Through the cluttered halls of oddities and relics Leah skulked, on the hunt for some prized piece of loot. The weak light cast by her irritable scarab, Irving, illuminated an array of ever stranger trinkets. Desiccated hands hung from silver chains, their skeletal digits arrayed in all manner of arcane gestures. Crimson stones twinkled in the gloom, their multi-faceted faces twisting Leah’s reflection into a demonic parody.
Slowly the thief worked her way through the treasury, the winding halls twisting and turning like the innards of some great beast. The corridors seemed to flow into one another, an endless mass of crisscrossing shelves that defied any sort of order. Leah was certain she had doubled back at some point in her search, for the sheer scale of the collection could not be contained within a tower, even one as monstrous as the Marlin.
After minutes of sneaking through the labyrinthine guts of the storeroom, Leah came across a break in the wall of shelves. A clearing, perhaps ten meters in diameter, stretched before her. Intrigued, Leah crept forwards, her pet’s meagre light struggling to illuminate the expanse. Gradually, a shape crept into view.
In the dead centre of the clearing a pedestal appeared, crudely carved and horrifically gnarled. Upon its stained surface ran an intricate web of lines, the overall pattern impossible to discern in the meagre light.
Her pace quickening, Leah approached the wretched stand. The closer she got, the more intricate the carved lattice appeared, almost writhing as she approached. The twisted timber took on a more sinister quality, its knotted outline conveying a far more complex pattern than it first let on.
But for all its grotesque splendour, Leah had little interest in the stand. For upon it rested a box, cast from solid brass. Elation filled the thief; perhaps this was an artifact worth stealing. Quickly, she scanned for tripwires, before gently running her hands around the box. She felt no gap, assuring her the prize did not rest on a pressure plate.
Satisfied, Leah gently pried at the box. It was unlocked, much to the thief’s disappointment. It seemed her heist would end on an anticlimactic note. Shrugging, Leah opened the box.
A click made her heart stop. Nervously, she peered under the half opened lid, her face turning white. The felt-lined interior was empty, save for a gilded chain that ran from the lid to a small hole in the bottom.
After a moment of silence a deafening peal echoed from above the thief, a colossal bell shaking the floor as it tolled. Leah dropped to her knees, hands over her ears as the cacophony threatened to deafen her. She screamed, her voice drowned out. The meagre light cast by Irving flickered manically, the beetle scurrying from one end of his glass enclosure to the other as the sound overwhelmed him.
Desperately, Leah reached into her cloak, pulling free a wad of wax. She split the ball in two, then forcefully rammed it into her ears. The horrific wail of the great bell was deadened, and though it still pained the thief the ringing no longer incapacitated her.
In a panic she scooped up the maddened beetle, and rose to her feet. The thief turned towards the hall from which she had arrived, but found it blocked.
A soldier stood between the shelves, clad in the glittering scale armour and wielding a wicked trident. It was a Son of the Sea, one of the Duke’s personal guard. However, in place of an armoured hood, this soldier wore an octagonal helmet, devoid of all openings save for a set of breathing holes.
Thus blinded and deafened, it surprised Leah greatly when the guard lowered his weapon and charged towards her, as if directed by some other sense. Her flight instincts kicked in, and the thief bolted towards an opening at the other side of the clearing. The clamour of bells hid the heavy footfalls of her pursuer, making it impossible to gauge how close he was.
From the corner of her eye Leah spotted figures moving behind the shelves, other guards hunting her down in the maze of halls. The thief redoubled her efforts, pulling from deep wells of power. Her tendons ached and her bones creaked as she sprinted manically, leaving the hulking soldiers behind.
Blindly she tore down corridor after corridor, her mental map of the treasury clouded by terror. Every hall she turned down she was cut off by another Son, forcing her to take another path. It was by sheer luck that she stumbled upon the door she had entered from, nearly colliding with it in her panicked flight.
Like a woman possessed scrabbled at the door, sinking her nails into solid timber in her attempt to pry it open. With a heave, she opened the door, leaving a smear of blood as cruel splinters dug into her fingers. Her eyes stung as she stepped into the light of the stairwell, but the breath of fresh air filled her with hope. Wheeling in place she slammed the great door shut behind her.
Leah paused for a moment, depositing Irving into a pouch on her belt, before glancing from side to side. To her right, flickering torchlight approached. Guards. Taking a ragged breath, she turned and bolted to the left.
The thief’s booted foot slipped as she took her first step, sending her tumbling down the stairwell. Marbled edges dug into her as she rolled, leaving deep bruises and wicked gashes as she descended an entire storey. By the time she stopped, she was a mess of shredded cloth and blood.
But there was still fight left in the thief. With blurred vision she eyed her surroundings, spotting a pale beam of moonlight creeping in through a great window. Past that, the orange glow of torches illuminated her path down.
Heaving, Leah dragged herself down the last few steps to the landing, muttering a stream of the vilest curses she could muster. Shaking, she hauled herself to the windowsill, pulling herself up and over the portal. In an instant she was caressed by a soft sea breeze, and kissed by the calm glow of a waxing moon.
Leah inhaled deeply, feeling a portion of her sapped strength returning as she basked in the moonlight. Reinvigorated, she pushed herself over the edge, just as gauntleted hands clutched at her cloak.
Leah lounged on a cushioned bench, supported by a multitude of imported pillows. Both her legs were tightly bound in cloth, broom handles acting as splints. It was crude work, but the barber-surgeon had done a fine enough job setting the bone. His needlework left much to be desired, however, judging by the crudely stitched gashes that ran over the thief’s face like lines on a map.
A surly barman thundered passed Leah’s table, slamming down a bottle of Brennerburg wine and a tray of dried fruits. “On the house,” he grumbled, before plodding of to his next customer.
“Thank you kindly, Will!” Leah exclaimed, pulling her meal towards her. Gingerly, she popped the cork of her drink, and doing away with a glass, began to down the bottle. It was smoky, much like the city of its origin, with tones of leather and a burn to back it all up. Leah adored the stuff, and the fact it was cheap only endeared it more to the thief.
Lowering the bottle, Leah listened to the talk in the tavern. Filthy farmhands and aged housewives gathered in groups, discussing the lates hubbub in Dalwik. There were stories of the Marlin’s great bell, dormant for a decade, sounding in the middle of the night. The whole city awoke, and panic gripped the streets; the last time the bell tolled was while the Duke was at war with his neighbour, the eccentric duke of Rendsheim.
Theories on why the bell tolled were swapped, accompanied by great mugs of spirits. Some say the ghost of the old king came back to haunt the tower, as punishment for the city’s part in overthrowing the monarchy. Others murmured the Duke, scorned by a mistress, had the bell rung as a gesture of his undying affection.
Leah chuckled with each fanciful tale. Perhaps one day she would correct the rabble, and tell them of her moonlit heist. But for now, the thief was satisfied with her meal, and her drink of choice. Besides, once she had healed she might have another go at the Marlin. And hopefully come back with more than just bruises and a tale to tell.