.

Belowground the guild looked to be doing quite nicely. The walls of the hallway I found myself in were mortared brick for the most part and the floors even and well trod. Lamps hung from brackets every thirty feet or so. There were a few damp areas, but that was only to be expected. The hall turned off twenty feet on and a single door, standing ajar, graced one wall. I could hear whistling coming from that direction so I padded up and peeked in.

It was a cloak room. Various pieces of outer wear and boots were lined up neatly along the walls. There was a little alcove off to on side with a heavy curtain drawn across it. The whistling was coming from there, along with the unmistakeable smell of the chubby thief having a bowel movement.

I grabbed a cloak from a hook and donned it, pulling the hood up. I then began rifling through pockets. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular but experience told me to always be thorough. It paid off handsomely as I extracted a crude cloth map, outlining the layout of the guild complete with badly spelled labels. I smiled and left the room as I heard my friend's ablutions come to a seemingly satisfactory close.

The guild wasn't exactly a labyrinth but it was quite large and I soon found myself glad of the map. Several hallways branched from one another and dozens of doors lined the walls. I passed through a kitchen area, by a humid smelling room marked ‘BATHE' on the map and made my way slowly but surely toward a place marked as ‘OFASERS'. I was still without a clear plan but I figured that anything of interest in this rat's nest was likely kept close to the higher ups. I only came across two others in my journey – it being near dawn now I assumed all good thieves had returned from their nightly sojourns and were bedding down for a good morning's sleep. The two that I did encounter took no notice of me; I simply pulled up my cloak hood and strode by them confidently.

I was closing in on my goal when a trio of voices reached my ears, coming toward me from an intersecting hall. Not wanting to push my luck I tried a nearby doorway and silently entered a side room.

And found a suitable lever for my revenge.

 

#

The room I entered was lavishly appointed with fine furniture and draperies covering most of the cold brick walls. The floor was covered with a thick rug and every surface gleamed with polish and attention. There was a single occupant. A beautiful young woman stood at the back wall, looking at me. She was of medium height but stood tall, her blue eyes piercing in their gaze. Her cropped blond hair was tousled, as if she had just woken, and framed the leather collar round her neck. A chain leash led from the collar to a stout iron ring in the ceiling. She wasn't wearing much else, but what there was, was fit for a queen. Strings of jewelled necklaces hung down over her smallish breasts; semiprecious stones of many colours that caught the torchlight. Longer strands were hung about her hips, revealing much through their scant cover. She wore a small fortune as a harlot's costume.

"Hello," I said.

She looked at me with proud but reddened eyes.

"So he's decided to share me after all?" she asked rhetorically, "He needed two others to hold me for himself; you'd best get some help pig."

"Ah. I assume you mean the proprietor. I don't work here, actually. Who might you be?"

I drew the door closed quietly and moved a few steps closer to her as I spoke. I kept my voice to a murmur and, though she watched me suspiciously, she followed suit.

"I'm Erin. A prisoner, obviously. I'm a... I delivered a message to Redding - Redblade that is."

I stopped but an arms length from her and gazed boldly over her form. She did not flinch.

"You are not with him you say, but your eyes are as covetous," she said with iron in her voice, "Please, will you not free me? I have done nothing and have suffered much."

I reached out and plucked at a strand of jewels, lifting it lightly and revealing a light brown areola beneath. I looked to her eyes and saw a strange mixture of deception and desperation. Her plea was honest I felt, but she seemed stronger than an innocent had any right to be in the circumstances.

"There is more to you story, I deem," I said, "If I would help you I would know more."

"Is a woman in distress not enough?" she said with suddenly watering eyes, "I brought him a message from an old acquaintance - a proposal. He not only rejected it, he has held me against my will for four days now. He dresses me as you see and uses me for his pleasure. He feeds me like an animal and threatens to throw me to his men at any hour. Please, I beg you."

The last was delivered with a catch in her voice and I heard the truth in it, though I noted she glanced at a knife on my belt. Still, I thought, she was not likely to be a threat to me, at least not directly. If I freed her though, what then? I couldn't exactly bring her along; nor could I leave her in my wake. Either course could cause me unwanted attention. My decision however, was made for me. Footsteps approached suddenly outside the door and both our heads jerked toward the sound. With a glance at her I darted to one side, wedging myself behind an armoire out of sight of the doorway but in full view of the beautiful prisoner.

The door opened and someone entered. One person, by the sound. I noted that Erin had sat down, legs curled beneath her and head bowed. She looked tired and beaten; a far cry from her prideful stance of a moment ago.

"Oh ho!" a rough voice cackled, "Our little princess getting tired is she? Missing supper wasn't such a good idea now was it? Or was the Master a bit rough last night?"

Erin didn't move. I heard something placed on a table; a clatter of dishes; a scuffle of feet.

"Maybe you should miss your breakfast too, eh? Serve you right for scratching ol' Tam like that."

"No please," Erin's voice came weakly, "I'm sorry. So hungry."

"Huh," said ‘old Tam', "Sorry are you? All I wanted was a little feel and you damn near took my eye out! Well? You ready to give ol' Tam a little honey for your breakfast?"

Erin's shoulders slumped and she whispered, "Yes."

Erin climbed wearily to her feet as old Tam came into my view. He was on the downhill side of middle age; short, balding and wiry. He was poor of dress and in need of a shave; probably a footpad past his prime who'd been given a servant's position. He approached her cautiously, a long red scratch on his face testifying as to why. Erin offered no resistance, even going so far as to part the strands of jewels that hung from her hips to give him a good view.

Perhaps I could have let the letch have his fun and leave, then again I wasn't all that well hidden. If his gaze wavered but a bit from his prize I would be discovered. Besides, as he touched her, the girl looked at me with tear filled eyes.

"Ah, that's it girlie. See, ol' Tam's fingers are still light, eh? Just a litt...mfh!" His panting words were cut off abruptly as my cudgel smashed into the back of his head - hard. Erin grabbed his arms until I took the weight from her and let him slump to the ground.

"Well," I said as I stood over ol' Tam's prone form, "It seems I've decided to rescue you."

 

#

"Could you please stop ogling me? This is hard enough as it is."

I'd picked the lock on her collar and we were hurriedly stripping Tam's clothes off him - Erin couldn't exactly go sneaking about wearing strands of jewels after all. It was hard to keep my concentration however as her efforts were constantly revealing interesting bits of anatomy.

"Sorry," I said, "Rescuing beautiful women isn't really my area of expertise."

"Oh my, aren't you a charmer. Maybe you could tell me how blue my eyes are while we strip this idiot's pants off? That always makes me melt."

I had to laugh but I restrained myself from further staring and finished the job. I took on the chore of restraining Tam, though I'd hit him pretty hard and he looked as though he was in for a long sleep. Regardless, I trussed him up well and gagged him for good measure. My conscience wouldn't suffer much if the bastard expired. Finally Erin was able to pull on some pants and a slightly bloodstained shirt. The shoes were far too big and she opted to go barefoot. A couple of the better necklaces went into her pockets, wrapped with a strip of torn cloth to keep them from rattling. I gave her a long, appraising look.

"You're a thief," I stated as she strapped on Tam's belt and dagger.

"Lucky for you," she grunted, "I'm sure you were wondering just how you were going to get out of here with a fainting damsel in tow."

"Sort of, but ‘fainting damsel' is pretty far from the mark. Listen, we'll head out the way I came in. Tam here is the only bit of news I've left so if we move quickly we shouldn't have any problem."

"Hmm. Thanks, but you go ahead."

I turned to her with narrowed eyes and my hand strayed to a dagger hilt. She took note and chuckled.

"No trickery good sir. It's just that I owe Uncle Red something sharp and painful."

"What?" I said in confusion, "Uncle?"

"All I said was true, but does not contradict the fact that my father and Guildmaster Redblade were great friends once upon a time. He held me upon his knee when I was a child and I remember well calling him ‘Uncle Red'."

"But he..."

"Yes he did," she agreed with eyes as sharp as razors, "Raped me while his men held me down. He wouldn't let the others have me though. Decent of him, no?"

I closed my eyes for a moment and took a breath. It was hard to fathom that kind of humiliation and betrayal. My petty motives of revenge paled in comparison. It must have shown on my face since I opened my eyes to find her looking at me curiously.

"Well, well, it seems I've found a good hearted thief," she said with a small smile.

"It's not worth it," I said then retracted it as her face hardened, "Alright, it is; just not at the cost. Think! Even if you get to him you'll never get out. If they don't kill you, they'll make the last few days look like a party."

She hesitated at that and I pressed.

"Live to fight another day."

"My father says things like that all the time," she said thoughtfully. Then she flashed a little wry grin, "But I never listen to him either."

She was out the door in a heartbeat.

 

#

‘A good hearted thief' indeed! I was as black hearted as the next criminal. I'd just attacked an unarmed man hadn't I? Stove his head in and stripped him of his clothes. Sure I didn't kill him – probably – but hells, I'd killed dozens of men... well a half dozen anyway. How could she stand there and call me ‘good hearted'? It really had me irritated. More so, since I found myself creeping further into the complex to find her and make sure she didn't get herself killed. This wasn't an act of morality either, I told myself. Erin suited my plans perfectly. Stealing here out from under Redblade's nose was just the thing to put a burr under his saddle ease my righteous indignation.

Of course, she was also beautiful.

At least my map was coming in handy. The corridors remained nearly empty and I made my way to the area near the centre of the complex marked ‘OFASERS', where I imagined I would find Redblade and, by extension, Erin. Standing in my way was a large open area on the map, marked ‘MEETINS'. It turned out to be a wide, open hall perhaps forty feet across and studded with wooden pillars around its circumference. Natural light shone down through several round apertures in the ceiling, from what source I couldn't guess. Dawn had come. Several hallways led into the area. One side of the room looked to be used for storing mundane supplies. There were barrels and crates of various descriptions, lamps, blankets, and the like.

All of which gave me an idea.

I'd always had a slightly unhealthy appetite for spectacular acts of destruction. A nice fire or explosion always somehow made me feel better about things, no matter how badly my day was going. Thus, I took a short a short detour to the supply pile to ascertain whether there was anything of suitable interest. Sure enough, there was an entire barrel of lamp oil and plenty of potentially flammable material. I quickly opened the barrel and tipped it over, ensuring that the oil ran strategically around the pile. I moved a few items around to ensure maximum soakage then, quite pleased with myself; I jogged from the room to continue with my hunt.

It didn't take long.

A series of raised voices drew me toward a medium sized common room. It was filled with a disturbing number of armed men, none of whom spared me a glance as I sidled up behind them. Their interest was held by two figures in the middle of the room. Erin was one of course. She stood, knife in hand, facing a similarly armed older man with a shock of silver hair and a heavily scarred visage. He had a new one running along his left cheek but despite that he was smiling. No doubt that had something to do with the odds being eight to one.

A quick glance at Erin showed a flushed face and a nasty looking patch of wetness along her left arm. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened. Redblade – the older man – had been a tougher fight than Erin had expected, and now she was caught.

Sometimes I hated being right.

"… noisome brat," Redblade was saying, "I owe you, or your father, no debts. There is no such thing. Only what a man can take for his own. He should have learned that lesson long ago, as I did. Oh, and spare me your theatrics girl. You've spread your legs to many a man, I've no doubt. I took nothing from you that you haven't already sold many a time."

Erin made no reply, but simply stared at him with red rimmed, dagger-like eyes as the gathered men chuckled. There was murder and worse in her eyes and, were I Redblade, I would have not done as he did then.

He laughed.

I realized I had only seconds to act. Erin, if I was any judge of character, was about to throw her life away. She might, or might not, take Redblade with her, but either way she was as good as dead.

So I threw something.

I called them ‘poppers'. They were little ceramic balls that I had made especially whenever I came across an alchemist with adequate skills. The recipe was originally the creation of a brilliant old woman whom I'd run across many years ago. It was a mixture of various commonly available ingredients that somehow reacted violently with air in a very flashy manner. The mixture was somehow sealed in a ceramic container that when broken allowed said air to do its stuff. They weren't really dangerous – producing only a little burst of flame - but they did produce a very loud noise.

The first one hit Redblade in the temple. The ensuing blast was unexpected and extremely loud, making everyone but me flinch. Redblade screamed in a very satisfying manner. I followed it with a couple more in random directions then began laying about myself with my cudgel – I didn't really want to kill anyone after all, save perhaps Redblade. Two men went down like they were pole axed.

Only six more to go.

"Let's go!" I yelled, hoping that Erin was keeping her wits about her.

She was. She went past me in a blur, shoving her way through the temporarily confused throng. I was on her heels but noted a strange glint in her eye and spared a quick glance back. Redblade lay on the ground still screaming but not from the superficial burn caused by the popper. He had both hands clutching his crotch, which was covered in blood.

The next few minutes were quite exciting. We ran through the halls at a breakneck pace, the sounds of pursuit quickly arising behind us. Thieves were nothing if not quick to adapt. Unfortunately for them preparation was one of my strengths. I emptied a bag of caltrops behind me as I ran around one corner and the little spikes paid off almost immediately as yelps and curses reached our ears. Then, as we passed through the large hall, I tossed my last remaining popper onto my waiting bonfire. It went up with a nice ‘whooshing' sound and I thought I heard Erin laugh as she raced on ahead of me. I called out turnings to her and reached the stairs to the furniture store just behind her, where I stepped over a supine, groaning form. It was my chubby friend whom I'd followed in. He would have a tremendous headache it seemed, as Erin looked to have smashed his head against a wall. She'd also found the lever to open the trapdoor and had already scrambled up out of site.

I yelled at her to hold up, remembering the traps in the building, but she was no fool. She was waiting for me at the top of the stairs, face flushed and a huge grin on her face. I matched it and she threw her arms around me, pressing her lips hard against mine. I broke away reluctantly and poured another bag of caltrops down the stairs before rolling the desk back into place. Together we piled as much furniture on and around the desk as we could in a few seconds of effort, then I led the way out, stepping carefully over the trapped area. A quick word to her about the potential crossbowman across the way, then we were out and sprinting across the street where we were quickly swallowed by the growing early morning crowds.

 

#

We rode two nicely appointed horses out of Whitecliff, with another in tow to hold the baggage. I'd had two of them waiting for me, since I had fully expected to be leaving Whitecliff once my little adventure was complete. Erin had appropriated the third from a stable as I chatted with the stableman about the weather and mused on the narrow pillar of smoke emanating from a few blocks away.

"So what was your favourite part?" I asked her as we put some distance between us and the town walls, "Was it the first time I rescued you or the second?"

"You're shamefully vain, do you know that? That's the third time you've wheedled for compliments. I said thank you."

"I know, I know. I'm vain and proud and full of myself. But that doesn't mean that I'm not also talented, handsome and charming."

"Not to mention humble."

I laughed. The funny thing was, I usually was quite circumspect with regard to my profession. All thieves were, if they wanted to stay breathing. This was an odd situation however. Erin was a thief. A peer. It was a rare thing, to be able to talk to a similarly flawed soul without fear of a knife in the back.

Did I mention she was beautiful?

"And how's your arm?" I asked.

"Fine," she replied with a shrug, "Just a scratch."

I noticed she was looking at me in an appraising manner.

"What?" I asked.

"You are talented."

"Yes."

"Hmm."

A raised eyebrow indicated what she thought of my overdeveloped ego, but since I had just restored it to all its shiny glory I wasn't about to adopt an air of false modesty.

"What?" I said.

"Well, it's just that I went to Uncle Red with a proposal."

"From an old acquaintance I believe you said."

"Yes. My father actually."

"Does this relate to my being handsome and charming at all?"

"No. Perhaps to an offer of employment though."

"Ah. Thanks, but I'm flush actually. I was thinking of something more along the lines of a quiet inn for a few days. A good one, with lots of wine and very few clothes. You do have to let that arm heal after all."

"I'm so happy you're concerned for my well being. I think you should consider this. Seriously."

"Well," I said a trifle uncomfortably, "I'm sort of a freelancer. I don't really like taking on jobs for others, if you get my meaning."

"Oh, but this is different. It would pay very well."

I shrugged. Fortunes came and went. I also had enough socked away in various bolt holes to see me through a long and debauched retirement, should I wish it. Erin pulled her horse up short and I stopped as well. She walked it up close then leaned over to me. I could smell her – musky sweat and flowers. Her eyes bored into me and the morning sun shone softly through her straw coloured hair.

"You could do it for me," she purred.

"Well…" I faltered.

"It's dangerous." Her voice was throaty and I felt like I was swimming in her blue eyes.

"Oh yes?"

"Oh yes. Dangerous and exotic. Something that only one other thief in all of history has ever been able to steal, in fact."

Well that did it. I leaned into her and our lips met for the second time. This time there was no hurry and we melted into each other, savouring the moment. Eventually we parted and my eyes took a second to refocus.

"Humma," I mumbled, "Perhaps I'll think about it. What is this thing then?"

"Oh, just the eye of a demon," she said softly, and a shiver suddenly ran down my back.

I should have turned around right then.

 

End of Part One





Demon Eye - Part 1 © David Simpson (MacShimes)

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