The unfortunate guard was standing his post, watching the countryside below. He hated this shift, midnight to dawn. The cold wind from the north, blowing down off the Westron Mountains made his loose long hair blow erratically and penetrated through his threadbare cloak like icy fingers. He scanned the valley below, noting that once again, there was nothing to see. He paced down the crenelating for a few paces and peered out again. Wizards are so damn paranoid, he thought. His fingers were now numb from the cold and clutching the heavy fighting spear they forced him to carry, though no good reason could be given for a man fifty feet up on a rooftop to carry one.
A dark shape slipped up behind him, having oozed over the edge of the serrated wall. His pot helm protected his head, but not his neck and the shape struck for that spot. It was a well-aimed and well-delivered blow, with almost surgical precision. The guard slumped against the low wall and slid down. The hooded figure looked about quickly, then silently glided across the rooftop of the tower, heading toward the little hut in the center of the roof. The shape slid through the doorway and into the little room, a set of spiral stairs, a flickering torch lit the staircase with jumping, inconsistent light.
Down the spiral stairs the cloaked shape went, still silent, its black mantle fluttering in odd gusts of breeze that penetrated even into the stairwell. At the bottom, the figure stopped at a heavy oaken door. The thumb latch clicked gently and the figure flowed through the door as it opened a crack.
In the hallway, the figure again stopped. Oddly thick hands came up to the collar and opened the enwrapping cloak, unfastening a small clasp at the base of the hood. The backs of the hands were furred, as was the face and torso that were revealed when the cloak moved to the sides. Shedding the cloak like a snake's skin, the person slipped down the hall, revealed now as a female form, though definitely not a human one.
Her long feet, where she walked on her toes was the first sign, though there were other, more obvious ones. As she moved down the hallway, her triangular ears twitched and angled, searching for errant sounds. Keen emerald eyes scanned the corridor, with its flickering torchlight. Her long, sinuous tail trailed behind her, as if remembering, belatedly, that it was needed on this journey, as well.
As she neared the next door down the hall, her feline face broke into a wide smile, revealing her inch-long fangs and smaller sharp teeth. She pressed her ear to the door with a cautious motion, listening intently. Apparently satisfied with what she heard, she reached for the thumb latch and toggled it.
The door opened quietly. Three cheers for good maintenance, she thought. And slipped into the darkened room.
She silently shut the door, holding down the latch to prevent the spring-loaded bolt from making its traditional click as it locked into its catch. She sniffed the air, her small, inverted triangle of a nose flexing in the darkness. Again, she seemed satisfied and there was a soft rustle of leather then light filled the little room. She held a glass ball, about the size of a fist, and it glowed quite brightly with a somewhat blue tint. Peering into the room she saw where she had been told the vault laid. In the middle of the floor's timbers was a spot obviously marred by the repeated movement of something heavy, and the something was the vault's trap door, she knew.
Her gray-blue fur caught the light and shone as she moved, highlighting her long, slender musculature. She held the stone aloft and out of her field of vision. Her shadow loomed beside her, looking like a giant protective feline, with its mouth agape and fangs revealed. She padded to the spot, her thick toes with their soft pads making her very quiet without trying, and nearly silent when she was.
She scanned around the scratched section of floor and saw a discolored spot nearby, where many grubby hands had touched. Pressing this spot with one thick finger, her claw retracted, she heard a loud click. A moment later, a square section of floor raised up evenly, then slid aside, making a little noise as it did so. There were narrow, steep stairs downward under the boards. She stepped down the stairs and descended to the floor below. Above her, she heard the wooden floor section moving back into place a few moments later.
The light from her globe filled the hallway and she saw the glinting from the iron bands that held the heavy door together. As she neared it, she saw the keyholes for its three internal locks. Her smile broadened as she neared the door. This was going flawlessly, as most of her little forays did. She knelt before the door and unrolled a small pouch onto the floor. Tiny, delicate tools filled the pouch, and she selected two of those. Holding the stone in the crook of her neck with her shoulder, she pried the two tools into the topmost lock and began working the tools around the guts of the lock. After a moment, she put one tool down, then picked out another. A moment later, the lock clicked and she began to purr.
Still purring, she started on the bottommost lock, it yielded almost as quickly as the first, and her self-satisfaction glinted in her large eyes. Her tail had also begun to twitch side to side in quick, sharp motions.
The informant had said that the middle one was the trap, and she assiduously avoided it. She reached for the thumb latch when she heard the trapdoor opening above and behind her. She glanced left and right, but the hallway provided no chance of cover, pushing into the room as she covered the orb with her shirt she shut the door behind her. In the hall, she could hear the soft tread of feet as they descended the stairs. With a start, she remembered the lock picks in their pack just outside the door. There was a noticeable gap beneath the door and she extended her finger under it and could barely touch the cloth of the roll. One three-inch claw extended from the grasping finger and caught the cloth, she pulled finger, claw, and roll back under the door and quickly rolled it up.
She let a tiny sliver of light out of her shirt and peered into the barely-lit room. Her objective was right there. A wand. It was crafted of some white material, ivory perhaps. It was not the material she was interested in, it was the ten thousand marks that the magician in Vilders had offered in payment for her to get it for him that interested her. Delicate runes marked its surface and silver tracery glinted from over its head.
Whoever was in the hall had stopped before the door and was fumbling with the locks. She turned and looked down. There the two mechanisms were quite visible, being bolted to the door from this side. She also looked at the middle lock's place, though that was the trap, she knew. It fired a spring-loaded dart, tipped with paralytic poison out of the keyhole, she had been told, and any sharp motion would trigger it. With what seemed a rather mischievous grin she drew forth a small crowbar. As she heard the person outside jiggling the lower lock she brought the crowbar down on the mechanism behind the middle keyhole. It made quite a lot of noise, but she was rewarded, also, with the sound of a metallic pinging sound. The person in the hall grunted and then there was a thudding sound, like someone had dropped a sack of potatoes.
She bolted across the room, and grabbed the wand. Stuffing it into a long, leather tube on her belt, she looked quickly around the little treasury. The magician had warned her that the man who owned this tower was crafty, and to beware any baited traps. She looked at a chest set against the wall, with gold and silver chains dangling from its mouth. No, she decided, no side money on this one. She slipped back to the door and unlocked the locks that the person on the other side had inadvertantly locked when they tried to re-unlock them.
Opening the door a few inches, she saw a man wearing a black outfit, reminding her of the warrior assassins used in Niliwan, this man, however, was no expert of stealth and combat. He was a common rogue. Probably hired by the same magician as hired her, as insurance. The idiot had just chosen the wrong night to try his caper.
His eyes were open, and he watched her as she stepped over him. A hoarse whisper emerged from his lips as she walked down the hall, causing her to turn around.
"Sharesh." He whispered, his eyes rolled up to look at her at the edge of his field of vision. He looked over her slim body and partially smiled.
She stepped back. "You know me?" She asked, eyeing him suspiciously. In a fit of uncharacteristic generosity, she bent over and plucked the tiny dart from the middle of his forehead, flicking it negligently toward the corner...
The man nodded. His mask had fallen from his face and she looked at him carefully. "Well, I do not know you, human." She said. "If you are not found before the poison wears off, I recommend you leave quickly. The wizard is fond of traps, and I would warn against trying to abscond with any baubles."
A minute nod of his head told her that the poison was already weakening, else he was a very tough man. She smiled down at him. "Good luck." She said, and headed for the stairs.
Moving up the stairs with speed and agility, she was through the trap door before it finished opening, and out into the hall again before it closed. Her emerald eyes scanned the hallway quickly and she swept through the door up to the roof, letting it hang on its hinges. In a few moments, she would be completely free of the tower, and leaving a trail behind her was not to be worried over once she was on the ground.
.... There is more of this story ...