A pale light was cast from the heavens, an ivory moon reigning over the night sky. With a cold, shimmering glow it illuminated the softly stirring sea, gentle waves casting short shadows as they rolled. Now and again a glimmer of light would dart beneath the surface, iridescent fish flitting about in the twilight, feasting upon the great hordes of squid drawn to the radiant moon.
The meekly rolling waves broke softly upon a great stone wall, each brick as pale as starlight. Past the barrier rose buildings of the purest marble, gleaming under the moon. Stately homes proudly faced the sea, their elaborate doorways emptying onto roads paved with intricate brickwork. Lush gardens poured over wrought iron fences, exotic vines sporting vibrant flower-buds awaiting the morning. Elegant statues guarded gilded gateways, figures from myth and legend given a form of stone.
This was the aristocratic quarter of Dalwik, the greatest port left on the continent. A gentle sea and predictable winds enticed many mariners to flock to its overflowing ports, exchanging goods in the pursuit of profit. A modest tax on all products ensured a steady stream of wealth for the city’s noble families, and with such excess, art flourished. Gem-studded goblets and intricate scrimshaw adorned the desks and shelves of the rich, in a display of wealth that bordered on the distasteful.
Such wealth made Dalwik an appetizing target for folk like Leah, individuals less concerned with the moral high-ground than with a full coin purse and the thrill of the hunt. A thief by trade, she often patrolled the seaside streets come dusk. That night, she was scoping out the fine homes of the wealthy, searching for the one that would test her skill.
Briskly she walked down the centre of the road, making no attempt to hide her presence. Garbed in a fine fur-lined cloak, she would pass as a woman of noble birth, and it was doubtful any guard would stop her. If one did, she would berate them for their insolence, spewing a string of titles and familial connections in an attempt to baffle her unfortunate opponent. Failing that, a sharp knife between the ribs would cease their questioning.
On the second pass of the evening, Leah sighed. None of the homes seemed particularly interesting; glass windows, wide and ornate, could be smashed in moments. Monumental hearths offered easy entrance via their expansive chimney’s. Even the doors, heavy and imposing, could have their intricate locks picked. It was all terribly unsporting.
A sneer crossed Leah’s sharp features. Despite a string of thefts, primarily her handiwork, the security had yet to improve. A few additional guards patrolled the street, but beyond that the city’s wealthy seemed resistant to securing their homes. “Perhaps their beautiful facades mean more to these wretches than the protection of solid iron bars,” she murmured.
No interesting prey in sight, Leah pondered upon her next move. Part of her wanted to ransack a few of the homes and see how much wealth she could accumulate in a night, perhaps even beating a few old records. Then again, it was ultimately meaningless, as odds were she would toss the resulting sack of loot into the sea. No, she wanted to hear news of her robbery the following day, with the story travelling as far as the modest village she called home. She needed to do something exciting, something daring.
Leah stopped in her tracks. She turned towards the centre of the great city, looking far past the homes of the wealthy. In the distance loomed an alabaster spire, jutting defiantly skyward. Locals called it the Marlin, after the monstrous fish that stalked the waters around Dalwik. It was the palace of the lord of Dalwik, and within was held the kind of wealth that could buy cities. It was guarded by seven hundred and seventy seven Sons of the Sea, ex-mariners that served as the city’s elite soldiers. It was even rumoured that the duke stocked his halls with old, powerful things, artifacts from the days of legend that could kill with but a look.
Such a venture would be risky, with capture no doubt resulting in a fate worse than death. Only the most foolhardy would even contemplate such a harrowing task, and none would even begin to dream of doing so unprepared.
But Leah was cut from sterner stuff. Her mind made up, she set off for the Marlin.